TBR News October 19, 2016

Oct 19 2016


The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  October 19, 2016:” In preparing this daily posting, I review many news sources and try to select the more interesting and informative ones. I never look at any of the so-called blogs because many of them are filled with conspiracy theories and downright inventions. Today we note that the Ecuadorian embassy in London cut off Julian Assange’s internet at the request of the American government. Why did the American government make such a request? Because Wikileaks was releasing hacked American documents that were doing serious damage to the character, or lack of it, of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Hillary is the choice of the oligarchs and Wikileaks releases are annoying the oligarchs. However, even with his internet access cut off, somehow Wikileaks released yet another batch of very unpleasant emails, thus proving that Julian had little or nothing to do with the process. Where is Wikileans located? Who actually controls Wikileaks? That ought to be obvious to anyone with an IQ greater than their shirt collar size. And the second item of interest concerns the obvious determination of the fanatic Netanahau to remove two very sacred Muslim mosques from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and replace them with a new Jewish temple. That this sacrilege would at once ignite a savage jihad against all Jews in the area is of no concern to Benjamin who no doubt expects his co-religioinists in Washington to intervene in his support. That they would not is probable and the jihad would spread and increase in tempo does not seem to resonate with anyone.”

Ecuador cuts off Internet access for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

October 19, 2016

by Nick Miroff

The Washington Post

The government of Ecuador has directed its embassy in London to cut off the Internet access of long-term guest Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, saying the organization’s recent document releases have had a “major impact” on the U.S. presidential election.

A statement by Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said that Assange’s access to communications would be “temporarily restricted” at the country’s embassy in Britain, where the WikiLeaks founder has been living since 2012.

WikiLeaks in recent weeks has published intercepted emails between staffers of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that her opponents have used to depict her as beholden to Wall Street banks.

“The government of Ecuador respects the principles of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations, does not meddle in electoral campaigns nor support any candidate in particular,” the statement said.

Ecuador said it had made a “sovereign decision” to unplug Assange, insisting that its government “does not respond to pressure from other states.” The latter statement was apparently in response to claims by WikiLeaks that the United States has leaned on Ecuador to rein in Assange.

The organization has alleged that Secretary of State John F. Kerry raised the issue with Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, but a State Department spokesman said such claims were baseless.

“While our concerns about WikiLeaks are longstanding, any suggestion that Secretary Kerry or the State Department were involved in shutting down WikiLeaks is false,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

“Reports that Secretary Kerry had conversations with Ecuadoran officials about this are simply untrue,” the statement read.

Relations between the United States and Ecuador have been strained in recent years, as the leftist Correa became an outspoken U.S. critic and accused the Obama administration of trying to undermine his government.

But reports have also periodically surfaced about tensions between Ecuadoran officials and their embassy guest, who has spent much of the past four years confined to a small apartment on the grounds of the diplomatic compound, where he is beyond the reach of British law.

WikiLeaks first reported on Monday that Assange’s Internet access had been severed since Saturday, after the organization published a copy of Clinton’s speeches to executives at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank.

But the statement from Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry was the first official confirmation that the Ecuadoran government had decided to cut him off.

The Foreign Ministry statement defended Ecuador’s decision to shelter Assange from criminal charges in Sweden, where he has been accused of rape, saying he faces “legitimate fears of political persecution.”

The statement also said the release of hacked emails and other documents has been the “exclusive responsibility” of WikiLeaks. The decision to suspend Assange’s Web access would not “impede” the organization’s “journalistic activities,” it said.

WikiLeaks first reported on Monday that Assange’s Internet access had been severed since Saturday, after the organization published a copy of Clinton’s speeches to executives at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank.

But the statement from Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry was the first official confirmation that the Ecuadoran government had decided to cut him off.

The Foreign Ministry statement defended Ecuador’s decision to shelter Assange from criminal charges in Sweden, where he has been accused of rape, saying he faces “legitimate fears of political persecution.”

The statement also said the release of hacked emails and other documents has been the “exclusive responsibility” of WikiLeaks. The decision to suspend Assange’s Web access would not “impede” the organization’s “journalistic activities,” it said.

This month, the Obama administration officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations. The digitally purloined material has appeared on websites such as DC Leaks and WikiLeaks. It has included the private emails of former secretary of state Colin Powell and aides to former secretary of state Clinton.

Hours after the Obama administration called out Russia, WikiLeaks released about 2,000 emails apparently hacked from the personal Gmail inbox of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. They included excerpts of speeches Clinton made to Wall Street banks that she had resisted making public. In one of them, she said that Wall Street knew best how it should be regulated. The campaign has not acknowledged the excerpts’ authenticity. There was no immediate word from the FBI as to whether the Russians were behind the alleged hack.

Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.

UNESCO formally approves controversial resolution on east Jerusalem

Despite protests from the Jewish state, the UN cultural agency has adopted a resolution condemning the way Israel deals with a key holy site in east Jerusalem. The document was drafted by Arab countries.

October 19, 2016


UNESCO’s executive board has officially endorsed a controversial resolution surrounding a key holy site in east Jerusalem.

The text of the resolution, drafted by seven Arab countries – Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan – sharply criticizes Israel for restricting Muslim access to Islam’s third holiest site, known as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. It also condemns nearby excavation projects.

Although the resolution does acknowledge that the Old City is important to “the three monotheistic religions,” Islam, Judaism and Christianity, it refers to the holy site using its Muslim names, Al-Aqsa or al-Haram al-Sharif.

Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the site is considered the holiest site in Judaism.

Contested space

The east Jerusalem site covers 14 hectares (35 acres) in the southeast corner of the Old City. It was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, though its annexation was never internationally recognized.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, but Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state.

Throughout the UNESCO document, Israel is also described as “the occupying power.” The text also includes condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and “constant aggressions by the Israeli settlers” in the West Bank.

Diplomatic ‘games’

When the resolution was voted on last Thursday at the committee stage, it obtained 24 votes in favor, six against and 26 abstentions. In Tuesday’s final vote, Mexico changed its in-favor vote to an abstention.

Israel suspended its cooperation with UNESCO last week in reaction to the draft resolution. Its ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Hacohen, accused the Palestinians of “playing games.”

“This is the wrong place to solve problems between countries or people,” he said on Tuesday.

Palestine was admitted to UNESCO in 2011. There have since been different diplomatic disagreements resulting from resolutions condemning Israel.

Meanwhile, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova has also distanced herself from the resolution, saying that “nowhere more than in Jerusalem do Jewish, Christian and Muslim heritage and traditions share space,” she said.

Half of US adults are recorded in police facial recognition databases, study says

More than 117 million adults included in ‘virtual, perpetual lineup’, which authorities can use to track citizens, raising concerns over privacy and profiling

October 18, 2016

by Sam Levin

The Guardian

San Francisco-Half of all American adults are included in databases police use to identify citizens with facial recognition technology, according to new research that raises serious concerns about privacy violations and the widespread use of racially biased surveillance technology.

A report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology found that more than 117 million adults are captured in a “virtual, perpetual lineup”, which means law enforcement offices across the US can scan their photos and use unregulated software to track law-abiding citizens in government datasets.

Numerous major police departments have “real-time face recognition” technology that allows surveillance cameras to scan the faces of pedestrians walking down the street, the report found. In Maryland, police have been using software to identify faces in protest photos and match them to people with warrants, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The report’s findings, along with revelations from the ACLU on police monitoring in Baltimore, suggest that the technology may be violating the rights of millions of Americans and is disproportionately impacting communities of color, advocates said.

“Face recognition, when it’s used most aggressively, can change the nature of public spaces,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown’s privacy and technology center. “It can change the basic freedom we have to go about our lives without people identifying us from afar and in secret.”

The center’s year-long investigation, based on more than 100 police records requests, has produced the most comprehensive survey of facial databases to date and raises numerous questions about the lack of transparency and privacy protections.

Law enforcement biometric databases have traditionally captured DNA profiles related to criminal arrests or forensic investigations. What’s alarming about the FBI’s “face recognition unit”, according to the report, is that it is “overwhelmingly made up of non-criminal entries”.

The FBI database photos come from state driver’s licenses, passports and visa applications, meaning police can easily identify and monitor people who haven’t had any run-ins with the law.

“In the case of face recognition, there appears to be very few controls or safeguards to ensure it’s not used in situations in which people are engaged in first amendment activity,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU’s legislative counsel.

The ACLU recently found that police in Baltimore may have used the recognition technology along with social media accounts to identify and arrest people with outstanding warrants during high-profile police protests last year. That alleged surveillance relied on tools from Geofeedia, a controversial social media monitoring company that partners with police.

The ACLU, which on Tuesday urged the US department of justice to investigate facial recognition, also revealed last week that Facebook and Twitter have provided users’ data to Geofeedia, with records suggesting that the social media sites have aided police in surveillance of protesters. The firms have since cut off Geofeedia’s special access to their data.

In addition to concerns about illegal monitoring and the targeting of lawful protesters, research has found that the facial recognition algorithms can be biased and inaccurate – with serious consequences for innocent people.

“This technology is powerful, but it is not neutral,” said Bedoya. “This technology makes mistakes.”

The FBI’s own statistics suggest that one out of every seven searches of its facial recognition database fails to turn up a correct match, meaning the software occasionally produces 50 “potential” matches who are all “innocent”, the report said.

Additionally, a 2012 study co-authored by an FBI expert found that leading facial recognition algorithms were up to 10% less accurate for African Americans compared to white people, the ACLU noted.

What’s more, the flawed algorithms can amplify biased policing practices since they rely on mugshot databases that disproportionately represent people of color.

For example, the Maricopa County sheriff’s office in Arizona arrests black residents at a rate three times higher than their share of the state population, and a federal judge found that police have racially profiled Latinos.

Those disparities feed into the databases, and Arizona has no law restricting police use of facial recognition, according to the ACLU. The Maricopa sheriff’s system does not even require an officer to have reasonable suspicion of a crime before searching a face in the database.

In Baltimore, some policing strategies have resulted in tens of thousands of arrests for minor offenses, with prosecutors ultimately dropping the cases.

That means many people, the vast majority of whom are people of color, may remain in facial databases even if they weren’t charged, said David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland.

“A great many of those folks … never should’ve been arrested in the first place and were innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Advocates are “playing catch up” with the technology, which has rolled out across the US with little oversight or restrictions, Guliani said. “That’s really a backwards way to approach it … This is already being used against communities it’s designed to protect.”

Baltimore and Maricopa police officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Stephen Moyer, secretary of the Maryland department of public safety and correctional services, which operates the state’s facial recognition database, defended police use of the software, saying in a statement: “Maryland law enforcement agencies make use of all legally available technology to aggressively pursue all criminals.”

U.S. expects Islamic State to wield chemical weapons in Mosul fight

October 18, 2016

by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali


WASHINGTON-The United States expects Islamic State to use crude chemical weapons as it tries to repel an Iraqi-led offensive on the city of Mosul, U.S. officials say, although adding that the group’s technical ability to develop such weapons is highly limited.

U.S. forces have begun to regularly collect shell fragments to test for possible chemical agents, given Islamic State’s use of mustard agent in the months before Monday’s launch of the Mosul offensive, one official said.

In a previously undisclosed incident, U.S. forces confirmed the presence of a sulfur mustard agent on Islamic State munition fragments on Oct. 5, a second official said. The Islamic State had targeted local forces, not U.S. or coalition troops.

“Given ISIL’s reprehensible behavior and flagrant disregard for international standards and norms, this event is not surprising,” the second official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity, and using an acronym for Islamic State.

U.S. officials do not believe Islamic State has been successful so far at developing chemical weapons with particularly lethal effects, meaning that conventional weapons are still the most dangerous threat for advancing Iraqi and Kurdish forces – and any foreign advisers who get close enough.

Sulfur mustard agents can cause blistering on exposed skin and lungs. At low doses, however, that would not be deadly.

Roughly 5,000 U.S. forces are in Iraq. More than 100 of them are embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces involved with the Mosul offensive, advising commanders and helping them ensure coalition air power hits the right targets, officials said. Still, those forces are not at the front lines, they added.


The fall of Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could also lead to land grabs and sectarian bloodletting between groups that fought one another after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

U.S. President Barack Obama estimated on Thursday that perhaps 1 million civilians were still in Mosul, creating a challenge for Iraq and its Western backers trying to expel the group through force.

“If we aren’t successful in helping ordinary people as they’re fleeing from ISIL, then that makes us vulnerable to seeing ISIL return,” Obama told reporters in Washington.

The International Organization for Migration’s Iraq chief, Thomas Weiss, said on Tuesday he expected Islamic State militants to use Mosul residents as human shields and lent his voice to concerns about the dangers of chemical agents.

The IOM had not managed to procure many gas masks yet, despite those risks, Weiss said from Baghdad.

We also fear, and there has been some evidence that ISIL might be using chemical weapons. Children, the elderly, disabled, will be particularly vulnerable,” Weiss said.

Attacking Iraqi forces are still 12 to 30 miles (20 to 50 km) from the city itself and U.S. officials believe that Islamic State is most likely to use chemical weapons later in the campaign, in what could be a difficult, protracted battle.

The leader of Islamic State was reported to be among thousands of hardline militants still in the city, suggesting the group would go to great lengths to repel the coalition.

American officials believe some of Islamic State’s best fighters are in Mosul.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Peter Cooney)

 If the US hacks Russia for revenge, that could lead to cyberwar

The US should attempt to de-escalate tensions by negotiating some form of international cyber treaty before this gets out of control

October 19, 2016

by Trevor Timm

The Guardian

What’s the CIA’s brilliant plan for stopping Russian cyber-attacks on the US and their alleged interference with the US election? Apparently, some in the agency want to escalate tensions between the two superpowers even more and possibly do the same thing right back to them.

NBC News reported late last week that the CIA is working up blueprints for an “unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia”, and it sounds a lot like they’re planning on leaking documents on Vladimir Putin, just as the Russians are accused of doing to the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

NBC reported that former intelligence officials said “the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin” and another former official said the US “should … expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates”.

Hacking foreign governments – including political parties – is a US pastime, as even the former ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden openly admitted this week. “A foreign intelligence service getting the internal emails of a major political party in a major foreign adversary? Game on. That’s what we do,” Hayden said. He added: “By the way, I would not want to be in an American court of law and be forced to deny that I never did anything like that as director of the NSA.” (Hayden probably doesn’t want to find himself in an American court for a lot of reasons, but that’s another story.)

It’s the leaking of documents that is relatively new. The US, of course, has a long history of interfering in foreign elections as well, as Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor detailed last week. That’s not to excuse Russia’s alleged actions, but everyone feigning shock and horror over this needs to take a deep breath because we are rapidly spiraling towards not just a digital cold war, but perhaps something far worse.

The question a lot of people were asking when this NBC News story came out is: why was it leaked? There’s a couple of possibilities beyond the usual “the CIA can’t keep a secret” – which they obviously can when they want to. To me, the most likely scenario is this could be the CIA’s attempt to back President Obama into a corner by putting public pressure on him to approve such an escalation in cyberwarfare.

So far, Obama has (commendably) been virtually the only official or politician in DC not to succumb to scaremongering and dramatic cold war 2.0 rhetoric when it comes to Russia. That hasn’t stopped him from criticizing Putin when he should. But he’s not pretending like Putin is some 11th-dimensional chess mastermind, pulling the strings behind every twist and turn in presidential poll numbers, like the rest of Washington.

There’s also a chance the whole thing is a ruse, where the CIA purposefully leaks a fake story for the purposes of attempting to scare Russia. But assuming the CIA plans are real, why on earth do all these national security geniuses think this is a good idea? Countless politicians have spent the last four months saying how “unprecedented” and “dangerous” Russia’s actions are, so now the magic solution is to do it back to them?

Who thinks that once the US leaks some documents back on Putin that he’ll suddenly be like ‘oh, you got me, I guess we’ll stop!’ The more likely scenario is that this half-baked idea will escalate the cyber tensions rather than act as a deterrent.

Remember, Putin reportedly thinks that the Panama Papers leak was the work of the US government (even though there’s no evidence to suggest it was) and some think the current leaks involving US politicians are his revenge. This potential CIA operation will, in his mind, only confirm his suspicions.

Putin is also much less susceptible to public pressure than US politicians are (given his alleged heavy-handed dealings with his opponents) and has increasingly attempted to implement draconian internet surveillance laws which he’ll surely use to his advantage if the US does go through with this plan.

Why does the reaction to alleged Russian actions have to turn into a contest in who’s the bigger tough guy? It’s hard to remember that just a year and a half ago, the supposed biggest cyber threat in US history was China. They were alleged to have stolen billions of dollars of intellectual property and then were accused of hacking tens of millions of people’s security review files from the US government going back decades.

Instead of saber rattling about an unprecedented wave of cyber-attacks, the US government negotiated with China, and the attacks on the US, at least on the hacking of commercial secrets, slowed down significantly. (So much so that cybersecurity defense contractors took a big hit on the stock market. Lucky for them Russia is the new bogeyman!)

Russia’s not going to stop gathering intelligence on American political parties just like the US is not going to stop on theirs, but maybe the US should attempt to actually de-escalate tensions by starting the process of negotiating some form of an international cyber treaty before this gets too out of control.

Assange’s Fate

The left turns on him, the right embraces him

October 19, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


The saga of Julian Assange seems to be drawing to a climax – one that will decide the fate of this historic whistleblower who, for years, has been a giant thorn in the side of governments everywhere.

His role in exposing the machinations of the US government over the years earned him the plaudits of liberals – until the Bush era ended, and he started exposing the crimes of the Obama administration and – most pointedly – the hypocrisy and venality of Hillary Clinton and her journalistic camarilla. Now we see right-wing figures like Sean Hannity and – yes! – Donald Trump praising and defending him, while the ostensible liberals take up the cry of the Clinton campaign that he’s a “pawn of the Kremlin” and a “rapist.” Even Glenn Greenwald, formerly a comrade-in-arms, who together with Assange helped Edward Snowden evade the not-so-loving arms of Uncle Sam, has lately sought to distance himself from the founder of WikiLeaks (over the value of “curation”). Nice timing, Glenn!

Funny how that works.

Now we see that the Ecuadorian government, which has provided sanctuary for Assange ever since the frame-up “rape” charges by the Swedes were brought, is succumbing to pressure from Washington to silence him. As Assange released the now famous Podesta emails, that – among other things – exposed the collusion of the media and the Clinton campaign in delicious detail, John Kerry demanded that the Ecuadorians cut off Assange’s Internet access – and they meekly complied. Of course, since leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has openly endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and openly abhors Trump, this is hardly surprising: this is how the left operates internationally, as well as in this country – if you stray from the party line it doesn’t take long before the knives come out, aimed directly at one’s back.

In any case, Correa’s betrayal seems to have been short-circuited by the ever-resourceful Assange, who is still releasing incriminating emails. This is someone with a Plan!

Coincident with all this is the culmination of the long “legal” process initiated by the Swedish government, which is falsely accusing Assange of “rape.” He was supposed to have met with Swedish prosecutors on Monday, but has put off the meeting until November 14 – after the US elections.

Given Sweden’s bizarre laws on the subject, and the provenance of his accusers, the smear campaign aimed at Assange has zero credibility. No one believes these charges (and remember, he has never been formally charged) aren’t motivated by Washington’s stated desire to get him extradited to the US on “espionage” charges – and there isn’t anyone who thinks that the British government (which has spent millions making sure he stays holed up in Ecuador’s embassy) wouldn’t do so given half a chance.

Is it a coincidence that the way the Establishment tries to destroy those who oppose it is by hurling sex charges at them? They did the same thing to Dan Ellsberg: it’s the oldest trick in the book.

Equally ridiculous are the accusations that Assange is a “Russian agent.” To begin with, despite the US government’s propaganda, there isn’t a lick of real evidence that the Russians hacked the DNC emails, or any of the other emails published by WikiLeaks It could just as easily have been an insider. The fact of the matter is that, although they try to project the illusion of their own omniscience , they just don’t know.

What’s instructive is that the liberal media, which is not even bothering to hide its support for Hillary Clinton, is echoing Washington’s campaign to discredit Assange as a Kremlin tool. And of course the neoconservatives, who are solidly in Clinton’s camp, have always hated Assange, and are glad to join the chorus.

Assange has done more than any single figure to expose the machinations of governments worldwide to murder and plunder the rest of us: as the declared enemy of the powerful, he is their principal target – and it behooves those of us who defend liberty and transparency to rally around the banner of Wikileaks.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since August of 2012, with governments all over the world – and especially our government – determined to get him, smear him, and discredit him by any means necessary. Yet he continues to expose them, even in these straitened circumstances, without regard for his own health, happiness, or ultimate fate. He is a hero for our times – in an age when the heroic seems entirely absent. And he is now in more danger than ever before: what with the leftist Ecuadorian government, eager to curry favor with Hillary Clinton, wavering in his defense, and with Mrs. Clinton herself wondering “Can’t we just drone this guy?”

Assange’s fate, whatever it turns out to be, limns our own: if he goes down, then, in a sense, so do we all. Because what that means is that there’s no room for truth-tellers in our world, and no tolerance for heroes. And that’s not the kind of world I care to live in.

Isis May be Defeated in Mosul But Other Deep Divisions Will be Exposed

October 17, 2016

Patrick Cockburn

Unz Review

The Iraqi government and its allies may eventually capture Mosul from Isis, but this could be just a new chapter in the war.

It will only win because of the devastating firepower of the US-led air forces and sheer weight of numbers. But the fight for the city is militarily and politically complex. The Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga, Shia Hashd al-Shaabi and Sunni fighters from Mosul and Nineveh province, which make up the anti-Isis forces, suspect and fear each other almost as much as they hate Isis.

The Western media is portraying the first advances towards Mosul as if it is as orderly and well-planned as the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944. But in private Iraqis, who have seen many decisive victories turn out to be no such thing, are more sceptical about what they are seeing. One Iraqi observer in Baghdad, who did not want his name published, said that “the whole Mosul offensive seems to be a ramshackle affair held together by the expected high level of support from the US air force and special forces”.

At least 12 US generals and 5,000 US troops are reportedly in Iraq and they will play a crucial role in the coming struggle. The observer added: “I don’t think that the Iraqi forces, Peshmerga, Hashd and Sunni volunteers can singly or jointly take back the city without the physical and psychological props provided by the US.”

The US participation is crucial because although the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga have been successful driving back Isis since it won a succession of blitzkrieg victories in 2014, they have relied on US-led air support. This has carried out 12,129 air strikes against Isis in the past two years, enabling Iraqi government forces and their allies to recapture cities like Ramadi, Fallujah, Baiji and Tikrit while the Peshmerga captured Sinjar. But these successes would scarcely have happened without the coalition air umbrella overhead, allowing the anti-Isis units to avoid fighting and act primarily as a mopping up force.

There are now about 25,000 Iraqi army, Hashd and other volunteers in and around the Qayyara area 40 miles south of Mosul, while some 4,000 Peshmerga are advancing from the east. The earliest part of the campaign in the open countryside should be the easiest because air power and artillery can be most easily deployed. Villages and towns, many of them formerly inhabited by Christians or the Shabak minority, on the Nineveh Plain east of Mosul are empty and can be bombarded without risk of civilian casualties.

But military and political calculations change when the Kurds reach the built up outskirts of Mosul, which may still have a million people it. They are pledged not to enter the city which is the biggest Sunni Arab urban centre in Iraq, though it used to have a substantial Kurdish minority. The Shia paramilitaries of the Hashd are also not supposed to enter Mosul because of Sunni sensitivities, but they can besiege it.

The Iraqi army has a number of experienced combat units such as the Golden Division, but these are limited in number and have complained in the past of being fought out because they are too frequently deployed. The nature of the fighting in Mosul will differ and be more difficult than in Ramadi and Fallujah, both of which were surrounded while in Mosul Isis has not been yet been encircled and cut off from the rest of Iraq. The US would probably be inhibited in employing its airpower in Mosul so the Iraqi army and its elite counter-terrorism units might suffer heavy casualties in street fighting with the 4,000 to 8,000 Isis fighters believed to be in the city.

This supposes that Isis will want to stand and fight for Mosul in a way that it did not in other Iraqi cities. Ever since it lost some 2,000 fighters, mostly to US air strikes, in its abortive four-and-a-half month siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani in 2014-15, its commanders have been reluctant to let their forces, which are overwhelmingly light infantry, fight from fixed positions that can be precisely targeted and obliterated by shelling and bombing. They might do better in Mosul, but the end result would likely be the same.

But not to fight for Mosul would be a bad blow to Isis. It contains one-third of the population under its control in Iraq. It is the heart of the “caliphate” that was declared here just over two years ago. It was the capture of Mosul by an Isis force of a few thousand defeating a garrison numbering at least 20,000 that astonished the world in June 2014. Isis leaders themselves saw their victory as miraculous and a sign of divine assistance. The loss of the city would, on the contrary, be evidence that the caliphate has no miraculous formula for victory and has gone into irreversible decline.

Yet if Isis is going to fight anywhere, it would be best to do so in Mosul where it has been long entrenched. If the Iraqi army counter-terrorist forces get bogged down in street-fighting, Baghdad might face a number of unpalatable choices. It could ask the US-led coalition to escalate the bombing, but this might be embarrassing and lead to comparisons with the Russian and Syrian bombardment of East Aleppo over which the Western powers frequently express their revulsion.

Another alternative would be for Baghdad to use the Hashd paramilitaries, but this would be seen as an anti-Sunni move. Turkey is struggling to be a player in deciding the fate of Mosul and maintaining its Sunni Arab character. It local proxy is the former governor at the time of the Isis capture of the city, Atheel al-Nujaifi, who has 5,000 militiamen trained by the Turks, many of them former policemen in Mosul. The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has furiously demanded that a Turkish force of 1,500 soldiers at Bashiqa close to the front line return to Turkey and has exchanged abuse with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Isis has always benefited from the divisions of its opponents and nowhere are these more glaring than in and around Mosul where so many sectarian and ethnic fault lines meet. These divisions have helped Isis survive for so long, but its savagery has also united leaders and parties who otherwise might fight each other. This is true of the Baghdad government and the Iraqi Kurds, who took advantage of the defeat of the Iraqi army in northern Iraq in 2014 to take over a swathe of disputed territories which expanded the area of Kurdish control by 40 per cent.

This shifting mosaic of different parties and interests makes the course, intensity and outcome of the battle for Mosul highly unpredictable. One way or another it looks likely that Isis will lose, but it is less certain who will win and fill the vacuum left by the overthrow of the caliphate. There are many contenders for this role, making it possible that the present battle for Mosul will not be the last.

Russia ‘will retaliate’ against British media after RT’s bank accounts closed

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, says Britain ‘will get as good as they give’ after NatWest closes channel’s accounts

October 18, 2016

by Shuan Walker

The Guardian

Moscow-A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry has promised tit-for-tat retaliation against British media after the apparent closure of UK bank accounts linked to Russia’s English-language broadcaster, RT.

“Our stance is straightforward: we will stick up for our own,” said Maria Zakharova, RT reported. “They [Britain] will get as good as they give.”

RT announced on Monday that NatWest had closed its accounts, publishing a letter from the bank informing the television network that its accounts would be closed on 12 December and that the decision was final. “We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities,” the letter said.

However, Royal Bank of Scotland, which owns NatWest, said on Tuesday that the accounts were still active.

“These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative,” it said.

It is understood that NatWest wrote to the UK company that supplies services to RT, rather than the television network itself. The name of the company, which handles RT’s UK payroll and other services, has not been disclosed.

Russian officials and RT’s director, Margarita Simonyan, have condemned the move as an attack on freedom of speech, although a Treasury official told the Guardian that the decision was taken by NatWest without consultation with the government.

Few in Moscow are likely to be swayed by that explanation, however. Zakharova said: “It seems we need to react and show the other side in the mirror so they can see how they are acting; so they find themselves in the same situation. That will work. But it wasn’t our choice.”

Zakharova was not immediately available for further comment and did not specify which British media outlets Russia might target in response. Attention could fall on the BBC, which has a large office in Moscow and also runs a Russian-language service.

Russia has often insisted that RT is no different to the BBC, saying both are state funded. The Russian channel has the specific mission to counter the narrative of the so-called “mainstream media” and often does not even attempt balanced coverage of global events. The channel has breached the UK’s broadcasting code on a number of occasions during the past decade and has been warned by Ofcom that further impartiality violations could result in a fine.

The former MP George Galloway, who hosts a show on RT, told the channel on Tuesday that NatWest’s decision was linked to “growing anxiety” in parliament and the “deep state” about the popularity of RT.

How Chicago Police Convinced Courts to Let Them Track Cellphones Without a Warrant

October 18 2016

by Jenna McLaughlin

The Intercept

The Chicago Police Department has acquired and used several varieties of advanced cellphone trackers since at least 2005 to target suspects in robberies, murders, kidnappings, and drug investigations. In most instances, officers only lightly described the devices’ advanced technical surveillance capabilities to courts, which allowed the police to use them, often without a warrant.

Now, after a lengthy legal battle waged by Freddy Martinez, a Chicago software technician, court orders and case notes were released, painting a more detailed picture of how the second-largest police precinct in the U.S. uses surveillance technology to track cellphones.

Martinez, who leads the Lucy Parson Labs, a Chicago-based nonprofit that advocates digital rights and transparency, originally sued for records in September 2014. He provided the released documents to The Intercept.

The Chicago Police Department did not respond to request for comment.

Cell-site simulators, or IMSI catchers, are typically suitcase-sized devices that emit signals over the wireless spectrum, masquerading as legitimate cellphone towers. When a nearby phone attempts to connect to a tower either to make a call or to check for service, it will instead link-up to the rogue device, beaming back information about its location, its owner, and sometimes the contents of communications.

While tracking one cellphone, the device also often sweeps up information about all the other phones in the area and can disrupt cell service. It’s unclear exactly how long the disruption lasts, or how far the range of each device extends. Activists are currently challenging the Federal Communications Commission to step in and regulate how law enforcement uses IMSI catchers, because they interrupt wireless service without authorization — posing a danger to emergency communications.

The Tools

According to the purchase records, some of which Martinez had previously obtained in more redacted form, the Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Division spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over more than 10 years buying multiple different models of IMSI catchers, as well as upgrades, training programs, software, and attachments.

The department purchased Harris Corporation’s Stingrays — a popular model used by many police departments across the country, and King Fish — a more powerful cellphone tracker. It also bought DRT boxes, known as dirt boxes — military grade trackers made by Digital Receiver Technology Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing.

The King Fish, which cost $157,300, gave investigators the capability “to enter large structures and pinpoint a device” digitally, essentially spotting a specific cellphone behind walls.

The device was purchased using a combination of drug money, civil forfeiture, and money laundering funds — a secret reserve Martinez and the Chicago Reader, Chicago’s alternative weekly, wrote about in September in an article portraying the people whose seized possessions contributed to purchasing this type of equipment.

The surveillance equipment is purportedly used in what is called “exigent circumstances,” i.e. investigations into “kidnappings, homicides, endangered missing juveniles, suicidal subjects, etc.,” according to a 2011 purchase request. However, the author of the request, Sargent James Washburn, also wrote it would be used “during narcotics related investigations” — justifying the use of money obtained during the city’s war on drugs.

In an attached purchase justification letter, Washburn indicates that “project buildings” — slang for subsidized housing often occupied by poor and minority communities — and other large residential dwellings are a problem for investigators, because Stingrays can’t locate cellphones within specific apartments. The King Fish, however, can.

Washburn cites an example of a case where it took several extra days to apprehend suspects, because they needed to obtain phone records rather than simply track the phone — though he cited no real repercussions for the delay.

“Had the Technical Services Group been equipped with the portable ‘King Fish’ tracking unit, the offenders would have been apprehended that evening,” Washburn wrote. “Although this is a large disbursement of [civil forfeiture] funds, the R/Sgt. believes that the 2nd largest police department in the United States should be equipped to handle any and all law enforcement related situations.”

Washburn also encouraged the Organized Crime Division to keep quiet about the technology, as it is “proprietary in nature” and “knowledge of its existence could jeopardize the integrity and success of these types of investigations.”

Police departments, the FBI, and manufacturers like Harris have fought for years to keep records of the cellphone trackers secret — opting to throw out court cases rather than reveal specific details about their use.

The King Fish isn’t the only device the Chicago Police Department bought from Harris. An upgrade of the department’s Stingray device in 2009 cost $164,500, and included a “hand held” portable device “for use in multi-unit buildings.” The Stingray II would be used in a majority of narcotics investigations, or 60 percent of the time. The police paid another $18,000 for an “Amberjack” in 2009 — a small circular device that acts as an antenna monitoring signal strength of nearby phones.

In 2005, a technician in the Gang Intelligence Division told his Commander that the unit needed upgrades on several cellphones trackers — revealing which types of phones are tracked by which device. The Stingray, whose update cost $23,500, could track Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and Sprint phones, while the DRT Box could track Cingular, T-Mobile, and Nextel devices.

Additionally, it’s likely the Chicago Police Department is hiding other surveillance equipment it’s using. One document separately obtained by Martinez mentions an item “of a covert nature” manufactured by KEYW Corporation costing $7,500. The name is redacted. Based on the manufacturer and the price, it’s likely the item purchased by the CPD was a Jugular: a cheaper, smaller cellphone tracker that may not require a court order to use, because it passively monitors radio waves rather than conducting active surveillance and recording data. KEYW didn’t respond to request for comment.

Court Records:

The Chicago PD also turned over 43 records of times they deployed cellphone trackers in the past 10 years — which Martinez suggests is likely still lower than the actual amount of times the devices were used.

“The number of documents related to the deployment of Stingrays seems dubious at best. CPD continues to maintain that no logs of IMSI catchers being checked in and out of the Tech Lab exists, even though they are required to keep such records,” he wrote in an encrypted text message.

Even so, the various court orders and requests reveal how investigators presented their use of Stingray devices to judges.

In most applications to use an IMSI catcher, officers identified the device as “a pen register in the form of a digital analyzer.” In identical footnotes in each case, a digital analyzer is depicted as nothing more than a simple antenna that detects “signals emitted by the target telephone.” According to the filings, the device “does not intercept any content of communications” but instead locates a phone by a number already known to investigators while in the same general area. (However, it only takes a simple software upgrade to allow the Stingray to track the contents of calls and text messages.)

The judge in Martinez’s Freedom of Information case, Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Kennedy, disparaged the Chicago Police Department for trying to argue that the cell-site simulators qualified as pen registers and trap and trace devices, or simple devices that record numbers dialed in and out by a phone — and therefore qualified for protection from disclosure.

“Because IMSI catchers’ capabilities are broader, it is improper to equate them to and treat them as pen registers and trap and trace devices,” she wrote. “The record reflects that IMSI catchers, also known as cell-site simulators or Stingrays, can capture a cellphones unique serial number, its location, and the content of calls, text messages, and webpages visited.”

However, a simple “pen register” device was exactly how the police explained the technology to the court in the past.

A court order to install a pen register requires less oversight than a warrant, because its installation is not regarded as a search, the Supreme Court has held. However, police now have to get a warrant to use Stingrays in Baltimore after a Maryland appellate court decision in March recognized the invasiveness of the device.

Each pen register request also contains the caveat that any information obtained besides the location of the targeted phone cannot be retained or used during the investigation. This suggests the officers understand that the device is capable of sweeping up more information than the location of their target. However, the requests go into almost no detail on how much information is collected, how it’s disposed of, and how cellphone service will be impacted in the area.

Multiple approved court orders include authorization for police to actually contact the suspect in order to force his or her phone to connect to the cellphone tower and allow them to track it. However, with upgrades to the trackers in recent years, that is likely no longer necessary.

In some of the cases where it deploys Stingrays, Chicago police, according to the documents, works alongside other federal agencies, including the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshall’s Service, and the Secret Service.

Chicago’s internal case database revealed multiple uses of Triggerfish devices — another Harris product that allows law enforcement to eavesdrop and intercept conversations without the phone company or the target’s knowledge. It’s reportedly capable of tracking over 60,000 people in a neighboring area. Chicago police used the device to track a target’s phone number during a home invasion investigation with the DEA, a drug case with the FBI, an armed robbery, a murder, and several other cases. The notes in each case file are not detailed, and don’t always reveal what information was obtained from the Triggerfish device.

Supplementary case reports describing investigations where “digital analyzers” were used are also incredibly vague. One document simply mentions that an officer “utilized electronic means to locate the cellular phone.”

The Chicago Police Department included in the batch of documents an affidavit from a gang related drug investigation where the police officer argued there was probable cause to use a cell-site simulator, or “digital analyzer” because the suspects, already tied to drug sales through police surveillance, kept switching out new burner phones. During a wiretap, police overheard one suspect say it only takes a few phone calls and “your ass is gone” — referring to the surveillance. The officer requested use of a “digital analyzer” to locate the new burner phones at “any time of the day or night … without geographical limitation in the State of Illinois.” The request was approved.

In another affidavit from November 2010, a police officer explained to the judge that the “digital analyzer” will reveal information about other “cellular telephones in the immediate area.” He suggests that to make sure he picked up on the right phone, the device would be pointed in multiple directions around the target, and “through process of elimination” determine which one the target phone is — revealing how invasive the search might actually be to the neighboring homes and people.

During “Operation Bird Cage” in March 2010, a case included in the file with almost no detail, a tech specialist used a “digital analyzer” multiple times near a suspect’s car, continuously tracking the area to separate out one person’s phone data.

While these court records reflect how Stingrays and other cellphone trackers were authorized for use in serious criminal cases — such as murders, kidnappings, and aggravated battery — they also demonstrate how little judges knew about the devices prior to approval. The documents also demonstrate the ties surveillance technology has to the money and possessions seized during the war on drugs — which is in turn used to track people in impoverished areas of Chicago.

“The use of Stingrays as a part of the war on drugs, which were purchased with civil asset forfeiture funds,” demonstrates how “militarized equipment” is disproportionately used against “poor and brown communities,” Martinez wrote.

As California Water Use Rises, Some Ask: Were Limits Eased Too Soon?

October 19, 2016

by Adam Nagourney

New York Times

EAST PORTERVILLE, Calif. — This state slashed urban water use over 25 percent in the face of a punishing drought last year, exceeding a mandatory order issued by Gov. Jerry Brown and turning California into a model of water conservation. Californians tore out lawns, cut back landscape watering and took shorter showers as they embraced Mr. Brown’s call to accommodate what he warned were permanently drier times.

But this year, after regulators lifted the mandatory 25 percent statewide cut following a relatively wet winter, water use is up again, a slide in behavior that has stirred concern among state officials and drawn criticism that California abandoned the restrictions too quickly. In August, water conservation dropped below 18 percent compared with August 2013, the third consecutive month of decline.

“The lifting of the mandatory conservation targets was a big mistake,” said Peter H. Gleick, a founder of the Pacific Institute, a think tank dedicated to water issues. “It sent the wrong message, it stopped the implementation of a growing set of effective urban conservation and efficiency programs, and it took pressure off both utilities and individuals to continue to improve water-use efficiency.”

Felicia Marcus, the chairwoman of the Water Resources Control Board, said the state could not continue to ask Californians to take emergency measures amid evidence that the situation had eased. Still, she said she was concerned by the rise in water use and warned that the state may reimpose mandatory cuts if conservation continues to decline and California endures another dry winter.

“It’s not clear whether it is an understandable and reasonable relaxation or a turning away from the effort,” she said. “You can see it as people still saving two-thirds of what they were saving in the worst water moment in modern history, or you can worry that people are saving one-third less than last year. It really appears to be a mixed picture.”

I worry about the slippage,” Ms. Marcus said. “But folks are still saving a lot of water without the state giving them a number.”

By any measure, California is confronting a complicated new chapter as it enters the sixth year of a drought that has forced it to balance huge demand for a sparse resource — water — from farmers, residents, municipalities and developers. For one thing, the situation is not as dire as a year ago after a relatively normal rainy season. Some of the most searing symbols of the drought, such as near-empty reservoirs, are harder to find.

The improvement can be seen in and around this Central Valley farming community that became a national symbol of the drought. For nearly two years, Sebastian Mejia, a truck driver who lives here with his wife and four daughters, had to haul buckets of water to his home so his family could take showers, flush the toilet and wash the dishes. No more.

“I just took a shower right now,” Mr. Mejia said, standing on his dusty street on the edge of a community where many homes, including his, have temporary water tanks perched on their lawns.

A few miles away at the Drought Resource Center, no one was in line on a recent afternoon to use the temporary showers that were set up last year.

But the drought shows no sign of ending. Meteorologists say it would take five years of normal to heavy rain to replenish depleted groundwater supplies and reservoirs. Last year, after forecasts of a heavy El Niño weather system that would soak the state, California ended up with average rainfall, concentrated in the north of the state.

And a number of environmentalists say this is not a typical cyclical drought that is part of life here, but rather the beginning of a more arid era created by global warming.

“We’ve had less than 39 inches of rain in five years in L.A. County, which is absolutely unprecedented in our history,” said Mark Gold, an environmental professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The timing of the rollback and the mixed message could have severe consequences. The public did their part in responding to the emergency. We are still under emergency conditions.”

Even in places like this community, improvement in the availability of water has been limited.

Elva Beltran, who runs the Porterville Area Coordinating Council, which provides emergency water to families who run out, said that while the pace had slowed, people were still coming in for help. “I never know from one day to the next when a family is going to come by and say, ‘Mrs. Beltran, we are out of water.’ ”

In suspending the cutback, the board instructed the state’s 411 water agencies to determine whether conservation measures were necessary in their districts. (By easing the rules, the board was also acting in response to financial problems that some agencies suffered as drops in consumption led to decreased revenue.) The vast majority of districts declared that they did not need to impose rationing, relying on consumers to restrict use on their own.

Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles said he feared that that sent a confusing message to water users, signaling that it was fine to return to old habits when it was not. Ms. Marcus agreed that it was a challenging argument to make. “It’s less easy to message, that’s for sure,” she said.

Tracy Quinn, a policy analyst with Natural Resources Defense Council, said the easing of the rules had come amid evidence that people were recognizing the severity of the situation and changing their habits. And some changes — such as replacing lawns with drought-tolerant plants — produced permanent reductions in water use.

“You had people willing to change their behavior altogether,” she said. “Watering their lawns less often. Taking shorter showers. I think people were making a lot of strides, and conservation was truly becoming a way of life.”

“We had one normal, average precipitation year among five,” she said. “We certainly don’t know what the next few years will bring.”

But Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water for about 19 million people, said the state would have undercut its credibility if it had left the rule in place. He said that while conservation was down in his area, the agency had been able to build up its reserves by bringing water down from the north.

“If you tell people it’s an emergency and you had an average water year, people get cynical and say you are only playing with numbers,” he said. “The tension is: Do you continue to push an emergency message when it’s really not an emergency?”

Ms. Marcus said she had been encouraged by the way the public had rallied during the worst months of the drought and was confident that people would step up again if conditions grew worse. If not, under the original drought order issued by Mr. Brown, the state can reimpose mandatory conservation with 10 days’ notice, though Ms. Marcus said the board would probably hold hearings to give the public a chance to comment. “We’re not planning on surprising anyone,” she said.

David L. Sedlak, a director of the Berkeley Water Center at the University of California, Berkeley, said that in lifting the rules, the state risked having people return to old habits.

“But we have to balance that risk against the risk of crying wolf,” he said. “If we make the drought restrictions permanent, what do we do the next time the drought becomes severe? There will be no more buttons to push.”

Turkey’s EU minister says migrant readmissions may end without visa deal

October 18, 2016

by Tulay Karadeniz and Tuvan Gumrukcu


Ankara-The European Union should implement visa-free travel for Turks by the end of the year and stop insisting Turkey change its anti-terrorism laws or Ankara may cancel its side of a deal to readmit illegal migrants, Turkey’s EU minister told Reuters.

Turkey agreed in March to stop illegal migrants from crossing into Greece in exchange for financial aid for those in its care, the promise of visa-free travel for its citizens to much of the EU, and accelerated EU membership talks.

But there has been deadlock over the plan to grant Turks visa-free access to Europe by October. Brussels first wants Turkey to change its anti-terrorism laws, which it deems too broad and potentially oppressive for European standards.

“Forcing this despite the situation is putting a roadblock in front of the visa liberalization, and therefore we will assume they aren’t keeping the promises they made,” Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said in an interview in Ankara.

“In that case we won’t carry out the readmission deal, and

we will cancel it if necessary,” he said, referring to a 2013 deal in which Turkey agreed to take back migrants who traveled illegally to the EU in return for the promise of visa-free travel.

He said no final demand for a schedule had yet been given by Turkey, but that if visa liberalization is not implemented by the end of the year it would have “reached its natural death”.

“There won’t be anything left to talk about,” he said.


More than a million migrants entered the EU last year by taking boats from Turkey to Greece, but the numbers taking that route have tumbled since the deal with Ankara came into effect.

Celik said Turkey had been keeping its promises, with illegal arrivals on the Greek islands dropping to 20-30 people a day from a peak of 7,000 in 2015.

“If there is a working part of the deal, it is because of the working quality of Turkish institutions. It is thanks to the security forces and coast guard,” Celik said.

“There is nothing holding the deal back in terms of Turkey realizing its promises, but every aspect is lagging from the European side.”

The EU said this month it was living up to its side of the agreement, and that financial support for migrants in Turkey had accelerated in recent months.

Relations between Turkey and the EU were tested after a failed coup in July. Many Turks were incensed by what they saw as Europe’s failure to show speedier solidarity over the putsch, in which more than 240 people died.

European leaders have also been critical of the scale of a post-coup crackdown, in which more than 32,000 people have been jailed and 100,000, including top military figures, have been dismissed from jobs in the security and civil services.

Celik rejected suggestions that the suspensions had caused institutional weakness or damaged accession talks with the 28-nation bloc.

“To the contrary, them leaving increases institutional quality. Especially at the foreign ministry and EU ministry there are no setbacks regarding the EU negotiations,” he said.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by David Dolan and Ralph Boulton)

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