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TBR News March 20, 2018

Mar 20 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. March 20, 2018:”The recent allegation that the Russians had used a nerve gas on a former citizen in England is a typical example of the lack of serious thought that ought to go into the preparation of an official lie. On 4 March 2018, it is alleged that Sergei Viktorovich Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who secretly worked for, and was well paid by, British intelligence, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, allegedly with a “Novichok nerve agent.”

It was reported that the pair were observed on a public park bench, acting very ill and were taken to the Salisbury District Hospital and put into an intensive care unit.

No one was allowed to visit them but a British official claimed they had done so and assured the media they had been seen.

Immediately, it was claimed that somehow the Russians were responsible and the British Prime Minister and the buffoon of a Foreign Minister made endless accusative public comments about Russian guilt.

The British Prime Minister May’s claim that the “novichok” formula allegedly used is a deep secret, known only to the Russians is entirely false.

There are currently a number of countries who have been carrying out intense research on the substances from the so-called ‘Novichok’ program since the end of the 1990s to the present: the UK, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the United States and Sweden.

Russia is not one of them.

The near universal belief among chemical weapons experts, and the official position of the OPCW, was that “Novichoks” were at most a theoretical research program which the Russians had never succeeded in actually synthesizing and manufacturing. That is why they are not on the OPCW list of banned chemical weapons.

It should be noted that in England, where the alleged attack occurred, is home to the Porton Down facility

Porton Down, a secret British facility that works with, among other products, nerve gasses, is located northeast of the village of Porton near Salisbury, in Wiltshire, England. It is home to two UK Government facilities: a site of the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)

Work carried out at Porton Down on usable nerve gasses has, to date, remained secret

Between 1963 and 1975 the MRE carried out trials in Lyme Bay in which live bacteria were sprayed from a ship to be carried ashore by the wind to simulate an anthrax attack.

That to one side, there exists a secret CIA report that gives the lie to the allegations of Russian poisoning.

Origins of the purported nerve gas attack

Michael Richard Pompeo is an American politician and businessman who has been serving as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency since January 23, 2017, following his nomination by President Donald Trump.

Previously, he was the member of the United States House of Representatives for Kansas’s 4th congressional district (2011–2017).

He is a member of the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party. He was a Kansas representative on the Republican National Committee and member of the Italian American Congressional Delegation.

Pompeo is also an Evangelical Christian in outlook.

In August of 2017, Pompeo took direct command of the Counterintelligence Mission Center, the department which helped to launch an investigation into possible links between Trump associates and Russian officials Former CIA directors expressed concern since Pompeo is known to be an ally of Donald Trump

William Evanina is currently the head of NCIX, which is the executive officer of the United States Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (ONCIX), and who is also the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

The London branch is located at 33 Nine Elms Ln London SW11 7. Formerly, it was headquartered at Caversham Park.

The communication from Evanina’s office in question is marked USA/GBR/ EYES ONLY and addressed to M. Aubineau in the UK office (detailed information from Booth)

Part of the document reads:

Necessary to remove Skripal from any possibility of allowing him to be interviewed via Judicial Assistance Request, by on-going U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump/Russian working agreements. If possible try to make this look like some kind of a negative Russian intelligence operation, thus killing two birds with one stone. Note that Skripal is of considerable value to UK intel so termination with extreme prejudice not suggested.”

And further in the same document:

“President Trump does not tolerate anything that he views as opposed to his will. For that reason, he has developed a very strong dislike for the Justice Department’s FBI because of their ongoing investigation of his extensive contact with Russian entities. He has been contemplating abolishing the FBI and turning its domestic intelligence programs over to the CIA, creating one massive surveillance entity that he can easily control.”

The British agency involved in the purported “nerve gas attack” scenario is the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU)

In May 2013, the NDEDIU was split into two units:

a )Protest and Disorder Intelligence Unit. This unit collates and provides strategic analysis relating to protest and disorder across the UK; and b) Domestic Extremism Intelligence Unit. This unit provides strategic analysis of domestic extremism intelligence within the UK and overseas.

The NDEU had been created in 2011 following a merger of the three domestic extremism units under the National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism – the National Domestic Extremism Team, National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).

The quid pro quo for Pompeo’s cooperation in keeping devastating information about Trump’s clandestine political deals with Russia away from hostile investigators is evident.

On March 13, 2018, Trump announced his intention to nominate Pompeo as the new United States Secretary of State, on March 31, 2018, succeeding Rex Tillerson who had the audacity to disagree with Trump.

There is absolutely no question whatsoever that Russian intelligence was able, by the offering of large amounts of money for rigged hotel business deals as well as securing his interest through the activities of very attractive women, to get Trump to work with them closely in the event he was able to secure election to the American presidency.

U.S. Congressional committees also have been investigating Russia and the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.


Persona involved


  • Sergei Viktorovich Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services during the 1990s and early 2000s. In December 2004, he was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and later tried, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He settled in the UK in 2010 following the Illegals Program spy swap and became a British subject.
  • Christopher David Steele is a former British intelligence officer with the Secret Intelligence Service MI6 from 1987 until his retirement in 2009. He is also the founding director of Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based private intelligence firm

Steele later went to for work for Fusion GPS a commercial research and strategic intelligence firm based in Washington, D.C.

The firm was subsequently hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through their shared attorney at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias. The purpose was to create a document that could be used to accuse Trump of having improper contact with the Russians.

Fusion GPS then hired Steele to investigate Trump’s Russia-related activities. According to CNN, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee took over the financing of the inquiry into Donald Trump and produced what became known as the Trump dossier.

According to an official British analysis, Steele was in contact with Skripal and claimed he used much of Skripal’s information for his Trump report.

Mueller is investigating Russian attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. election, and potential collusion by Trump aides. Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it meddled in the election and Trump has said there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow officials.

Mueller has charged several Trump associates and more than a dozen Russians.

When it was learned in Washington that Steele was on Mr. Mueller’s prime list to interrogate, fears that Skripal, who was known to give information to anyone willing to pay for it, was also considered a subject for interrogation under oath, a form of panic arose and the CIA spoke with their opposite numbers in England. The thrust of this contact was that American intelligence and political entities did not want Skripal to be deposed.

Steele has been privately warned about speaking out of turn but Skripal was considered to be a “loose cannon.”




Table of Contents

  • Did Putin Order the Salisbury Hit?
  • On Seeing America’s Wars Whole
  • The NSA Worked to “Track Down” Bitcoin Users, Snowden Documents Reveal
  • Cambridge Analytica: UK regulator seeks search warrant
  • Cambridge Analytica played key Trump campaign role, CEO says: UK TV
  • Is leaving Facebook the only way to protect your data?
  • Expedia’s Orbitz says 880,000 payment cards hit in breach
  • Child abuse imagery found within bitcoin’s blockchain
  • Pedophilia in Governance
  • Trump loses bid to dismiss accuser’s defamation lawsuit
  • Crimean bridge will open to car traffic in May, well ahead of schedule


Did Putin Order the Salisbury Hit?

March 20, 2018

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Britain has yet to identify the assassin who tried to murder the double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England.

But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson knows who ordered the hit.

“We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was (Russian President Vladimir Putin’s) decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K.”

“Unforgivable,” says Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov of the charge, which also defies “common sense.” On Sunday, Putin echoed Peskov: “It is just sheer nonsense, complete rubbish, to think that anyone in Russia could do anything like that in the run-up to the presidential election and the World Cup. … It’s simply unthinkable.”

Putin repeated Russia’s offer to assist in the investigation.

But Johnson is not backing down; he is doubling down.

“We gave the Russians every opportunity to come up with an alternative hypothesis … and they haven’t,” said Johnson. “We actually have evidence … that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok,” the poison used in Salisbury.

Why Russia is the prime suspect is understandable. Novichok was created by Russia’s military decades ago, and Skripal, a former Russian intel officer, betrayed Russian spies to MI6.

But what is missing here is the Kremlin’s motive for the crime.

Skripal was convicted of betraying Russian spies in 2006. He spent four years in prison and was exchanged in 2010 for Russian spies in the U.S. If Putin wanted Skripal dead as an example to all potential traitors, why didn’t he execute him while he was in Kremlin custody?

Why wait until eight years after Skripal had been sent to England? And how would this murder on British soil advance any Russian interest?

Putin is no fool. A veteran intelligence agent, he knows that no rival intel agency such as the CIA or MI6 would trade spies with Russia if the Kremlin were to go about killing them after they have been traded.

“Cui bono?” runs the always relevant Ciceronian question. “Who benefits” from this criminal atrocity?

Certainly, in this case, not Russia, not the Kremlin, not Putin.

All have taken a ceaseless beating in world opinion and Western media since the Skripals were found comatose, near death, on that bench outside a mall in Salisbury.

Predictably, Britain’s reaction has been rage, revulsion and retaliation. Twenty-three Russian diplomats, intelligence agents in their London embassy, have been expelled. The Brits have been treating Putin as a pariah and depicting Russia as outside the circle of civilized nations.

Russia is “ripping up the international rulebook,” roared Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson. Asked how Moscow might respond to the expulsions, Williamson retorted: Russia should “go away and shut up.”

Putin sympathizers, including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, have been silenced or savaged as appeasers for resisting the rush to judgment.

The Americans naturally came down on the side of their oldest ally, with President Donald Trump imposing new sanctions.

We are daily admonished that Putin tried to tip the 2016 election to Trump. But if so, why would Putin order a public assassination that would almost compel Trump to postpone his efforts at a rapprochement?

Who, then, are the beneficiaries of this atrocity?

Is it not the coalition – principally in our own capital city – that bears an endemic hostility to Russia and envisions America’s future role as a continuance of its Cold War role of containing and corralling Russia until we can achieve regime change in Moscow?

What should Trump’s posture be? Stand by our British ally but insist privately on a full investigation and convincing proof before taking any irreversible action.

Was this act really ordered by Putin and the Kremlin, who have not only denied it but condemned it?

Or was it the work of rogue agents who desired the consequences that they knew the murder of Skripal would produce – a deeper and more permanent split between Russia and the West?

Only a moron could not have known what the political ramifications of such an atrocity as this would be on U.S.-British-Russian relations.

And before we act on Boris Johnson’s verdict – that Putin ordered it – let us recall:

The Spanish, we learned, did not actually blow up the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898, which ignited the Spanish-American War.

The story of North Vietnamese gunboats attacking U.S. destroyers, which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and 58,000 dead Americans in Vietnam, proved not to be entirely accurate.

We went to war in Iraq in 2003 to disarm it of weapons of mass destruction we later discovered Saddam Hussein did not really have.

Some 4,500 U.S. dead and tens of thousands of wounded paid for that rush to judgment. And some of those clamoring for war then are visible in the vanguard of those clamoring for confronting Russia.

Before we set off on Cold War II with Russia – leading perhaps to the shooting war we avoided in Cold War I – let’s try to get this one right.


On Seeing America’s Wars Whole

Six Questions for A.G. Sulzberger

March 20, 2018

by Andrew J. Bacevich

Tom Dispatch

Dear Mr. Sulzberger:

Congratulations on assuming the reins of this nation’s — and arguably, the world’s — most influential publication. It’s the family business, of course, so your appointment to succeed your father doesn’t exactly qualify as a surprise.  Even so, the responsibility for guiding the fortunes of a great institution must weigh heavily on you, especially when the media landscape is changing so rapidly and radically.

Undoubtedly, you’re already getting plenty of advice on how to run the paper, probably more than you want or need.  Still, with your indulgence, I’d like to offer an outsider’s perspective on “the news that’s fit to print.”  The famous motto of the Times insists that the paper is committed to publishing “all” such news — an admirable aspiration even if an impossibility.  In practice, what readers like me get on a daily basis is “all the news that Times editors deem worthy of print.”

Of course, within that somewhat more restrictive universe of news, not all stories are equal.  Some appear on the front page above the fold.  Others are consigned to page A17 on Saturday morning.

And some topics receive more attention than others.  In recent years, comprehensive coverage of issues touching on diversity, sexuality, and the status of women has become a Times hallmark.  When it comes to Donald Trump, “comprehensive” can’t do justice to the attention he receives.  At the Times (and more than a few other media outlets), he has induced a form of mania, with his daily effusion of taunts, insults, preposterous assertions, bogus claims, and decisions made, then immediately renounced, all reported in masochistic detail.  Throw in salacious revelations from Trump’s colorful past and leaks from the ongoing Mueller investigation of his campaign and our 45th president has become for the Times something akin to a Great White Whale, albeit with a comb-over and a preference for baggy suits.

In the meantime, other issues of equal or even greater importance — I would put climate change in this category — receive no more than sporadic or irregular coverage.  And, of course, some topics simply don’t make the cut at all, like just about anything short of a school shooting that happens in that vast expanse west of the Hudson that Saul Steinberg years ago so memorably depicted for the New Yorker.

The point of this admittedly unsolicited memo is not to urge the Times to open a bureau in Terre Haute or in the rapidly melting Arctic. Nor am I implying that the paper should tone down its efforts to dismantle the hetero-normative order, empower women, and promote equality for transgender persons. Yet I do want to suggest that obsessing about this administration’s stupefying tomfoolery finds the Times overlooking one particular issue that predates and transcends the Trump Moment. That issue is the normalization of armed conflict, with your writers, editors, and editorial board having tacitly accepted that, for the United States, war has become a permanent condition.

Let me stipulate that the Times does devote an impressive number of column-inches to the myriad U.S. military activities around the planet.  Stories about deployments, firefights, airstrikes, sieges, and casualties abound.  Readers can count on the Times to convey the latest White House or Pentagon pronouncements about the briefly visible light at the end of some very long tunnel. And features describing the plight of veterans back from the war zone also appear with appropriate and commendable frequency.

So anyone reading the Times for a week or a month will have absorbed the essential facts of the case, including the following:

* Over 6,000 days after it began, America’s war in Afghanistan continues, with Times correspondents providing regular and regularly repetitive updates;

* In the seven-year-long civil war that has engulfed Syria, the ever-shifting cast of belligerents now includes at least 2,000 (some sources say 4,000) U.S. special operators, the rationale for their presence changing from week to week, even as plans to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely take shape;

* In Iraq, now liberated from ISIS, itself a byproduct of U.S. invasion and occupation, U.S. troops are now poised to stay on, more or less as they did in West Germany in 1945 and in South Korea after 1953;

* On the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. forces have partnered with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud in brutalizing Yemen, thereby creating a vast humanitarian disaster despite the absence of discernible U.S. interests at stake;

* In the military equivalent of whacking self-sown weeds, American drones routinely attack Libyan militant groups that owe their existence to the chaos created in 2011 when the United States impulsively participated in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi;

* More than a quarter-century after American troops entered Somalia to feed the starving, the U.S. military mission continues, presently in the form of recurring airstrikes;

* Elsewhere in Africa, the latest theater to offer opportunities for road-testing the most recent counterterrorism techniques, the U.S. military footprint is rapidly expanding, all but devoid of congressional (or possibly any other kind of) oversight;

* From the Levant to South Asia, a flood of American-manufactured weaponry continues to flow unabated, to the delight of the military-industrial complex, but with little evidence that the arms we sell or give away are contributing to regional peace and stability;

*Amid this endless spiral of undeclared American wars and conflicts, Congress stands by passively, only rousing itself as needed to appropriate money that ensures the unimpeded continuation of all of the above;

*Meanwhile, President Trump, though assessing all of this military hyperactivity as misbegotten — “Seven trillion dollars. What a mistake.” — is effectively perpetuating and even ramping up the policies pioneered by his predecessors.

This conglomeration of circumstances, I submit, invites attention to several first-order questions to which the Times appears stubbornly oblivious. These questions are by no means original with me. Indeed, Mr. Sulzberger (may I call you A.G.?), if you’ve kept up with TomDispatch — if you haven’t, you really should — you will already have encountered several of them.  Yet in the higher reaches of mainstream journalism they remain sadly neglected, with disastrous practical and moral implications.

The key point is that when it comes to recent American wars, the Times offers coverage without perspective. “All the news” is shallow and redundant. Lots of dots, few connections.

To put it another way, what’s missing is any sort of Big Picture. The Times would never depict Russian military actions in the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria, along with its cyber-provocations, as somehow unrelated to one another. Yet it devotes remarkably little energy to identifying any links between what U.S. forces today are doing in Niger and what they are doing in Afghanistan; between U.S. drone attacks that target this group of “terrorists” and those that target some other group; or, more fundamentally, between what we thought we were doing as far back as the 1980s when Washington supported Saddam Hussein and what we imagine we’re doing today in the various Muslim-majority nations in which the U.S. military is present, whether welcome or not.

Crudely put, the central question that goes not only unanswered but unasked is this: What the hell is going on? Allow me to deconstruct that in ways that might resonate with Times correspondents:

What exactly should we call the enterprise in which U.S. forces have been engaged all these years?  The term that George W. Bush introduced back in 2001, “Global War on Terrorism,” fell out of favor long ago. Nothing has appeared to replace it.  A project that today finds U.S. forces mired in open-ended hostilities across a broad expanse of Muslim-majority nations does, I suggest, deserve a name, even if the commander-in-chief consigns most of those countries to “shithole” status. A while back, I proposed “War for the Greater Middle East,” but that didn’t catch on. Surely, the president or perhaps one of his many generals could come up with something better, some phrase that conveys a sense of purpose, scope, stakes, or location. The paper of record should insist that whatever it is the troops out there may be doing, their exertions ought to have a descriptive name.

What is our overall objective in waging that no-name war?  After 9/11, George W. Bush vowed at various times to eliminate terrorism, liberate the oppressed, spread freedom and democracy, advance the cause of women’s rights across the Islamic world, and even end evil itself. Today, such aims seem like so many fantasies. So what is it we’re trying to accomplish?  What will we settle for? Without a readily identifiable objective, how will anyone know when to raise that “Mission Accomplished” banner (again) and let the troops come home?

By extension, what exactly is the strategy for bringing our no-name war to a successful conclusion? A strategy is a kind of roadmap aimed at identifying resources, defining enemies (as well as friends), and describing a sequence of steps that will lead to some approximation of victory.  It should offer a vision that gets us from where we are to where we want to be.  Yet when it comes to waging its no-name war, Washington today has no strategy worthy of the name.  This fact should outrage the American people and embarrass the national security establishment. It should also attract the curiosity of the New York Times.

Roughly speaking, in what year, decade, or century might this war end?  Even if only approximately, it would help to know — and the American people deserve to know — when the front page of the Times might possibly carry a headline reading “Peace Secured” or “Hostilities Ended” or even merely “It’s Over.” On the other hand, if it’s unrealistic to expect the ever-morphing, ever-spreading no-name war to end at all, then shouldn’t someone say so, allowing citizens to chew on the implications of that prospect?  Who better to reveal this secret hidden in plain sight than the newspaper over which you preside?

What can we expect the no-name war to cost?  Although the president’s estimate of $7 trillion may be a trifle premature, it’s not wrong. It may even end up being on the low side.  What that money might otherwise have paid for — including infrastructure, education, scientific and medical research, and possibly making amends for all the havoc wreaked by our ill-considered military endeavors — certainly merits detailed discussion. Here’s a way to start just such a discussion:  Imagine a running tally of sunk and projected cumulative costs featured on the front page of the Times every morning. Just two numbers: the first a tabulation of what the Pentagon has already spent pursuant to all U.S. military interventions, large and small, since 9/11; the second, a projection of what the final bill might look like decades from now when the last of this generation’s war vets passes on.

Finally, what are the implications of saddling future generations with this financial burden?  With the sole exception of the very brief Gulf War of 1990-1991, the no-name war is the only substantial armed conflict in American history where the generation in whose name it was waged resolutely refused to pay for it — indeed, happily accepted tax cuts when increases were very much in order. With astonishingly few exceptions, politicians endorsed this arrangement.  One might think that enterprising reporters would want to investigate the various factors that foster such irresponsibility.

So that’s my take. I’m sure, A.G., that journalists in your employ could sharpen my questions and devise more of their own.  But here’s a small proposition: just for a single day, confine Donald Trump to page A17 and give our no-name war the attention that the Times normally reserves for the president it loathes.

I’m not a newspaperman, but I’m reminded of that wonderful 1940 Hitchcock movie Foreign Correspondent.  I expect you’ve seen it.  Europe is stumbling toward war and Mr. Powers, head honcho at the fictitious New York Globe, is tired of getting the same-old same-old from the people he has on the scene. “I don’t want any more economists, sages, or oracles bombinating over our cables,” he rages. “I want a reporter.  Somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo.”

His rant requires deciphering. What Powers wants is someone with the combination of guts and naiveté to pose questions that more seasoned journalists trapped in a defective narrative of their own creation simply overlook.

So he pulls the decidedly unseasoned and spectacularly uninformed John Jones off the police beat, renames him Huntley Haverstock, sets him up with an expense account, and sends him off to take a fresh look at what gives in Europe.  Haverstock proceeds to unearth the big truths to which his more sophisticated colleagues have become blind.  Almost singlehandedly he alerts the American people to the dangers just ahead — and he also gets the girl.  Terrific movie (even if, given Hitchcock’s well-documented mistreatment of women, it may be politically incorrect to say so).

Anyway, A.G., we need you to do something approximating what Mr. Powers did, but in real life.  Good luck.  I’m in your corner.


The NSA Worked to “Track Down” Bitcoin Users, Snowden Documents Reveal

March 20, 2018

by Sam Biddle

The Intercept

Internet paranoiacs drawn to Bitcoin have long indulged fantasies of American spies subverting the booming, controversial digital currency. Increasingly popular among get-rich-quick speculators, Bitcoin started out as a high-minded project to make financial transactions public and mathematically verifiable — while also offering discretion. Governments, with a vested interest in controlling how money moves, would, some of Bitcoin’s fierce advocates believed, naturally try and thwart the coming techno-libertarian financial order.

It turns out the conspiracy theorists were on to something. Classified documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents.

Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, “Bitcoin is #1 priority,” a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated.

The documents indicate that “tracking down” Bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining Bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some Bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”

The agency appears to have wanted even more data: The March 29 memo raised the question of whether the data source validated its users, and suggested that the agency retained Bitcoin information in a file named “Provider user full.csv.” It also suggested powerful search capabilities against Bitcoin targets, hinting that NSA may have been using its XKeyScore searching system, where the Bitcoin information and wide range of other NSA data was cataloged, to enhance its information on Bitcoin users. An NSA reference document indicated that the data source provided “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses.” With this sort of information in hand, putting a name to a given Bitcoin user would be easy.

The NSA’s budding Bitcoin spy operation looks to have been enabled by its unparalleled ability to siphon traffic from the physical cable connections that form the internet and ferry its traffic around the planet. As of 2013, the NSA’s Bitcoin tracking was achieved through program codenamed OAKSTAR, a collection of covert corporate partnerships enabling the agency to monitor communications, including by harvesting internet data as it traveled along fiber optic cables that undergird the internet.

Specifically, the NSA targeted Bitcoin through MONKEYROCKET, a sub-program of OAKSTAR, which tapped network equipment to gather data from the Middle East, Europe, South America, and Asia, according to classified descriptions. As of spring 2013, MONKEYROCKET was “the sole source of SIGDEV for the BITCOIN Targets,” the March 29, 2013 NSA report stated, using the term for signals intelligence development, “SIGDEV,” to indicate the agency had no other way to surveil Bitcoin users. The data obtained through MONKEYROCKET is described in the documents as “full take” surveillance, meaning the entirety of data passing through a network was examined and at least some entire data sessions were stored for later analysis.

At the same time, MONKEYROCKET is also described in the documents as a “non-Western Internet anonymization service” with a “significant user base” in Iran and China, with the program brought online on in summer 2012. It is unclear what exactly this product was, but it would appear it was promoted on the internet under false pretenses: The NSA notes that part of its “long-term strategy” for MONKEYROCKET was to “attract targets engaged in terrorism, [including] Al Qaida” toward using this “browsing product,” which “the NSA can then exploit.” The scope of the targeting would then expand beyond terrorists. Whatever this piece of software was, it functioned a privacy bait and switch, tricking Bitcoin users into using a tool they thought would provide anonymity online but was actually funneling data directly to the NSA.

The hypothesis that the NSA would “launch an entire operation overseas under false pretenses” just to track targets is “pernicious,” said Matthew Green, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Such a practice could spread distrust of privacy software in general, particularly in areas like Iran where such tools are desperately needed by dissidents. This “feeds a narrative that the U.S. is untrustworthy,” said Green. “That worries me.”

The NSA declined to comment for this article. The Bitcoin Foundation, a non-profit advocacy organization, could not immediately comment.

Although it offers many practical benefits and advantages over traditional currency, a crucial part of Bitcoin’s promise is its decentralization. There is no Bank of Bitcoin, no single entity that keeps track of the currency or its spenders. Bitcoin is often misunderstood as being completely anonymous; in fact, each transaction is tied to publicly accessible ID codes included in the Blockchain, and Bitcoin “exchange” companies typically require banking or credit card information to convert Bitcoin to dollars or euros. But Bitcoin does offer far greater privacy than traditional payment methods, which require personal information up to and including a social security number, or which must be linked to a payment method that does require such information.

Furthermore, it is possible to conduct private Bitcoin transactions that do not require exchange brokers or personal information. As explained in the 2009 white paper launching Bitcoin, “the public can see that someone is sending an amount to someone else, but without information linking the transaction to anyone.” For Bitcoin adherents around the world, this ability to transact secretly is part of what makes the currency so special, and such a threat to the global financial status quo. But the relative privacy of Bitcoin transactions has naturally frustrated governments around the world and law enforcement in particular—it’s hard to  “follow the money” to criminals when the money is designed to be more difficult to follow. In a November 2013 letter to Congress, one Homeland Security official wrote that “with the advent of virtual currencies and the ease with which financial transactions can be exploited by criminal organizations, DHS has recognized the need for an aggressive posture toward this evolving trend.”

Green told The Intercept he believes the “browsing product” component of MONKEYROCKET  sounds a lot like a virtual private network, or VPN. VPNs encrypt and reroute your internet traffic to mask what you’re doing on the internet. But there’s a catch: you have to trust the company that provides you a VPN, because they provide both software and an ongoing networking service that potentially allows them to see where you’re going online and even intercept some of your traffic. An unscrupulous VPN would have complete access to everything you do online.

Emin Gun Sirer, associate professor and co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Smart Contracts at Cornell University, told The Intercept that financial privacy “is something that matters incredibly” to the Bitcoin community, and expects that “people who are privacy conscious will switch to privacy-oriented coins” after learning of the NSA’s work here. Despite Bitcoin’s reputation for privacy, Sirer added, “when the adversary model involves the NSA, the pseudonymity disappears…You should really lower your expectations of privacy on this network.”

Green, who co-founded and currently advises a privacy-focused Bitcoin competitor named Zcash, echoed those sentiments, saying the NSA’s techniques make privacy features in any digital currencies like Ethereum or Ripple “totally worthless” for those targeted.

The NSA’s interest in cryptocurrency is “bad news for privacy, because it means that in addition to the really hard problem of making the actual transactions private…you also have to make sure all the network connections [are secure],” Green added. Green said he is “pretty skeptical” that using Tor, the popular anonymizing browser, could thwart the NSA in the long term. In other words, even if you trust Bitcoin’s underlying tech (or that of another coin), you’ll still need to be able to trust your connection to the internet–and if you’re being targeted by the NSA, that’s going to be a problem.

NSA documents note that although MONKEYROCKET works by tapping an unspecified “foreign” fiber cable site, and that data is then forwarded to the agency’s European Technical Center in Wiesbaden, Germany, meetings with the corporate partner that made MONKEYROCKET possible sometimes took place in Virginia. Northern Virginia has for decades been a boomtown for both the expansive national security state and American internet behemoths—telecoms, internet companies, and spy agencies call the area’s suburbs and office parks  home.

Bitcoin may have been the NSA’s top cryptocurrency target, but it wasn’t the only one. The March 15, 2013 NSA report detailed progress on MONKEYROCKET’s Bitcoin surveillance and noted that American spies were also working to crack Liberty Reserve, a far seedier predecessor. Unlike Bitcoin, for which facilitating drug deals and money laundering was incidental to bigger goals, Liberty Reserve was more or less designed with criminality in mind. Despite being headquartered in Costa Rica, the site was charged with running a $6 billion “laundering scheme” and triple-teamed by the United States Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and IRS, resulting in a 20-year conviction for its Ukrainian founder. As of March 2013—just two months before the Liberty Reserve takedown and indictment—the NSA considered the currency exchange its number two target, second only to Bitcoin. The indictment and prosecution of Liberty Reserve and its staff made no mention of help from the NSA.

Just five months after Liberty Reserve was shuttered, the feds turned their attention to Ross Ulbricht, who would go on to be convicted as the mastermind behind notorious darkweb narcotics market the Silk Road, where transactions were conducted in Bitcoin, with a cut going to the site’s owner. Ulbricht reportedly held Bitcoins worth $28.5 million at the time of his arrest. Part of his unsuccessful defense was the insistence that the FBI’s story of how it found him did not add up, and that the government may have discovered and penetrated the Silk Road’s servers with the help of the NSA—possibly illegally. The prosecution dismissed this theory in no uncertain terms:

Having failed in his prior motion to dismiss all of the Government’s charges, Ulbricht now moves this Court to suppress virtually all of the Government’s evidence, on the ground that it was supposedly obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Ulbricht offers no evidence of any governmental misconduct to support this sweeping claim. Instead, Ulbricht conjures up a bogeyman – the National Security Agency (“NSA”) – which Ulbricht suspects, without any proof whatsoever, was responsible for locating the Silk Road server, in a manner that he simply assumes somehow violated the Fourth Amendment.

Though the documents leaked by Snowden do not address whether or not the NSA aided the FBI’s Silk Road investigation, they show the agency working to unmask Bitcoin users about six months before Ulbricht was arrested, and that it had worked to monitor Liberty Reserve around the same time. The source of the Bitcoin and Liberty Reserve monitoring, MONKEYROCKET, is governed by an overseas surveillance authority known as Executive Order 12333, whose language is believed to give U.S. law enforcement agencies wide latitude to use the intelligence when investigating U.S. citizens.

Civil libertarians and security researchers have long been concerned that otherwise inadmissible intelligence from the agency is used to build cases against Americans though a process known as “parallel construction”: Building a criminal case using admissible evidence obtained by first consulting other evidence, which is kept secret, out of courtrooms and the public eye. An earlier investigation by The Intercept, drawing on court records and documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, found evidence the NSA’s most controversial forms of surveillance, which involve warrantless bulk monitoring of emails and fiber optic cables, may have been used in court via parallel construction.

Patrick Toomey, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the NSA Bitcoin documents, although circumstantial, underscore a serious and ongoing question in American law enforcement:

“If the government’s criminal investigations secretly relied on NSA spying, that would be a serious concern. Individuals facing criminal prosecution have a right to know how the government came by its evidence, so that they can challenge whether the government’s methods were lawful. That is a basic principle of due process. The government should not be hiding the true sources for its evidence in court by inventing a different trail.”

Although an NSA document about MONKEYROCKET stated the program’s “initial” concern was counterterrorism, it also said that “other targeted users will include those sought by NSA offices such as Int’l Crime & Narcotics, Follow-The-Money and Iran.” A March 8, 2013 NSA memo said agency staff were “hoping to use [MONKEYROCKET] for their mission of looking at organized crime and cyber targets that utilize online e-currency services to move and launder money.” There’s no elaboration on who is considered a “cyber target.”


Cambridge Analytica: UK regulator seeks search warrant

The firm is under fire for harvesting the data of millions of Facebook users and selling it to political actors. A recently surfaced video also purports to show the company’s CEO promoting bribery and entrapment

March 20, 2018


The British data protection authority was seeking a warrant to search the London offices of Cambridge Analytica on Tuesday.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is in the midst of a broad investigation into the data research firm’s operations after a whistleblower revealed that it had illegally harvested data on millions users and allegedly sold the data for political purposes.

The story so far:

On Sunday, whistleblower Christopher Wylie told Britain’s Observer and the New York Times that the company had harvested the data of 50 million Facebook users in order to target them with personalized political ads.

The incident is one of Facebook’s largest-ever data breaches.

Since Wylie’s revelations, reports have emerged that Cambridge Analytica executives also tried to influence other election campaigns, such as the contested re-election of Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya.

Cambridge Analytica executives were also caught on tape, shown by Britain’s Channel 4, in which they appear to be proposing pressuring political targets with Ukrainian sex workers.

Pressure mounts

“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons,” co-founder Wylie told the Observer.

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham told Channel 4: “I think we should all be shocked by this … I’m not accepting their response so therefore I’ll be applying to the court for a warrant.”

Facebook agreed to Denham’s request to call off its own audit of Cambridge Analytica. “If this data still exists, it would be a grave violation of Facebook’s policies and an unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments these groups made,” the company said.

The European Union’s Data Protection Commissioner later said she was “following up” with Facebook to ensure it had effective oversight over app developers’ use of its data. She said the issue mainly affected US users and was already being investigated by the UK.

Denial of wrongdoing: Cambridge Analytica has said that it is undergoing an internal review in relation to the allegations it may have violated Facebook’s policies. It has vehemently denied that it was promoting bribery and entrapment, however. This is a “misrepresentation of the facts,” CEO Alexander Nix told BBC Newsnight, explaining that “to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.”

What is Cambridge Analytica? The data-collecting firm was founded in 2013 as an offshoot of SCL Group, a government and military contractor that works on everything from food security research to election campaigns. It allegedly used Facebook data to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential elections.

What happens next: Facebook has suspended the firm’s account as UK regulators conduct their investigation. The social media giant has itself been the target for calls of an investigation into how Cambridge Analytica was so easily able to amass “unprecedented amounts of personal data.” Democratic and Republican US senators have called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress.


Cambridge Analytica played key Trump campaign role, CEO says: UK TV

March 20, 2018

by Eric Auchard and Paul Sandle


LONDON (Reuters) – The suspended chief executive of UK-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica claimed in secretly recorded video that his company played a decisive role in the 2016 election campaign of President Donald Trump, Channel 4 News reported on Tuesday.

British broadcaster Channel 4 News mounted a “sting operation” in which it secretly recorded Cambridge Analytica Chief Executive Alexander Nix saying he had met the then Republican presidential candidate “many times” and that his firm played a central role in the final months of the campaign.

“We did all the research. We did all the data. We did all the analytics. We did all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign and our data informed their strategy,” Nix told an undercover reporter during a meeting in a London hotel.

Brad Parscale, the 2016 Trump campaign’s main digital adviser who dealt regularly with Cambridge Analytica, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Parscale was recently named manager of Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.

Nix was suspended by the board of directors of Cambridge Analytica on Tuesday, the company said shortly before the second part of the British news program’s expose on the company.

The London-based company’s statement said: “In the view of the board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation.”

Nix also was recorded by Channel 4 saying that Cambridge Analytica did not have to reveal to U.S. investigators anything about the company’s foreign political campaign clients. If asked, he said he would respond: “We say ‘none of your business’.”

“I am absolutely convinced that they have no jurisdiction,” he said.

Nix was also dismissive about the testimony he gave to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee late last year [nL1N1OE1Q5].

“The Republicans ask three questions in five minutes. Done. The Democrats ask two hours of questions,” he said.

“They are politicians, they are not technical, they don’t understand how it works. They don’t understand that the candidate is never involved, he’s told what to do by the campaign team.”

The company named Julian Malins, a well-known British commercial barrister, to lead an independent investigation into Nix’s actions.

Reporting by Paul Sandle and Eric Auchard in London; Editing by Gareth Jones

Is leaving Facebook the only way to protect your data?

March 20, 2018

by Jane Wakefield Technology reporter

BBC News

Allegations that research firm Cambridge Analytica misused the data of 50 million Facebook users have reopened the debate about how information on the social network is shared and with whom.

Data is like oil to Facebook – it is what brings advertisers to the platform, who in turn make it money.

And there is no question that Facebook has the ability to build detailed and sophisticated profiles on users’ likes, dislikes, lifestyles and political leanings.

The bigger question becomes – what does it share with others and what can users do to regain control of their information?

We’ve all seen these quizzes – offering to test your IQ, reveal your inner personality, or show you what you’d look like if you were a glamorous actor.

It was information from one such Facebook quiz – This is Your Digital Life – that Cambridge Analytica is alleged to have used to harvest the data of millions of people.

Many such quizzes come with reassurances that your data is safe.

These games and quizzes are designed to tempt users in but they are often just a shop front for mass data collection – and one that Facebook’s terms and conditions allow.

Privacy advocates Electronic Frontier Foundation said the way these quizzes collected data reflected “how Facebook’s terms of service and API were structured at the time”.

Facebook has changed its terms and conditions to cut down on the information that third parties can collect, specifically stopping them from accessing data about users’ friends.

It is not yet clear exactly what information the firm got hold of – this is now subject to an investigation by the UK data protection authority, the ICO.

What can users do to protect their information?

  • Log in to Facebook and visit the App setting page
  • Click edit button under Apps, Websites and Plugins
  • Disable platform

This will mean that you won’t be able to use third-party sites on Facebook and if that is is a step too far, there is a way of limiting the personal information accessible by apps while still using them:

  • Log into Facebook’s App settings page
  • Unclick every category you don’t want the app to access, which includes bio, birthday, family, religious views, if you are online, posts on your timeline, activities and interests

There are some others pieces of advice too.

“Never click on a ‘like’ button on a product service page and if you want to play these games and quizzes, don’t log in through Facebook but go directly to the site,” said Paul Bernal, a lecturer in Information Technology, Intellectual Property and Media Law in the University of East Anglia School of Law.

“Using Facebook Login is easy but doing so, grants the app’s developer access to a range of information from their Facebook profiles,” he added.

How else can you protect your Facebook data?

There really is only one way to make sure your data remains entirely private, thinks Dr Bernal. “Leave Facebook.”

“The incentive Facebook will have to protect people more will only come if people start leaving. Currently it has very little incentive to change,” he told the BBC.

It seems he is not alone in his call – the hashtag #DeleteFacebook is now trending on Twitter in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

But Dr Bernal acknowledges that it is unlikely many will quit – especially those who see Facebook as “part of the infrastructure of their lives”.

Can you find out what data on you is stored?

Under current data protection rules, users can make a Subject Access Request to individual firms to find out how much information they have on them.

When Austrian privacy advocate Max Schrems made such a request to Facebook in 2011, he was given a CD with 1,200 files stored on it.

He found that the social network kept records of all the IP addresses of machines he used to access the site, a full history of messages and chats, his location and even items that he thought he had deleted, such as messages, status updates and wall posts.

But in a world where Facebook information is shared more widely with third parties, making such a request gets harder.

As Dr Bernal says: “How do you ask for your data when you don’t know who to ask?”

That is likely to change this summer with the introduction in Europe of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which aims to make it far easier for users to take back control of their data.

The threat of big fines for firms that do not comply with such requests could make it more likely that they will share this information, which must be given to consumers “in a clear and readable form”.

How long is data kept?

Data protection laws in Europe suggest that firms should only keep user data “as long as necessary” but the interpretation of this can be very flexible.

In Facebook’s case, this means that as long as the person posting something does not delete it, it will remain online indefinitely.

Can you delete historic data?

Users can delete their accounts, which in theory will “kill” all their past posts but Facebook encourages those who wish to take a break from the social network simply to deactivate them, in case they wish to return.

And it must be remembered that a lot of information about you will remain on the platform, from the posts of your friends.

One of the biggest changes of GDPR will be the right for people to be forgotten and, under these changes it should, in theory, be much easier to wipe your social network or other online history from existence.


Expedia’s Orbitz says 880,000 payment cards hit in breach

March 20, 2018


Orbitz, a subsidiary of online travel agency Expedia Inc (EXPE.O), said on Tuesday that hackers may have accessed personal information from about 880,000 payment cards.

The unit said an investigation showed that the breach may have occurred between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 22, 2017 for its partner platform and between Jan. 1, 2016 and June 22, 2016 for its consumer platform.

Information such as names, phone numbers, email and billing addresses may have been accessed, the travel website operator said, adding that its website, Orbitz.com, was not impacted.

“To date, we do not have direct evidence that this personal information was actually taken from the platform and there has been no evidence of access to other types of personal information, including passport and travel itinerary information,” Orbitz said.

For U.S. customers, social security numbers were not involved in this incident, the company said.

The company said it has addressed the breach after it was discovered in March this year.

Credit card issuer American Express Co (AXP.N) said in a statement that the attack did not compromise its platforms.

The breach is the latest in the travel sector and follows attacks on global hotel chain InterContinental Hotels Group Plc (IHG.L) and Hyatt Hotels Corp (H.N) last year.

Expedia’s shares fell as much as 1.9 percent to $108.99.

Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Sriraj Kalluvila


Child abuse imagery found within bitcoin’s blockchain

Researchers discover illegal content within the distributed ledger, making possession of it potentially unlawful in many countries

March 20, 2018

by Samuel Gibbs

The Guardian

German researchers have discovered unknown persons are using bitcoin’s blockchain to store and link to child abuse imagery, potentially putting the cryptocurrency in jeopardy.

The blockchain is the open-source, distributed ledger that records every bitcoin transaction, but can also store small bits of non-financial data. This data is typically notes about the trade of bitcoin, recording what it was for or other metadata. But it can also be used to store links and files.

Researchers from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany found that around 1,600 files were currently stored in bitcoin’s blockchain. Of the files least eight were of sexual content, including one thought to be an image of child abuse and two that contain 274 links to child abuse content, 142 of which link to dark web services.

“Our analysis shows that certain content, eg, illegal pornography, can render the mere possession of a blockchain illegal,” the researchers wrote. “Although court rulings do not yet exist, legislative texts from countries such as Germany, the UK, or the USA suggest that illegal content such as [child abuse imagery] can make the blockchain illegal to possess for all users.”

“This especially endangers the multi-billion dollar markets powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.”

While the spending of bitcoin does not necessarily require a copy of the blockchain to facilitate, some processes, such as some mining techniques, require the downloading of the full blockchain or chunks of it.

“Since all blockchain data is downloaded and persistently stored by users, they are liable for any objectionable content added to the blockchain by others. Consequently, it would be illegal to participate in a blockchain-based systems as soon as it contains illegal content,” the researchers wrote.

Since mining is essential for the function of bitcoin, as the process records the transactions into the blockchain to verify trades and generates new bitcoin in the process, having illegal content such as child abuse imagery within the blockchain could cause significant issues for the currency.

“We anticipate a high potential for illegal blockchain content to jeopardise blockchain-based systems such as bitcoin in the future,” the researchers wrote.

This is not the first time warnings over the ability to store non-financial data within the blockchain have been issued. Interpol sent out an alert in 2015 saying that “the design of the blockchain means there is the possibility of malware being injected and permanently hosted with no methods currently available to wipe this data”.

The agency warned that the technology could be used in the “sharing of child sexual abuse images where the blockchain could become a safe haven for hosting such data”.

But this is the first time such content has been shown to actually exist, creating a moral and legal quandary around possession and the blockchain.


Pedophilia in Governance

March 20, 2018

by Christian Jürs

It is very well known inside the Beltway (District of Columbia) that the so-called ‘Orange Revolution’ in the Ukraine was a quintessential CIA operation.

It was designed to kick out the pro-Russian elements of the Ukrainian government and replace them with CIA-friendly people.

And this, in turn, got the Ukraine, with its offshore oil and the naval base in the Crimea, firmly into the CIA orbit. But the newly minted government in the Ukraine was not very popular and a pro-Russian president was eventually elected.

The CIA could not tolerate the potential loss of the oil and the naval base so they engineered the recent ‘Kiev revolt’ against the new president, kicked him out and replaced him with a pliable new president.

In short, inside the western Ukraine, the CIA still wields considerable power through their Ukrainian front men.

One of the less pleasant operational methods of many intelligence agencies is what is known as the ‘Honey Trap.’ This is a means of using sexual attractions to lure weak-willed potential informants into their system.

And in the Ukraine today, we find no less than seven pornographic internet sites that cater to any and all aberrant sexual tastes. X-hamster is one of these but in addition to its wares, we have three really disgusting sites that cater to pedophiles of many tastes.

These sites are privately advertised as being “totally secure” and feature absolutely revolting pictures of small children of both sexes involved, often by force, in repulsive acts.

To download, store or pass along such filth is very clearly against American Federal law  which prohibits the production, distribution, reception, and possession of an image of child pornography using or affecting any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce (See 18 U.S.C. § 2251; 18 U.S.C. § 2252; 18 U.S.C. § 2252A).

Specifically, Section 2251 makes it illegal to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for purposes of producing visual depictions of that conduct.  Any individual who attempts or conspires to commit a child pornography offense is also subject to prosecution under federal law.

Of these pedophile sites, three have been set up with the funds, and are under the control of, the American CIA.

They use these sites to entrap persons of interest for the purpose of gaining support from or to blackmail the users.

While the pedophiles are under the mistaken impression that their use, in the United States, of such filth is protected at the source, they ought to realize that there is no such thing as any secure Internet site.

These sites have all been compromised in that others, beside the CIA and the users, are able to see, clearly, who are viewing and downloading illegal child pornography.

This is known outside of the circle of pedophiles involved and there exists a long listing of just which individual is looking at, and downloading, what manner of strictly prohibited perverted filth.

It is also known that a significant number of top level US Federal employees to include members of Congress of both parties, senior officials, members of Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in all of this.

The list deserves to be released to the American public so that they can see for themselves which apples have thoroughly rotten cores.

Will any of these discoveries be made public?

Count on it.


Trump loses bid to dismiss accuser’s defamation lawsuit

March 20, 2018


A woman who said Donald Trump sexually harassed her after she appeared on his former reality show “The Apprentice” can proceed with her defamation suit against him, a New York state judge ruled on Tuesday, raising the possibility of the U.S. president being forced to answer questions about his behavior toward women.

Justice Jennifer Schecter in the Manhattan Supreme Court said there was “absolutely no authority” to dismiss or stay a civil lawsuit by Summer Zervos related “purely to unofficial conduct” because Trump was U.S. president.

“No one is above the law,” the judge wrote.

Trump was not immediately available for comment. A lawyer for Zervos was also not immediately available.

The ruling could force Trump to submit to questioning by lawyers for Zervos and lead to further public scrutiny of other claims of sexual misconduct that have been made against the president.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Zervos, a restaurateur, was one of several women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct after the emergence of a conversation caught on an open microphone in 2005, in which Trump spoke in vulgar terms about trying to have sex with women.

She had met Trump after becoming a contestant on NBC’s “The Apprentice” in 2005 and accused him of kissing her against her will at his New York office in 2007 and later groping her in a Beverly Hills hotel after she met with him about a possible job.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly said at rallies and on Twitter that all of the accusations made by women after the tape became public were “lies.” At one point, he re-published on Twitter another user’s post that called Summer’s accusation a “hoax.”

“In their context, defendant’s repeated statements … cannot be characterized simply as opinion, heated rhetoric or hyperbole,” Schecter wrote.

The case is Zervos v Trump, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 150522/2017.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Ben Klayman and Bill Trott


Crimean bridge will open to car traffic in May, well ahead of schedule

March 20, 2018


The bridge connecting mainland Russia to the Crimean Peninsula will open to automobiles in May, six months ahead of schedule.

Vehicle crossing will be opened in two stages. Cars and buses will be allowed from May, while trucks will be allowed to cross the bridge in December.

At 19km, the span across the Kerch Strait is the longest bridge in Europe. The bridge will also have a railway section, which is scheduled to open in early 2019. At maximum capacity it will be able to accommodate some 40,000 cars per day. The bridge is expected to service at least 14 million railway passengers and allow transportation of at least 13 million tons of cargo per year.

The infrastructure has three segments. The first 7km section spans from the Taman Peninsula to Tuzla Spit; a 6.5km section spans across Tuzla Island; and the last section of 5.5km from Tuzla Island to the Crimean Peninsula.

The link became vital after Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2014, as the peninsula’s only land border is with Ukraine. Currently, regular passenger and cargo deliveries are organized by direct flights and ferries from ports in southern Russia.



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