TBR News December 24, 2016

Dec 24 2016

 The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. December 24, 2016:” We read this morning on a blog entitled ‘TruthinWorldAffairs’ something we felt needs to be given wider circulation than the sites five readers.

It seems the Russians are manufacturing, and distributing world-wide, toilet paper with Hillary Clinton’s picture on each section!

Director Jack MeHoff has proven that the Russian factory in Minsk has turned out over ten million rolls of the paper and it is being sent around the world by Putin himself as Christmas gifts to heads of state.

Enclosed with each shipment is a picture of Putin and his pet robot bear, Orlov.

Weeping, Mrs. Clinton said she could not understand how anyone could be so cruel and that after her recent elliptic seizure, she and her husband, Bill, cried in each others arms “for hours.”

Also, Jack MeHoff, director of the People’s Truth Institute, said that many of the rolls of paper had alternating pictures of Mrs. Clinton and the Star of David.

This is apparently because Mrs. Clinton’s family has a Jewish background.

President Obama, who is also deeply grieved because a Trump aide called his wife a gorilla recently, said that such cruel and vicious acts proved that Putin himself broke into the DNC files and released nasty material because Clinton had said cruel things about his dog.

CIA analyst and a Deputy Direector, Ben Dova, said that this absolutely mandates that Russian caviar must be sanctioned to teach Putin once and for all that Americans will not tolerate Clinton toilet paper.

‘I’d rather use the bathroom wall than any of this evil stuff.’ Dova said.”

Church of Jesus Christ the Avenger Bulletin No. 5

Christmas Message for 2016

Brothers and Sisters in Christ!!!!

We are honored to announce to you the founding of our NEW CHRISTIAN CHURCH!

We know that many of you are not satisfied with the enforced meekness of regular Christian churches; that you are often humiliated by your neighbors and co-workers for displaying the piscine symbols of the Faith on your cars and front doors, mocked because of your picketing of abortion clinics and Satanist movies and demands for censorship of everything but the stock market reports.

Now, we have the True Answer for you!

We have formed the Church of Jesus Christ the Avenger whose credo is the manifestation of Muscular Christianity and the total destruction of all alien forms of life who will not accept the Word of Christ as Gospel! Unlike their Jesus Christ who is meek and long-suffering, our Jesus Christ is capable of leaping over several buildings at a single bound and of smiting Satan with both hands and a length of lead pipe for good measure! Our Jesus Christ would never have kissed Judas but rather, have snapped his neck like a piece of celery in a Bloody Mary! Our Jesus Christ would not merely have torn the veil in the temple but instead, have reduced the building to instant rubble along with all the congregation!

No longer do pious possessors of the One Truth have to put up with mockery from alien cults such as the Mormons, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Roman and Eastern Catholics, Hindus, Moslems and other false cults of Lucifer. Now, the Church of Jesus Christ the Avenger will smite them hip and thigh and cast them into Outer Darkness. This time there will be no wailing and gnashing of teeth because Jesus Christ the Avenger will have ripped off their jaws (and private parts as well)!

You can join our Church and experience the thrill of Power as you witness acts of Holy Vengeance daily on the television. Rejoice when Orthodox Jews are forced to eat pork sausage and sour cream, see Christian Scientists compelled to take drugs, laugh when Mormons are made to drink Coke and iced tea and be enraptured as Baptists are held under water for ten minutes!

Those of you who crave Creative Christian Action can join the Church of Jesus Christ the Avenger, the Sword of the Lord and Gideon, and the guarantors that the Meek shall indeed inherit the Earth! We alone can guarantee this because it is our aim to Exterminate anyone who does not belong to our Church! And not only will we inherit the earth, we will also inherit all of the cars, TVs, DVDs, bank accounts, clothing and real estate of the Departed Satanists!

Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ the Avenger  is not automatic but application must be made to your local Church of Jesus Christ the Avenger along with the severed head of a Satanist. Please note that we cannot accept the severed head of an ex-spouse, a mother-in-law, a creditor or anyone else against whom you might have some unworthy Personal Objection . No, the head must be of a Satanist unknown to you. (The Pastor of your Church has lists for your use.)

We hope we have made you aware of our goals and we advise you that More Bulletins will Follow!

And a Merry Christmas to all of you!

Defying pressure, U.S. lets U.N. denounce Israeli settlements

December 23, 2016

by Michelle Nichols


UNITED NATIONS-The United States on Friday allowed the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building, defying heavy pressure from long-time ally Israel and President-elect Donald Trump for Washington to wield its veto.

A U.S. abstention paved the way for the 15-member council to approve the resolution, with 14 votes in favor, prompting applause in the council chamber. The action by President Barack Obama’s administration follows growing U.S. frustration over the unrelenting construction of Jewish settlements on land Palestinians want for a future independent state.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has encouraged the expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors, said in a statement.

The U.S. action just weeks before Obama ends eight years as president broke with the long-standing American approach of shielding Israel, which receives more than $3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, from such action. The United States, Russia, France, Britain and China have veto power on the council.

The resolution, put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and Trump, was the first adopted by the council on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

The U.S. abstention was seen as a parting shot by Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu and whose efforts to forge a peace agreement based on a “two-state” solution of creating a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel have proven futile.

Obama also faced pressure from U.S. lawmakers, fellow Democrats as well as Republicans, to veto the measure, and was hit with bipartisan criticism after the vote.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, took the extraordinary step by a U.S. president-elect of personally intervening in a sensitive foreign policy matter before taking office, speaking by telephone with Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before Egypt, another major U.S. aid recipient, dropped the resolution.

Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.””There is one president at a time,” Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters, dismissing Trump’s criticism.

Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resolution. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on Israel to “respect international law.”

Pro-ISIS groups call for attacks on holiday gatherings, churches – feds

December 24, 2016


Despite no known specific, credible threats, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security have warned law enforcement agencies that sympathizers of jihadist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) could strike holiday events in the US.

In a bulletin sent to US law enforcement and private security agencies, the FBI and DHS said individualS loyal to Islamic State “continue aspirational calls for attacks on holiday gatherings, including targeting churches,” CNN reported Friday.

The bulletin was sent out despite the lack of any specific, known threat, federal officials said, according to CNN. However, officials did say pro-Islamic State websites have allegedly published a list of churches in the US, according to reports, although the list was already available to the public, CNN reported.

The warning comes days after a man ran a truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring dozens more. The suspect in the case, Anis Amri, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Amri was allegedly killed in Italy on Friday

On November 28, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a student at Ohio State University, ran a car into a group of pedestrians on the school’s campus. He then exited the vehicle and attacked others with a butcher knife. He was fatally shot shortly afterwards by an Ohio State University officer.

IS took credit for the Ohio State attack, while the FBI claimed Artan was inspired by IS and the writings of Yemeni cleric and Al-Qaeda member Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2011.

Hard times for Turkey as currency slumps and debts mount

December 24, 2016

by Paul Benjamin Osterlund

The National/Abu Dhabi

ISTANBUL-In late November, a group of livestock breeders in the central Anatolian province of Aksaray were filmed setting fire to stacks of fake US$20 bills while brandishing a banner that read: “Dollars and euros not valid in our bazaar”.

Though the breeders’ anger was directed at hard currencies, it was among the latest expressions of frustration at the sinking Turkish lira, which has lost no small amount of value against the dollar and euro in recent months, weakening consumer purchasing power and exacerbating the headache of companies with debt in foreign currencies.

On the evening of the July 15 coup attempt, the lira sank by about five per cent to just over three to the dollar — its biggest drop in eight years. Though it bounced back slightly in the following days, it has fallen further since then, standing at about 3.5 on Friday in a Turkey still reeling from a recent deadly bomb attack and the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara.

Earlier this month, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called upon people to change their dollars into lira in an attempt to bolster the struggling currency, claiming that external forces were trying to destroy Turkey’s economy. Within hours, Turkey’s stock exchange, Borsa Istanbul, converted all of its cash assets into lira. Citizen-led campaigns also popped up throughout the country, offering free haircuts or lunch for those exchanging a certain sum of dollars. Given the lira’s still-dismal state, none of these efforts seem to have done the trick.

“With a presidential referendum coming up in four to five months, it is hard to tell what is propaganda and what is a genuinely held belief or even serious policy nowadays, which I believe is a serious concern for the business community and investors,” said Attila Yesilada, an economist at Istanbul Analytics. “I don’t think these ‘patriotic drives’ have much effect in a country as polarised as Turkey.”

Initially, the post-coup declaration of the state of emergency, the mass purges with arrests and capital seizures damaged investor confidence and sent the lira downwards. But it got even worse in November after Donal Trump was elected US president and the European Parliament’ suspended EU accession talks with Turkey.

“Rather than taking steps to calm international investors, the Turkish government chose to prolong a state of emergency, fuel perceptions of a continued threat and carry out a harsh crackdown against its opponents. Undoubtedly, this reaction has continued to shake any confidence global markets had in Turkey,” said Cenk Sidar, president of the Washington, DC-based strategic advisory and risk assessment firm Sidar Global Advisors.

More than 100,000 people have been sacked from the civil service, the military, judiciary and education system in the drive to cleanse the state of followers of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric whom the government blames for the attempted coup. Numerous lucrative businesses thought to be run by Gulenists have been seized.

“The purge morphed into a witch-hunt, which reflected poorly in the international press, and as the number of businesses taken over by the Turkish Deposit Insurance Corporation grew, investors began staying away from Turkey, ” Mr Yesilada said.

In fact, the lira has been weakening for several years and for long-standing reasons which have little to do with recent events in Turkey.

“The poor performance of the lira is only one of the indicators of the Turkish economy’s major challenges. Turkey has been facing various structural problems, including, but not limited to, high unemployment, a high current account deficit, and unsustainable dependence on foreign capital inflows,” Mr Sidar said.

The prices of imported goods — admittedly not always the most essential item — rise steeply and often. And while smaller niche retailers may still be doing business, bigger operations saddled by debt in foreign currencies are failing, among them food producers, clothing retail chains and supermarkets.

In 2015, 15,000 firms went bankrupt. This year, companies holding debt in dollars and euros are undoubtedly suffering as their lira profits are eaten up by the currency’s loss in value.

Bad foreign policy decisions, erosion of institutions, mistrust in the judicial system and a growing tilt toward authoritarianism have all contributed to the current poor performance of the lira,” Mr Sidar said.

People are still shy to call it, but I believe Turkey is in the midst of a major economic crisis that has been evolving throughout the past five years.”

Arctic heatwave could break records

December 24, 2016

by Victoria Gill

Science reporter, BBC News

Temperatures at the North Pole could be up to 20 degrees higher than average this Christmas Eve, in what scientists say is a record-breaking heatwave.

Climate scientists say these unseasonably warm weather patterns in the Arctic region are directly linked to man-made climate change.

Temperatures throughout November and December were 5C higher than average.

It follows a summer during which Arctic sea ice reached the second-lowest extent ever recorded by satellites.

Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute told BBC News that in pre-industrial times “a heatwave like this would have been extremely rare – we would expect it to occur about every 1,000 years”.

Dr Otto added that scientists are “very confident” that the weather patterns were linked to anthropogenic climate change.

“We have used several different climate modelling approaches and observations,” she told BBC News.

“And in all our methods, we find the same thing; we cannot model a heatwave like this without the anthropogenic signal.”

Temperatures are forecast to peak on Christmas Eve around the North Pole – at near-freezing.

The warm air from the North Atlantic is forecast to flow all the way to the North Pole via Spitsbergen, giving rise to clouds that prevent heat from escaping.

And, as Dr Otto explained to BBC News, the reduction in sea ice is contributing to this “feedback loop”.

“If the globe is warming, then the sea ice and ice on land [shrinks] then the darker water and land is exposed,” she said.

“Then the sunlight is absorbed rather than reflected as it would be by the ice.”

Forecasting models show that there is about a 2% chance of a heatwave event occurring every year.

“But if temperatures continue to increase further as they are now,” said Dr Otto, “we would expect a heatwave like this to occur every other year and that will be a huge stress on the ecosystem.”

Dr Thorsten Markus, chief of NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, said the heatwave was “very, very unusual”.

“The eerie thing is that we saw something quite similar (temperatures at the North Pole of about 0C in December) almost exactly a year ago,” he told BBC News.

The freeze and thaw conditions are already making it difficult for reindeer to find food – as the moss they feed on is covered by hard ice, rather than soft, penetrable snow.

Asked if the conditions on Christmas Eve were likely to affect Santa’s all-important journey, Dr Markus said he was confident that his sled would cope with the conditions.

He added: “Santa is most likely overdressed though. Maybe in the future we’ll see him in a light jacket or plastic mac.”


Exclusive: FBI probes FDIC hack linked to China’s military – sources

December 23, 2016

by Dustin Volz and Jason Lange


WASHINGTON-The FBI is investigating how hackers infiltrated computers at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for several years beginning in 2010 in a breach senior FDIC officials believe was sponsored by China’s military, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The security breach, in which hackers gained access to dozens of computers including the workstation for former FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair, has also been the target of a probe by a congressional committee.

The FDIC is one of three federal agencies that regulate commercial banks in the United States. It oversees confidential plans for how big banks would handle bankruptcy and has access to records on millions of individual American deposits.

Last month, the banking regulator allowed congressional staff to view internal communications between senior FDIC officials related to the hacking, two people who took part in the review said. In the exchanges, the officials referred to the attacks as having been carried out by Chinese military-sponsored hackers, they said. The staff was not allowed to keep copies of the exchanges, which did not explain why the FDIC officials believe the Chinese military was behind the breach.

Reuters was not able to review those records, and could not determine how long the FBI probe has been open, though it was described as still active. A third person with knowledge of the matter confirmed the FBI had opened a probe.

FDIC spokeswoman Barbara Hagenbaugh declined to comment on the previously unreported FBI investigation, or the hack’s suspected sponsorship by the Chinese military, but said the regulator took “immediate steps” to root out the hackers when it became aware of the security breach.

After FDIC staff discovered the hack in 2010, it persisted into the next year and possibly later, with staff working at least through 2012 to verify the hackers were expunged, according to a 2013 internal probe conducted by the FDIC’s inspector general, an internal watchdog.


The intrusion is part of series of cybersecurity lapses at the FDIC in recent years that continued even after the hack suspected to be linked to Beijing. This year, the FDIC has reported to Congress at least seven cybersecurity incidents it considered to be major which occurred in 2015 or 2016.

An annual report by the regulator said there were 159 incidents of unauthorized computer access during fiscal year 2015, according to a redacted copy obtained by Reuters under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Rather than major breaches by hackers, however, these incidents included security lapses such as employees copying sensitive data to thumb drives and leaving the agency.Twenty of the incidents were confirmed data breaches, according to an FDIC document provided to Reuters by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology. That represents a higher number than was previously reported by the regulator under reporting guidelines for major incidents.

Throughout the lapses, the FDIC has said it is stiffening information security standards, including a ban on thumb drives and more coordination with the Department of Homeland Security to prevent hacks.

“We are continuing to take steps to enhance our cybersecurity program,” Hagenbaugh said.

An audit by the FDIC’s inspector general in November found the FDIC was failing to do “vulnerability scanning” in an important part of its network, a standard technique used to detect hackers. The audit stated the FDIC was working to address the shortfall.

The FBI declined to comment on its investigation. When asked about China’s possible role in the 2010 hack, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “If you have no definitive proof, then it is very hard for you to judge where the attacks really come from.”

Washington has accused Beijing of hacking government offices before, including the theft of background check records from the Office of Personnel Management.

It was not clear whether the FBI probe of the FDIC hack would result in any action against China or whether the issue would be taken up by President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to confront China on trade issues.

The Obama administration has struggled to develop a clear strategy for responding to cyber attacks, due to the difficulty of identifying hackers and fears of escalation.

That challenge was thrown into relief by hacks during the U.S. presidential election which the CIA and FBI concluded were carried out by Russia to help Trump win. Russia denied the accusation.

The White House had no comment on the FDIC hack. Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached an agreement to avoid economic cyber espionage on one another.


A July report by the House Science Committee said hackers suspected to be linked to China’s government gained deep access to FDIC computers starting in 2010. The probe at that point was unaware the hack was tied to China’s military.

The committee, chaired by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, has continued to press the FDIC. Republican lawmakers accused FDIC employees of covering up the hack to protect the job of Chairman Martin Gruenberg, who was nominated for his post in 2011. An FDIC inspector general review last month found no evidence Gruenberg’s pending confirmation influenced handling of the breach.

In September, FDIC officials told the committee it could not share some documents because the FBI was investigating the breaches, two committee aides told Reuters.

FDIC staff realized in October 2010 that sophisticated intruders lurked within the agency’s network, according to the FDIC inspector general’s 2013 probe.

Staff at the regulator learned the computer of the FDIC’s then-chairwoman, Bair, was breached by what they called an “advanced persistent threat.” Top FDIC officials were not briefed on the matter until August 2011, a month after Bair left the agency, according to the 2013 investigation.

Bair declined to comment when reached by Reuters this week.

Reuters was unable to determine when the hackers were expunged from the FDIC network. The regulator hired Mandiant, a firm specialized in probing Chinese military hackers, to investigate, executing a contract in January 2013. Mandiant was purchased in 2014 by FireEye, which declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; editing by Edward Tobin)

 Israel rejects ‘shameful’ UN resolution amid criticism of Netanyahu

Israel orders steps against a number of countries that backed motion calling for halt to building of settlements in occupied territories

December 24, 2016

by Peter Beaumont

The Guardian

Israel has responded furiously to a UN security council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, recalling two of its ambassadors to countries that voted for the motion and threatening to cut aid.

The security council adopted the landmark resolution demanding Israel halt all settlement building and expansion in the occupied territories after Barack Obama’s administration refused to veto the resolution on Friday.

A White House official said Obama had taken the decision to abstain in the absence of any meaningful peace process. The resolution, which passed by a 14-0 vote, was met with loud applause in the packed chamber after the US ambassador, Samantha Power, abstained.

The move was immediately condemned as “shameful” by the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. A spokesman pointedly referred to Israel’s expectation of working more closely with the US president-elect, Donald Trump.

The security council last adopted a resolution critical of settlements in 1979, with the US abstaining then too. The US vetoed a similar resolution in 2011, which was the sole veto cast by the Obama administration at the security council.

Amid emerging criticism of the handling of the vote by Netanyahu, whose manoeuvres were seen as an attempt to sideline Obama and his administration, Israel ordered action against a number of countries.

The response included the recall of the Israeli ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, who voted for the resolution, the cancellation of a planned visit by the Senegalese foreign minister to Israel in three weeks’ time, and the cancellation of all aid programmes to Senegal.

New Zealand’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, said his country’s vote should have been no surprise to Israel. “We have been very open about our view that the [security council] should be doing more to support the Middle East peace process and the position we adopted today is totally in line with our long-established policy on the Palestinian question,” he said.

The UK, France, Russia and China also voted in favour of the resolution, which described Israeli settlement building as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

The vote has sharply underlined the extent of Israel’s international isolation under Netanyahu, and in particular the hollowness of Netanyahu’s boast at the UN general assembly in the autumn over Israel’s purported diplomatic advances at the UN, not least among African members.

While Israel may expect a much easier ride after the inauguration of Donald Trump, support for the motion from countries such as the UK and France demonstrates the deep frustration in Europe with the policies of Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition over settlements and the moribund peace process.

For its part, the Obama administration made clear that the US decision to abstain was in direct response to choices made by Netanyahu on settlements.

The resolution also serves as a warning to the incoming Trump administration over its policies after the selection by Trump of a far right pro-settler, David Friedman, to be ambassador to Israel.

While the US and EU have worked closely together in coordinating foreign policy on the Israel-Palestine question, there has been growing support among European governments for tougher steps against Israel, which has already resulted in a directive on the labelling of settlement products.

The strength of the language in the resolution reiterating the illegality of Jewish settlements built on land intended for a Palestinian state, occupied by Israel in 1967, is likely to have an impact on multinational companies operating in the occupied territories or working with Israeli enterprises with links to the occupied territories.

Although the resolution is not binding in legal terms, it will have other practical effects, not least in the impact it may have on the Palestinian complaint to the international criminal court, which includes Israeli settlements.

The resolution also includes language calling for differential treatment of Israel within the pre-1967 borders, calling on states to “distinguish[ing], in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”, which could potentially pave the way for future sanctions.

Israeli supporters in the US – both senators and lobby groups – were aghast. Morton Klein, president of the rightwing Zionist Organization of America, railed in unequivocal terms: “Obama has made it clear that he’s a Jew-hating antisemite.”

Leading pro-Israel Republicans also weighed in, including the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who denounced the US abstention as “absolutely shameful” and promised that “our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel”.

In Israel, however, questions were being asked about Netanyahu’s handling of the vote. Writing in Haaretz, the columnist Chemi Shalev was particularly scathing about Netanyahu’s diplomatic failure.

“Resolution 2334 shatters the [Israeli] government-induced illusion that the settlement project has been normalised, that it passed the point of no return, that it is now a fait accompli that will remain unchallenged,” he wrote.

“In recent years, after President Obama desisted from efforts to advance the peace process, Netanyahu, his ministers and settler leaders had behaved as if the battle was over: Israel built and built, the White House objected and condemned, the facts on the ground were cemented in stone.

“You can have your cake and eat it too, the government implied: thumb your nose at Washington and the international community, build in the West Bank as if there’s no tomorrow and still get $38bn in unprecedented [US] military aid.”

The ‘War on Terrorism’ Just Keeps Making It Worse

December 23, 2016

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

European political leaders are making the same mistake in reacting to the massacre at the Christmas fair in Berlin, in which 12 died, as they did during previous terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. There is an over-concentration on the failings of the security services in not identifying and neutralising the Tunisian petty criminal, Anis Amri, as the threat he turned out to be. There is too little focus on bringing to an end the wars in Syria and Iraq which make this type of atrocity unstoppable.

In the aftermath of the killings the visibility of Amri, who was shot dead in Milan this morning, as a potential threat looks misleadingly obvious, and the culpability of those who did not see this appears more glaring than it really was. The number of possible suspects – suspected before they have done anything – is too great to police them effectively.

No politician or security official wishing to retain their job can tell a frightened and enraged public that it is impossible to defend them. Those in charge become an easy target for critics who opportunistically exploit terrorism to blame government incompetence or demand communal punishment of asylum seekers, immigrants or Muslims. At such times, the media is at its self-righteous worst, whipping up hysteria and portraying horrifying but small-scale incidents as if they were existential threats. This has always been true, but 24/7 news coverage makes it worse as reporters run out of things to say and lose all sense of proportion. As the old American newspaper nostrum has it: “if it bleeds, it leads.”

But in over-reacting, governments and media play into the hands of the terrorists who want to create fear and demonstrate their strength, but whose greatest gains come when they provoke an exaggerated self-destructive response. 9/11 was the most successful terrorist attack in history, not just because it destroyed the Twin Towers but because it lured the Bush administration into invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Subsequently, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition, torture and “targeted killings” (otherwise known as assassination campaigns), all justified by 9/11, have acted as recruiting sergeants for al-Qaeda type organisations.

The war on terror has failed more demonstrably than most wars: al-Qaeda numbered in the hundreds in 2001, but today – along with Isis – it has tens of thousands of fighters and supporters spread across dozens of countries.

Political leaders are not blameless, but they tend to be blamed for the wrong thing. Contrary to talk about “lone wolf” terrorism, most people like Amri turn out to have had sympathetic or supportive connections. In his case, US officials say he had communicated with Isis and was in contact with a Salafi preacher. He would have needed little more than inspiration and encouragement, since driving a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Christmas requires no special expertise.

Isis remains crucial to the present wave of terrorist attacks in Europe because it provides ideological motivation and justification and can, as in Paris and Brussels, control and sustain a terrorist cell. So long as there is a well-organised de facto Isis capable of providing these things, terrorism cannot be defeated; there will always be a “breakdown in security” to be exploited.

The continuing existence of such a state is proof of the failure of US and European leadership. It is they who created the original conditions for the rise of Isis by invading Iraq in 2003. They allowed Syria to be torn apart by civil war after 2011 and believed the consequent anarchy could be confined to Iraq and Syria. It was only in 2014 and 2015 – after the creation of Isis, the flood of migrants fleeing to central Europe and the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium – that politicians and officials really took on board the potential danger.

Yet two-and-a-half years after it was first declared, Isis is still in business. Some 2,885 Iraqis were killed in November alone, most of them as a result of fighting between Isis and the Iraqi security forces. Over the last month international focus has been on the fall of east Aleppo and too little attention is given to the fact that Isis has been holding its own in Mosul and has recaptured Palmyra in Syria.

There is a dangerous disconnect in the minds of governments and news organisations between what happens in the war in Iraq and Syria and the long-term consequences this has on the streets of Europe. When the Iraqi armed forces and their Kurdish allies began on 17 October their advance on Mosul, by far the largest urban centre held by any of the Salafi-jihadi groups, it was widely believed that Isis was about to be defeated in its last lair.

It has not happened. The elite units of the Iraqi armed forces, notably the 10,000 strong “Golden Division”, have suffered as much as 50 per cent casualties. They are being ground down by skilful tactics in east Mosul whereby mobile Isis units rapidly shift their positions in built-up areas using holes cut in the walls of houses and a network of tunnels. They avoid permanent fixed positions where they can be located and targeted by artillery and the US-led air coalition. They ambush the Iraqi military forces in their vehicles as they move through narrow streets. The UN says that almost 2,000 members of the Iraqi security forces, including paramilitary Shia units and Kurdish Peshmerga units, were killed in November alone.

The offensive is largely stalled and still has not reached the main part of Mosul city on the west bank of the Tigris River. Districts in east Mosul captured weeks ago have to be captured again. The main thrust of Iraqi government forces attack on Mosul was meant to come from the south, but this front has not moved for six weeks. Isis is even reported to have sent 500 fighters from Mosul across the desert to retake Palmyra, in the first important territorial gain by Isis for 18 months.

This is not an organisation that is going out of business fast, or even at all. The failure of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other insurgent groups to defend east Aleppo more resolutely and successfully will probably lead to a haemorrhage of the most experienced and toughest fighters to Isis. It will have the advantage of being less dependent than the other rebel groups on outside support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are close to accepting defeat in Syria. This may not save Isis in the long term because of the sheer number of its enemies, but it has shown once again that it is more resilient than the Pentagon had supposed.

There are serious consequences here for Europe: Isis can keep going for years with the low-level terrorist attacks like that which just happened in Berlin. It does not have to do much by way of exhortation or material aid to achieve this. When a terrorist incident does take place it is capable of shifting the political agenda in a country as large as Germany. Isis knows this and while it exists the terrorism will not stop.

Why I Still Don’t Buy the Russian Hacking Story

December 22, 2016

by Leonid Bershidsky


I’m willing to believe that Russia sought to hack the U.S. election, but I still find the evidence lacking. That skepticism applies to the latest sensation — a report that Russian proxies in Ukraine are employing the same malicious software used on the U.S. Democratic National Committee.

For months, I have been parsing stories of the great Russian hack — the anonymous leaks from U.S. administration officials, the two fact-poor statements from the U.S. intelligence community, the distant echoes of briefings received by U.S. legislators — for technical evidence. There have been red herrings, such as a feeble attempt to prove that Trump was in contact with Russians through a server at Alfa Bank in Moscow (in reality, a marketing company was sending unsolicited email to Alfa managers). But so far, the only evidence pointing to Russian government involvement comes from cybersecurity companies that have studied Advanced Persistent Threat 28, a hacker collective that has attacked many targets over the years — including the DNC in 2016.

That evidence is best summarized in a 2014 blog post by the security firm FireEye. APT 28 attacks governments and militaries hostile to Russia or strategically important for it. APT 28 appears professional and well-financed. APT 28 uses Russian in its malware. The malware is compiled during working hours in the Moscow time zone.

CrowdStrike, the firm that detected the DNC hack, calls APT 28 Fancy Bear. Until recently, the company’s founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, said he had “medium level confidence” that the group was run by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. Now, he says the confidence level has changed to high. The increase comes from the finding by CrowdStrike that a Ukrainian-developed Android application, used to simplify targeting data for the D-30 howitzer, was contaminated with a version of APT 28 malware.

The logic: If the malware implant within the application was used to collect positioning data about Ukrainian artillery units, who else could be in the market for it but the GRU? Ominously, the CrowdStrike report says:

Open source reporting indicates that Ukrainian artillery forces have lost over 50% of their weapons in the 2 years of conflict and over 80% of D-30 howitzers, the highest percentage of loss of any other artillery pieces in Ukraine’s arsenal.

The inference is that the Russians hacked the app used to target the D-30, and so the howitzers were mostly destroyed.

Although the Ukrainian military has suffered some crushing defeats in eastern Ukraine, mostly at the hands of Russian units sent to help pro-Russian separatists in the area, the loss rate seemed inordinately high. As far as I can ascertain, though, the data on the D-30s are not very reliable: They appear to be based on an assumption that changes in military balance reports, themselves far from perfect, can be interpreted as losses. Ukraine, a nation at war, doesn’t broadcast information about its specific capabilities.

Then there’s the issue of the targeting software itself. Yaroslav Sherstyuk, the Ukrainian military officer who developed the application, reacted angrily on Facebook to the CrowdStrike report, saying he never published the software on any public forums and encouraging fellow Ukrainian servicemen to keep using the latest version of his app. Via Facebook Messenger, he told me that he didn’t believe an infected version of the app even existed. “This is a hoax to scare everyone and make us go back to the old methods of targeting fire,” he wrote. A CrowdStrike spokesperson did not respond when I asked if it had contacted Sherstyuk. He said it hadn’t.

The spokesperson, Ilina Dimitrova, wrote that “it is indisputable that the app has been hacked with Fancy Bear malware — we have published the indicators related to it and they have been confirmed by others in the cybersecurity community.” CrowdStrike said that it found the infected app “in limited public distribution on a Russian language, Ukrainian military forum.” I doubt anyone in the Ukrainian military would download software for targeting artillery fire from a forum. Typically, they obtain it directly from known developers such as Sherstyuk. If I can contact him directly, so can Ukrainian artillery officers seeking to improve their performance in battle.

Hence, it’s hard for me to believe that this infected app — found somewhere on the internet and likely never used by Ukrainian soldiers — offers evidence tying the GRU to APT28. And that’s even if one accepts the initial logical leap to the GRU, as opposed to any of the other Russian spy services also involved in the Ukrainian conflict. I sincerely hope that when the U.S. intelligence community finally produces its findings on the election-related hacks, it will be more convincing.

Don’t get me wrong. It stands to reason that Russian intelligence was interested in the U.S. election campaign, and it’s a distinct possibility that it leaked what it found to the press via WikiLeaks, despite the latter’s denials. Russian President Vladimir Putin dislikes Hillary Clinton, and he probably would have been happy to hurt her chances of getting elected — thus, by default, helping Trump. It’s all quite logical, which is why a third of Americans believe Russia influenced the outcome of the election.

In the real world outside of soap operas and spy novels, however, any conclusions concerning the hackers’ identity, motives and goals need to be based on solid, demonstrable evidence. At this point, it’s inadequate. This is particularly unfortunate given that the DNC hacks were among the defining events of the raging propaganda wars of 2016.

Exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen denies links to Russian envoy’s murder

Controversial Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in a statement has denounced the murder of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov on December 19. Turkish authorities have tried to link the assassin to Gulen’s global network.

December 24, 2016


In a video message, US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen repeatedly said that “like all acts of terror” he condemned the attack on the Russian envoy to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, adding that the ambassador was someone who held his movement in favorable regard. Gulen also said in his video that he fully expected “other assassinations” presumably taking place in the future to be blamed on him and his movement as well.

“I send my deepest condolences to Ambassador Karlov’s family and to the Russian people for this tragic loss. I ask God the Most Compassionate to dry the roots of terrorism and lead the world to days of peace and tranquility,” Gulen further stressed in a written statement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said earlier that Karlov’s murderer, off-duty policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas, who was neutralized by Turkish security forces after the attack, was being investigated for having ties to Gulen’s “Hizmet” (service) movement, which the Turkish government and media refer to as a terrorist network by the name of “FETÖ”.

Erdogan alleges that Gulen was the mastermind behind the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, during which at least 270 people died. He has recently claimed that Gulen’s network of organizations and enterprises, which have been shut down in Turkey since the violent coup attempt, are part of a long-standing “deep state” structure allegedly designed to antagonize the country’s democratically elected government led by Erdogan’s Islamic “Justice and Development Party” (AKP).

Gulen has continuously denied having any involvement in the plot; however, video messages circulated online and dating back to the 1990s show the cleric implying plans to subvert and infiltrate government structures both within and outside of Turkey. The Islamist preacher has been living in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999 after actually being indicted of plotting to topple Turkey’s then highly military-influenced secular government.

Gulen: convenient scapegoat or terror mastermind?

Fethullah Gulen’s statement on the Russian ambassador’s assassination came as Turkish media circulated claims that “FETÖ” was planning another assault on the Turkish government on December 26. Turkey’s interior ministry said it was presently investigating 10,000 people suspected of terror-related activity on social media. At least 1,600 people accused of “propaganda or apologizing for terrorism” or “insulting state officials” have been arrested in the past six months, according to the ministry; human rights organizations believe that number is much higher.

While also fighting insurgency by the so-called “Islamic State” group (IS) as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish government’s crackdown on dissidents has also severely impacted Gulen’s followers. Gulen spokesman Y. Alp Aslandogan told DW that inside Turkey, Hizmet’s activities were reduced to being non-existing following a massive government purge which resulted in all organizations affiliated with Gulen forcibly closing down under a state of emergency in effect since the failed coup.

“In Turkey, the institutional presence of the movement is completely finished. Erdogan shut down everything: hospitals, schools. They have fired everyone, even 7,000 doctors. But there are still hundreds of thousands of our participants inside Turkey. But right now, Hizmet only continues inside their homes,” he told DW.

Aslandogan heads the “Alliance for Shared Values,” (AFSV) a New York-based initiative that is part of Gulen’s network of global non-profit registered organizations, which first shared Gulen’s message denouncing the assassination.

“While the assertion is wrong and irresponsible, it is not unexpected since Mr Erdogan blames Mr Gulen for any and all harm that besets Turkey,” an AFSV statement read after the Russian envoy’s murder.

Gulen’s followers have also suffered persecution outside of Turkey. Gulen sympathizers have reportedly received death threats in France, with a Gulen study center also suffering vandalism in a recent attack. Turkey has also made demands on the German government to extradite known Gulen supporters in Germany, which the German government has ignored.



Review of the Unauthorized Disclosures of Former National Security Agency Contractor Edward Snowden

September 15, 2016


Executive Summary

In June 2013, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden perpetrated the largest and most damaging public release of classified information in U.S. intelligence history. In August 2014, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House

Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) directed Committee staff to carry out a comprehensive review of the unauthorized disclosures. The aim of the review was to allow the Committee to explain to other Members of Congress-and, where possible, the American people-how this breach occurred, what the U.S. Government knows about the man who committed it, and whether the security shortfalls it highlighted had been remedied.

Over the next two years, Committee staff requested hundreds of documents from the

Intelligence Community (IC), participated in dozens of briefings and meetings with IC personnel, conducted several interviews with key individuals with knowledge of Snowden’s background and actions, and traveled to NSA Hawaii to visit Snowden’s last two work locations.

The review focused on Snowden’s background, how he was able to remove more than 1.5 million classified documents from secure NSA networks, what the 1.5 million documents contained, and the damage their removal caused to national security.

The Committee’s review was careful not to disturb any criminal investigation or future prosecution of Snowden, who has remained in Russia since he fled there on June 23, 2013.

Accordingly, the Committee did not interview individuals whom the Department of Justice identified as possible witnesses at Snowden’s trial, including Snowden himself, nor did the

Committee request any matters that may have occurred before a grand jury. Instead, the IC provided the Committee with access to other individuals who possessed substantively similar knowledge as the possible witnesses. Similarly, rather than interview Snowden’s NSA coworkers and supervisors directly, Committee staff interviewed IC personnel who had reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s co-workers and supervisors. The Committee remains hopeful that Snowden will return to the United States to face justice.

The bulk of the Committee’s 37-page review, which includes 237 footnotes, must remain classified to avoid causing further harm to national security; however, the Committee has made a number of unclassified findings. These findings demonstrate that the public narrative popularized by Snowden and his allies is rife with falsehoods, exaggerations, and crucial omissions, a pattern that began before he stole 1.5 million sensitive documents.

First, Snowden caused tremendous damage to national security, and the vast

majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests-they instead pertain to military, defense, and intelligence programs of great interest to America’s adversaries. A review of the materials Snowden compromised makes clear that he handed over secrets that protect American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defenses against terrorists and nation-states. Some of Snowden’s disclosures exacerbated and accelerated existing trends that diminished the IC’s capabilities to collect against legitimate foreign intelligence targets, while others resulted in the loss of intelligence streams that had saved American lives. Snowden insists he has not shared the full cache of 1.5 million classified documents with anyone; however, in June 2016, the deputy chairman of the

Russian parliament’s defense and security committee publicly conceded that “Snowden did share intelligence” with his government. Additionally, although Snowden’s professed objective may have been to inform the general public, the information he released is also available to Russian, Chinese, Iranian, and North Korean government intelligence services; any terrorist with Internet access; and many others who wish to do harm to the United States.

The full scope of the damage inflicted by Snowden remains unknown. Over the past three years, the IC and the Department of Defense (DOD) have carried out separate reviews with differing methodologies-of the damage Snowden caused. Out of an abundance of caution, DOD reviewed all 1.5 million documents Snowden removed. The IC, by contrast, has carried out a damage assessment for only a small subset of the documents. The Committee is concerned that the IC does not plan to assess the damage of the vast majority of documents Snowden removed. Nevertheless, even by a conservative estimate, the U.S. Government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and will eventually spend billions, to attempt to mitigate the damage Snowden caused. These dollars would have been better spent on combating America’s adversaries in an increasingly dangerous world.

Second, Snowden was not a whistleblower. Under the law, publicly revealing

classified information does not qualify someone as a whistleblower. However, disclosing

classified information that shows fraud, waste, abuse, or other illegal activity to the appropriate law enforcement or oversight personnel-including to Congress–does make someone a whistleblower and affords them with critical protections. Contrary to his public claims that he notified numerous NSA officials about what he believed to be illegal intelligence collection, the Committee found no evidence that Snowden took any official effort to express concerns about U.S. intelligence activities-legal, moral, or otherwise-to any oversight officials within the U.S. Government, despite numerous avenues for him to do so. Snowden was aware of these avenues. His only attempt to contact an NSA attorney revolved around a question about the legal precedence of executive orders, and his only contact to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Inspector General (IO) revolved around his disagreements with his managers about training and retention of information technology specialists.

Despite Snowden’s later public claim that he would have faced retribution for

voicing concerns about intelligence activities, the Committee found that laws and regulations in effect at the time of Snowden’s actions afforded him protection. The Committee routinely receives disclosures from IC contractors pursuant to the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (IC WP A). If Snowden had been worried about possible retaliation for voicing concerns about NSA activities, he could have made a disclosure to the Committee. He did not. Nor did Snowden remain in the United States to face the legal consequences of his actions, contrary to the tradition of civil disobedience he professes to embrace. Instead, he fled to China and Russia, two countries whose governments place scant value on their citizens’ privacy or civil liberties-and whose intelligence services aggressively collect information on both the

United States and their own citizens.

To gather the files he took with him when he left the country for Hong Kong,

Snowden infringed on the privacy of thousands of government employees and contractors. He obtained his colleagues’ security credentials through misleading means, abused his access as a systems administrator to search his co-workers’ personal drives, and removed the personally identifiable information of thousands ofIC employees and contractors. From Hong Kong he went to Russia, where he remains a guest of the Kremlin to this day.

It is also not clear Snowden understood the numerous privacy protections that govern the activities of the IC. He failed basic annual training for NSA employees on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and complained the training was rigged to be overly difficult. This training included explanations of the privacy protections related to the PRISM program that Snowden would later disclose.

Third, two weeks before Snowden began mass downloads of classified

documents, he was reprimanded after engaging in a workplace spat with NSA managers.

Snowden was repeatedly counseled by his managers regarding his behavior at work. For

example, in June 2012, Snowden became involved in a fiery e-mail argument with a supervisor about how computer updates should be managed. Snowden added an NSA senior executive several levels above the supervisor to the e-mail thread, an action that earned him a swift reprimand from his contracting officer for failing to follow the proper protocol for raising grievances through the chain of command. Two weeks later, Snowden began his mass downloads of classified information from NSA networks. Despite Snowden’s later claim that the March 2013 congressional testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was a “breaking point” for him, these mass downloads predated Director Clapper’s testimony by eight months.

Fourth, Snowden was, and remains, a serial exaggerator and fabricator. A close review of Snowden’s official employment records and submissions reveals a pattern of intentional lying. He claimed to have left Army basic training because of broken legs when in fact he washed out because of shin splints. He claimed to have obtained a high school degree equivalent when in fact he never did. He claimed to have worked for the CIA as a “senior advisor,” which was a gross exaggeration of his entry-level duties as a computer technician. He also doctored his performance evaluations and obtained new positions at NSA by exaggerating his resume and stealing the answers to an employment test. In May 2013, Snowden informed his supervisor that he would be out of the office to receive treatment for worsening epilepsy. In reality, he was on his way to Hong Kong with stolen secrets.

Finally, the Committee remains concerned that more than three years after the start of the unauthorized disclosures, NSA, and the IC as a whole, have not done enough to minimize the risk of another massive unauthorized disclosure. Although it is impossible to reduce the chance of another Snowden to zero, more work can and should be done to improve the security of the people and computer networks that keep America’s most closely held secrets. For instance, a recent DOD Inspector General report directed by the Committee found that NSA has yet to effectively implement its post-Snowden security improvements. The Committee has taken actions to improve IC information security in the Intelligence Authorization Acts for Fiscal

Years 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, and looks forward to working with the IC to continue to improve security.

Scope and Methodology

Since June 2013, the unauthorized disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the impact of these disclosures on the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) have been a subject of continual Committee oversight. The Committee held an open hearing on the disclosures on June 18, 2013, and, over the next year, held eight additional hearings and briefings, followed by numerous staff-level briefings on Snowden’s disclosures.

In August 2014, then-Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Ruppersberger

directed Committee staff to begin a review of the actions and motivations of Edward Snowden related to his removal of more than 1.5 million classified documents from secure NSA networks.

The intent was not to duplicate the damage assessments already under way in the executive branch; rather, the report would help explain to other Members of Congress-and, where possible, the American people-how the “most massive and damaging theft of intelligence information in our history” occurred, 1 what the U.S. Government knows about the man who perpetrated it, and what damage his actions caused.

Over the next two years, Committee staff requested hundreds of documents from the IC, participated in dozens of briefings and meetings with IC personnel, and conducted several interviews with key individuals with knowledge of Snowden’s background and actions, and traveled to NSA Hawaii to visit Snowden’s last two work locations.

The Committee’s product is a review, not an investigation, largely in deference to any criminal investigation or future prosecution. Since he arrived in Russia on June 23, 2013, Snowden has not returned to the United States to face the criminal charges against him.

Accordingly, the Committee did not interview or seek documents from individuals whom the Department of Justice identified as possible witnesses at Snowden’s trial, including Snowden himself, nor did the Committee request any matters that may have occurred before a grand jury.

Instead, the IC provided the Committee with access to other individuals who possessed substantively similar knowledge. Similarly, rather than interview Snowden’s NSA co-workers and supervisors directly, Committee staff interviewed IC personnel who had reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s co-workers and supervisors.

The Committee’s review has informed numerous congressionally directed actions and resource allocation decisions in the enacted Intelligence Authorization Acts for Fiscal Years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and in the House-passed Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.

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