TBR News February 13, 2018

Feb 13 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 13 2018:”Across the entire planet there are weather pattern changes. Melting glaciers and ice caps, rising sea levels, sudden and violent storms, droughts, floods and earthquakes are becoming more and more evident. What is causing these changes? There are many, many invented reasons given. There is no global warming, ice caps are growing bigger every day, the sea levels are not rising but all the land is sinking are only part of the manic cries from thousands of throats. The intense waves of cold air experienced in northern areas match the extent of the glaciers in the last ice age and many legitimate scientists believe these may well be the precursor of the return of another age of glaciation. Anyone living in Miami knows that the sea levels are rising but because if the public resident on the coastal areas became aware that, contrary to the propaganda that sea levels are indeed rising but only by a few inches in the balance of the century, they will much sooner have to wear wetsuits to visit their basements, there will be an uproar and demands on the government to help. The government is far too interested in finding ways to get their hands on tax payer’s monies to spend a dime on dislocated citizens. For that reason, government-controlled blogs mention the very distant sea level risings or better, to try to convince a restive coastal population that the land is sinking and not to worry. And stories about carbon emissions being responsible for the climate changes are pure fiction. The last ice age, which was preceded by a global warming period, took place 10,000 years ago when there were no carbon emissions.”



Table of Contents

  • American decline: Open pools of raw sewage in the richest country in the world
  • Is US Being Sucked Into Syria’s War?
  • The UK’s Hidden Role in Assange’s Detention
  • U.S. Intelligence Shuts Down Damning Report on Whistleblower Retaliation
  • Melting ice sheets are hastening sea level rise, satellite data confirms
  • Pennsylvania governor rejects Republican-drawn congressional map
  • The Iranian game of chess: More moves are on the way
  • Lebanon labels Israeli border wall an ‘aggression’
  • Israel squares off for showdown with Iran in Syria
  • Israeli police to recommend indicting Netanyahu over alleged bribery in two cases: media



American decline: Open pools of raw sewage in the richest country in the world

February 12, 2018

by Rania Khalek


As the wealthy continue sucking the country dry, the question now isn’t if the US will cease to provide a decent standard of living for its people. Rather it is how many people will be sacrificed on the way down.

In America, the richest nation in the world when measured by raw GDP, children are getting sick from living by open pools of raw sewage. This was one of many shocking findings by the United Nations late last year, following a two-week investigation into extreme poverty in the US.

The UN report was issued last December by a team of investigators who visited California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and Washington DC.

“The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth, nor its power, nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty,”wrote Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

He continued, “I met with many people barely surviving on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to, I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers. I saw sewage-filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility, I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor, I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by opioids, and I met with people in Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them, bringing illness, disability and death.”

The sewage-filled yards were found in poor areas like Lowndes County, Alabama, where many people cannot afford to install septic tanks, causing sewage to pool by their homes. This untreated waste creates the potential for all kinds of diseases. In Lowndes, it has led to the proliferation of hookworm, a parasitic disease of the intestines commonly found in the world’s poorest developing countries.

The discovery of third world levels of poverty and disease in the richest and most powerful country in the world, shocking as it may be, is only part of the story. The UN findings are in keeping with the downward spiral of America.

America’s Decline

Spending time in Western Europe, as I have done the last several months, provides some serious perspective on America’s decline. In most European countries, like Germany for example, public transportation works efficiently and there is a social safety net. While homelessness is a problem, it’s nowhere near as rampant as in the US and usually seems to be associated with addiction. People in Europe are generally much healthier and happier, housing and food and higher education are affordable and people don’t spend all their time working – they are able to take vacations and enjoy life in a way the vast majority of Americans are not. Europeans are typically entitled to lengthy paid maternity leave, whereas in the US working class women are forced to return to work in as little as two weeks.

Meanwhile, New York’s Subway system is decaying due to disinvestment and corruption. Last summer a train stalled, leaving passengers in the dark with no air conditioning for an hour. “As the heat of packed-together bodies fogged the windows, passengers beat on the walls and clawed at the doors in a scene from a real-life horror story,”reported the New York Times. In Washington DC, the nation’s capital, the Metro is always late and totally unreliable, with train fires becoming a regular occurrence while Amtrak trains experience routine derailments. These are just some examples of infrastructure decay. The list goes on: bridges are crumbling, schools are shuttered. In Baltimore dozens of schools had no heat during record freezing temperatures this winter. The only thing America’s leadership seems capable of investing in is prisons and war.

In America, the old devour the young. Young Americans are struggling under the weight of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. But don’t let that confuse you about the state of America’s elderly. They too aren’t taken care of. In many European countries people are entitled to pensions and they can retire comfortably. In the US some have to work until they die as Social Security isn’t enough to live on and Medicare doesn’t quite cover all of their medical needs. As for healthcare, as many as 45,000 people a year die because they cannot access it.

And then there is the issue of water. There are over 3,000 counties across America whose water supplies have lead levels higher than in Flint, Michigan, and nothing substantial is being done to address the problem.

Haves and Have nots

All this is taking place in a nation where inequality continues to climb. There are counties a few miles apart from one another where the life expectancy drops by 20 years.

Researchers say the life expectancy gap, as high as 20.1 years between rich and poor counties, resembles the gap seen between low-income countries versus rich countries. In other words, there are pockets of the US that have the characteristics of third world countries. It seems that the US in many ways, after having destroyed other parts of the world, has turned inward on itself, sacrificing its most vulnerable citizens at the altar of capitalism.

Bernie Sanders made an issue of this during his presidential bid, often noting in his stump speeches the dramatic difference in lifespan in McDowell County, West Virginia, where men live to about 64, and six hours away in Fairfax, Virginia, where the average lifespan shoots up to 82.

Perhaps none of this should come as a shock in a country where the rich are getting richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class is collapsing, with most Americans living one emergency away from financial ruin.

All empires fall after all. And Donald Trump is accelerating the process. His Republican tax plan was a massive giveaway to the rich. It even included a special tax cut for private jet owners. The US might have the highest child poverty and infant mortality rates in the developed world, but the political class believe private jet owners deserve a break!


Is US Being Sucked Into Syria’s War?

February 13, 2018

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Candidate Donald Trump may have promised to extricate us from Middle East wars, once ISIS and al-Qaida were routed, yet events and people seem to be conspiring to keep us endlessly enmeshed.

Friday night, a drone, apparently modeled on a U.S. drone that fell into Iran’s hands, intruded briefly into Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights, and was shot down by an Apache helicopter.

Israel seized upon this to send F-16s to strike the airfield whence the drone originated. Returning home, an F-16 was hit and crashed, unleashing the most devastating Israeli attack in decades on Syria. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu says a dozen Syrian and Iranian bases and antiaircraft positions were struck.

Monday’s headline on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page blared:

“The Iran-Israel War Flares Up: The fight is over a Qods Force presence on the Syria-Israeli border. How will the U.S. respond?”

Op-ed writers Tony Badran and Jonathan Schanzer, both from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, closed thus:

“The Pentagon and State Department have already condemned Iran and thrown their support behind Israel. The question now is whether the Trump administration will go further. … Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (has) affirmed that the U.S. seeks not only to ensure its allies’ security but to deny Iran its ‘dreams of a northern arch’ from Tehran to Beirut. A good way to achieve both objectives would be back Israel’s response to Iran’s aggression – now and in the future.”

The FDD is an annex of the Israeli lobby and a charter member of the War Party.

Chagai Tzuriel, who heads the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence, echoed the FDD: “If you (Americans) are committed to countering Iran in the region, then you must do so in Syria – first.”

Our orders have been cut.

Iran has dismissed as “lies” and “ridiculous” the charge that it sent the drone into Israeli airspace.

If Tehran did, it would be an act of monumental stupidity. Not only did the drone bring devastating Israeli reprisals against Syria and embarrass Iran’s ally Russia, it brought attacks on Russian-provided and possibly Russian-manned air defenses.

Moreover, in recent months Iranian policy – suspending patrol boat harassment of U.S. warships – appears crafted to ease tensions and provide no new causes for Trump to abandon the nuclear deal Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani regards as his legacy.

Indeed, why would Iran, which, with Assad, Russia and Hezbollah, is among the victors in Syria’s six-year civil war, wish to reignite the bloodletting and bring Israeli and U.S. firepower in on the other side?

In Syria’s southeast, another incident a week ago may portend an indefinite U.S. stay in that broken and bleeding country.

To recapture oil fields lost in the war, forces backed by Assad crossed the Euphrates into territory taken from ISIS by the U.S. and our Kurd allies. The U.S. response was a barrage of air and artillery strikes that killed 100 soldiers.

What this signals is that, though ISIS has been all but evicted from Syria, the U.S. intends to retain that fourth of Syria as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

In the northwest, Turkey has sent its Syrian allies to attack Afrin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened Manbij, 80 miles to the east, where U.S. troops commingle with the Kurd defenders and U.S. generals were visible last week.

Midweek, Erdogan exploded: “(The Americans) tell us, ‘Don’t come to Manbij.’ We will come to Manbij to hand over these territories to their rightful owners.”

The U.S. and Turkey, allies for six decades, with the largest armies in NATO, may soon be staring down each other’s gun barrels.

Has President Trump thought through where we are going with this deepening commitment in Syria, where we have only 2,000 troops and no allies but the Kurds, while on the other side is the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Russia and Iran, and Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?Clearly, we have an obligation not to abandon the Kurds, who took most of the casualties in liberating eastern Syria from ISIS. And we have a strategic interest in not losing Turkey as an ally.

But this calls for active diplomacy, not military action.

And now that the rebels have been defeated and the civil war is almost over, what would be the cost and what would be the prospects of fighting a new and wider war? What would victory look like?

Bibi and the FDD want to see U.S. power deployed alongside that of Israel, against Iran, Assad and Hezbollah. But while Israel’s interests are clear, what would be the U.S. vital interest?

What outcome would justify another U.S. war in a region where all the previous wars in this century have left us bleeding, bankrupt, divided and disillusioned?

When he was running, Donald Trump seemed to understand this.



The UK’s Hidden Role in Assange’s Detention

February 13, 2018

by Jonathan Cook

It now emerges that the last four years of Julian Assange’s effective imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London have been entirely unnecessary. In fact, they depended on a legal charade.

Behind the scenes, Sweden wanted to drop the extradition case against Assange back in 2013. Why was this not made public? Because Britain persuaded Sweden to pretend that they still wished to pursue the case.

In other words, for more than four years Assange has been holed up in a tiny room, policed at great cost to British taxpayers, not because of any allegations in Sweden but because the British authorities wanted him to remain there. On what possible grounds could that be, one has to wonder? Might it have something to do with his work as the head of WikiLeaks, publishing information from whistleblowers that has severely embarrassed the United States and the UK.

In fact, Assange should have walked free years ago if this was really about an investigation – a sham one at that – into an alleged sexual assault in Sweden. Instead, as Assange has long warned, there is a very different agenda at work: efforts to extradite him onwards to the US, where he could be locked away for good. That was why UN experts argued two years ago that he was being “arbitrarily detained” – for political crimes – not unlike the situation of dissidents in other parts of the world who are supported by western liberals and leftists.

According to a new release of emails between officials, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, wrote to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service on 18 October 2013, warning that Swedish law would not allow the case for extradition to be continued. This was, remember, after Sweden had repeatedly failed to take up an offer from Assange to interview him in London, as had happened in 44 other extradition cases between Sweden and Britain.

NY wrote to the CPS: “We have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks. This would affect not only us but you too in a significant way.”

Three days later, suggesting that legal concerns were far from anyone’s mind, she emailed the CPS again: “I am sorry this came as a [bad] surprise… I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend.”

In a similar vein, proving that this was about politics, not the law, the chief CPS lawyer handling the case in the UK, had earlier written to the Swedish prosecutors: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

In December 2013, the unnamed CPS lawyer again wrote to NY: “I do not consider costs are a relevant factor in this matter.” This was at a time when it had been revealed that the policing of Assange’s detention in the embassy had cost Britain at that point £3.8 million. In another email from the CPS, it was noted: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

These are only fragments of the email correspondence, after most of it was destroyed by the CPS against its own protocols. The deletions appear to have been carried out to avoid releasing the electronic files to a tribunal that has been considering a freedom of information request.

Other surviving emails, according to a Guardian report last year, have shown that the CPS “advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange. An interview at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff.”

Assange is still holed up in the embassy, at great risk to his physical and mental health, even though last year Sweden formally dropped an investigation that in reality it had not actually been pursuing for more than four years.

Now the UK (read US) authorities have a new, even less credible pretext for continuing to hold Assange: because he “skipped bail”. Apparently the price he should pay for this relatively minor infraction is more than five years of confinement.

London magistrates are due to consider on Tuesday the arguments of Assange’s lawyers that he should be freed and that after so many years the continuing enforcement of the arrest warrant is disproportionate. Given the blurring of legal and political considerations in this case, don’t hold your breath that Assange will finally get a fair hearing.

Remember too that, according to the UK Foreign Office, Ecuador recently notified it that Assange had received diplomatic status following his successful application for Ecuadorean citizenship.

As former British ambassador Craig Murray has explained, the UK has no choice but to accept Assange’s diplomatic immunity. The most it can do is insist that he leave the country – something that Assange and Ecuador presumably each desire. And yet the UK continues to ignore its obligation to allow Assange his freedom to leave. So far there has been zero debate in the British corporate media about this fundamental violation of his rights.

One has to wonder at what point will most people realize that this is – and always was – political persecution masquerading as law enforcement.


U.S. Intelligence Shuts Down Damning Report on Whistleblower Retaliation

A top watchdog investigated 190 cases of alleged retaliation against whistleblowers—and found that intelligence bureaucrats only once ruled in favor of the whistleblower.

February 11, 2018

by Kevin Poulsen


The nation’s top intelligence watchdog put the brakes on a report last year that uncovered whistleblower reprisal issues within America’s spy agencies, The Daily Beast has learned. The move concealed a finding that the agencies—including the CIA and the NSA—were failing to protect intelligence workers who report waste, fraud, abuse, or criminality up the chain of command.

The investigators looked into 190 cases of alleged reprisal in six agencies, and uncovered a shocking pattern. In only one case out of the 190 did the agencies find in favor of the whistleblower—and that case took 742 days to complete. Other cases remained open longer. One complaint from 2010 was still waiting for a ruling. But the framework was remarkably consistent: Over and over and over again, intelligence inspectors ruled that the agency was in the right, and the whistleblowers were almost always wrong.

The report was near completion following a six-month-long inspection run out of the Intelligence Community Inspector General office. It was aborted in April by the new acting head of the office, Wayne Stone, following the discovery that one of the inspectors was himself a whistleblower in the middle of a federal lawsuit against the CIA, according to former IC IG officials.

Stone also sequestered the mountain of documents and data produced in the inspection, the product of three staff-years of work. The incident was never publicly disclosed by the office, and escaped mention in the unclassified version of the IC IG’s semiannual report to Congress.

The IC IG’s office declined to comment for this story.

The affair casts serious doubt on the intelligence agencies’ fundamental pact with the rank and file: that workers who properly report perceived wrongdoing through approved channels won’t lose their job or, worse, their security clearance, as a result. It also adds another layer of controversy to the Intelligence Community Inspector General office, already under fire for cuts to its whistleblower protection program and the unexpected sacking of the program’s executive director in December. In a confirmation hearing last month, Trump’s pick to head the watchdog agency acknowledged the apparent chaos in the office, citing a detailed expose by Foreign Policy magazine. “My first objective as Inspector General, if confirmed, will be to make sure the IC IG’s house is in order,” said former Justice Department prosecutor Michael Atkinson.

Stone shut down the whistleblowing inspection just days after taking over for Charles McCullough III, who’d served as the intelligence community inspector general from the day the office was founded in 2010 until his retirement in March of last year.

None of this was supposed to happen. In 2012, then-President Barack Obama signed a policy directive called PPD-19, which prohibits intelligence agencies from punishing workers who report abuses through approved government channels. The directive has been left in place under President Trump.

Among other things, PPD-19 requires the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at each agency to carry out an investigation when a worker complains he or she suffered retaliation for lawful whistleblowing. If, after investigating, the OIG finds no evidence of reprisal, the whistleblower can appeal up to the Intelligence Community Inspector General, who can choose to impanel a three-person appellate board, comprised of IGs from other agencies, to review the case and either affirm or disagree with the OIG’s decision.

The investigators found that basically never happened. “Absent a review process which adheres to mandated legal standards for reprisal investigations, the protections remain weak with minimal chance for a complainant to have a reprisal complaint substantiated,” read one of the conclusions in the suppressed inspection. “From the data it appears PPD-19 has had no impact on Agency reprisal investigations and/or protections for complainants making protected disclosures.”

Rob Johnson, the former deputy IC IG under McCullough, broadly confirmed the findings in an interview with The Daily Beast, attributing some of the problems to the expected growing pains in implementing a new policy.

“We saw a couple of cases from some offices that showed that they didn’t speak to witnesses that they should have, or that the cases had languished,” says Johnson. “And we saw cases where they took no action… Whether it was systemic or not, well, that’s why we were doing the inspection.”

The IC IG probe was billed as the first independent check-up on how seriously the intelligence inspector generals were taking the presidential directive, and a possible first step in setting a formal peer review process in the future. Six experienced inspectors had been chosen for the probe: three permanent members of the IC IG staff, and three more who were on extended loan from other agencies, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI, and the CIA.

Of the six, the CIA officer—we’re calling him James Pars, the alias the CIA assigned him for his lawsuit—was likely the least accustomed to working in the comfortable climes of the IC IG’s air-conditioned office. Cuban-American and now in his early fifties, Pars was part of the CIA’s controversial Directorate of Operations, the division responsible for, among other things, carrying out covert actions abroad. A mosaic of interviews with colleagues, court filings and details in other documents seen by The Daily Beast paint a picture of a man who has seen a lot of nasty stuff over the years, serving in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, South American jungles, and cities like Bagdad and at least one other Middle East capital.

A sanitized autobiography Pars prepared in connection with his court action is riddled with staccato bursts of trauma: “… sleep deprived, and having to constantly relay threat information to appropriate entities…”; “… the direct line of fire for one rocket which must have missed my exact location by meters as it tore through our living quarter…” , “… helicopters which had to take evasive maneuvers and discharge flares because of a perceive threat…” “… a leaking casket by my feet and two decomposing dead bodies in body bags not far from me…” The anecdotes, shorn of locations and dates, don’t lend themselves to easy verification, but a former intelligence colleague confirms the gist of it. “He understands what happens in the field. He’s been in the mud and blood.”

There are notes of regret in Pars’ subjective career rundown—particularly over the long stints away from his wife and young daughter—but few traces of resentment or personal grievance. That is, until he recounts, with agonizing precision, two occasions when he clashed with a superior, and felt mistreated by the CIA’s bureaucracy afterward. The first incident in 2009 ended with him being sent home from a long-term assignment in South America. The second, and the one that ultimately led to his lawsuit, began in December 2014 when he was made the CIA’s deputy chief of base at a U.S. military site that Pars doesn’t name, but which matches the sprawling Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

At Bagram, Pars had issues with his new boss, the chief of base, who he believed was running her command “like a college dormitory,” as Pars later wrote in a court filing. She allegedly adopted favorites within her staff, and placed “her personal needs of cooking, baking, socializing, entertainment, exercise and shopping above the needs of the mission, often going days and sometimes more than a week without meeting with key personnel.”

Pars’ most serious complaint charged that the base chief frequently led her personnel on unnecessary errands—“food, shopping or to the gym”—that took them through parts of the base hit frequently by Taliban rocket fire; one such excursion allegedly crossed a flight ramp that was hit by a rocket just 10 minutes later.

Without more information it’s hard to weigh the merits of Pars’ complaint, and his version of events contains obvious echoes of longstanding gender stereotypes. But under PPD-19 the relevant question isn’t whether Pars’ concerns were well founded, completely imagined or something in between. Only whether he faced retaliation for reporting them.

Following procedure, Pars sent his concern up the chain of command. Word of his complaint got back down to the base chief, who allegedly retaliated on a scale that ranged from the petty—assigning him to duty as the compound “noise monitor”—to the serious, writing a critical performance review of Pars faulting him for poor communication skills and lack of leadership. Soon after, the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan issued a “short-of-tour” cable reporting that Pars no longer had the confidence of the chief of base. The cable cut short Pars’ one-year detail after four months, and sent him home to Virginia with a reduction in take-home pay.

Upon his return, Pars spent months applying for new CIA assignments that would fit his experience and qualifications, according to his lawsuit, but with the poor performance review and short-of-tour cable on his record, he was rejected again and again. His finances went to ruin, as did his family life; his wife left the country, taking their daughter with her. Pars appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity office for aid, and worked through the CIA bureaucracy to try and clear his name. He finally lodged a whistleblower reprisal complaint in April 2015.

While waiting for the reprisal investigation to run its course, he applied to a detail that would take him outside the CIA for a while. In September 2015, Pars reported for work at a Reston, Virginia, office park that houses the office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

Pars worked as an inspector at the office for nearly a year before he was recruited onto the team that would examine whistleblower retaliation issues. It was a delicate inspection from day one. The intelligence OIGs had recently lost enthusiasm for the PPD-19 whistleblower protection regime, after the very first reprisal case to reach an appeal panel was decided by an independent review board.

In that case, the whistleblower claimed that the NSA’s own inspector general, George Ellard, had retaliated against him for reporting wasteful spending on a conference. The Defense Department’s OIG ruled against the whistleblower, but the decision was reversed on appeal. In the aftermath, an incensed NSA director Mike Rogers fired Ellard.

“That really did tarnish the IGs perception of PPD-19,” says Irvin McCullough, an investigator at the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (and the son of the former IC IG). “They thought the first case would be a manager, and instead it was an IG. They didn’t like that.”

At a setup meeting for the whistleblower inspection on Sept. 1, 2016, Jeanette McMillian, the IG’s general counsel, suggested the inspection should focus on the five largest intelligence agencies—CIA, NSA, NRO, NGA, and DIA—as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, according to an official memorandum memorializing the meeting seen by The Daily Beast. She added that PPD-19 might go away after the next president was sworn in, and, in a departure from protocol, urged the inspectors to conduct a quick evaluation that would end by Inauguration Day and reach a positive conclusion. “Conducting a review and affirming that PPD-19 is working would help to continue these protections with a new presidential administration,” reads the memo, paraphrasing McMillian.

Continuing in that vein, McMillian noted that a positive finding would also provide a nice send-off for departing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to the memo. Clapper’s term had largely been defined by the Edward Snowden revelations, and he was a staunch supporter of PPD-19, hoping that clear, protected avenues would encourage American spies to keep their complaints in the intelligence family instead of in the press. (Contractors like Snowden aren’t covered by PPD-19, but a measure renewed by Congress last month offers contractors similar protections.) McMillian expressed the view that “an evaluation that affirms that PPD-19 is working would be a ‘feather in the cap’ for DNI Clapper, and a good way to send DNI Clapper on his retirement,” according to the memo.

The IG officially kicked off the inspection in early October 2016, and the six inspectors, including Pars, began conducting interviews inside the agencies (the three inspectors on joint detail were recused from the interviews inside their home agency), gathered the procedures, forms, and manuals used in reprisal cases, and collected and crunched the internal numbers.Two months later, Pars quietly filed his retaliation lawsuit against the CIA.

Getting into court is a complicated process for an undercover CIA officer. Pars first had to receive his agency-assigned alias, and hire a lawyer who had, or could get, a security clearance—in this case, Washington, D.C., employment law attorney Susan Kruger. “I sent the complaint to be reviewed by the CIA first, because I didn’t want to file something that contained information that was secret,” said Kruger. “So you might say they were on notice.”

When the lawsuit finally hit the docket in December 2016, some 630 days had elapsed since Pars lodged his reprisal complaint—two-and-a-half times the 240-day limit endorsed by PPD-19. And still there was no decision. Without an OIG ruling one way or the other, Pars couldn’t appeal to the IC IG (where he worked) for an external review board, for the simple reason that there was no ruling to appeal. It’s PPD-19’s Catch-22. “We just wanted them to take the first step and complete their investigation,” Kruger said.

For whatever reason, though, Pars didn’t tell his superiors that he was suing the CIA for whistleblower retaliation at the exact same time that he was serving on a large-scale inspection of the same.

By February, it was clear that the results of that inspection would be a feather in nobody’s cap. The data alone was troubling. The inspectors general at the six agencies had received 190 allegations of reprisal from 2010 through 2016, according to unclassified memoranda from the inspection seen by The Daily Beast. Less than half, 61 complaints, had been investigated, and of those 57 were ruled unsubstantiated.

The NSA had received 56 of the retaliation complaints and investigated 12; the CIA got 62, investigated 13 and shunted 21 to other offices, primarily Equal Employment Opportunity. The Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, received 50 complaints, and investigated 19. In the entire batch of 190 cases, only once did an OIG find in favor of the whistleblower. That was in a DIA case that took 742 days to complete. Other cases remained open longer. One complaint from 2010 was still waiting for a ruling.

Beyond the numbers, the inspectors found endless obstacles to effective whistleblower protection in the spy agencies, according to documents from the prove. There was no clear standard for conducting reprisal investigations; even the standard of proof—probable cause? preponderance of the evidence?—was murky to the OIGs. The investigation manuals at most agencies gave retaliation probes only cursory attention. There were mixed incentives in play: The primary metric for weighing an OIGs effectiveness was how much money the office saved taxpayers through its waste and fraud investigations, and a successful whistleblower claim could cost the government money in the form of back wages or attorneys fees. Some inspectors complained that reprisal cases were too difficult and time consuming compared to other OIG tasks, and even the most dedicated investigator might struggle to definitively prove a connection between an intelligence worker’s subpar performance review, reduced security clearance or missed promotion to their prior whistleblowing.

In March the inspection moved into the final stage and the team was preparing the official report, earmarked for Donald Trump’s newly confirmed director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats. Copies would have gone to all the intelligence IGs, as well, according to Johnson, and probably to Congress. A public release was also on the table.

Instead, it went nowhere.

In early April, rumors of Pars’ lawsuit reached the IG IC’s office. Under questioning, Pars acknowledged he was the pseudonymous plaintiff in the case. Stone immediately removed Pars from the inspection and sent him back to the CIA.

Pars wasn’t a zealot, and his work was always diligent and thorough, say former colleagues. But removing him from the project was largely uncontroversial. “We have a standard in the IG to not only avoid a conflict of interest, but to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Johnson says, and Pars wouldn’t have been permitted to work on the inspection if they’d known he had a whistleblower retaliation complaint pending at CIA.

But Stone’s next action was more puzzling. The following day he ordered the entire inspection halted, according to sources from the agency. Data, files, memos, charts, and graphs were locked down and work on the final report stopped on a dime. The official explanation was that the inspection had been tainted by Pars’ involvement. But even now questions loom over the decision.

Johnson says there’s virtually nothing a single inspector could do to contaminate a report that relies heavily on verifiable numbers. “Everything has to be backed up with data… There’s not a lot of opinion on those reports.” Some former IC IG officials believe that Stone used the Pars affair as an pretext to kill an inspection that was producing inconvenient results. “Pars was told to cease and desist and they walked him out the door and buried the program,” says one former IC IG official who worked with Pars. “They pulled the carpet out from under him because they wanted an excuse to quash the report.”

Though the whistleblower report never appeared, last October the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight got ahold of a leaked copy of one of the inspection memos. They quoted from it in an article. “A complainant alleging reprisal for making a protected disclosure has a minimal chance to have a complaint processed and adjudicated in a timely and complete manner.”

Calling the language “stark,” Dianne Feinstein brought up the memo the next day in a tense exchange at the Senate confirmation hearing for Christopher Sharpley, the acting CIA inspector general and Trump’s pick for the permanent position.

“I would ask that you provide a copy of that document to our office, the Intelligence Committee’s office,” she told Sharpley.

“Senator, I am unfamiliar with that document,” said Sharpley, seemingly taken aback. “I am not aware of its contents… The IC IG did not make me aware of it as acting IG at CIA. This is the first I’m hearing of this particular program.”

One source familiar with the abortive whistleblower inspection says this particular memo was written by Pars.

Pars’ lawsuit is still pending, but the Justice Department has asked the court to dismiss the claim, pointing to language in PPD-19 that more or less says the directive can’t be used as the basis for a lawsuit. After the drama in the IC IG, Pars’ future in the CIA is even dimmer. Two sources with knowledge of the matter say the agency recently referred Pars to an executive review board as the first step to possibly terminating his service to the CIA. Attorney Kruger said she couldn’t comment on anything beyond the lawsuit, but after a pause added, “In general we believe that the CIA is taking further actions in retaliation against him.”


Melting ice sheets are hastening sea level rise, satellite data confirms

Research shows that pace of melting in Antarctica and Greenland has accelerated

February 13, 2018


Melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are speeding up the already fast pace of sea level rise, new satellite data shows.

At the current rate, the world’s oceans will be on average at least 60cm (2ft) higher by the end of the century, according to research published in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Based on 25 years of satellite data, however, the research shows that the pace has quickened. It confirms scientists’ computer simulations and is in line with predictions from the UN, which releases regular climate change reports.

It’s a big deal” because the projected sea level rise is a conservative estimate and it is likely to be higher, said the lead author, Steve Nerem of the University of Colorado.

Other scientists said even small changes in sea levels can lead to flooding and erosion. “Any flooding concerns that coastal communities have for 2100 may occur over the next few decades,” said Katy Serafin, a coastal flooding expert at Oregon State University.

Sea level rise is causing by warming waters and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers. Of the 7.5cm rise in the past 25 years, about 55% is from warmer water expanding, and the rest is from melting ice.

The process is accelerating, however, and more than three-quarters of the acceleration since 1993 is due to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the study shows.

There are two factors that affect sea level rise: year-to-year fluctuations caused by natural events and larger long-term trends linked to man-made climate change. Nerem’s team removed the natural effects of the 1991 Mt Pinatubo eruption that temporarily chilled the planet, and the climate phenomena El Niño and La Niña, and found the accelerating trend.

Sea level rise rather than temperature is a better gauge of climate change in action, according to Anny Cazenave, the director of Earth science at the International Space Science Institute in France, who edited the study. Cazenave is one of the pioneers of space-based sea level research.

Global sea levels were stable for about 3,000 years until the 20th century, when they rose increasingly quickly because of global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute in Germany.

Two feet of sea level rise by the end of the century “would have big effects on places like Miami and New Orleans, but I don’t still view that as catastrophic” because those cities can survive – at great expense, Nerem said.

When a storm such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012 strikes, however, sea level rise on top of storm surge can lead to record damages, researchers said.


Pennsylvania governor rejects Republican-drawn congressional map

February 13, 2018

by Joseph Ax


Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf rejected a Republican-drawn congressional map on Tuesday as unfairly skewed toward protecting Republican candidates, likely putting the state’s top court in charge of creating new boundaries

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated the existing map last month as an unconstitutional gerrymander, ruling that Republican lawmakers had marginalized Democratic voters in an effort to win more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. A new map is expected to boost Democrats’ chances of winning more seats in November’s midterm elections and in turn increase their odds of winning back the House from Republican control.

“The analysis by my team shows that, like the 2011 map, the map submitted to my office by Republican leaders is still a gerrymander,” Wolf said in a statement. “Their map clearly seeks to benefit one political party, which is the essence of why the court found the current map to be unconstitutional.”

The court’s Democratic majority had given Wolf until Thursday to decide whether to accept or reject the new map submitted by Republican leaders late on Friday. With no deal in place, the court has said it will undertake the process of drawing new lines itself, with help from an independent redistricting expert.

Legal battles are playing out in several U.S. states over partisan gerrymandering, the process by which district lines are manipulated to favor one party over another. Pennsylvania has long been seen as one of the worst offenders, with one of its more oddly shaped districts described derisively as “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

Republicans have held 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats since the current map took effect ahead of the 2012 elections, despite Pennsylvania’s status as a closely contested swing state.

Reporting by Joseph Ax Editing by Jonathan Oatis


The Iranian game of chess: More moves are on the way

Iran and Israel have been fighting each other for years. It’s a cruel war, but one rule has been strictly observed: Avoiding an open, direct conflict. Iran has been attacking through proxies, while Israel has preferred covert activity. On Saturday, for the first time, this barrier was broken on both sides.

February 11, 2018

by Nahum Barnea


The Iranian UAV’s infiltration of Israeli territory may have been the result of an operational malfunction: The person on duty at the Palmyra airport fell asleep with his finger on the navigation stick. It’s more likely to assume, however, that it was intentional.

t’s no coincidence that the Iranians invented the game of chess. Recently, they have been playing a complicated game against Israel, across the Syrian and Lebanese arena. Up until Saturday, they were on the defensive. On Saturday, they launched an attack, sacrificed a pawn and took one of our rooks. Additional moves are on the way.

Iran and Israel have been fighting each other for years. It’s a cruel war, in which the Iranians haven’t hesitated to kill innocent civilians, Israelis and Jews. One rule has been strictly observed: Avoiding an open, direct conflict. Iran has been attacking through proxies, the most deadly one being Hezbollah. Israel has preferred covert activity, under the radar. On Saturday, for the first time, this barrier was broken. It was broken on both sides. This is a milestone.

The second milestone is the downing of the F-16 fighter jet in Israeli airspace. This is the first time an Israel Air Force plane has been shot down since 1982. The IDF made an effort to calm everyone down: The fact that one plane was hit doesn’t point to the loss of Israeli air supremacy.

Nevertheless, after learning that the Syrian army’s antiaircraft system is capable of downing a plane flying in the Galilee skies, Israelis do have a cause for concern. Moreover, the downing raises questions concerning the Air Force’s freedom of action when it comes to hitting targets in Syria and Lebanon. Since the Syrian civil war was decided, the rules of the games have been changing, on the ground and in the air.

Earlier this month, I participated in a series of conversations and tours with senior IDF officers, focusing on the battle in the north. I named the column I published following these talks “The first northern war.” I’m not the one who came up with this phrase. It was invented by a division commander in the area.

The goal of the conversations, I wrote, was “to prepare decision makers in the world and the public opinion in Israel for the possibility of a war, not an initiated one but a developing one, while indirectly making it clear to the Iranians that Israel is undeterred by a military conflict.”

The IDF doesn’t want a war, and neither does the political echelon. The warnings were aimed at preventing a war, not at creating one. The assumption was that if Russian President Vladimir Putin realized that a war could break out in the north, making it difficult for him to stabilize Syria and undermining his position as a supreme arbitrator between the region’s countries, he would make sure to stop the Iranians. That didn’t happen. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s huge effort to conquer Putin’s heart was in vain.

Putin knows how to shower endearments on Israeli prime ministers, giving them the feeling that he admires them and their country. They boast their ties with him to their voters. He is no friend. In a conversation with one of Netanyahu’s predecessors, Putin said candidly: I operate solely according to Russia’s interests as I understand them.

At the moment, Russia’s interest is to preserve its alliance with Iran, rather than get directly involved in a war. The military coordination with Israel is aimed at serving these two goals. The coordination with Israel is a tactic; the alliance with Iran is a strategy. Israel can’t rely on Putin’s good intentions. It must find a way to make him take action.

Netanyahu believed he would be able to enlist the American administration to curb Iran’s entrenchment efforts in Syria. US President Donald Trump, as we know, is much friendlier to Israel than Putin. Perhaps he’ll rescue us. Unfortunately, this move failed utterly too: The Trump administration isn’t interested in real involvement in determining Syria’s future. It is concentrating its efforts in the east, on the Iraqi border. On our front, we have no one to rely on but ourselves.

This big question is who will make the next move in this game of chess, when and how. The apparent scenario is the organization of another Hezbollah convoy to transfer precision-guided missiles, or components of such missiles, from Syria to Lebanon. Israel will have to decide whether to ignore it and risk losing its deterrence, or attack and risk sparking a war.

Up until now, the IDF has been careful not to set red lines. Setting a red line turns you into its hostage. Israel’s ministers have not been as careful. Saying that Israel will act against an Iranian entrenchment in Syria and Lebanon is one thing; saying that Israel won’t allow it is another thing.

Most wars in the Middle East were the result of an unintentional development, a game of chicken that went wrong, an overly successful act of terror, public pressure on the political echelon. None of the players is interested in a war right now—neither in Israel nor in Lebanon, Syria or, according to Israeli assessments, even Iran.

Israelis see a war as something so unnecessary, so delusional, that on Saturday, during a dramatic day in the north, 100,000 people visited the nature reserves and 25,000 visited Mount Hermon. The IDF was happy, seeing it as a sign of Israelis’ faith in their defense system. But the reason may actually be lack of faith: Israelis don’t believe their leaders’ warlike rhetoric. They refuse to panic over something they can’t change.

The state should therefore go on as planned: The General Staff should keep monitoring the Iranians’ activity, and the police should keep working on corruption investigations. The IDF should submit its recommendations, and the police should submit their own recommendations. Please don’t mix one thing with another.


Lebanon labels Israeli border wall an ‘aggression’

February 7, 2018

by Bassam Hatoum

Associated Press

  • NAQOURA, Lebanon —Lebanon’s top security body on Wednesday instructed the military to confront Israel if it goes ahead with plans to build a cement border wall along the country’s boundary, labeling it as an “aggression” against its sovereignty.

The statement by the Higher Defense Council did not elaborate but it comes amid escalating tensions between the two neighbors, who are technically at war. At the heart of the current tensions is a new oil and gas exploration deal on the countries’ maritime borders. Israel contests Lebanon’s rights to one area.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is protesting a controversial wall that Israel is planning to build along their shared border, which Lebanon says would encroach on its territory.

“This wall, if it is built, will be considered an aggression against Lebanon,” the statement said. “The Higher Defense Council has given instructions to confront this aggression to prevent Israel from building this so-called wall barrier on Lebanese territory,” it added.

Israel’s military said all work was “being carried out in sovereign Israeli territory.” Parts of the militarized border have been fenced off for years.

Andrea Tenenti, spokesperson for the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, said the force is “fully engaged with both parties in order to find common solutions.”

“Any work that is conducted along the Blue Line should be predictable and also coordinated with UNIFIL in order to prevent misunderstanding and decrease tension,” he told The Associated Press in an interview at the UNIFIL base in the town of Naqoura, in southern Lebanon on Wednesday.

Lebanese and Israeli military officials met Monday to discuss the issues in regular U.N.-sponsored talks. Tenenti said both parties demonstrated their commitment to preserve stability.

Israel has in recent days escalated its threats against Lebanon over Lebanon’s invitation for offshore gas exploration bids on the countries’ maritime border.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Lebanon’s exploration tender as “very provocative” and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field “which is by all accounts ours.”

His comments drew sharp condemnation from the militant Hezbollah group and Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally, who described Lieberman’s comments as a “blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in 2006.

Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


Israel squares off for showdown with Iran in Syria

February 13, 2018

by Farah Najjar


A surge in Israeli-Syrian cross-border incidents has turned into the “biggest” confrontation between the two countries in decades and confronted Russia with a new dilemma: how to preserve its ties with both sides.

The tit-for-tat attacks, which started on Saturday and continued until the following day, have been accompanied by a war of words, with Benjamin Netanyahu warning that Israel would continue to strike against any aggression.

“We dealt severe blows to the Iranian and Syrian forces,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iranian bases present inside Syria.

The toughest Israeli aerial assault on Syrian and Iranian bases was reportedly in response to Syrian forces shooting down an Israeli fighter jet on Saturday and claims that an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace.The attacks, which killed at least six Syrian troops and allied militia members, targeted areas near the Syrian capital Damascus, with Israel warning about increased Iranian involvement along its borders with Syria and Lebanon.

A statement by the pro-government military alliance in Syria had said that the drones were being used against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group fighters.

But Israel’s chief military spokesperson said Israel held Iran directly accountable for the incident.

On Saturday, Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone that Israel intended to counter Iran’s actions, while Putin urged the Israeli leader to avoid any steps that could escalate tensions.

Russia, a strategic ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has maintained close relations with Netanyahu, who has been blaming Iranian paramilitary units in Syria of breaching its sovereignty by carrying out over-the-border attacks over the past six years.

The frequency of Israeli raids has intensified since 2012 when Iranian paramilitary fighters entered Syria following the start of the Syrian civil war.

Israel has never publicly admitted to such attacks, which vary from firing rockets to air raids.

Experts believe that the latest development forced Israel into admitting that it had launched attacks due to the shooting down of its F-16 fighter jet – the first time Israel had lost an aircraft to enemy fire.

“This was a major loss and defeat for Israel, and I don’t think that this is something the [Israeli] regime could cover up,” Mohammad Marandi, an academic at the University of Tehran, told Al Jazeera.

“The Israelis are using Iran as a scapegoat … to be able to carry out attacks on regional countries and justify the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people.”

Iran’s presence in Syria has officially been aimed at combating ISIL, al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Marandi says Israel is supporting these groups on its borders.

‘Weakening neighbours’

Israel and Syria have been at the brink of war ever since Israel occupied a part of the strategic Golan Heights that it annexed following the 1967 Six Day War.

The move played a role in Israel’s decision to refrain from getting involved in the Syrian conflict.

Its occasional attacks against Syrian targets have been to stop what it describes as the delivery of advanced weaponry to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, whose fighters are present in southern Lebanon.

Marandi says the issue is not Iran and its influence. Rather, it is Israel’s attempt at weakening the Syrian government, which along with Iran, is attempting to push al-Qaeda out of the country.

In 2016, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy revealed to Al Jazeera that Israel maintained “tactical” relations with al-Nusra Front – al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria.

“It’s always useful […] to deal with your enemies in a humane way,” Halevy said, revealing that Israel used to treat wounded fighters from al-Nusra Front.

He also said that he would not support the treatment of wounded Hezbollah fighters because Hezbollah had targeted Israel.

When asked if a war between Hezbollah and Israel is imminent, Marandi said that it would not be in Israel’s favour.

However, others believe that Russia – an ally of Syria, Iran, and Israel – is the only party that can limit the possibility of an upcoming regional war.

Following the latest attacks, Israel protested against Iran’s presence and growing power in Syria.

“At the beginning, Israel and the US did not object to its [Iran] presence in Syria because back then, the opposition had the upper hand and the Syrian regime was on brink of defeat,” Omar Kouch, a Syrian political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“Up until 2016, when Russia intervened, the balance of power shifted in favour of the Syrian regime,” Kouch explained.

“Israel did not want the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Its issue is not with the regime; its issue is with Iran, which threatens its security,” he said.

“This is why several Israeli attacks in 2016, 2017, and today in 2018, were carried out.”

‘Rockets of various kinds’

According to Kouch, Iran knew that such attacks would occur.

“Iran and Syria were prepared, and several rockets of various kinds were fired,” he said.

On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country was ready to defend the region and warned that “increasing terrorism … bombing neighbouring countries” would not achieve Israel’s objectives.

But a full-frontal war is unlikely at this time, Kouch believes, as Russia is trying to maintain its alliance with Iran and Israel simultaneously.

“These two equations [Iran’s influence in the region and Israel’s security concerns] are very difficult to balance – both projects are colonialist projects that are hugely conflicted,” he said.

“And the presence of the many players make such frictions inevitable.”

Last month, Netanyahu met Putin in Moscow to discuss Israeli concerns over Iran’s presence in Syria.

“I will discuss with President Putin Iran’s relentless efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, which we strongly oppose and are also taking action against,” Netanyahu had said.

Ofer Zalzberg, an Israeli analyst with the International Crisis Group, said that Israel would inspect the drone from Saturday’s incident and try to “demonstrate that it was indeed Iranian, in spite of Tehran’s denials”.

Zalzberg also agreed that Russia’s alliance with both parties could thwart a potential escalation and perhaps meet each party’s demands.

“If anyone can broker a reality in which Israel succeeds in its endeavour to stop Iranian bases from being permanently set up in Syria, and Iran succeeds in keeping Damascus a cooperative partner – it is Russia,” he said.

The ongoing border violence is unlikely to stop, experts Al Jazeera spoke to predicted, a fact that  puts civilian lives continuously at risk.

“Ultimately, the only losers here are the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution,” said Kouch


Israeli police to recommend indicting Netanyahu over alleged bribery in two cases: media

February 13, 2018


JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Police investigating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have recommended to Israel’s attorney general that he be charged with bribery in two cases, Israeli news media reported on Tuesday.

Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, has been questioned several times since the start of 2017. Police can make only a recommendation; the final decision to indict rests with the attorney-general.

Israeli media have reported that one of the two cases involves the receipt of gifts from businessmen and the other is related to conversations Netanyahu is alleged to have held with an Israeli newspaper publisher about limiting competition in the news sector in exchange for more positive coverage.

Police were due to make the official announcement over their recommendations at 8:45 p.m. (18:45 GMT) and Netanyahu was due to respond with a live televised statement minutes later.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Peter Graff


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