TBR News August 27, 2017

Aug 27 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., August 27, 2017:”It is becoming evident that a significant number of prominent political figures are visiting repulsive child pornographic internet sites that are located in the Ukraine. Somehow, these visits were discovered by a computer specialist, the names and preferences downloaded from the three sites and the list is supposedly being prepared for Internet release. The question would be as to who would dare to attack the reputations of national political high priests? There are many who might like to do this but the outed sex deviates do have political power and perhaps might use it to shut up anyone exposing their vicious habits. On the other hand, such released would not come as a surprise and elections are coming up soon. No doubt the Russians will be blamed.”

Table of Contents

  • Crews rescue hundreds from homes and cars as Harvey floods Houston
  • Hezbollah: Iran’s Middle East Agent, Emissary and Hammer
  • Iraqi forces retake most of Tal Afar from Islamic State: military
  • Ruby Ridge, 1992: the day the American militia movement was born
  • Hit App Sarahah Quietly Uploads Your Address Book
  • Confederate flag maker ‘overwhelmed’ by orders as tensions flare
  • 5 cases of corrupt billionaires who served time in prison



Crews rescue hundreds from homes and cars as Harvey floods Houston

August 27, 2017

by Ruthy Munoz and Gary McWilliams


HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) – Emergency crews raced to pull people from cars and homes as flood waters rose across southeast Texas on Sunday, rescuing more than 1,000 people in the Houston area as Tropical Storm Harvey pounded the region.

The most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years has killed at least two people. The death toll is expected to rise as Harvey lingers for days above the U.S. state, triggering more floods, storm surges and tornadoes.

Harvey is forecast to arc slowly toward Houston through Wednesday. The center of the storm is still 125 miles (201.17 km) southwest of the fourth most populous city in the United States.

Emergency services in Houston told people to climb onto the roofs of their houses rather than into their attics to escape rapidly rising waters. Authorities warned the city’s more than two million residents not to leave flooded homes because many of the city’s roads are underwater.

The Twitter account of the sheriff of Harris County, which includes most of Houston, was inundated with rescue requests. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his deputies were responding to unconfirmed reports of a deceased woman and child inside a submerged vehicle on Interstate 10 near Houston.

Emergency services were stretched, and Gonzalez could only tell some people asking for help his teams were doing the best they can.

“All agencies care but everyone simply operating at maximum capacity,” he tweeted at one point.

Another resident described seeing a woman’s body floating in the streets during a flash flood in the same western part of the city. The flash floods were several feet high, the resident told local TV station abc13.

Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport canceled all inbound and outbound flights early on Sunday due to standing water on the runway. The airport said its arrivals area was flooded, and the National Weather Service issued a flash flood alert for the surrounding area.

The second confirmed fatality from Tropical Storm Harvey came on Saturday evening as an elderly woman attempted to drive through flooded streets on Houston’s west side, said Sergeant Colin Howard of the Houston police department.

“It appeared that her vehicle went into high water and she drowned as a result,” he said. The victim was not immediately identified.

Houston police officials said officers were evacuating two flooded apartment complexes.

Authorities have urged residents to stay off the streets of cities across southeast Texas as rain fell at up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) per hour.

“There are a number of stranded people on our streets, calling 911, exhausting needed resources. You can help by staying off the streets,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Twitter.

On Friday night, a man died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of the city of Corpus Christi. Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries including broken bones, another official said.

Energy production in the state was disrupted as several refineries and offshore platforms closed down, triggering a rise in gasoline prices.

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude oil is produced offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.


Harvey slammed into Texas late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour (210 km per hour), making it the strongest storm to hit the state since 1961.

The storm ripped off roofs, destroyed buildings, flooded coastal towns and had cut off power to nearly 230,000 people in Texas as of Saturday night.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he was activating 1,800 members of the military to help with the statewide cleanup, while 1,000 people would conduct search-and-rescue operations.

Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday because its winds have slowed. But authorities issued stark warnings on the threat posed by days of torrential rain.

“This rain will lead to a prolonged, dangerous, and potentially catastrophic flooding event well into next week,” the National Weather Service said.

Harvey threatens to break the record established nearly 40 years ago when Alvin, Texas, was deluged by 43 inches of rain in 24 hours on July 24-25, 1979.


The coastal town of Rockport took a direct hit from the storm, leaving streets flooded and strewn with power lines and debris on Saturday.

A dozen recreational vehicles were flipped over on a sales lot, one blown into the middle of the street. A convoy of military vehicles arrived in the Rockport area on Saturday to help in the recovery efforts, and town officials announced an overnight curfew for residents.

“It was terrible,” resident Joel Valdez, 57, told Reuters. The storm ripped part of the roof from his trailer home at around 4 a.m., he said as he sat in a Jeep with windows smashed by the storm. “I could feel the whole house move.”

Before the storm hit, Rockport’s mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury.


The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was forced to evacuate about 4,500 inmates from three state prisons near the Brazos River because of rising water.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had rescued 20 people from distressed vessels on Saturday, and was monitoring two Carnival Corp cruise ships carrying thousands of people stranded in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The size and strength of Harvey dredged up memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that made a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places. About 1,800 died in the disaster made worse by a slow government emergency response.

U.S. President Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his term, signed a disaster proclamation on Friday. He met with his cabinet and staff on Saturday to discuss the federal reaction to the storm, according to a White House statement.

Additional reporting by Liz Hampton, Ernest Scheyder, Marianna Parraga, and Ruthy Munoz in Houston; Jessica Resnick-Ault, Jarrett Renshaw, Taylor Harris, Devika Krishna Kumar, Sophia Kunthara and Chris Michaud in New York; Timothy Gardner in Washington, D.C. and; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Simon Webb; Editing by Mark Potter, Andrew Heavens and Andrea Ricci


Hezbollah: Iran’s Middle East Agent, Emissary and Hammer

August 27, 2017

by Ben Hubbard

The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — For three decades, Hezbollah maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon’s southern border, trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel’s army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across the Jewish state.

But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts often having nothing to do with Israel flaring up around the region, Hezbollah has changed, too.

It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere.

As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran.

Hezbollah is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Iran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda.

Founded with Iranian guidance in the 1980s as a resistance force against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah became the prototype for the kind of militias Iran is now backing around the region. Hezbollah has evolved into a virtual arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, providing the connective tissue for the growing network of powerful militias.

Months of interviews with officials, fighters, commanders and analysts from nine countries, and with members of Hezbollah itself, bring to light an organization with new power and reach that has not been widely recognized. Increasingly, Iranian leaders rely on it to pursue their goals.

Iran and Hezbollah complement each other. Both are Shiite powers in a part of the world that is predominantly Sunni. For Iran, a Persian nation in a mostly Arab region, Hezbollah lends not just military prowess but also Arabic-speaking leaders and operatives who can work more easily in the Arab world. And for Hezbollah, the alliance means money for running an extensive social services network in Lebanon, with schools, hospitals and scout troops — as well as for weapons, technology and salaries for its tens of thousands of fighters.

The network Hezbollah helped build has changed conflicts across the region.

In Syria, the militias have played a major role in propping up President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally. In Iraq, they are battling the Islamic State and promoting Iranian interests. In Yemen, they have taken over the capital city and dragged Saudi Arabia, an Iranian foe, into a costly quagmire. In Lebanon, they broadcast pro-Iranian news and build forces to fight Israel.

The allied militias are increasingly collaborating across borders. In April, members of a Qatari royal hunting party kidnapped by militants in Iraq were released as part of a deal involving Hezbollah in Syria. In southern Syria, Iranian-backed forces are pushing to connect with their counterparts in Iraq. And in the battle for Aleppo last year — a turning point in the Syrian war — Iranian-supported militants hailed from so many countries their diversity amazed even those involved.

“On the front lines, there were lots of nationalities,” said Hamza Mohammed, an Iraqi militiaman who was trained by Hezbollah and fought in Aleppo. “Hezbollah was there, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis – everyone was there, with Iranian participation to lead the battle.”

The roots of that network go back to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Iran called on Hezbollah to help organize Iraqi Shiite militias that in the coming years killed hundreds of American troops and many more Iraqis.

Recent wars have allowed Iran to revive and expand the web, and some of the groups Hezbollah trained in Iraq are now returning the favor by sending fighters to Syria.

More than just a political alliance, Hezbollah, whose name is Arabic for Party of God, and its allies have deep ideological ties to Iran. Most endorse vilayat-e-faqih, the concept that Iran’s supreme leader is both the highest political power in the country and the paramount religious authority. They also trumpet their goal of combating American and Israeli interests, while arguing that they fill gaps left by weak governments and fight Sunni jihadists like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Many wonder what these tens of thousands of experienced fighters will do after the wars in Syria and Iraq wind down. Hezbollah leaders have said they could be deployed in future wars against Israel.

But Tehran’s rising influence has made both Iran and its allies a target, the focus of military and diplomatic action by Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States, all of which consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

For Hezbollah, moreover, expansion has come with a cost. The grinding war in Syria has saddled it with heavy casualties and growing financial commitments.

In an interview, Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, proudly acknowledged his organization’s efforts to pass its rich militant experience to other Iranian-aligned forces.

“Every group anywhere in the world that works as we work, with our ideas, is a win for the party,” he said. “It is natural: All who are in accordance with us in any place in the world, that is a win for us because they are part of our axis and a win for everyone in our axis.”

War Without Borders

Hezbollah has become active in so many places and against so many enemies that detractors have mocked it as “the Blackwater of Iran,” after the infamous American mercenary firm.

The consequences are clear far from Hezbollah’s home turf.

In an expanding graveyard in the Iraqi city of Najaf, a militia fighter, Hussein Allawi, pointed out the headstones of comrades killed abroad. Some of the graves were decorated with plastic flowers and photos of the dead.

“This one is from Syria, that one is from Syria — we have a lot from Syria,” Mr. Allawi said.

Many had begun their careers as he did. After joining a militia, he received military training in Iraq. His most experienced trainers were from Hezbollah.

In recent years, much of the world has focused on the Sunni jihadists who have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State. But less attention has been paid as Iran fired up its own operation, recruiting, training and deploying fighters from across the Shiite world.

At the heart of that effort, Hezbollah has taken on increasingly senior roles in ventures once reserved for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — the force that helped create Hezbollah itself.

In Iraq, Iran has redeployed militias originally formed to battle American troops to fight the Islamic State. It has also recruited Afghan refugees to fight for a militia called the Fatemiyoun Brigade. And it has organized a huge airlift of fighters to fight for Mr. Assad in Syria. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps provides the infrastructure, while commanders from Iran and Hezbollah focus on training and logistics.

Militiamen interviewed in Iraq described how they had registered at recruitment offices for Iranian-backed militias to fight the Islamic State. Some were trained in Iraq, while others went to Iran for 15 days of drills before flying to Syria to fight. More experienced fighters took advanced courses with Iranian and Hezbollah commanders in Iran or Lebanon.

Iran rallied the combatants with cash and religious appeals, effectively pitting one international jihad against another.

For Ali Hussein, an Iraqi high school dropout, the battle began after the Islamic State stormed into northern Iraq in 2014 and he went to the recruitment office of an Iranian-backed militia to sign up to fight the jihadists.

But first, Mr. Hussein was told, he had to fight in neighboring Syria, against rebels seeking to topple the government. He agreed and was promptly launched into an extensive, Iranian-built network of loyal militants scattered across the Middle East.

He was bused to Iran with other recruits and airlifted to Syria, where he received military training and lectures about holy war. After a month on the front lines, he returned to Iraq with $1,000 and a newfound ideological fervor.

“I want to continue fighting jihad until victory or martyrdom,” he said.

Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who studies militant groups, said more than 10,000 Iraqi fighters were in Syria during the battle for Aleppo last year, in addition to thousands from other countries.

Officers from Iran coordinated the ground forces with the Syrian military and the Russian air force while Hezbollah provided Arabic-speaking field commanders, the fighters said.

Iraqi militia leaders defended their role in Syria, saying they went to protect holy sites and fight terrorists at the request of the Syrian government.

“If anyone asks why we went to Syria, ask them what allowed the Americans to occupy countries,” said Hashim al-Musawi, a spokesman for an Iraqi militia active in Syria. “We didn’t sneak in, we entered through the door.”

Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon have surfaced on Iraq’s battlefields, too.

Ali Kareem Mohammed, an Iraqi militia sniper, recalled a battle with the Islamic State in central Iraq when the jihadists kept sending armored cars filled with explosives that his comrades’ weapons could not stop. They called for help, and a group of Lebanese fighters brought advanced antitank missiles.

“Everyone knew they were Hezbollah,” Mr. Mohammed said. “If anyone came with a suicide car, they would hit it.”

Today, his group uses the same missiles without Hezbollah’s help, he said.

Other Hezbollah relationships extend further afield, including with the Houthi rebels in Yemen who stormed the capital, Sana, in 2014, later toppling the government and prompting an air campaign by Saudi Arabia and its allies aimed at pushing the rebels back.

Although the Houthis follow a different sect of Islam, Iran and Hezbollah have adopted the Houthi cause in speeches by their leaders, raising the group’s profile. They have also provided some military and logistical support. Ali Alahmadi, a former Yemeni national security chief, said that Houthi fighters began receiving military training in Lebanon as early as 2010 and that two Hezbollah operatives were arrested in Yemen in 2012 and returned to Lebanon through Oman.

“We sent them to Oman with a verbal message to their bosses: Stop meddling in Yemen,” Mr. Alahmadi said.

After the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Hezbollah operatives went to Iraq to help organize militias to fight the Americans with roadside bombs and other insurgency tactics.

Some of those militiamen now lead forces that have made common cause with Hezbollah again, this time in Syria.

“Today, we have one project in the region,” said Jaafar al-Husseini, the military spokesman for another Iraqi militia that works with Hezbollah. “The threat in Syria, the threat to Hezbollah and the threat in Iraq have convinced us that we need to coordinate and work together more.”

Bleeding for Assad

While Hezbollah has extended its regional reach, it has made its greatest foreign investments — and paid the highest costs — in Syria, and its intervention there has reshaped the group.

Its leaders have portrayed the war as a conspiracy by Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia to use extremists to destroy Syria and weaken the pro-Iranian axis in the region. This, in their view, makes their intervention an extension of the “resistance” against Israel.

But that argument falls flat for many in the region, who see a military force built to fight Israel turning its guns on fellow Muslims.

That was the feeling for many in Madaya, a Syrian mountain town that had joined the uprising against Mr. Assad in 2011. Four years later, the government decided to squeeze the rebels out and imposed a siege. Snipers moved in, and the fighters unleashed religious battle cries, letting Madaya’s residents know they were under siege by the Party of God.

“It was a spiteful siege,” said Ebrahim Abbas, a computer technician who took a bullet in his gut during the operation, in 2015. Aid shipments were cut off, and malnutrition spread.

Hezbollah went to Syria aware that if Mr. Assad fell, it would lose its only Arab state sponsor and the weapons pipeline from Iran. So Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general, consulted with officials in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and they made a commitment to back Mr. Assad, according to Iranian officials and analysts close to the group.

Since then, Hezbollah has deployed as many as 8,000 fighters to Syria at any one time, analysts say. Now, with the immediate threat to Mr. Assad gone, many suspect that Hezbollah will maintain a permanent presence in Syria. It has organized Hezbollah-style militias among Syrians, evacuated border communities it considered a threat to Lebanon and established a branch of its Mahdi Scouts, a long-term investment in the cultivation of fighters.

Syria has given a new generation of Hezbollah fighters extensive experience, including in offensive operations and in coordinating with the Syrian military and the Russian air force.

But many have also returned in coffins, and their faces are enshrined on martyr posters throughout Lebanon.

In May, hundreds of people wearing yellow Hezbollah sashes crowded into a community hall in Natabiya in southern Lebanon to pay their respects to the group’s wounded fighters — 18 of them at this particular ceremony, many from battles in Syria. Five were in wheelchairs, one missing a leg, another missing two. Others leaned on canes and crutches.

When the Lebanese national anthem played, only six could stand up.

Some analysts say the group has lost 2,000 fighters or more in Syria and that more than twice that many have been wounded — a substantial toll for a force that analysts say can draw on a maximum of 50,000 fighters.

In an interview, Sheikh Qassem, Mr. Nasrallah’s deputy, denied that Hezbollah had long-term ambitions in Syria. He also declined to discuss any numbers related to fighters, other than calling reports of more than 2,000 dead “enlarged.”

“In the end, we consider the results that we reached in Syria much greater than the price, with our respect to the great sacrifices that the young men of the party put forward,” he said.

Strained Resources

Hezbollah has long put great resources into supporting the families of its dead fighters. It also takes care of the wounded, although they pose a different challenge, returning to their communities as reminders of war’s cost.

Supporting all those families is expensive, and there are now more on Hezbollah’s payroll than ever before. Running a war and other international operations also drives up costs at a time when the United States has targeted the group’s finances.

Hezbollah’s leaders have acknowledged that most of the group’s budget comes as cash from Iran. But residents of Hezbollah communities say they have felt the pinch in recent months, with less money in the economy as the party cuts spending.

Hezbollah’s success has multiplied its enemies. The more it grows, the more they want to destroy it.

“If you wait for the Iranian project to mature and take hold, you will see that this ragtag militia has become a competent military with ideological leadership and with what I would call a social support system,” said Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs in the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the coalition fighting Iranian-aligned rebels in Yemen. “The Iranians have done it before.”

Israel, too, has been worried about Iran’s expansionism in Syria, through Hezbollah.

One concern is that Hezbollah has been able to move missile batteries into Syria, giving it another potential platform for attacks on Israel besides Lebanon.

Hezbollah forbids its fighters to speak with outsiders, but through an acquaintance I met two fighters in April who agreed to speak on the condition that I concealed their identities.

One, with a pistol in his belt and flecks of white in his black beard, showed me videos of himself fighting in Syria and said he had joined the party at age 15 to fight Israel.

I asked if fighting other Muslims in Syria was different from fighting Israel, and he said it was the same battle: “Nothing has changed for us; we are still the resistance.”

He denied sectarian motivations. But he held no sympathy for Syrians who opposed Mr. Assad, and he dehumanized the rebels.

“I get disgusted by the way they look, their long beards and shaved mustaches,” he said, referring to the grooming practices of some conservative Muslims.

“If it were not for Hezbollah,” he added, “Syria would have fallen a long time ago.”

Asked about the use of siege tactics in Syrian towns like Madaya, one fighter claimed that it had been the rebels who had caused the hunger, by hoarding food.

The other chalked it up to the cost of winning the war.

“Either you are strong or you are weak, and if you are weak you get eaten,” he said. “Now, Hezbollah is strong.”

The Home Base

It is from Beirut that Hezbollah runs the wide-ranging political, social and military operations that give it power at home and increasing clout abroad. Hezbollah does not control the state as much as maintain the power it needs to block any effort to undermine its force, diplomats and Lebanese officials said.

The center of its operations is the southern suburbs of Beirut, which serve as the party’s headquarters and a virtual diplomatic district for its regional allies. Inside, Hezbollah bureaucrats run a private school system and social services network. Representatives of Iraqi militias and Yemen’s Houthi rebels maintain a presence. And a range of satellite television stations run by Hezbollah and its allies blanket the region with pro-Iranian news.

The party’s history has helped solidify its place in Lebanon.

After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, Iranian leaders sent officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to organize Shiite militias in the Lebanese civil war. The result was Hezbollah, which also began waging a guerrilla war against the Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon.

Israel’s withdrawal, in 2000, helped enshrine Hezbollah as the centerpiece of the resistance. Its reputation was further burnished in 2006, when it fought Israel to a standstill in a 34-day war that killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and dozens of Israelis.

Some suspected that the war’s destruction would be the beginning of the end for Hezbollah. But Iran flooded the country with money, underwriting an enormous reconstruction campaign and also helping the party expand its military.

Few checks remain on Hezbollah’s domestic power.

But the group’s activities abroad remain troubling to many Lebanese, while its strength poses risks for the country.

Hezbollah has more than 100,000 rockets and missiles pointed at Israel, in addition to 30,000 trained fighters and a smaller number of reservists, said Brig. Gen. Ram Yavne, the commander of the Israeli Army’s strategic division. Israel also says Hezbollah is so integrated into the Lebanese state that it may not differentiate between the two in a new war.

For now, Hezbollah appears to be avoiding escalation with Israel in order to focus elsewhere. And the party’s political clout in Lebanon has many political figures here finding ways to work with the group.

Alain Aoun, a Christian member of Parliament from the president’s party, said that Hezbollah kept its domestic and regional activities separate and that he considered it a valuable political partner.

But he said that calls for Lebanon to contain Hezbollah were unrealistic after decades of support from Iran and Syria, and that confrontation with the United States and Israel had helped it grow.

“All these countries contributed for 30 years to creating this power, so now you say, ‘Go, Lebanese, and fix this problem,’ ” Mr. Aoun said. “It is bigger than us.”

Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Nour Youssef from Cairo, Karam Shoumali from Istanbul, Falih Hassan from Baghdad, and Ian Fisher from Jerusalem.


Iraqi forces retake most of Tal Afar from Islamic State: military

August 27, 2017

by Thaier Al-Sudani and Kawa Omar


TAL AFAR, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi forces have retaken almost all of Tal Afar, Islamic State’s stronghold in the country’s northwest, the Iraqi military said on Sunday.

After just eight days of fighting, all 29 neighborhoods in Tal Afar city had been taken back from the militant group, the military said in a statement on Sunday.

However, fighting was ongoing in al-’Ayadiya, a small area 11 km northwest of the city, where militants who fled the district’s city center were hiding out, Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said.

Iraqi forces were waiting to retake the area before declaring complete victory in the offensive, he said.

Tal Afar was the latest objective in the U.S.-backed war on the jihadist group following the recapture in July of Mosul, where it declared its self-proclaimed caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The offensive on Tal Afar, which lies on the supply route between Syria and the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, started on Aug. 20. Up to 2,000 militants were believed to be defending the city against around 50,000 attackers, according to Iraqi and western military sources.

Such a quick collapse of Islamic State in the city, which has been a breeding ground for jihadist groups, would confirm Iraqi military reports that the militants lack command and control structures west of Mosul.

Residents who fled Tal Afar days before the start of the offensive told Reuters some of the militants looked “exhausted” and “depleted”.

Elite forces liberated the heart of the city on Saturday, and raised the national flag on top of the citadel building, the military said. Much of the Ottoman-era structure was destroyed by the militants in 2014.

A Reuters visual team visited the citadel on Sunday and saw signs of heavy damage to much of the structure.

“We tried to push out the militants without doing too much damage,” said a Shi’ite militia soldier fighting with the Iraqi forces who asked not to be named. “We only used light weaponry.”

Iraqi soldiers were seen celebrating Tal Afar’s recapture on Sunday, taking down IS flags from their perches in the city center and taking pictures mocking the militants.

Fighting had almost ground to a halt on Saturday, with just occasional artillery rounds heard. There was no sign of civilians in the neighborhoods Reuters visited on Saturday and Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people are believed to have fled in the weeks before the battle started. Remaining civilians were threatened with death by the militants, according to aid organizations and residents who managed to leave.

Tal Afar has experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and has produced some of Islamic State’s most senior commanders.

Writing by Raya Jalabi. Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Raya Jalabi in Erbil.; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Evans


Ruby Ridge, 1992: the day the American militia movement was born

A firefight between six US marshals and two boys and their dog began a movement founded on anti-government ideology. The internet age has spread its message wider

August 26, 2017

by Jason Wilson

The Guardian

Twenty-five years ago this week, in a remote corner of northern Idaho, the modern militia movement was born in a firefight. On the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, two weeks ago, observers could see from the presence of well-armed men in fatigues that that movement was still with us. But back in 1992, they hadn’t yet formed. A firefight between six US marshals and two boys and a dog, changed all that.

On 21 August that year, the marshals went to a location that became known as Ruby Ridge, near Naples, to scout a location where they might ambush a fugitive, Randy Weaver. Weaver had been holed up for a year and half with his family in his cabin, having failed to attend his trial on firearms charges.

The marshals aroused the attention of Weaver’s dogs. Alarmed, they retreated to a small clearing to the west of the house. Weaver ventured out, looking for the source of the disturbance. His 14-year-old son, Sammy, and his young friend Kevin Harris did the same on a separate route, following on the heels of a dog, Striker.

Weaver met the marshals first, they challenged him, and then he retreated into the brush. A minute later, the two boys and the dog came out of the woods. There was an exchange of fire. The exact order of events has been disputed for a quarter of a century, but the end result was that Sammy Weaver, deputy marshal Bill Degan and Striker were all dead.

The Weavers retreated to their cabin and laid Sammy’s body in a shed. Over the next day, federal and local officers – now under the command of the FBI – began to arrive in their hundreds to join the siege.

The next day, 22 August, operating under rules of engagement that allowed deadly force, an FBI sniper wounded Randy Weaver as he checked on Sammy’s corpse. The same sniper then shot Randy’s wife, Vicki, dead and wounded Kevin Harris.

The siege dragged on to the end of August, and the scene became a circus.

Neo-Nazis from the nearby Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake showed up to protest.

Other far-right groups poured in from all over the country to stand against what they saw as the persecution of an innocent family by a tyrannical federal government.

Ruby Ridge was resolved, in the end, not by agents, but by civilian negotiators including Bo Gritz, a former green beret, prolific conspiracy theorist, and the Populist party’s presidential candidate, who was briefly on a ticket with the ex-Klansman David Duke.

Along with the botched Waco siege the next year, during which 76 besieged members of the religious group the Branch Davidians died, Ruby Ridge badly damaged the credibility of the Clinton-era FBI (Bill Clinton became US president on 20 January, 1993), and boosted some emerging narratives on the far right: that the feds were coming for the guns and property of those, like Weaver, who wanted no further contact with a country they saw as irredeemably corrupt.

Mike German, a former FBI officer who at the time of Ruby Ridge was working undercover in white supremacist groups, and now Fellow at NYU’s Brennan School for Law and Justice, says that while the FBI “inherited a mess” when it took on the badly handled case, the bureau “ultimately saw it as a mistake, and an escalation that had caused significant harm, including to children”.

They made it worse, he says, by “engaging in a cover-up to hide their mistakes”. In 1997, E Michael Kahoe, who had helped supervise the FBI’s response, was sentenced to 18 months in a federal prison for burying documents critical of the agency’s approach to the siege ahead of the prosecution of Weaver and Harris.

Bill Morlin reported on Ruby Ridge for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, and is now a fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). He has monitored the far right since the early 1980s. He says simply: “Ruby Ridge became a demarcation point for the rise of the modern militia movement.

“It put the fertilizer in their minds which sprouted radical anti-government beliefs.”

For a radical fringe, with especially intense anti-government beliefs, it became a reason to form paramilitary groups and stockpile arms in the expectation that they would have to defend themselves against totalitarian overreach from a “New World Order”. Some expected the agents of this conspiracy to swoop in in black helicopters and establish world government, while persecuting patriots.

David Neiwert, a contributing writer for the SPLC and author of several books on the far right says the Ruby Ridge myth was potent. Neiwert says it allowed groups to say: “You’re next! They’re going to round people up and put them in concentration camps.” He says some groups even had detailed maps claiming to show where the network of camps would be located.

Groups from Montana to south-west Oregon combined different forms of anti-government ideology, such as fears about gun confiscation and grievances about federal land management practices.

Morlin says that the ideology of “local supremacy” was also central to movement beliefs. “They said the only real authority in law enforcement is the local sheriff. The feds have no jurisdiction. Some people still believe that.” To this day, pro-milita sheriffs, such as Glenn Palmer in Oregon, hold political power in the region.

From this, and a welter of spurious legal beliefs, many groups mounted direct challenges to the authority of federal agencies such as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Many agents of these bodies faced violence or harassment in the course of their work during the 1990s.

Morlin says that militia groups, large and small, used the story of Ruby Ridge to recruit people, and to amplify existing anti-government beliefs: “The whole idea was to play on people’s fears.”

The rise of the movement was fortuitously timed with a broader uptake of internet technologies. Morlin says that militia groups made intense use of these technologies to spread their messages and work around mainstream outlets.

After the anti-government zealot Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168, including many children, the movement came under more scrutiny. While many believe the movement dropped off sharply after McVeigh’s act, German thinks that its real numbers are difficult to assess, and that many simply turned their attention to other activities, such as acting as vigilante immigration enforcers on the southern border.

In the years between their prominence in the 1990s and their resurgent public visibility today, the militias’ basic ideology – stressing federal overreach, local supremacy, and a hardline constitutionalism – gained a greater acceptance among many in rural areas.

Contemporary “patriot movement” groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, or the various “Light Foot Militias” seen on the streets of Charlottesville, do not generally foreground fervidly conspiratorial anti-government rhetoric. For the most part, they fastidiously disavow racism and white supremacy.

Unlike those in the earlier wave of the militia movement, whose adherents mainly confined themselves to rural and provincial areas, newer groups have come, bearing arms, into the heart of liberal cities. This has been apparent during the wave of rightwing protests that have swept cities from Berkeley to Boston since Donald Trump’s inauguration. Usually, militias turn up on the basis of providing security and protection for “free speech”.

In the Trump era, these groups are far more emboldened, and often organize openly on social media. They’re also able to bring weapons into public places in a way that was not previously possible. Changing gun laws – such as proliferating open carry provisions, the end of the assault weapons ban, and the supreme court’s Heller decision – mean that groups can bring semiautomatic weapons, sidearms, and body armor into cities unchallenged.

And if their rhetoric seems less far out, it may be because some of the ideas they nurture have been brought into the mainstream by broadcasters such as Alex Jones, who has embraced the 9/11 “truth” movement and united it with well-established themes within the militia movement.

Their willingness to turn out in numbers in volatile situations is a new and striking development. In Charlottesville, Virginia’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, said police had held back because they felt outgunned by militia.

Of the new movements, Neiwert says: “They’re far more dangerous than they were in the 1990s … This has become a huge problem and I don’t see any way out of it.”

In 2017, the shots fired 25 years ago at Ruby Ridge are still echoing in the streets of American cities.


Hit App Sarahah Quietly Uploads Your Address Book

August 27 2017

by Yael Grauer

The Intercept

Sarahah, a new app that lets people sign up to receive anonymized, candid messages, has been surging in popularity; somewhere north of 18 million people are estimated to have downloaded it from Apple and Google’s online stores, making it the number three most downloaded free software title for iPhones and iPads.

Sarahah bills itself as a way to “receive honest feedback” from friends and employees. But the app is collecting more than feedback messages. When launched for the first time, it immediately harvests and uploads all phone numbers and email addresses in your address book. Although Sarahah does in some cases ask for permission to access contacts, it does not disclose that it uploads such data, nor does it seem to make any functional use of the information. Sarahah did not respond to requests for comment.¬

Zachary Julian, a senior security analyst at Bishop Fox, discovered Sarahah’s uploading of private information when he installed the app on his Android phone, a Galaxy S5 running Android 5.1.1. The phone was outfitted with monitoring software known as BURP Suite, which intercepts internet traffic entering and leaving the device, allowing the owner to see what data is sent to remote servers. When Julian launched Sarahah on the device, BURP Suite caught the app in the act of uploading his private data.

“As soon as you log into the application, it transmits all of your email and phone contacts stored on the Android operating system,” he said. He later verified the same occurs on Apple’s iOS, albeit after a prompt to “access contacts,” which also appears in newer versions of Android. Julian also noticed that if you haven’t used the application in a while, it’ll share all of your contacts again. He did some testing on the app on a Friday night, and when he booted the app on a Sunday morning, it pushed all of his contacts again. (You can see some of his testing in this video.)

Drew Porter, founder of security firm Red Mesa, said that this type of behavior is more common than most users would expect, especially when an app is free like Sarahah. He said that even if users are willing to trust a piece of software with their address book data, there are reasons to avoid trusting the internet servers associated with the app. “It’s no longer that you have to worry about the data on your phone, it’s that you have to worry about the data on your phone that’s somewhere else that you have no control over being compromised,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, this company can see my information and I’m okay with that.’ You now have to think about the security of that company.”

Asked about Sarahah, Porter added, “I do find it concerning, mostly because the information that the company may be getting could be what other people consider very private, and you don’t know the security of the company that is getting it. We’ve seen popular apps before, total information leakage comes out, and it’s devastating to those companies. I believe it’s even more devastating to the user whose information was compromised.”

Will Strafach, president of Sudo Security Group, Inc., pointed out that security researchers and app reviewers can only see what is happening on the device itself, rather than server side, making it impossible for everyone but the developer to know if the data is being stored or just used, and if stored, how well it is protected. “Even in an innocent use case, if the data is not being handled safely, a server breach could allow malicious parties access to this contacts data,” he said. “Additionally, there is no silver bullet to solving this. My team wrote software to automatically detect this behavior in iOS apps in order to call out bad actors, but we found that the information was not as useful as anticipated, because so many apps are doing it and there is no reliable way to tell if the data is being handled safely on the server’s side, and that is the most important part.”

But Julian thinks that Sarahah uploading contacts is disconcerting, especially given the popularity of the app, and especially since most users don’t expect it to occur. On iOS, the app says “the app needs to access your contacts to show you who has an account in Sarahah,” and allows the user to choose between “Okay” and “Don’t allow.” On Android, the app in some cases requests access to contacts without giving any need for needing such access, and in other cases makes no such request. On neither operating system does it mention uploading data to a server. “The privacy policy specifically states that if it plans to use your data, it’ll ask for your consent,” Julian said. While the app’s entry in Google’s Play Store does indicate the app will access contacts, that’s not “enough consent” to justify “sending all of those contacts over without any kind of specific notification,” he added.

Despite claiming on iOS to use contact data to show the user who in their address book is on Sarahah, the app does not actually do so, Julian said, judging from his testing. If Sarahah did ever begin showing which of your contacts are on its network, as advertised, this would lead to a new problem—it would make it far easier to deduce who is sending messages. For now, it’s not clear how the data is being used.

“Sarahah has between 5 and 10 million installs on just the Play store alone for Android, so if you extrapolate that number, it could easily get into hundreds of millions of phone numbers and email addresses that they’ve harvested,” Julian said. Sarahah is among the top five most downloaded apps in Google’s Play Store for Android, according to analytics firm App Annie.

It’s not entirely clear what Sarahah uses uploaded contact lists for, although the app’s privacy policy states that it will not sell the information to third parties without prior and written consent, unless it’s part of bulk data used for statistics and research.

Newer Android operating systems, starting with Android 6.0 (“Marshmallow”) do allow for more granular permissions for apps, allowing users to modify controls so that apps do not gain access to contacts or other information. But all but the most expensive Android phones are notoriously slow to receive updates like Marshmallow, and around 54 percent of Android users are using older versions that don’t have these permissions, and users have to be savvy enough to know where to find the app permissions (Settings > Apps > Gear button > App permissions).

Other apps that send users’ contacts to external servers are more forthright in their privacy policies. For example, the so-called ephemeral messaging app Snapchat, which settled FTC charges in 2014 that its promises of disappearing messages were false, and which also transmitted user location and collected user address books without notice or consent, now has a robust privacy policy which states that the app “may—with your consent—collect information from your device’s phonebook,” and that if you allow this, and you’re in another user’s contacts, that it may combine information collected from their phone book with what they have collected about you. The prompt to add contacts states “Find your friends. See which of your contacts are on Snapchat!” and the popup on iOS clearly says that the contacts will be uploaded to Snapchat’s servers “so you and others can find friends, and to improve your experience.”

Sarahah appears to be a much smaller operation than Snapchat. It was created in Saudi Arabia by developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, according to news accounts. It is just the latest in a series of apps pairing promises of anonymity with troubling privacy practices. Another was Secret, now defunct, which was supposed to traffic in anonymized messages from friends and friends of friends. In 2014, security researchers were able to decloak posters on the app by tricking the app’s contact-matching system.

A silver lining for Sarahah users concerned about privacy is that they don’t need to download the service’s app. It’s possible to send messages on Sarahah, and register to receive messages on Sarahah, via a website. And that site doesn’t ask for or access contacts from any of your digital address books.

Still, if Sarahah intends to continue scooping up user’s contact data via mobile apps, Julian believes a more responsible path for the company would be to specifically inform the user about what data they are giving up and where it is going — and to provide them with a legitimate reason as to why the app actually needs it.

 Confederate flag maker ‘overwhelmed’ by orders as tensions flare

August 26, 2017


Amid tense debate on the future of Confederate statues around the US, business appears to be booming for a major Confederate flag manufacturer in Huntsville, Alabama.

Alabama Flag & Banner – described as one of the last remaining confederate flag makers – is benefitting from a surge in demand from US nationalists, according to CBS News.

Tensions around the public display of images associated with the Confederacy, the 11 secessionist states that fought to maintain slave society, have increased recently.

Concern over the flying of the Confederate flag was initially raised in 2015, following the racially-motivated African Methodist church massacre carried out by Dylann Roof in South Carolina.

Outrage against the symbol resulted in the flag being removed from the South Carolina statehouse grounds.

A rejection of the Southern flag and other Confederate reminders has continued into Donald Trump’s presidency, with some arguing it should be paraded because it is part of US heritage.

Fallout from clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia heightened hostilities around Confederate symbols – specifically whether statues to Civil War era figures such as General Robert E. Lee have a place in the public domain.

It has resulted in certain statues being defaced and one group of activists tearing down a Confederate soldier statue in Durham, North Carolina, to the dismay of President Trump.

But while racial and political tensions continue to bubble, the disharmony appears to have done the coffers of Alabama Flag & Banner no harm.

The company, which boasts its involvement in raising the highest flagpole in south-east America, states that it has recently received an “overwhelming amount of orders.”

Due to the surge, the firm has had to reroute orders to a different website, and they warn customers that Confederate flags could take up to three weeks to be delivered.

Alabama Flag & Banner owner Belinda Kennedy told RT.com that flag sales have been buoyed by those opposing the removal of Confederate monuments, saying that sales are coming from “all 50 states and several different countries.”

“My seamstresses do not ordinarily work weekends but they are working now [Saturday],” Kennedy said. “The comments I hear from customers coming into our store, over the phone or email are [that they] buy flags in order to offset the small minority who are demanding the removal of monuments.”

Kennedy also said people calling for the removal of monuments are “trying to revise history.”


5 cases of corrupt billionaires who served time in prison

August 25, 2017


The head of South Korea’s Samsung Jay Y. Lee has been sentenced to five years for bribery on Friday. One would think being a billionaire eliminates the problem of greed, but here is just a short list of disgraced top executives who have been locked up similarly to Lee

Top bankers in Iceland

Iceland is the only country, which imprisoned bankers and executives in connection with the 2008 financial crisis. The country has jailed 26 bankers for market manipulation, fraud and other financial crimes since 2010.

Some of them, like Sigurdur Einarsson, Kaupthing Bank’s former chairman, and Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson, the bank’s former CEO, serve their jail time in Kviabryggja Prison in western Iceland, Bloomberg reported in 2016.

They do laundry, work out in the gym, and are allowed to browse the internet and go outside.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky made his billions after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and was once the richest person in the country with a fortune of $15 billion.

In October 2003, he and business partner Platon Lebedev were arrested and charged with fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion and money laundering through their oil company Yukos.

The Russian government ordered Yukos shares to be frozen and the company was dissolved in 2007. The businessmen were released in 2014 after spending more than a decade behind bars.

Bernie Madoff

Madoff is the largest fraudster Wall Street has ever seen. He stripped investors of billions of dollars in the biggest financial fraud in the history of the United States.

Madoff was found guilty of running a giant Ponzi scheme. The $65 billion fraud was undetected for decades. The fraudster’s scheme started to unravel when clients demanded the return of $7 billion, but he only had $200 million to $300 million to give.

He managed to stay under the radar for years, as he was a highly regarded veteran investor, as most people thought he was above board and knew what he was doing. Madoff was sentenced to 150 years imprisonment and the forfeiture of $17.179 billion.

Stewart Parnell

This is the first person on the list who was not charged with financial crimes. Stewart Parnell, the former owner of a peanut company in the US state of Georgia, was sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2015 for his role in a salmonella outbreak that killed nine and sickened 714 people.

The outbreak may not have been the largest, but investigators discovered emails, which proved Parnell knew his Peanut Corporation of America was shipping salmonella-tainted peanut butter but covered it up. His brother Michael was given 20 years in prison.

The Parnell brothers used fake certificates to cover up salmonella, which showed up in laboratory results, the prosecutors said.

Under federal rules, the criminals have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before they could ask for parole.

At the time of the court decision, Stewart was 61, and Michael 56.

Ding Yuxin

The only woman on our list, Chinese businesswoman Ding Yuxin, was accused by a court in Beijing of giving bribes to a former railways minister. She was given 20 years in prison, fined over $400 million and had personal property confiscated.

The court found Ding used her influence to help contractors win bids for 57 Chinese railway projects from 2007 to 2010.

Despite having only an elementary school education and working as an egg seller, Ding built a business empire with interests in coal and rail.














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