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TBR News April 14, 2018

Apr 14 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. April 14, 2018.: (Guest editorial by Christian Jürs)”Trump sees his bombing of Damascus as a great moral victory for him. The military, and other groups, persuaded him not to launch an attack on any area with Russians present lest they retaliate and start a major conflict. Trump does not learn and he, and his new supporter Bolton, are planning more mischief, both in the Middle East and in the Ukraine.

Bolton has suggested a false flag operation that would allow American troops to enter Syria in force and, by engaging the Syrian army, to effect a regeime change. Bolton is doing this because he is in the Isreali’s pocket. They hate Iran and fear a rocket attack by Iran-supported Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. To start this project nearly 3,600 U.S. troops, including Marines with the MEU, will be in Jordan by the 13-14 of this month for a purported “training exercise” to be called ‘Eager Lion.’ The military units for MEU include thousands of Marines, AV-8B Harriers, MV-22 Ospreys, and attack helicopters.

And from Augusta Bay in Italy, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock New York which has onboard Marines and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM 162 (Reinforced), was moved to a position at the eastern end of the Mediterranean

The largest ship with the MEU is the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima. The U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (Reinforced), are the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)

These will be off the coast of Syria and close to the Russian naval facilities at Tartus.

And at the same time, there is mischief being planned in the Ukraine.

The massive CIA presence in that country, combined with the US military such as the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, located at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in western Ukraine, will be formed to launch a military attack on the Crimea, following a false flag Russian incursion into the Ukraine with the goal of seizing the naval base at Sebastopol and securing extensive oil deposits off the Crimean coast.

Since Crimea was annexed in 2014, the U.S. and Ukrainian military units have expanded from 100,000 troops to nearly 250,000.

From the beginning of the conflict in Donbass a case can be made that the Central Intelligence Agency has had a role in operations inside the Ukraine. The plans for this operation go back to when Russia first started the BRICS organization about 2009.

At this point in time, the US decided to support a color revolution in Kiev and install trusted corrupt spies it already had in place within the Ukrainian government, Petro Poroshenko being the most prominent in the CIA’s pocket

During the Maidan Operation, the CIA dealt with coordination of the sniper teams as well as security for US assets in Ukraine’s government and liaison activity with strong neo-Nazi elements it had been financing in Right Sector and  Svoboda.

The CIA operations involved persons operating under diplomatic cover out of the US embassy in Kiev and safe houses with secure communications in major cities in the conflict area.

By utilizing private security groups like Blackwater, Academi and 20 other US mercenary firms, the CIA was fully able to provide killers for operational use.

Numbers vary on known numbers of actual CIA operatives in Ukraine.

They are supported by NSA satellite intelligence, communications intercepts, and logistics from the CIA.

Military hardware used by such forces will be very high quality western in origin. It is, and has been, sterile and not official US military issue. Signs of such forces include high quality rifle scopes and optics, special weapon systems, high grade commercial communications devices and uniforms not normally worn by UAF forces.

In emergency situations US helicopter assets from outside Ukraine may be called upon for extract or support as during the 2015 Apache helicopter mission within Donbass.

The use of such mercenaries is illegal under both UN conventions and international law, but the United States refuses to sign such treaties just as it refuses to be a party to an International Court out of legitimate fear of war crimes charges against it’s leaders and military personnel.”

Table of Contents

 

  • Comey’s book swipes at Trump – but Mueller’s inquiry is the real threat
  • Meet 19 women who claim affairs with Trump or accuse him of unwanted advances
  • Trump’s lawyer arranged $1.6m payoff to model to hide GOP fundraiser’s affair
  • Commentary: In Syria strike, the real danger is Russia
  • US-led strikes on Syria: A move with unpredictable consequences
  • Donald Trump Ordered Syria Strike Based on a Secret Legal Justification Even Congress Can’t See
  • Stuxnet Virus Targets Programmable Logic Controllers

Comey’s book swipes at Trump – but Mueller’s inquiry is the real threat

As the fired FBI director makes headlines, the bureau’s raid on the offices of Trump’s lawyer signals peril for his presidency

April 14, 2018

by Tom McCarthy in New York

The Guardian

The first big interview with the fired FBI director James Comey is blazing toward a broadcast on Sunday night, but for the Donald Trump presidency, multiple meteors have already hit.

In Comey’s book, ‘A Higher Loyalty,’ obtained by the Guardian on Thursday from a bookseller in New York before publication, the former official casts Trump as both “unethical” and “untethered to truth” and compares his presidency to a “forest fire”.

Likening Trump to a mafia boss, Comey describes a meeting in the Oval Office which gave him flashbacks to his career as a young prosecutor.

“As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob,” Comey writes. “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and the truth.”

The Republican party has launched a concerted effort to get its rebuttal in before the book is published, with a Trumpian web site dedicated to branding the former director “Lyin’ Comey”.

But ‘A Higher Loyalty’ is an instant bestseller online and will be supported by a media blitz to begin Sunday night with an hour-long broadcast on ABC News.

Trump called Comey a “weak and untruthful slime ball” on Friday in a Twitter response to the first reports from the book.

But Comey is not the only former FBI chief giving Trump a migraine – the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign has been accelerating and is also enraging the president.

The sky began to fall in for Trump on Monday, when FBI agents raided the offices and a hotel room used by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen. The raids were a strong sign that prosecutors might soon charge one of Trump’s fiercest loyalists with a serious crime or crimes, legal experts said.

“It’s a disgraceful situation,” Trump said. “It’s a total witch-hunt … It’s an attack on our country, what we all stand for.”

As the implications of those raids continue to sink in, Trump may be lured towards the kind of drastic action that would send fissures through the executive branch and beyond, multiple former White House and justice department officials interviewed by the Guardian said.

“The raid of Michael Cohen’s office was a seismic event, for any presidency,” said Andrew Wright, a former White House associate counsel and a professor at Savannah Law School. “I think he [Cohen] is in very serious trouble.

And sure enough, the president appears to have really come pretty unhinged at that news, so I think that’s incredibly significant.”

Even for a White House that can seem to cycle from crisis to extreme crisis, the current pressure on Trump, and the resulting peril for his presidency and the country, is acute, according to seasoned prosecutors.

“The pressure on the president is actually unimaginable to me,” said Betsy de la Vega, who was a federal prosecutor for more than 20 years.

While the public has no way of knowing how far along Mueller is in his work, De la Vega said, the decision to conduct the Cohen raids, given their high stakes, could indicate that prosecutors had completed significant work behind the scenes.

“They would have to know that setting it in motion would cause great consternation, to say the least, on the part of Donald Trump and his pals, so that gives me the sense that the pace is increasing.”

Cohen, who has denied all wrongdoing, could face charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, campaign violations, tax crimes or other charges relating to payments made to multiple women in advance of the 2016 election, and communications thereafter with at least one of those women.

The prospect of such an indictment is clearly weighing on the president’s mind. In the week since the Cohen raids, Trump has lashed out at Mueller and his superior, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

“Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein…),” Trump tweeted in a Wednesday morning tirade against “the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama”.

Mueller has indicted or reached plea agreements with 19 individuals, including four former senior Trump campaign aides, plus three companies in Russia. He is a Republican, as is Rosenstein. So are Comey and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general.

But none of Mueller’s targets has been as close to Trump as Cohen, who is a friend of the family, has been involved with the Trump children on real estate deals around the world, and who could have a lot to tell prosecutors about operations inside the Trump Organization.

The visceral threat of a prosecution so close to his company and his family could drive the president to take a step that the White House asserted last week was within his power: removing Mueller, or perhaps Rosenstein.

“There’s a clear pattern of the president seeming to think that the department of justice belongs to him,” said Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law School professor specializing in criminal prosecution issues. “And that’s deeply concerning. These threats to fire Sessions or fire Mueller or fire Rosenstein all fit into that.

“It’s a remarkable disregard for the rule of law. The precedent that this is setting, what this means for our country and our future, is very concerning.”

The combined pressures from the investigation, and a media cacophony with outlets such as Fox News touting an imminent Trump “personnel decision,” could be driving Trump toward a dangerous step, said Wright.

“It feels like there are people that are really trying to tempt the president to take drastic action to try and shut down these investigations, and I think that would just really send us into political convulsions in this country, and I think that would not solve the president’s problems, it would worsen them,” Wright said.

“I’m quite concerned about the precarious situation we find ourselves in right now.”

Members of congress in both chambers have said they support passing legislation to protect the special counsel, but such legislation is moving slowly.

Trump, meanwhile, appears not to have been shaken in his basic faith that the best way to handle the prosecutions swirling around him is to fight back with all the power the presidency can muster.

“No Collusion or Obstruction (other than I fight back), so now they do the Unthinkable, and RAID a lawyers office for information! BAD!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

“It’s the thing he hasn’t learned from the beginning,” said Wright, discussing Trump’s relationship with the prosecution.

“It’s like being wrapped by a boa constrictor. The more you struggle, the more likely you’re going to die quickly. And the less you struggle, the more likely you might be able to slip out of its clutches.

“And instead the president is just wiggling and wiggling and wiggling.”

 

Meet 19 women who claim affairs with Trump or accuse him of unwanted advances

March 20, 2018

by Jessica Estepa

USA TODAY

Before he jumped into politics, Donald Trump allegedly had multiple encounters with women, both consensual and non-consensual. At least 19 women have come forward with allegations about their interactions with the president.

Stormy Daniels

The former porn star reportedly had an affair with Trump after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006. Daniels has sued to break an agreement that keeps her from telling her side of the story.

Karen McDougal

In a lawsuit filed against American Media Inc., the former Playboy model claims she had a romantic relationship with Trump in 2006 and 2007. She is suing AMI, which allegedly paid her $150,000, to break her silence on the alleged affair.

Summer Zervos

The former Apprentice contestant has accused the president of sexual misconduct, including kissing and groping her in the years after she left the show. She has filed suit against him, saying he made defamatory remarks about her after she came forward with her story.

Jessica Drake

The porn star accused Trump of grabbing her, kissing her and offering her $10,000 for sex at the same golf tournament he met Daniels at. She reportedly is unable to discuss Trump because of an NDA.

Temple Taggart McDowell

The former Miss Utah competed in the 1997 Miss USA pageant. She said Trump embraced her and kissed her on the lips during a rehearsal. Later, after Trump offered to get her modeling contracts, he again embraced and kissed her in New York.

Bridget Sullivan

The former Miss New Hampshire competed in the 2000 Miss USA pageant. She described him hugging her “a little low on your back” and that he walked through dressing rooms during the pageant even though many of the women weren’t dressed. “We were all naked,” she told Buzzfeed.

Tasha Dixon

The former Miss Arizona described meeting Trump while she competed in the 2001 Miss USA pageant. She also said Trump came into rehearsal while women were changing, with some topless and others naked.

Samantha Holvey

The former Miss North Carolina competed in the 2006 Miss USA pageant. According to Holvey, Trump “personally inspected each woman” before the pageant, which made her feel like a “piece of meat.”

Ninni Laaksonen

The former Miss Finland said Trump groped her in 2006 before she appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman with Trump and other Miss Universe contestants.

Jennifer Murphy

A former Apprentice contestant and a former Miss Oregon, Murphy said Trump kissed her during a job interview in 2005. After she told her story in 2016, she said she still planned on voting for Trump.

Cassandra Searles

The former Miss Washington competed in the 2013 Miss USA pageant and said Trump groped her and invited her back to his hotel room.

Jessica Leeds

Leeds claims Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt during a flight to New York in the 1970s. In a 2017 interview, Leeds said she saw Trump at a gala and he referred to her as a c—.

Rachel Crooks

Crooks alleges Trump forcibly kissed her while waiting for an elevator at Trump Tower in 2006. At the time, Crooks was a receptionist at a real estate firm in the building.

Natasha Stoynoff

The former People writer said she had a run-in with Trump while she was covering him and Melania Trump, then pregnant, in 2005. She said he shut the door after they walked into a room together, and forced “his tongue down my throat.”

Cathy Heller

Heller said Trump manhandled her while kissing her during a brunch at Mar-a-Lago in the 1990s. She alleged he grew angry when she tried to twist away.

Mindy McGillivray

McGillivray said she was groped by Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2003. The incident happened while she was working on keeping track of name plates for a photographer.

Kristin Anderson

Anderson, a photographer and former model, accused Trump of reaching up her skirt while she was at a New York night club in the 1990s.

Jill Harth

Harth claims Trump made several unwanted sexual advanced on her, including him trying to put his hands between her legs during a business meeting. She filed a sexual harassment suit against him and also told the New York Times she had a consensual relationship with him in the 1990s.

Karena Virginia

Virginia alleged she met Trump in 1998 while waiting for a car service to pick her up.

Trump started talking about her, then allegedly grabbed her arm and his hand touched the inside of her breast.

 

Trump’s lawyer arranged $1.6m payoff to model to hide GOP fundraiser’s affair

  • Michael Cohen, raided by FBI this week, dealt with Playboy model
  • Elliott Broidy quits Republican National Committee on Friday

April 13, 2018

The Guardian

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer arranged for a $1.6m payment to a Playboy playmate in 2017 to keep secret her sexual relationship with a top Republican fundraiser and ally of Trump, a person familiar with the matter said.

Michael Cohen, whose home and office were raided this week by FBI agents searching in part for information about payoffs to women alleging sexual encounters with Trump, handled the matter on behalf of the fundraiser, Elliott Broidy, the person said.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was confirming a Wall Street Journal report.

Broidy, a 60-year-old venture capitalist from Los Angeles, told the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, on Friday afternoon that he was resigning his position as deputy finance chair immediately, an RNC official familiar with the discussion said. The official requested anonymity to discuss a private phone call between McDaniel and Broidy.

In a statement, Broidy acknowledged that he had a relationship with a Playboy model and offered to help her financially after she told him she was pregnant. The woman’s name has not been made public and the source declined to disclose it.

“She alone decided that she did not want to continue with the pregnancy and I offered to help her financially during this difficult period. We have not spoken since that time,” Broidy said in the statement.

Broidy said Cohen contacted him after being contacted by the woman’s attorney, Keith Davidson. Broidy said he retained Cohen because Cohen had a prior relationship with Davidson.

Cohen and Davidson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The first court hearing resulting from the Cohen raids was held in New York on Friday.

Commentary: In Syria strike, the real danger is Russia

April 13, 2018

by Peter Apps

Reuters

In deciding whether and how to strike Syrian government installations following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. military might once have focused on inflicting real damage on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Instead, through simple but ruthless plotting, Vladimir Putin has made this crisis – like so many others these days – all about Russia.

Much like President Barack Obama after an earlier, larger chemical strike in the Damascus suburbs in August 2013, President Donald Trump’s administration finds itself trapped by its own rhetoric. Like their predecessors, Trump administration officials are learning that prolonging their deliberations over a course of action makes physically taking it politically and militarily harder – and perhaps even pointless.

Predictably, Syrian government forces have reportedly moved into positions as close as possible to their Russian counterparts, betting – probably correctly – that the United States will be desperate to avoid hitting them. Even a significantly larger strike than the one Trump launched last year will do little to change the war on the ground. Assad has already all but won the six-year war, and has continued to entrench his position this week.

The Trump administration avoided this problem in the April 7, 2017 strikes by acting quickly – although that action, which Russia was warned of with very short notice, was also largely symbolic. Its planning was heavily the work of then-National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Last week’s attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, came just as John Bolton took over McMaster’s role, so the response has been slower and the administration more openly divided.

Both action and inaction now bring the risk of playing into Russia’s hands. The sheer level of force the United States has moved to the Mediterranean – with the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman sailing from Norfolk, Virginia last week – is a potent reminder that Washington’s military clout and reach still far eclipses Putin’s. The fact that it was necessary to take such a step, however, is also an unmistakable sign of weakness.

The most likely scenario remains a limited U.S. strike with no Russian conventional military retaliation. If Putin does respond, it is more likely to be in a more ambiguous way, such as by stepping up his war in Western-allied Ukraine. Still, Moscow clearly wants the United States and its allies to remember just how much damage it could do if it wished.

Ironically, a Russian-U.S. deal remains the best hope of stopping the escalating confrontation within Syria between Iran and Israel. Israel has stepped up attacks on what it believes are Iranian targets within the country, while Tehran is seen increasingly encouraging its local proxies – particularly Hamas and Hezbollah – to target the Jewish state. To talk, however, Moscow and Washington must stabilize this standoff – and for now, signs point the other way.

Russia’s post-2015 military interventions in Syria, like its actions in Ukraine the previous year and in Georgia in 2008, have been a master class in how to achieve significant strategic effect with relatively few forces. In facing down its enemies – which now clearly include the United States and NATO – Moscow has always relied on the threat of its larger military clout, particularly nuclear force. On the Syria front over the last week, Russian officials have openly raised the threat of war between the nuclear superpowers,  an unmistakable attempt to stop the West from acting.

Russia understands that any discussion of chemical weapons and classified evidence is likely to remind Western leaders – and electorates – of the incorrect intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Its online and broadcast outlets have been making such comparisons relentlessly, a sign of how central information warfare has become to Russia’s wider strategy.

Some Kremlin watchers even suspect that Moscow may be deliberately goading Trump and the West into striking, hoping to deepen domestic divisions in Western countries and to justify whatever Putin’s next move might be.

Significantly, Russian forces appear to have been directly interfering in the actions of their U.S. counterparts in a way previously unseen. This has reportedly included meddling with U.S. GPS signals in a way that has apparently affected the operations of American drones; Russian officials have warned of worse, including shooting down U.S. missiles and perhaps even targeting the aircraft and ships that fired them.

This sort of thing isn’t entirely new. Russia is widely suspected to have interfered with GPS signals before, in both the Black Sea and the Baltic. Aggressive Russian over-flights of U.S. and other allied military vessels have become increasingly common. Using such tactics in a high-stakes international confrontation like this, however, is a significant escalation – and sets precedents Moscow will likely rely on in any future face-offs.

For all the rhetoric and the very real danger of miscalculation, neither Washington nor Moscow wants to start a major war over Syria. Indeed, they may well not even wish to risk using their most sophisticated weapons. If Russia can indeed shoot down U.S. cruise missiles, it may decide to keep that technology under wraps. Similarly, the risk of weaponry falling into Russian hands means the United States may well hold back some of its cutting-edge technology too, saving it for a battle that matters more.

Therein lies one of the greatest challenges of this situation. In 1990, after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the George H. W. Bush administration was relieved to find that Russia – then still in the hands of Mikhail Gorbachev – was inclined to avoid turning the conflict into a Cold War-style standoff. In the years that followed, successive U.S. presidents became used to acting without such worries. Putin has now successfully signaled that those days are entirely over.

 

US-led strikes on Syria: A move with unpredictable consequences

US, French and British strikes on Syria have been limited to attempting to deter chemical weapons use. The action may be ineffective and could provoke an asymmetrical response from Syria and its allies, experts say.

April 14, 2018

by Chase Winter

DW

The United States and its European allies early Saturday launched airstrikes on Syrian research, development and military facilities in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack last weekend near Damascus that killed at least 40 people.

The tripartite military action from the United States, France and Britain was designed to set back or destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program, the three countries said, and deter any further use in violation of international conventions. They stressed that the strikes were limited and not intended to signal a Western intervention in the Syrian civil war or regime change.

“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” US President Donald Trump said in a televised address. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”

In London, Prime Minister Theresa May repeated that the military action was not about “intervening in a civil war” and “it is not about regime change.”

“It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties,” she said.

Limited military operation

Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the military action seemed intended as a limited, proportional and deterrent response against chemical weapons use.

“That is how these strikes were evidently planned in terms of the targets that were selected and also how they were communicated publically, which seems to be uniformly in terms of chemical weapons deterrent, not more expansive political demands or some attempt at regime change,” he said.

Trump, who in recent weeks has signaled the US may pullback its presence in northeast Syria after the defeat of the “Islamic State” (IS), said in his remarks that the United States was not seeking a permanent presence in Syria.

The military action came despite concern that it could trigger unintended consequences, including direct Western conflict with Russia, which backs the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has troops at the Hmeimim air base and its naval facility at Tartus.

Moscow said none of the more than 100 missiles targeted its bases and it did not activate its air defenses, despite threats earlier in the week that it would shoot down missiles and the platforms from where they were launched. Russia said Syrian air defenses shot down 71 out of 103 missiles, although that could not be confirmed independently and the Pentagon said the strikes “successfully hit every target.”

Enough to deter chemical weapons use?

It is unclear if the tripartite military action will have the desired effect of halting chemical weapons attacks. The Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons, including chlorine and nerve agents, during the seven-year war, despite a 2013 deal brokered by the United States and Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons. Trump ordered 59 cruise missile launches in April 2017 on a Syria air base in response to a nerve agent attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria.

“The erosion of the norm (against chemical weapons use) has already taken place,” said Eran Etzion, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser. There is no reason to believe that the “overall erosion of the use of chemical weapons will change.”

Nicholas Heras, a Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, described Trump’s actions as a “dog and pony show.”

The Trump administration literally slapped Bashar al-Assad on the wrist, and even worse, the Trump team seemed to justify al-Assad using non-chemical weapon means to win his war. As long as al-Assad does not use chemical weapons, he is good,” said Heras.

Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said the United States had tried to look strong in a situation where it does not have much leverage, and seeks to leave Syria.

“Ultimately, what Trump is doing with these deterrence exercises is influencing a very narrow bandwidth within the Syrian civil war, which is the use of chemical weapons,” he said, pointing out chemical weapons attacks have killed an estimated 1,900 people in a war that has claimed half a million lives.

War running in Assad’s favor

The Western military response comes as the Syrian regime, backed by Russia and Iran, has largely turned the war in its favor, retaking large swaths of territory from rebels since Russia intervened in 2015.

This week, the Syrian regime retook full control from rebels of the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, including Douma where the alleged chemical weapons attack took place, after a two-month regime offensive.

“From the point of view of al-Assad, Iran and Russian, the real action of this war in happening on the ground and on the ground al-Assad is winning,” said Landis. “Syria and Russia have zero interest in escalating with America” at a time Washington is signalling it will pull back from Syria.

Both Russia and Iran decried what they called a violation of international law and Syria’s sovereignty, but it was unclear what, if any, response they would make. The reaction from Syria and its backers following the 2017 US strike in Syria was muted despite repeated threats.

Asymmetric response

If there is a Russian, Syrian or Iranian response, it is likely to be indirect and asymmetrical, such as targeting or undermining the US presence in Syria or retaliating against its allies.

“There are certainly various asymmetric means through which Russia, Syria and Iran could respond inside Syria or outside,” said Heller.

The United States is vulnerable in northeastern Syria, where it has about 2,000 special forces deployed alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a mixed Kurdish and Arab force fighting IS and seeking to stabilize the northeast of the country. It also has troops in Iraq, where Iran-backed militias hold considerable sway.

According to Heller, “there are ways the Syrian government and its allies can make it more difficult or less tenable for the US and its coalition to operate inside Syria,” including possibly Russia using its air defenses to limit US airpower.

“The lowest-hanging fruit for Bashar al-Assad and his allies is not to target the United States military directly in Syria, but to try to degrade the efforts of the Syrian Democratic Forces to govern in the wake of IS,” said Heras. “If al-Assad and his allies can weaken the SDF, they can crack the foundation of the US military’s planning for Syria.”

Threat of Israel-Iran conflict

Another potential response could be aimed directly or indirectly at Israel, which has carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria targeting Iran and its Lebanese Shiite proxy Hezbollah. On Monday, suspected Israeli warplanes targeted Syria’s T-4 air base, drawing a rebuke from Russia and vows of retaliation from Iran.

Following Saturday’s US-led strikes, a top Russian defense official, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi, said Moscow may reconsider supplying Syria with S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to upgrade its aging Soviet-era anti-missile systems. Such a move would restrict Israel’s freedom to maneuver across Syria’s skies.

“It is reasonable to expect that Russia will limit the ability of Israel to exercise a similar attack in the future,” Etzion said, referring to the T-4 strike. “For the Russians, they don’t want to be seen as supporting direct confrontation with Israel, but do believe the higher profile of alleged Israeli attacks in Syria are an increasing concern for them.”

Israel has long warned it won’t allow an Iranian and Hezbollah entrenchment in Syria that could target Israel, raising concern about direct conflict between the two enemies that could spiral into a regional war.

 

Donald Trump Ordered Syria Strike Based on a Secret Legal Justification Even Congress Can’t See

April 14 2018

by Jon Schwarz

The Intercept

On Friday night, President Trump ordered the U.S. military to conduct a bombing attack against the government of Syria without congressional authorization. How can this be constitutional, given the fact that Article I, Section 8 of America’s founding document declares that “The Congress shall have Power … To declare War”?

The deeply bizarre and alarming answer is that Trump almost certainly does have some purported legal justification provided to him by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — but no one else, including Congress, can read it.

The Office of Legal Counsel is often called the Supreme Court of the executive branch, providing opinions on how the president and government agencies should interpret the law.

We know that Trump received a top secret OLC opinion justifying the previous U.S. strike on Syria on April 6, 2017. Friday’s bombing undoubtedly relied on the same memo or one with similar reasoning.

So while over 80 members of Congress wrote to Trump on Friday night stating that “engaging our military in Syria … without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution,” their action has no impact. The military will rely on the OLC’s opinion that, constitutionally speaking, Trump’s orders were perfectly fine. And it will be quite difficult for members of Congress to argue otherwise, since they don’t even know what the Trump administration’s precise rationale is.

It is not unprecedented for the OLC’s reasoning to be classified. Over 20 percent of its opinions between 1998 and 2013 have been secret.

However, these OLC memos were generally written on government actions that were themselves classified. One notorious example is the so-called “torture memos” produced by the OLC during the George W. Bush administration.

What makes Trump’s actions new, according to several legal experts I spoke with, is that previous presidents appear to have always made public their legal justification for any overt military action on a significant scale. No matter how shoddy their explanations were, this at least made debate possible.

The only reason the existence of the 2017 OLC memo on Syria is public knowledge is because the organization Protect Democracy filed a lawsuit to compel the Justice Department to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request that the OLC provide “the President’s legal authority to launch such a strike.”

The OLC refused — but did produce an index of relevant documents. The first on the list is key: As described by the OLC, it is a “Legal Memo” that “is currently classified TOP SECRET.”

Soon after the 2017 strikes, two prominent Democrats, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Rep. Adam Schiff from California, wrote to Trump and requested “a detailed analysis of the legal precedents and authorities supporting the action in Syria.” They have not received any response.

So what does the OLC’s secret memo say? Obviously it’s impossible to be certain, but it is possible to make educated guesses.

James Madison, the Constitution’s main architect, explained that the power to declare war must be “fully and exclusively vested” in Congress because history showed that “the executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war: hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence.”

The Constitution did, to some degree, work to restrain this presidential tendency through World War II. Since then, however, both Republican and Democratic presidents have made concerted efforts to break the Constitution’s chains, using extremely strained interpretations of the Constitution itself.

In 1950 President Truman sent hundreds of thousands of troops to Korea to fight an extraordinarily brutal war without any authorization from Congress. Instead, his administration claimed he had the power to do this because Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says that the president “shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” Therefore, “the President’s power to send the Armed Forces outside the country is not dependent on Congressional authority.”

The Gulf of Tonkin resolution provided some degree of Congressional authorization for the Vietnam War. But then the U.S. began a secret military campaign against Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia. In 1970 William Rehnquist, later to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was head of the OLC. He provided the Nixon administration with an opinion stating that the Korean War “stands as a precedent for executive action in committing United States armed forces to extensive hostilities without any formal declaration of war by Congress.” Moreover, the U.S. had “in no sense gone to ‘war’ with Cambodia” and Nixon did not require any further authorization from Congress, given “the constitutional designation of the President as Commander in Chief.” The U.S. ended up dropping more bombs on Cambodia – which then had a population smaller than that of New York City — than we used during all of World War II.

This perspective on presidential power eventually become dogma for the U.S. hard right. Congress in fact did authorize the Gulf War in 1991, but Dick Cheney, who was then Secretary of Defense, believed that this was totally unnecessary, and indeed later claimed the George H.W. Bush administration had the power to go to war even if Congress had voted the resolution down. “We had the Truman precedent from the Korean crisis of 1950,” Cheney explained. “From a constitutional standpoint we had all the authority we needed.”

The OLC handed the George W. Bush administration a memo similar to that of Rehnquist’s three weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Thanks to Article II, it said, the Constitution establishes that “the Founders entrusted the President with the primary responsibility, and therefore the power, to use military force in situations of emergency.” Therefore the President did not need congressional authorization to attack “terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.”

After Trump ordered last year’s strike on Syria, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained that he’d done so “pursuant to his power under Article II of the Constitution as Commander in Chief,” without any authorization by Congress. Then last night, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that “the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests,” and the bombing was therefore constitutional because “The United States has an important national interest in averting a worsening catastrophe in Syria, and specifically deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons.”

So the general outlines of Trump’s legal basis for Friday’s bombing are fairly clear. There also are truly extreme. As Jack Goldsmith, one of the heads of the OLC during the Bush administration, has said, it’s a perspective that “places no limit at all on the president’s ability to use significant military force unilaterally.”

That would be bad enough, of course, if everything were out in the open. But at least then it could be debated on specifics, rather than supposition. Instead, we have allowed the Constitution to be eviscerated to the point that not only does the president have nearly unlimited war powers, we can’t even say exactly why.

Stuxnet Virus Targets Programmable Logic Controllers

April 14, 2018

by Germar Rudolf

One of the most sophisticated viruses seen to date has been developed to affect industrial control systems. While the identity of those responsible is being speculated, the virus was created by people with detailed knowledge of the particular control systems used at the reactor, knew the best method of getting the virus onto them, and knew the best way to severely disrupt the reactors without being detected beforehand. This also appears to be an attack against a specific target – the Busheshr reactor in Iran. Security experts at Symantec and Kaspersky Lab are in agreement this was a state-sponsored effort involving a lot of research and development on a particular model of the PLC and the software used to program it.

Stuxnet has four main components. The first spreads the virus through a print network, another to distribute the virus by loading itself onto USB drives, and the other two are rootkits for giving it administrator-level access to the system and to alter code being written to PLCs.

A Programmable Logic Controller is a bank of processor-controlled virtual relays that link control systems to industrial machinery. The PLC has a processor-based central unit that runs an event-driven program to control the switching. This program can be entered manually on the PLC’s keypad, but in the case of Iran’s facility, it’s created using the editor software on a laptop and copied to a USB drive that was later plugged in to the PLC’s central unit.

Stuxnet installs itself on the Microsoft Windows OS, searches for the Siemens S7 series PLC program editor, and modifies it to affect the PLCs it’s written to. It also changes the read and write permissions of its code to hide these changes from the programmer.

By renaming the registry file s7otbxdx.dll and replacing it with another (which also contains the rootkit), it can intercept requests being sent through the link and change them. Meanwhile, the original file is still present, having been renamed to s7otbxdx.dll. Stuxnet also uses stolen RealTek cryptographic keys to authenticate itself and bypass security.

The code that’s written to the PLC targets the data blocks that handle high-speed and high-pressure systems. These data blocks are supposed to run every 100 mS in order to react almost immediately to any changes. Other data blocks are added by Stuxnet, very likely to disable safety and alarm systems.

One of the programmers at Byres Security believes the people behind Stuxnet were trying to achieve something bigger by extensively reworking the PLC’s code.

Incidentally, there were rumors of a serious incident at the Natanz reactor last year, which were unconfirmed but reported by Wikileaks shortly before the resignation of the head of Iran’s atomic program. 800 of the country’s centrifuges were taken offline around then.

Iran definitely uses the Siemens controllers. That’s why the Stuxnet virus is generally understood to be an attempt to sabotage the nuclear ambitions of Iran.

Siemens was originally the lead contractor for Iran’s reactor project just southwest of the town of Bushehr, but that was back in the 1970s, prior to the Revolution that overthrew the Shah, when Western companies were active in Iran. Siemens ceased work on the reactor by 1982, and Russia’s Atomstroyexport contracted in the mid-1990s to complete the reactor with a Russian design. But Russia’s nuclear firms entered talks in February 2009 with Siemens to establish a commercial partnership – a rather obvious red flag for intelligence – and by the summer of 2010, it had come to the attention of German authorities that Siemens was shipping parts to a Russian middleman who was then forwarding them to Iran.

It seems that the work on the Stuxnet virus began in the spring of 2009, with the specific intention of targeting the Siemens controllers, whose design was well known and whose software and firmware controller logic was well known. Some speculate that the re-introduction of the Siemens controllers has ended up being a kind of Trojan Horse … something that would have appeared to the Iranians to be a great gift but which has turned out to be a backdoor through which Western agencies can attempt to undermine the Iranian program

SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) NYSE: SAI is a FORTUNE 500 scientific, engineering and technology applications company headquartered in the United States with numerous federal, state, and private sector clients. It works extensively with the United States Department of Defense, the United States Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Intelligence Community, including the National Security Agency, as well as other U.S. Government civil agencies and selected commercial markets.

In fiscal year 2003, SAIC did over $2.6 billion in business with the United States Department of Defense, making it the ninth largest defense contractor in the United States. Other large contracts include their contract for information technology for the 2004 Olympics in Greece and from 2001 to 2005, SAIC was the primary contractor for the FBI’s unsuccessful Virtual Case File project. SAIC relocated its corporate headquarters to their existing facilities in Tysons Corner in unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia, near McLean, in September 2009. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) transitioned a Remote Viewing Program to SAIC in 1991 and it was renamed Stargate Project.

In January 1999, new SAIC consultant Steven Hatfill and his collaborator, SAIC vice president Joseph Soukup, commissioned William C. Patrick (a retired leading figure in the old U.S. bioweapons program) to report on the possibilities of terrorist anthrax mailings in the United States. (There had been a spate of hoax anthrax mailings in the previous two years.) Barbara Hatch Rosenberg said that the report was commissioned “under a CIA contract to SAIC”. However, SAIC said Hatfill and Soukup commissioned it internally—there was no outside client.

Patrick produced his 28-page report in February 1999. Some subsequently saw it as a “blueprint” for the 2001 anthrax attacks. The report suggested the maximum amount of anthrax powder—2.5 grams—that could be put in an envelope without producing a suspicious bulge. This was just a little more than the actual amounts—2 grams each—in the letters sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. But the report also suggested that a terrorist might produce a spore concentration of 50 billion spores per gram. This was only one-twentieth of the actual concentration—1 trillion spores per gram—in the letters sent to the senators.

In 2002, SAIC was chosen by the NSA to produce a technology demonstration platform for the agency’s Trailblazer Project in a contract worth $280 million. Trailblazer is a “Digital Network Intelligence” system, intended to analyze data carried on computer networks. Project participants included Boeing, Computer Sciences Corporation, and Booz Allen Hamilton. SAIC had also participated in the concept definition phase of Trailblazer, beginning March 2001.According to science news site PhysOrg.com, Trailblazer was a continuation of the earlier ThinThread program In 2005 NSA director Michael Hayden told a Senate hearing that the Trailblazer program was several hundred million dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

In November 2010, SAIC (company) was selected by NASA for consideration for potential contract awards for heavy lift launch vehicle system concepts, and propulsion technologies.

As part of its outsourcing solution, SAIC has development centers in Noida and Bangalore, India. Scicom Technologies Noida was acquired by SAIC in September 2007.

In June 2001 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) paid SAIC $122 million to create a Virtual Case File (VCF) software system to speed up the sharing of information among agents. But the FBI abandoned VCF when it failed to function adequately. Robert Mueller, FBI Director, testified to a congressional committee, “When SAIC delivered the first product in December 2003 we immediately identified a number of deficiencies – 17 at the outset. That soon cascaded to 50 or more and ultimately to 400 problems with that software … We were indeed disappointed.”

SAIC executive vice president Arnold L. Punaro claimed that the company had “fully conformed to the contract we have and gave the taxpayers real value for their money.” He blamed the FBI for the initial problems, saying the agency had a parade of program managers and demanded too many design changes. During 15 months that SAIC worked on the program, 19 different government managers were involved and 36 contract modifications were ordered, he said.

“There were an average of 1.3 changes every day from the FBI, for a total of 399 changes during the period,” Punaro said.

In the media comment on Stuxnet, I’m surprised that no one has pointed out its obvious deficiencies. Everyone seems to be hyperventilating about its purported target (control systems, ostensibly for nuclear material production) and not the actual malware itself.

There’s a good reason for this. Rather than being proud of its stealth and targeting, the authors should be embarrassed at their amateur approach to hiding the payload. I really hope it wasn’t written by the USA because I’d like to think our elite cyberweapon developers at least know what Bulgarian teenagers did back in the early 90′s.

First, there appears to be no special obfuscation. Sure, there are your standard routines for hiding from AV tools, XOR masking, and installing a rootkit. But Stuxnet does no better at this than any other malware discovered last year. It does not use virtual machine-based obfuscation, novel techniques for anti-debugging, or anything else to make it different from the hundreds of malware samples found every day.

Second, the Stuxnet developers seem to be unaware of more advanced techniques for hiding their target. They use simple “if/then” range checks to identify Step 7 systems and their peripheral controllers.

If this was some high-level government operation, I would hope they would know to use things like hash-and-decrypt or homomorphic encryption to hide the controller configuration the code is targeting and its exact behavior once it did infect those systems.

Core Labs published a piracy protection scheme including “secure triggers”, which are code that only can be executed given a particular configuration in the environment. One such approach is to encrypt your payload with a key that can only be derived on systems that have a particular configuration. Typically, you’d concatenate all the desired input parameters and hash them to derive the key for encrypting your payload. Then, you’d do the same thing on every system the code runs on. If any of the parameters is off, even by one, the resulting key is useless and the code cannot be decrypted and executed.

This is secure except against a chosen-plaintext attack. In such an attack, the analyst can repeatedly run the payload on every possible combination of inputs, halting once the right configuration is found to trigger the payload. However, if enough inputs are combined and their ranges are not too limited, you can make such a brute-force attack infeasible. If this was the case, malware analysts could only say “here’s a worm that propagates to various systems, and we have not yet found out how to unlock its payload.”

Stuxnet doesn’t use any of these advanced features. Either the authors did not care if their payload was discovered by the general public, they weren’t aware of these techniques, or they had other limitations, such as time. The longer they remained undetected, the more systems that could be attacked and the longer Stuxnet could continue evolving as a deployment platform for follow-on worms. So disregard for detection seems unlikely.

We’re left with the authors being run-of-the-mill or in a hurry. If the former, then it was likely this code was produced by a “Team B”. Such a group would be second-tier in their country, perhaps a military agency as opposed to NSA (or the equivalent in other countries). It could be a contractor or loosely-organized group of hackers.

However, I think the final explanation is most likely. Whoever developed the code was probably in a hurry and decided using more advanced hiding techniques wasn’t worth the development/testing cost. For future efforts, I’d like to suggest the authors invest in a few copies of Christian Collberg’s book. It’s excellent and could have bought them a few more months of obscurity.

 

 

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