TBR News September 22, 2016

Sep 22 2016

The Voice of the White House    

Washington, D.C.  September 22, 2016:” ‘We are out of the office until September 23-editor’

US tests IS rocket for mustard gas after attack

IS has fired a small rocket at a military base that hosts hundreds of US troops near Mosul, with the shell testing positive “for a mustard agent.” None of the soldiers showed symptoms of poisoning.

September 22, 2016


The device was “imprecise and crude,” a Pentagon spokesperson told the DPA news agency on Wednesday, commenting on the attack on the Qayara West air base in Iraq.

The missile landed inside the perimeter during an “indirect fire” attack from the “Islamic State” (IS), another Pentagon official told reporters. “Hundreds” of US troops were located in the Iraqi compound, he added.

An initial test of the shell fragments showed presence of mustard gas residue. The second probe turned out negative and the samples have been sent to laboratory for further testing.

The source said that nobody at the base was injured.

“Our concern is not much greater after seeing this,” said the official, who asked not to named.

Bracing for push on Mosul

After the attack, a small group of US troops inspected the shell fragments and discovered a black oily substance on one of them, which tested positive for mustard gas. Although none of the soldiers displayed symptoms of exposure, they all went through the standard decontamination procedure.

“This attack has not impacted our mission in any way, nor have we changed our security posture in the area around Qayara,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “We train and equip ourselves and our partners for just this type of eventuality.”

The US soldiers are helping the Iraqi forces prepare the upcoming offensive to nearby Mosul, which is the last major IS stronghold in Iraq.

A UN probe has found that IS has used toxic gas in Syria. Last week, the US-led coalition bombed a factory near Mosul, allegedly used by the militia to produce chemical weapons.

27 U.S. Senators Rebel Against Arming Saudi Arabia

September 21, 2016

by Alex Emmons

The Intercept

A Senate resolution opposing a $1.15 billion arms transfer to Saudi Arabia garnered support from 27 senators on Wednesday, a sign of growing unease about the increasing number of civilians being killed with U.S. weapons in Yemen. A procedural vote to table the resolution passed 71-27.

The Obama administration announced the transfer last month, the same day the Saudi Arabian coalition bombed a potato chip factory in the besieged Yemeni capital. In the following week, the Saudi-led forces would go on to bomb a children’s school, the home of the school’s principal, a Doctors Without Borders hospital, and the bridge used to carry humanitarian aid into the capital.

Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in March 2015, four months after Houthi rebels from Northern Yemen overran the capitol, Sanaa, and deposed the Saudi-backed ruler, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In addition to providing Saudi Arabia with intelligence and flying refueling missions for its air force, the United States has enabled the bombing campaign by supplying $20 billion in weapons over the past 18 months. In total, President Obama has sold more than $115 billion in weapons to the Saudi kingdom – more than any other president.

After the White House failed to respond to a letter from 60 members of Congress requesting that the transfer be delayed, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a resolution condemning the arms sale. Paul and Murphy said they had planned to pursue binding legislation if their resolution was successful.

“It’s time for the United States to press ‘pause’ on our arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Murphy said. “Let’s ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with the United States getting slowly, predictably, and all too quietly dragged into yet another war in the Middle East.”

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., speaking in support of the resolution, said the “very fact that we are voting on it today sends a very important message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that we are watching your actions closely, and that the United States is not going to turn a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of men, women, and children.”

The Republican leadership strongly opposed the bill, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Whip John Cornyn, Armed Services Chairman John McCain and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker speaking against. Republicans claimed that the Houthi insurgency is an Iranian proxy, blamed President Obama’s foreign policy for emboldening Iran, and argued that the war is justified.

“Let’s be clear about what the arms sale is all about. It’s about giving a nation that’s under attack by Iranian-sponsored militia the arms it needs to defend its people and its territory,” McCain said. “Make no mistake, this aggression is fueled by the Iranians.”

The Saudi government frequently describes the Houthis as an Iranian proxy in order to justify their bombing campaign. Numerous U.S. diplomats and experts on Yemen, however, have argued that Iranian support for the Houthis is very limited, and that the war in Yemen is a civil war, not a proxy war.

Coalition airstrikes are responsible for the majority of the 10,000 people killed in the conflict, and according to data collected by the Yemen Data Project, nearly a third of all Saudi air raids have hit civilian targets, including markets, factories, mosques, schools, or hospitals.

Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, praised the vote of the dissenting senators. “Today, for the first time since the war in Yemen began, 27 senators voiced the first cries of dissent against our government’s unconditional and unlimited support for the Saudi-led coalition,” Offenheiser said in a statement. “Concern in Congress regarding the situation in Yemen and the US’s heartless and disjointed approach to it will only grow stronger.”

The measure still may have a chance in the House, where Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., has introduced a companion resolution. In June, the House almost passed a measure banning the transfer of internationally banned cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, but the amendment was defeated 204-216.

Charlotte, N.C. in state of emergency after second night of violence

September 22, 2016

by Greg Lacour and Andy Sullivan


CHARLOTTE, N.C-Residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, woke to a state of emergency on Thursday with National Guard troops deployed on the streets after a second night of violent protests over the fatal police shooting of a black man.

One person was on life support after being shot by a civilian late Wednesday as riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades to try to disperse demonstrators who looted stores and threw rocks, bottles and fireworks.

Four police officers suffered non-life threatening injuries, city officials said.

The latest trouble erupted after a peaceful rally earlier in the evening by protesters who reject the official account of how Keith Scott, 43, was gunned down by a black police officer in the parking lot of an apartment complex on Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities say Scott was wielding a handgun and was shot after refusing commands to drop it. His family and a witness say he was holding a book, not a firearm, when he was killed.

Scott’s wife, Rakeyia Scott, said on Wednesday evening that her family was “devastated” and had “more questions than answers” about her husband’s death.

She said she respected the rights of those who wanted to demonstrate, but asked they do so peacefully.

But the pleas appeared to go mostly unheeded. Overnight, protesters smashed windows and glass doors at a downtown Hyatt hotel and punched two employees, the hotel’s manager told Reuters. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted on windows.

People run from flash-bang grenades in uptown Charlotte during a protest of the police shooting of Keith Scott.  REUTERS/Jason Miczek

Looters were seen smashing windows and grabbed items from a convenience store as well as a shop that sells athletic wear for the National Basketball Association’s Charlotte Hornets. Protesters also set fire to trash cans.

It was the second night of unrest in North Carolina’s largest city and one of the biggest U.S. financial centers. Sixteen police officers and several protesters were injured on Tuesday night and in the early hours of Wednesday.


Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency late Wednesday night and began the process of deploying the National Guard and state highway patrol officers to the city to help restore peace.

“Any violence directed toward our citizens or police officers or destruction of property should not be tolerated,” McCrory said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts was considering a curfew and Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), which is headquartered in Charlotte, told employees not to report to work at its uptown offices, local media reported.

The killing of Scott came just days after a fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma that was recorded on video. Protesters have held peaceful rallies demanding the arrest of the female officer involved.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone on Wednesday with the mayors of Charlotte and Tulsa, a White House official said.

The two deaths were the latest in a series of police shootings over the last couple of years that have raised questions about racial bias in U.S. law enforcement. They have also made policing and community relations a major topic ahead of the presidential election in November.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called on the police in Charlotte to release camera footage of the incident. Authorities have said the officer who shot Scott, Brentley Vinson, was in plainclothes and not wearing a body camera. But according to officials, video was recorded by other officers at the scene, and by cameras mounted on patrol cars.

Mayor Roberts said she planned to view the footage on Thursday, but did not indicate if or when it would be made public.

William Barber, president of North Carolina’s chapter of the NAACP, called for the “full release of all facts available,” and said NAACP officials planned to meet with city officials and members of Scott’s family on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Jeffrey Benkoe)

 Bahamas files: New leak exposes offshore ‘tax haven’ dealings of politicians, companies

September 22, 2016


Five months after the Panama Papers exposed the offshore dealings of government leaders and influential people, a new leak of 1.3 million files has revealed the names of individuals associated with companies registered in the Bahamas, a notorious tax haven.

The files – received by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – contains the names of politicians and other individuals linked to more than 175,000 Bahamian companies, trusts, and foundations registered in the Bahamas between 1990 and 2016.

Among the individual names in the publicly searchable database are politicians, entrepreneurs, financiers and fraudsters, all of whom have taken advantage of the Bahamas’ unique positioning as a global tax haven.

The benefits of having a registered address in the Bahamas are plentiful, including the absence of taxes on company profits, capital gains, income and inheritance. Anonymity also plays a role – because although the Bahamas claims to be a transparent jurisdiction with a public register of companies, information shared from the government is limited, the Guardian reported.

Former EU commissioner exposed

Perhaps the most ironic name on the list is former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, whose previous job required her to hound big corporations and inform them they couldn’t run away from EU rules.

However, the documents revealed that Kroes was listed as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas from 2000 to 2009. That role was never disclosed by Kroes. Such a role is a violation of the commissioners’ code of conduct, which forbids commissioners from holding outside directorships during their tenure.

Speaking through her lawyer following the leak, Kroes said she should have declared the directorship and “will inform the president of the European commission of this oversight and will take full responsibility for it,” the Guardian reported.

However, Kroes’ attorney stressed that she believed the company had been liquidated in 2002, before her appointment as commissioner. Kroes claims she was not paid for the role and did not hold shares in the company. She stressed that the company never became operational and there had been no board meetings.

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd was also included in the revelations, along with her involvement in a fund which saw a fellow director imprisoned for making misleading statements to investors.

The Bahamas files also confirm previous reports that former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s father used the Caribbean country as a base for his Blairmore investment fund, which in turn avoided tax for three decades.

Former Mongolian Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold was also included, back when he was the director of a Mongolian goldmining company which used the Bahamas as an offshore address.

In addition, German property developer Cem Kinay was also listed. Kinay is wanted by Interpol for bribery, and is accused of making a potentially corrupt payment to Michael Misick, the former premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Three of Canada’s biggest banks were also on the list. According to the leak, RBC registered 847 companies between 1990 and May 2016, while CIBC registered 632 and Scotiabank registered 481.

Lack of transparency

The Bahamas has long been on the radar of tax officials and governments around the world. In June 2015, the European Union placed it, along with 30 other countries, on a list of un-cooperative tax havens.

In 2000, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – the world’s leading tax policy forum – placed the Caribbean nation on a blacklist of countries that aid tax dodging. It was removed from the list the following year, after it rushed through nine new laws.

However, the Bahamas was placed on the OECD’s ‘gray list’ in 2009, a less severe category which “nonetheless signified nonconformity with international standards,” according to the ICIJ.

The Bahamas also emerged as a common thread in the US Department of Justice’s crackdown on Swiss bank UBS. The department took criminal action against numerous US citizens with offshore dealings in the Bahamas between 2009 and 2014.

But money-laundering and tax probes in the Bahamas often hit a wall, as many directors listed on company files are simply “nominees” – front people or firms that disguise the real operators, according to the ICIJ.

And although Bahamian law requires the names of directors to be filed with the national registrar, those names are not always available online – and directors’ names cannot be searched individually or without pre-existing knowledge of the Bahamian company’s name. Thus, it is incredibly difficult to check whether a public official or corporate executive is linked to companies chartered in the Bahamas.

The government of the Bahamas told the ICIJ, however, that it “does not tolerate dirty money,” and that it “has in many areas been rated as ‘largely compliant’ with international standards.”

Archeologists denounce Dakota Access pipeline for destroying artifacts

Coalition of 1,200 archeologists, museum directors and historians say $3.8bn Dakota Access pipeline disturbs Native American artifacts in North Dakota

September 22, 1016

by Oliver Milman

The Guardian

Archeologists and museum directors have denounced the “destruction” of Native American artifacts during the construction of a contentious oil pipeline in North Dakota, as the affected tribe condemned the project in an address to the United Nations.

The $3.8bn Dakota Access pipeline, which will funnel oil from the Bakken oil fields to Illinois, will run next to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The tribe has mounted a legal challenge to stop the project and claimed that several sacred sites were bulldozed by Energy Transfer, the company behind the pipeline, on 3 September.

A coalition of more than 1,200 archeologists, museum directors and historians from institutions including the Smithsonian and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries has written to the Obama administration to criticize the bulldozing, which Energy Transfer claims did not disturb any artifacts.

The letter states that the construction work destroyed “ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people”.

It adds: “The destruction of these sacred sites adds yet another injury to the Lakota, Dakota, and other Indigenous Peoples who bear the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and transportation. If constructed, this pipeline will continue to encourage oil consumption that causes climate change, all the while harming those populations who contributed little to this crisis.”

The Obama administration has halted construction of the 1,170-mile pipeline that occurs on federal land while it reassesses the initial decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to allow the project to proceed. The approval sparked furious protests at a camp near the North Dakota construction site but Energy Transfer has vowed to push ahead after a federal judge sided with the company.

“What the Standing Rock Sioux are going through is just one example of a systemic and historical truth around how extractive and polluting infrastructure is forced upon Native communities,” said James Powell, former president and director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

“It is long past time for us to abandon fossil fuel projects that harm native communities and threaten the future of our planet.”

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has taken its case to the UN, addressing the human rights commission in Geneva on Tuesday. Dave Archambault II, chairman of the tribe, said that Energy Transfer has shown “total disregard for our rights and our sacred sites”.

“Thousands have gathered peacefully in Standing Rock in solidarity against the pipeline,” Archambault told commission members. “And yet many water protectors have been threatened and even injured by the pipeline’s security officers. One child was bitten and injured by a guard dog. We stand in peace but have been met with violence.”

Archambault said the pipeline violates the UN’s declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and called on the UN to use its “influence and international platform” to help the tribe.

Energy Transfer did not respond to a request for comment. The company has previously denounced “threats and attacks” perpetrated upon its employees.

Tomorrow’s Laser-Armed Helicopter Drones

September 19, 2016

by Patrick Tucker

Defense One

First come powerful generators, then autonomy, then directed energy, says LightningStrike maker.

A decade or so from now, Marines could be using a laser-armed version of this bizarre copter-plane to take out enemies over the horizon. It’s the LightningStrike from Aurora Flight Sciences, which is currently the prime contractor on the VTOL X-Plane project by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. An Aurora representative says that “there’s quite a bit of interest” in a laser-armed version of the drone, particularly for use in Marine Corps missions.

The LightningStrike uses a hybrid electric distributed propulsion system. A Rolls-Royce AE 1107C turboshaft engine drives three Honeywell generators, which produce a total of three megawatts of electrical power.

“That’s enough to power a small town,” John Tylko, the chief innovation officer at Aurora Flight Sciences, pointed out to Defense One at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference outside of Washington, D.C.

Currently, the LightningStrike uses the juice to run 24 ducted fans that lift the aircraft vertically, then rotate to push it forward, similar to a Boeing V-22 Osprey. But there’s plenty of excess power for other uses, at least while the aircraft is in cruise mode, when its lift fans need only one megawatt.

“The biggest advantage of this capability is that because it’s generating so much electrical power, it has significant available power in cruise for directed energy payloads or for electronic warfare countermeasure payloads that can be useful in this future landscape,” Tylko said. “Governments are putting a lot of effort into this directed energy.”

Aurora and DARPA are talking to different services about what they might want to do with the LightningStrike.

“We’re just at the beginnings of that, but the most likely customer is the Marine Corps,” who are attracted by the combination of vertical lift and a forward speed of about 400 knots, Tylko said.

Defense One has asked the Marines for comment.

Aurora isn’t the only drone maker looking to put lasers on flying robots. Last year, General Atomics, maker of the famous MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, announced that they were undertaking a privately funded study to incorporate a massive 150-kilowatt laser into their large Predator C drone. The LightningStrike, which would be a medium-altitude drone, doesn’t really compete with the Reaper. Tylko cautioned that a laser-tipped LightningStrike “is ten to twenty years off; it’s really pushing the state of the art. It’s not likely to be fielded in the near term.”

In the meantime, Aurora and others are leading the charge away from human pilots and toward more autonomous flying weapons.

“Remotely piloted vehicles, that’s a technology from the 1990s,” Tylko said. “Predator and Reaper still need to be flown manually because that’s a technology that’s 20 years old.”

Marines staging a beachhead assault, or running an artillery base on the border of a battle zone, don’t generally have much time to devote to drone pilot training or ground crew operations. Aurora is focusing heavily on autonomy and GPS independence across its drone portfolio, including the LightningStrike, to create flying weapons that can pilot themselves — but humans would still be in charge of deciding when to fire, in keeping with current military policy.

Big Pharma spent $880mn on keeping opioids available – report

September 22, 2016


In the midst of one of the worst drug epidemics in the US, a report found that the money spent on keeping painkillers regularly prescribed has overshadowed even anti-gun lobbying efforts and may be behind the opioid epidemic ravaging the nation.

The opioid crisis has reached a point where police officers carry Narcan when responding to calls due to the risk of accidental fentanyl exposure. But it may not have had to be like this, as multiple bills that would have limited opioid prescriptions were put in front of state governments.

However, very few of those bills passed, due to aggressive lobbying efforts from the drugmakers that rivaled in size those of anti-gun control groups. In fact, pharmaceutical companies spent more money lobbying against opioid restrictions than tobacco groups in 1998 when they were facing litigation from 40 states.

“The opioid lobby has been doing everything it can to preserve the status quo of aggressive prescribing,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an opioid reform advocate, told the Associated Press. “They are reaping enormous profits from aggressive prescribing.”

The opioid industry and its allied groups, such as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN), spent $880 million on lobbying across the country and contributing to political campaigns. An average 1,350 lobbyists were employed by the drugmakers and their groups to maintain a presence in state capitals and be prepared to act quickly when faced with opposing political activity, according to the report.

In 2012, lawmakers received reports on a “crisis of epidemic proportions” that was wreaking havoc on 40 percent of Americans: chronic pain. Some researchers doubt the validity of the study that claims over 100 million Americans suffer from the condition. The study made no mention of the rising numbers of overdoses from OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet that had quadrupled from 1999 until 2012.

That same year, Senator Bernadette Sanchez (D-New Mexico) sponsored a bill that would have limited initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain to seven-day doses. The purpose of this measure was to make addiction less likely and provide fewer pills that could be resold on the black market.

The measure did not make it past the House Judiciary Committee.

“The lobbyists behind the scenes were killing it,” Sanchez told the AP.

The report found that in 2012, drug companies and their affiliates contributed about $40,000 to various New Mexico campaigns.

In 2014, New Mexico would be home to the second highest death rate from drug overdoses.

“Here in New Mexico we are facing an epidemic,” US Attorney Damon Martinez told the New York Times.

New Mexico is home to the second highest American Indian population in the US and the Native population has been hit particularly hard by opioid addiction. American Indian students had rates of using heroin and OxyContin two to three times higher than the national averages from 2009 to 2012, the New York Times reported.

In 2007, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue paid $600 million in fines after pleading guilty to “misbranding” the drug, which misled doctors, patients and regulators about OxyContin’s high rates of addiction and risk of abuse.

In 2014, the pain study that senators received gained more attention. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cited it as a reason to keep painkillers accessible, but Michael Von Korff, a contributing researcher to the study, did not believe that the conclusion lawmakers and pharmaceutical companies were drawing from his work was correct.

Korff told the AP that the study represented “people with run-of-the-mill pain problems who are already managing them pretty well.” Korff is also a member of the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, but found the figure of 100 million people with pain to be the centerpiece for lobbying efforts that cost the Pain Care Forum nearly $19 million.

An investigation found that nine out of 19 experts involved in the report had served as leaders in various groups that received funding from the painkiller industry, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In July, a bill meant to tackle the drug addiction epidemic was stripped of its $920 million funding by Republican senators. Meanwhile, the report found that opioid sales topped $9.6 billion last year – more than 10 times what the US government would have allocated to expand treatment options. In the last decade alone, Purdue has generated over $22 billion from opioid sales.

Pharmaceutical companies are not solely trying to crush any potential limitation on their products. They’ve been long pushing bills that are meant to combat the opioid abuse. But those bills also involve a new cash cow for the drugmakers: patent-protected abuse-deterrent opioids with extended release.

Some experts are hesitant to believe that abuse-deterrent opioids will be the remedy for the opioid crisis, however.

“The FDA shouldn’t be allowing these drugs to be labeled as ‘abuse-deterrent’ because they don’t really deter abuse–they deter misuse by specific routes,” Andrew Kolodny, the executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing and senior scientist at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, told Forbes.

“If a pill has been made difficult to crush, it should be labeled ‘crush resistant,” or “One of the main problems with calling them ‘abuse deterrent’ is that the terms ‘abuse’ and ‘addiction’ are often used interchangeably.”

In simple terms, making these drugs more difficult to abuse does not mean they aren’t addictive. According to Kolodny, they are “every bit as addictive and patients can become addicted taking pills exactly as prescribed.”

“If doctors make the mistake of thinking ADF opioids are less addictive, they may continue to over prescribe,” he added.

The other issue with the abuse-deterrent pills is that they are no deterrent of profits for pharmaceutical companies. Pennsylvania’s state senate will hear a bill that requires health insurance plans to cover abuse-deterrent painkillers with a patented formulation and cost three to five times more than standard painkillers, according to New Castle News.

The bill was lobbied by Purdue Pharma and written from recommendations of an opioid task force that met in private, held no public hearings and included pharmaceutical industry representatives. Its wording is nearly identical to at least 21 other bills in the country.

The FDA has held back on making bold stances on the opioid epidemic. Some limitations have been placed on prescribers, such as adding new warnings to immediate-release opioids but the federal agency has refused to require training doctors in writing safer prescriptions.

In fact, the first federal guidelines on reducing opioid prescriptions came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recommendations advise that chronic pain sufferers look into non-opioid pain relievers and work with physical therapy. The resistance to these suggestions included threats of congressional investigation and legal action.

US airstrikes on Syrian troops were ‘intentional,’ lasted nearly 1 hour – Assad to AP

September 22, 2016


Syrian President Bashar Assad says that US airstrikes which killed 62 Syrian government troops were “intentional” and they lasted for an hour. He added that the US “does not have the will” to join Russia in fighting terrorists in Syria.

Speaking to the Associated Press in Damascus, the Syrian leader denied that the airstrikes carried out by the US near Deir ez-Zor on September 17 were an accident. Sixty-two Syrian soldiers were killed and over 100 were injured, according to the Syrian military. Assad said they were “intentionally” targeted.

“It was not an accident by one airplane; it was four airplanes which kept attacking the position of the Syrian troops for nearly one hour or maybe a little bit more than one hour,” Assad told AP, adding they were attacking a large area that “constituted of many hills” adjacent to where the Syrian troops were stationed

Assad also questioned how IS was able to launch an attack so quickly after the airstrike.

“The IS troops attacked at the very same time as the American strike. How could they know that America was going to attack that position in order to gather their militants right away and attack it one hour after the strike. It was definitely intentional and not unintentional,” he added.

The Pentagon said the airstrikes on Syrian troops were an accident and that they were aimed at Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists.

Assad also claimed that the US is not interested in fighting terrorists in Syria, saying that Washington “lacks the will” to join Russia in trying to eliminate extremist groups.

“When you have many external factors that you don’t control, it’s going to drag on and no one in this world can tell you when,” he answered a question about when the war might end.

He also said that the conflict is likely to drag on because the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar keep supporting those opposed to Assad’s rule.

The Syrian president dismissed US claims that Russian or Syrian planes were responsible for a fatal attack on an aid convoy which killed 21 people September 19. He said the American accusations have “no credibility” and they are “just lies.”

“I would say whatever the American officials said about the conflict in Syria has no credibility. Whatever they say is just lies.”

When pressed about what happened to the aid convoys, Assad said they were passing through rebel-held areas and these “terrorists” were responsible for their security.

“We don’t have any idea about what happened. The only thing we saw was videos of burnt-out, destroyed trucks and nothing else,” Assad said.

‘In-Betweeners’ Are Part of a Rich Recruiting Pool for Jihadists

September 22, 2016

by Scott Shane, Richard Perez-Pena and Aurelian Breeden

New York Times

WASHINGTON — They were young men caught between cultures, sons of immigrant families, feeling lost or rejected — and angry about American-led wars. Online they encountered the silver-tongued recruiters of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, who said their first loyalty should be not to their nation but to Islam. Then they plotted sensational violence.

In the weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey and stabbings at a mall in Minnesota, the accused perpetrators fit the same rough pattern as in previous attacks at the Boston Marathon in 2013; in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015, and in Orlando, Fla., in June, as well as in the terrorist assaults in Paris and Brussels.

A rich recruiting pool for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State includes what psychologists call “in-betweeners,” young adults whose identities have not yet solidified. Their uncertainty makes them vulnerable, said J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California, San Diego. “It allows the individual to attach his identity to something that is larger and inflates his sense of himself,” he said.

The uncomfortable in-between status can be especially acute for those with recent immigrant roots. Living in two cultures at once is very enriching for most people but very unsettling for others, said Lorenzo Vidino, the director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. For some Muslim immigrants, he said, “You have a message at home that’s very conservative, and a completely different message from the society around you when you’re growing up.”

The full history of Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, the naturalized American of Afghan birth who is accused of planting bombs in Manhattan and New Jersey, is not yet known. But his 2014 arrest in an alleged stabbing in a family dispute suggests a young man adrift; his scribbling in a notebook the names of Osama bin Laden, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani — an Islamic State leader — and Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda recruiter, appeared to reflect a full-blown embrace of jihadism.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a Chechen immigrant and the older of the two Boston Marathon bombers, turned to Islamist extremism when his hopes for a boxing career dimmed. He was 26 at the time of the attack. Omar Mateen, the son of an Afghan immigrant with outspoken political views, was 29 when he opened fire at an Orlando nightclub, killing 49 people. He had been dismissed from training as a prison guard after making disturbing remarks about weapons, and ended up as a private security guard.

Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, the Chicago-born son of immigrants from Pakistan, found work as a health inspector but had spent years searching for dates and a mate before meeting Tashfeen Malik online and marrying her in Saudi Arabia. Together, the couple attacked a luncheon attended by Mr. Farook’s colleagues last December, killing 14 people.

“When you dig into these cases, you find the ‘why’ is a very complex question,” said Peter Bergen, the director of the security program at New America, a research group, and author of “United States of Jihad.” Personal disappointment, perceptions of discrimination, anger about American foreign policy and the desire “to become a hero in one’s own story” are all at play in addition to jihadist ideology, he said.

“Many of them just take their grievances and dress them up in the garb of Islam,” Mr. Bergen said.

That has become easy in the age of the internet. The attackers in San Bernardino, Orlando and New York all had expressed support for the Islamic State, and they and the Boston bombers were devotees of the voluminous online work of Mr. Awlaki, who was killed in an American drone strike in 2011. He remains highly popular on the web, where he argues that Western Muslims must reject even the friendliest non-Muslim neighbors, whom he calls “Sally Soccer Mom and Joe Six-Pack.” Mr. Rahami wrote in his journal that “Sheikh Anwar,” as well as Mr. Adnani of the Islamic State, had “said it clearly”: “Attack the kuffar,” or non-Muslims, “in their backyard.”

Farhad Khosrokhavar, a sociologist at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and the author of “Radicalization,” said Muslims in Europe more often than those in America felt “frontally rejected” by the larger society. He said he has often seen in his research individuals who felt neither French nor Arab.

“In France, they are blamed for not being French enough, and when they go to their parents’ country of origin, they are blamed for not being Arab enough,” Mr. Khosrokhavar said. “That double denial can push them to adhere to a radical version of Islam, as a kind of lifeline: Since I am neither French nor Arab, neither American nor Afghan, I am Muslim and to hell with you all,” he added.

These roots of radicalization do not make immigrants in general a danger. In the United States, immigrants have a lower rate of crime and violence than other Americans. Converts to Islam are disproportionately represented among Americans and Europeans drawn to extremism, and other ideologies also motivate mass violence — as in the case of Dylann Roof, who was 21 when he fatally shot nine black people last year at a church in Charleston, S.C., in the name of white supremacy.

“The actual content of the ideology is secondary,” said Mr. Meloy, the psychologist. “What’s important is the identification and fixation.”

But the Islamist terrorist groups target the particular anxieties of Western Muslims from immigrant backgrounds, posing recruitment as a religious loyalty test. They call on supporters to reject the nations where they live and embrace instead a devotion to the ummah, the global community of Muslims. The West is at war with Islam, they say, and you must strike out to defend your fellow Muslims.

That message has been delivered with particular power by Mr. Awlaki, often reinforcing the newer propaganda efforts of the Islamic State. As an imam who counseled immigrants at three American mosques, and as a Yemeni-American who had lived in both countries and in Britain, Mr. Awlaki understood the worries of Muslims in the West. When he joined Al Qaeda, he did his best to open a gulf between them and their non-Muslim neighbors.

“The important lesson to learn here is: Never, ever trust a kuffar,” Mr. Awlaki said in a 2003 lecture in London that was captured on video and remains a YouTube favorite. “Now, you might argue and say: ‘But my neighbor is such a nice person. My classmates are very nice. My co-workers — they’re just fabulous people, they’re so decent and honest.’” Yet these non-Muslims can never be relied upon, he said.

Later, after moving to Yemen, he spoke not only of shunning non-Muslims, but also of attacking them. In a 2010 video, he tried to shame his listeners into choosing his brand of religion over their country.

“To the Muslims in America I have this to say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own brothers and sisters?” he said. “How can you have your loyalty to a government that is leading the war against Islam and Muslims?”

He has led many people down the jihadist path, and not just in English-speaking countries. The Counter Extremism Project, an advocacy group based in Washington, said Wednesday that it had counted 88 “extremists” who had been influenced by Mr. Awlaki: 54 in the United States and 34 in Europe.

Most such jihadist recruits are the children of immigrants, said Olivier Roy, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, and the author of “Globalized Islam.” His research shows that 65 percent of Muslim extremists in France and Belgium are from this second generation.

“These young people have broken away from their parents, who they blame for many things — for practicing the wrong Islam, for having brought them to the West, for having failed in life,” Mr. Roy said, noting that Mr. Rahami reportedly had clashed with his father.

But such conflicts pass. Few jihadists are from the third generation, the grandchildren of immigrants, he said.

Scott Shane reported from Washington, Richard Pérez-Peña from New York, Aurelien Breeden from Paris.

 The Money Is Gone

September 22, 2016

by David Dayen

The Intercept

Part 1

After a stock analyst lost $1 million on one penny stock, he set off to find out how — and soon discovered signs of a far bigger scheme than he had ever imagined.

Chris DiIorio had just lost a million dollars.

This was back in 2006. DiIorio, who was 39 at the time, had recently moved with his new wife from Boston to Castle Pines, Colorado, a leafy suburb of Denver, and was toiling in finance as a market researcher, analyzing the financial statements of public companies and giving recommendations to portfolio managers.

He had previously worked on Wall Street as an institutional equity trader and research analyst for a subsidiary of the now-defunct investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette. He had 13 years experience executing massive trades for large mutual fund clients like Fidelity and Putnam.

But in his new life, DiIorio happened upon a technology company called E Mobile (symbol: EMTK), a small computer chipmaker that claimed to hold patents on an antenna-type Wi-Fi router and other products. He reviewed company press releases, as well as investor chatter online claiming that E Mobile’s chips were provoking interest from Chinese content companies.

E Mobile didn’t trade on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, however. It was an over-the-counter stock, traded on an electronic exchange called the Pink Sheets that is home to what are commonly called “penny stocks.”

A penny stock is actually any equity that trades for $5 a share or less. But many shares can be had for a literal penny, or even a fraction of one. They are purchased on the Pink Sheets and the over-the-counter Bulletin Board market, through your regular brokerage account.

Not every penny stock is suspect; some are simply startup companies working their way to larger exchanges. But they do lurk on the dark edges of the financial markets, with sudden volumes and massive volatility. Regulation and reporting vary from light to nonexistent.

“They don’t have the same standards,” said Joseph Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission, who achieved fame by investigating Jordan “The Wolf of Wall Street” Belfort’s company Stratton Oakmont for penny stock fraud in the 1990s. “Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that’s where the money is. This is the easiest place to manipulate something.”

The Pink Sheets’ own website warns that it “offers trading in a wide spectrum of securities” and that “With no minimum financial standards, this market includes foreign companies that limit their disclosure, penny stocks and shells, as well as distressed, delinquent, and dark companies not willing or able to provide adequate information to investors. As Pink requires the least in terms of company disclosure, investors are strongly advised to proceed with caution and thoroughly research companies before making any investment decisions.”

But DiIorio didn’t know that at the time.

On Wall Street, he had executed multimillion share trades, usually of blue chip companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, like IBM or General Electric.

“I had never invested in a penny stock before,” DiIorio said. “I was not super sophisticated in this world.” But he decided to take a flyer on E Mobile, based on its promising news. “I bought this company on hype.”

Between February and May 2005, DiIorio bought over 3.7 million shares of E Mobile, mostly through his rollover IRA account with TD Ameritrade. The total cost: $100,000, or a little over 3 cents a share. It was a big position, but this was retirement money he was trying to grow, and if it paid off, the payday would be tremendous.

E Mobile bounced around for a year, not doing much. The CEO, Nan Hu, personally called DiIorio, asking him to invest more through a “private placement”: an off-market offering of stock to select investors.

DiIorio declined. “I was already up to my eyeballs. I said, ‘I’m good with my position.’” Attempts to reach Hu for comment were unsuccessful.

Then, in March 2006, E Mobile announced a “reverse merger” with Best Rate Travel, a private company specializing in online vacation booking. Adrian Stone replaced Hu as CEO. To DiIorio, it was a puzzling maneuver for a chipmaker. “They announced a merger with a travel company?” he said. “What the fuck?”

As part of the merger, E Mobile changed its name to Best Rate Travel, altered its stock ticker symbol to BTVL, and did a 1-1,000 “reverse stock split.”

You’ve probably heard of a stock split; it can happen when a company’s share price gets unmanageably high. So when a stock hits, say, $200, investors who owned one share receive two, each priced at $100.

Well, the opposite can happen, too. Best Rate Travel’s reverse split gave existing investors like DiIorio way fewer shares — at a way higher price.

As a major shareholder, DiIorio was offered a slightly better deal: a conversion to preferred shares of E Mobile at a lower reverse split rate of 1-to-30, and then a conversion at 3-to-1 to Best Rate Travel. After all that, he was left with 373,599 BTVL shares.

The merger hype, repeated in a feedback loop of positive press releases, moved the stock. DiIorio recalls it peaking at $3.50 by September 2006, giving his holdings a value of around $1.3 million.

“I thought this was the exception to everything I knew about the markets,” DiIorio said. “Cheap stocks are cheap for a reason.” But the success fed DiIorio’s ego. He felt like he beat the odds, vindicating his stock-picking acumen.

There was a problem, however. Best Rate Travel structured the conversion with a “lock-up” agreement, restricting shareholders like DiIorio from selling the stock for a year. This is common for newly public companies.

But it left DiIorio helpless when the stock plummeted from $3.50 to $0.06 a share within two months.

DiIorio initially saw it as a classic “pump-and-dump” scheme, where major investors in a company lure in other investors with overhyped claims, raising the stock price, and then sell their shares, leading to a drop. Pump-and-dumps have proliferated with the rise of internet message boards. “It’s not just promoters calling you on the phone anymore,” said Laura Posner, bureau chief of the New Jersey Bureau of Securities. “People pretend to be other people, pretend to have inside information.”

But to DiIorio, BTVL’s drop didn’t make sense, because prior shareholders were prohibited from trading the stock. “I called the CEO regularly and said: ‘Who’s selling the stock? How is this happening? The stock is not for sale.’ He told me that he was locked up too.” Phone numbers and email addresses listed for CEO Adrian Stone no longer function, so he could not be reached for comment.

By the end, DiIorio took a loss from the peak stock value of well over $1 million. “I never saw such devastation in a stock before,” he said.

A Real Head-Scratcher

DiIorio prided himself on being a savvy trader.

And the implosion of Best Rate Travel, given the lock-up period, shouldn’t have occurred. DiIorio wanted to understand what really happened to crush his investment so completely. And he had the background in financial market analysis to see it through.

So DiIorio started learning what firms traded Best Rate Travel. The biggest two by far were the giant Swiss bank UBS and a massive New Jersey-based company named Knight Capital.

He thought these were very big names to be involved in such an obscure penny stock.

Something fishy was going on, but DiIorio had no idea what. “I just thought, what the hell, I’m going to figure this out.”

Part 2 is coming soon

Tax fraud trial of New York art dealer Wildenstein underway in France

Dubbed the ‘Dallas on the Seine’ affair, the tax-fraud trial of New York art dealer Guy Wildenstein has begun in Paris. In one of the biggest-ever cases of its kind, the 70-year-old faces 10 years in jail if convicted.

September 22, 2016


In one of France’s biggest-ever tax fraud trials, Guy Wildenstein, the heir of a New York art-dealing empire, is facing criminal charges of concealing much of his inherited fortune. Authorities have claimed a huge 553 million euros ($621 million) in unpaid taxes for fraudulently undervaluing the family’s wealth, much of it held in tax havens.

Apart from small parts of the estate owned in France and London, “the whole patrimony of Daniel Wildenstein was held in trusts” located in tax havens like the Bahamas, Guernsey or the Cayman Islands, the French investigating judges have said in court documents.

Guy Wildenstein is the son of Daniel Wildenstein, an art dealer, racehorse owner and breeder in France who died in 2001. The 70-year-old Guy is a member of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad, a former member of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and was one of the movement’s major donors.

The intricacies of the case and the family feuding – some of it carried on after the death of an interested party – have made it a cause celebre in France. Over nearly a century, the Wildenstein family accumulated paintings by artists including Fragonard, Cézanne, Degas, Monet and Picasso which have for the most part, according to reports, been kept in the vaults of a Swiss bank and never been declared to the French tax authorities as they were held in offshore trusts.

According to a report in the Liberation French newspaper, the artworks were used as security to borrow money for investments. An agreement which it is claimed was made between the Wildensteins and Coutts Bank in the Bahamas used the $250 million (224 million euros) in artworks, held in a Zurich warehouse, as security for a $100 million facility for investments yielding $3 million a year.

When Daniel Wildenstein died in 2001, his wealth was declared at 40 million euros, with 18 million euros due in taxes.

Apart from the paintings, the Wildenstein family has two apartments in New York, one in Pais, a castle in Verrières-le-Buisson, a 30,000-hectare ranch in Kenya, a private jet and numerous valuable paintings. They are also known as racehorse owners and breeders, recently putting up more than 100 horses for sale with the Irish auctioneers Goffs.

Claiming widows

Crucial information for the case has come from the ex-wives of Daniel and Alec Wildenstein who believed they were being swindled by the family. Daniel’s widow, Sylvia, complained about her 400,000 euro income from her late husband’s estate for which she had been obliged, reportedly, to sign documents written in Japanese. She lodged a complaint, claiming 15 million euros, before she died in 2010.

However, Sylvia’s lawyer, Claude Dumont Beghi, carried on the claim. In 2012 she appeared before a Senate inquiry on tax evasion and claimed: “With the Wildenstein, it could be possible to return 1.5 billion euros to the state coffers.”

Other claims by ex-wives revealed more information about the family holdings. In 2009, following the death of Alec Wildenstein, Guy’s brother, an intervention by his second wife, Liouba, revealed another family trust, this one holding about 30 paintings which had allegedly been declared as “stolen or missing.”

Liouba is also a defendant in the trial, along with three tax lawyers and two trusts, all accused of committing or helping in tax fraud or money laundering. The trial is expected to continue for a month.












































































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