TBR News May 15, 2017

May 15 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. May 15, 2017: “We will be out of the office until May 16. Ed.”

Table of Contents

  • North Korea vows missile tests ‘any time, any place’, defying U.S. warnings
  • Korea claims successful test of new rocket able to carry nuclear warhead
  • Germany will look for alternatives to Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase – Merkel
  • Germany says may move soldiers from Turkey if its MPs denied access
  • At Arctic Council meeting, hidden tensions over region’s resources
  • WannaCry ransomware cyber-attacks slow but fears remain
  • Putin: Malware created by intelligence services can backfire on its creators
  • They hate the US government, and they’re multiplying: the terrifying rise of ‘sovereign citizens’
  • S. top court rejects bid to revive North Carolina voting law
  • Comey willing to testify, but only in public: report
  • Obama’s Deportation Policy Was Even Worse Than We Thought
  • Power messages from the past: The Antarctic message

North Korea vows missile tests ‘any time, any place’, defying U.S. warnings

May 15, 2017

by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park


SEOUL-North Korea said on Monday it had successfully conducted a mid- to-long-range missile test and would continue such launches “any time, any place”, defying UN Security Council resolutions and warnings from the United States.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States in a sea of flames, has accused Washington of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war with recent military drills with South Korea and Japan.

The North’s KCNA news agency said Sunday’s test launch verified the homing feature of the warhead that allowed it to survive “under the worst re-entry situation” and accurately detonate.

It also tested the North’s capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”, KCNA said.

“The test-fire proved to the full all the technical specifications of the rocket … like guidance and stabilization systems … and reconfirmed the reliability of new rocket engine under the practical flight circumstances,” KCNA said.

The test “represents a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile”, John Schilling, an aerospace expert, said in an analysis on the U.S.-based 38 North website.

“It appears to have not only demonstrated an intermediate-range ballistic missile that might enable them to reliably strike the U.S. base at Guam, but more importantly, may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

The missile flew 787 km (489 miles) on a trajectory reaching an altitude of 2,111.5 km (1,312 miles), KCNA said.

North Korea has been developing a long-range missile capable of striking the mainland United States mounted with a nuclear warhead. That would require a flight of 8,000 km (4,800 miles) or more and technology to ensure a warhead’s stable re-entry into the atmosphere.

“The test-firing of ICBMs will occur at any time and place, at the will of North Korea’s highest leadership,” North Korea’s ambassador to China, Ji Jae Ryong, told reporters in Beijing on Monday, a day before the UN Security Council meets in New York to discuss the test.

North Korea has defied calls to curb its missile and nuclear weapons programs, testing its relationship with its lone major ally, China, which has always called for talks to resolve the issue, and prompting South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, to “strongly condemn” Sunday’s action.


U.S. President Donald Trump warned in an interview with Reuters this month that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible. In a show of force, the United States sent an aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, to waters off the Korean peninsula to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan.

It says the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Beijing that Moscow was opposed to any new countries acquiring nuclear weapons, but that the world should talk to North Korea rather than threaten it.

“I want to confirm that we are categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear powers, including with the Korean peninsula and North Korea,” said Putin, who said any such move would be “harmful and dangerous”.

“But at the same time, we understand that what we have observed in the world recently, and specifically flagrant violations of international law and incursions into the territory of foreign states, changes in regime, lead to such kinds of arms races.”

Putin did not specify what countries he had in mind, but he has in the past repeatedly criticized the United States for military operations in Iraq, Libya and Syria, and accused it of trying to oust legitimate governments.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday that the missile crashed into the Sea of Japan around 500 km (310 miles) off the Russian coast.

The North has successfully launched long-range rockets twice to put objects into space. But many had believed it was some years away from mastering re-entry expertise for perfecting an ICBM, which uses similar engineering in early flight stages.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper devoted half of its six-page Monday edition to coverage of the missile test, with vivid color photographs of the launch and jubilant leader Kim Jong Un celebrating with military officers.

The pictures featured a long nose-coned projectile that appeared to be similar to missiles displayed during an April 15 military parade for the birth anniversary of state founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.

The nose cone resembles that of the KN-08 ICBM the North is believed to be developing, and the lofted trajectory tests re-entry by putting the missile through extra stress, said Joshua Pollack of the U.S.-based Non-proliferation Review.

“This is an advanced missile, if their claims are true.”

KCNA said Kim accused the United States of “browbeating” countries that “have no nukes”, warning Washington not to misjudge the reality that its mainland is in the North’s “sighting range for strike”.

The United States called the missile launch a message to South Korea, days after Moon took office pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue and keep up international pressure to impede the North’s arms pursuit.

Two senior national security advisers to Trump will meet Moon’s top foreign policy adviser, Chung Eui-yong, in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss a summit of the leaders and the North’s missile test, a source with direct knowledge of the meeting said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul and Philip Wen and Denis Dyomkin in Beijing; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Korea claims successful test of new rocket able to carry nuclear warhead

North Korea has announced that Sunday’s missile launch tested a new type of rocket capable of carrying a “large-scale heavy nuclear warhead.” The test led to an international outcry and a call for harsher sanctions.

May 15, 2017


Sunday’s launch was of a “newly-developed mid/long-range strategic ballistic rocket, Hwasong-12,” North Korean news agency KCNA reported on Monday.

The news agency added that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “personally oversaw” the missile test.

The missile, tested early Sunday, landed in the sea off the coast of Russia.

It was launched at a high angle and reached an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers (1,312 miles) and traveled 787 kilometers, reaching the “precise location intended,” according to KCNA.

Missile experts said the high trajectory means the missile could travel at least 4,000 kilometers at a standard trajectory, easily within striking distance of neighboring South Korea and Japan, but not mainland US.

Rising tensions

North Korea is believed to be capable of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can carry a nuclear warhead to mainland US. The recent missile tests in North Korea have worried nearby South Korea and Japan, as well as ally US. The US has warned that it may resort to military action to end North Korea’s nuclear program, and North Korea has responded with threats of its own. The militaries of Japan and South Korean have increased their presence on the Korean peninsula.

38 North, a US-based group that monitors North Korea, said following Sunday’s missile test that “it appears to have not only demonstrated an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that might enable them to reliably strike the US base at Guam, but more importantly, may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss Sunday’s missile launch. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has called the launch a message to South Korea after the inauguration of its new president, Moon Jae-in, on Wednesday. Moon has promised to try to work together with its secluded neighbor.

“You first have to get into Kim Jong Un’s head – which is, he’s in a state of paranoia, he’s incredibly concerned about anything and everything around him,” Haley told American TV broadcaster ABC on Sunday.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN and US sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.

South Korea announced Monday it would send special envoys to five countries to establish stronger ties. The envoys will travel to the US, China, Japan, Russia and Germany to meet with high-ranking officials to thoroughly explain South Korea’s plans and determine how to form bilateral relations, the presidential Blue House said.

Germany will look for alternatives to Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase – Merkel

May 15, 2017


Germany will consider relocation of its troops from Turkey’s airbase Incirlik following a recent refusal by Ankara to allow German MPs to visit soldiers stationed there, says Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“We will continue to talk with Turkey, but in parallel we will have to explore other ways of fulfilling our mandate,” Merkel said. “That means looking at alternatives to Incirlik, and one alternative among others is Jordan.”

Wolfgang Hellmich, chairman of the Parliamentary Defense Committee said that Germany “won’t be blackmailed” by Turkey, which this week denied access for a group of German MPs to visit some 260 soldiers stationed at Incirlik, as cited by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“Therefore it is absolutely right to initiate withdrawal of troops and the relocation to the best possible base [outside Turkey],” Hellmich added. “This must happen now.”

“The concrete preparations … will now be tackled,” he said according to Die Welt.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said Ankara’s decision to ban the visit has been “absolutely inacceptable” and the one that will surely draw consequences.

“In this case, we must think of how it goes further on,” he said.

Germany deployed several Tornado surveillance jets and a refueling plane at the base as part of the US-led campaign against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.

The recent move to block the MPs’ visit came shortly after Berlin’s decision to grant asylum for a number of Turkish Army officers who fled the country after a failed coup attempt last July, which strained relations even further.

Last year, Turkey refused to allow access to the airbase to a German parliamentary delegation. The reason for that was reportedly linked to Germany’s recognition of the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman forces.

Earlier, German media reported that the government considered eight potential locations for the relocation, including bases in neighboring Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus, with Jordan being the best possible option.

On Monday, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Jens Flonsdorf, said the possible withdrawal would affect German anti-IS operations, but refueling planes would still enable combat sorties to be flown from Jordanian bases. The relocation itself may take several months, Flonsdorf said.

Germany says may move soldiers from Turkey if its MPs denied access

May 15, 2017


Germany could move troops now based in Turkey to another country if Ankara persists in denying German lawmakers permission to visit them, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday, highlighting renewed strains between the NATO allies.

Some 250 German troops are stationed at Incirlik air force base, contributing to NATO’s mission targeting Islamist State militants in neighboring Syria. Turkish foreign ministry sources told Reuters a visit by German parliamentarians would not be appropriate at this time, without elaborating.

Turkey similarly refused access to German parliamentarians late last year, though that visit eventually went ahead.

“We will continue to talk with Turkey, but in parallel we will have to explore other ways of fulfilling our mandate,” Merkel told reporters on Monday.

“That means looking at alternatives to Incirlik, and one alternative among others is Jordan,” she said.

A German military survey team will visit Jordan in coming days to look at potential bases there, government sources said. Jordan is the preferred site, although facilities in Cyprus and Kuwait are also possible, they said.

For historic reasons and to prevent abuse of power, the Bundeswehr army is controlled by the German parliament, not the government, meaning that lawmakers have the right to inspect its activities, including outside the country.


A spokesman for the German foreign minister said it was “completely unacceptable” for Turkey to keep members of the parliamentary defense committee from visiting their own soldiers.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel will raise the issue with colleagues from other NATO governments in Washington on Tuesday, the spokesman added.

German and NATO military officials still hope to avert a wider rift with Turkey given the importance of NATO facilities there, including a powerful radar that supports the Aegis Ashore missile defense site in Romania.

Moving the German troops from Incirlik could also result in a two-month interruption in the surveillance flights they are now conducting from the Turkish base, a government source said.

The German military has long planned to invest over 60 million euros to expand housing and equipment at Incirlik, but Turkey has not yet approved the plans.

Relations between Ankara and Berlin deteriorated sharply in the run-up to an April 16 referendum in Turkey on expanding President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.

Citing public safety concerns, Germany banned Turkish politicians from addressing rallies of expatriate Turks, prompting Erdogan to accuse Berlin of “Nazi-like” tactics. A narrow majority of Turks in the referendum backed changing the constitution to grant Erdogan sweeping executive powers.

Germany and other Western allies have voiced concern about what they fear is a drift toward authoritarian rule in Turkey.

Last year Turkey banned German lawmakers from visiting the base for months in response to a resolution in the German parliament declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a genocide, a term Ankara rejects.

(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Thomas Escritt and Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Gareth Jones)


At Arctic Council meeting, hidden tensions over region’s resources

Countries with territories in the far North meet to discuss climate change – and military bases

May 12, 2017

by Timothy Gardner


FAIRBANKS, Alaska, May 12 (Reuters) – As foreign ministers from countries with territory in the far North celebrated an agreement on fighting climate change this week, one topic seethed below the surface: growing competition for Arctic resources and sea lanes as the ice melts.

Russia, one of eight members of the Arctic Council which includes the United States, Canada and the Nordic countries, has been pouring money and missiles into the Arctic as well as reopening and building bases there. This is bringing its Arctic military presence to the highest level since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Although the Arctic Council does not officially consider security issues, the topic was on the minds of policy makers.

Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, told Reuters he briefed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – who hosted Thursday’s Arctic Council meeting – on a Pentagon report on Arctic strategy, portions of which were made public in February, as they flew from Washington to Fairbanks for the summit.

“The Russians are certainly making a play in the Arctic that is doing anything but lowering tensions,” said Sullivan, who had pushed the Pentagon to issue the report.

Recommendations in the report included bolstering the ability of U.S. forces in the Arctic to defend the homeland and exercise sovereignty and strengthening alliances and partnerships in a region awash with natural resources.

U.S. scientists estimate the Arctic contains about one third of the world’s undiscovered but technically recoverable natural gas and 13 percent of its oil of the same category. Oil prices are not high enough now to justify drilling in harsh Arctic waters, only a fraction of which are charted to modern standards. But oil prices change, and last month President Donald Trump issued an executive order to open up Arctic drilling.

Other Arctic resources include rare earth metals, coveted by electric car makers who use them in motor components. The metals are now mostly mined in China.

As sea temperatures rise, fish stocks are moving north, as are fishing boats, because billions of people rely on the food for protein.

In addition to building up its military presence in the Arctic, Russia is also building three icebreakers to add to its fleet of 40 which includes six nuclear-powered ones.

The United States has only one major icebreaker, which is 40 years old, and hopes to complete the first of six new ones by 2023. As sea ice melts due to global warming, sea lanes open, but ice can rapidly freeze over. This makes passage perilous for ships, so icebreakers are important assets.

An annual assessment of worldwide threats released on Thursday by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said competition over Arctic sea routes and resources will include countries already active in the region – but also some others that are not.

The report did not mention China’s interest in the Arctic, but the country is making moves. It became an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013. And in April, news broke that Denmark spurned a offer from a Chinese mining company last year to buy an abandoned naval base in Greenland.


The Arctic is calm compared to many other regions of the world, and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed a lack of tension in the region in addressing the Arctic Council.

“Russia has been doing a lot to ensure that the Arctic develops as a territory of peace, stability and cooperation,” Lavrov said on Thursday. “We are confident that there is no conflict potential in the region.”

Still, Russia’s Arctic fortification is being watched closely by the United States and its allies.

NATO has said in a Strategic Foresight Analysis report that competition for resources could lead to instabilities in the Arctic in coming decades.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said last week at a Washington think-tank that Russia has all of its chess pieces on the board in the Arctic, while the United States only has a few. “We can write great policy, but if you do not have presence to exert sovereignty you are really nothing more than a paper lion,” Zukunft said.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

WannaCry ransomware cyber-attacks slow but fears remain

May 15, 2017

BBC News

A computer malware that has spread across 150 countries appears to be slowing down, with few reports of fresh attacks in Asia and Europe on Monday.

However staff beginning the working week have been told to be careful.

The WannaCry ransomware started taking over users’ files on Friday, demanding $300 (£230) to restore access.

Hundreds of thousands of computers have been affected so far. Computer giant Microsoft said the attack should serve as a wake-up call.

BBC analysis of three accounts linked to the ransom demands suggests only about $38,000 (£29,400) had been paid by Monday morning.

However, the ransomware warning said that the cost would double after three days, so the payments may increase.

It threatens to delete files within seven days if no payment is made.

Among the organisations targeted worldwide have been Germany’s rail network Deutsche Bahn, Spanish telecommunications operator Telefonica, US logistics giant FedEx and Russia’s interior ministry.

How has Monday been so far?

Many firms employed experts over the weekend to try to prevent new infections.

The picture now appears better in Europe.

Senior spokesman for Europol, Jan Op Gen Oorth, told the AFP news agency: “The number of victims appears not to have gone up and so far the situation seems stable in Europe, which is a success.

“It seems that a lot of internet security guys over the weekend did their homework and ran the security software updates.”

UK Health Minister Jeremy Hunt confirmed to the BBC that UK intelligence services had found no evidence of a second wave of attacks on Monday.

The UK’s National Crime Agency earlier tweeted: “We haven’t seen a second spike in WannaCry ransomware attacks, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one.”

The badly affected National Health Service said seven out of 47 trusts that were hit were still facing serious issues.

French carmaker Renault said its plant in the northern town of Douai would not reopen on Monday as it dealt with the cyber-attack.

In Asia, a significant slowing of the malware was also reported:

  • Australia: Only three small-to-medium sized businesses reported being locked out of their systems
  • South Korea: Only nine ransomware cases. One cinema chain was unable to display trailers
  • Indonesia: Records at two hospital were blocked
  • Japan: Both Nissan and Hitachi reported some units had been affected, but not seriously
  • China: Hundreds of thousands of computers suffered initially, China’s Qihoo tech firm said. Universities, with older systems, particularly badly hit. Some payment systems and government services affected, but less than feared

Banking systems across the region were largely unaffected.

Who is behind the attack?

This won’t take long. Nobody knows. Europol’s Jan Op Gen Oorth said: “A bit early to say… but we are working on a decrypting tool”.

Associated Press quoted Tim Wellsmore, of US security firm FireEye, as saying: “We expect this is a small operation… They just happened to hit the mother lode.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “Russia has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

Should people pay?

Companies in Asia and Europe have been warning employees to be careful when clicking on attachments and links in their emails.

The message from the UK’s National Crime Agency was “do not pay!” – there is no guarantee that systems will be restored.

Michael Gazeley, of Network Box, a Hong Kong-based cyber-security firm, told Reuters there were still “many ‘landmines’ waiting in people’s inboxes”, adding that his firm had detected a new version that infected users directly via a malicious link on hacked websites.

Becky Pinkard, from Digital Shadows, a UK-based cyber-security firm, also said it would be easy for the initial attackers or “copy-cat authors” to change the virus code so it is difficult to guard against.

A UK security researcher known as “MalwareTech”, who helped to limit the ransomware attack, predicted “another one coming… quite likely on Monday”.

MalwareTech, whose name was revealed in UK media to be 22-year-old Marcus Hutchins, was hailed as an “accidental hero” after registering a domain name to track the spread of the virus, which actually ended up halting it.

What’s behind Microsoft’s ‘wake-up call’ warning?

The computing giant says the tool used in this current attack had been developed by the US National Security Agency and was stolen by hackers.

It is highly critical of the way governments store data on software vulnerabilities.

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith said on Sunday: “We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on Wikileaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world.

“An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.”

The organisation also said that many organisations had failed to keep their systems up to date, allowing the virus to spread.

Microsoft said it had released a Windows security update in March to tackle the problem involved in the latest attack, but many users were yet to run it.

Analysis: Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter

There are going to be some tough questions on Monday for those institutions which didn’t do enough to keep their networks secure, as well as the organisations that were best placed to stop it happening in the first place – the NSA and Microsoft.

The NSA keeps a chest of cyber-weapons to itself so it can hit targets, but Microsoft has long argued that this is dangerous. If there is a flaw in Windows, the company said, surely the safest thing to do is to let its team know straight away so it can be fixed.

But then Microsoft also needs to consider what obligation it has to update all users – not just the ones who pay extra for security on older systems.

Updating your computer if you’re an individual is a piece of cake, but for a network the size of Britain’s National Health Service? Tough – time-consuming, expensive and complex.

For a company like Microsoft to say it won’t keep those systems safe unless they shell out more money, then that in itself, I think, is something of a ransom.

Putin: Malware created by intelligence services can backfire on its creators

May 15, 2017


The ransomware that hit computers across the world could backfire on its creators, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Beijing, adding that the implications of the global hack attack need to be discussed on a political level.

The ransomware was apparently developed in the US, Putin said. “Microsoft’s management has made it clear that the virus originated from US intelligence services,” the Russian president stressed.

Putin added that launching cyber-viruses is “lifting a lid” that “could backfire on those who developed and created them,” including intelligence agencies.

The ransomware attack that affected thousands of computers all across the globe should encourage the international community to tackle cybersecurity on “the highest political level,” he added.

Last year, Moscow proposed discussing cybersecurity threats with Washington with the aim of drafting a bilateral agreement, but to no effect. “Unfortunately, they refused our proposal,” Putin said.

“The previous administration told us they were interested in reaching back to this proposal again, but nothing was actually done,” he explained.

Though the attack did not significantly affect Russia’s cyber infrastructure or the systems used by its banks and healthcare facilities, it is an issue of concern, Putin noted.

The outbreak of the virus, dubbed WannaCry, began last Friday. According to some cybersecurity experts, it is based on an NSA-developed tool that was leaked to the public by a group called Shadow Brokers. The virus, which is ravaging computer networks worldwide, encrypts user files and demands a ransom in cryptocurrency Bitcoin to release them.Microsoft, which has criticized the American spy agency for its alleged role in creating the situation, released a patch for its no longer supported Windows XP operating system to prevent computers still running it from being infected. The tech company patched a vulnerability in its newer supported software last month after the leak was made public, but operating systems that were not updated are still vulnerable.

Pyongyang missile test ‘unacceptable’

Putin also commented on the latest missile test by North Korea, calling the move unacceptable.

“I reiterated that we stand strongly against the expansion of the ‘nuclear club,’ including by means of those on the Korean Peninsula, by North Korea,” he said.

“We consider neither nuclear nor missile tests acceptable. We need to return to dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, stop intimidating it and find ways to resolve these problems peacefully.”

Regarding the latest test launch, “it didn’t pose a direct threat to Russia,” Putin said.

North Korea said the Sunday test involved a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile. The nation’s state news agency KCNA said the missile was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and called the test a success.

Kurd contacts in Syria meant to prevent clashes

Putin also explained Russia’s interest in maintaining contacts with Kurdish militias in Syria, saying it was necessary to prevent possible clashes. Turkey, which considers Kurdish fighters a threat to its national security, has criticized other nations, including Russia and the US, for any move that could help the Kurds.

“The Kurdish factor has a real impact on the situation in Syria. Kurdish forces are taking part in the fight against the so-called Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] and are among the more capable in the field. That’s why we consider ourselves right to keep working contacts with them, if nothing else then to prevent possible clashes and risks to our service members,” he said.

Putin added that he had discussed Moscow’s position with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the latter’s visit to the Russian city of Sochi.

“I don’t think there is any reason for our Turkish partners to be concerned. We are in contact with them, our position is in the open, and I hope our Turkish partners understand it,” Putin explained.

He added that unlike the US, Russia does not supply arms to the Kurds.

“That’s what I told [President Erdogan] and I can tell you publicly, no secret about it. Unlike other nations, we don’t announce arms supply to Kurdish forces, and it’s not like they need our supplies. They have other sources to get arms from,” Putin remarked.


They hate the US government, and they’re multiplying: the terrifying rise of ‘sovereign citizens’

While US counter-terrorism efforts remain locked on Islamist extremism, the growing threat from homegrown, rightwing extremists is even more pressing

May 15, 2017

by Oliver Conroy

The Guardian

On 20 May 2010, a police officer pulled over a white Ohio minivan on Interstate 40, near West Memphis, Arkansas. Unbeknown to officer Bill Evans, the occupants of the car, Jerry Kane Jr, and his teenage son, Joseph Kane, were self-described “sovereign citizens”: members of a growing domestic extremist movement whose adherents reject the authority of federal, state and local law.

Kane, who traveled the country giving instructional seminars on debt evasion, had been posing as a pastor. Religious literature was laid out conspicuously for anyone who might peer into the van, and, when Evans ran the van’s plates, they came back registered to the House of God’s Prayer, an Ohio church. Also in the van, though Evans did not know it, were weapons Kane had bought at a Nevada gun show only days earlier.

Kane had been in a series of run-ins with law enforcement. After the most recent incident, a month earlier, he had decided that the next time a law enforcement officer bothered him would be the last.

Another officer patrolling nearby, Sergeant Brandon Paudert, began to wonder why Evans was taking so long on a routine traffic stop. When he pulled up at the scene, he saw Evans and Kane speaking on the side of the highway. Evans handed him some puzzling paperwork that Kane had provided when asked for identification – vaguely official-looking documents filled with cryptic language. He examined the papers while Evans prepared to frisk Kane.

Suddenly, Jerry Kane turned and tackled Evans, knocking him down into a ditch. The younger Kane vaulted from the passenger side of the minivan and opened fire with an AK-47. Evans, an experienced officer who also served on the Swat team, was fatally wounded before he even drew his weapon. Paudert was struck down moments later while returning fire.

As the two officers bled out on the side of the highway, the Kanes jumped back in their van and sped off. A FedEx trucker who witnessed the shooting called 911.

The Kanes’ ideological beliefs – which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) believes are shared by “well into the tens of thousands” of Americans – put them under the broad umbrella of the patriot movement, a spectrum of groups who believe the US government has become a totalitarian and repressive force.

Although the Trump administration is reportedly planning to restructure the Department of Homeland Security’s countering violent extremism (CVE) program to focus exclusively on radical Islam, a 2014 national survey of 175 law enforcement agencies ranked sovereign citizens, not Islamic terrorists, as the most pressing terrorist threat. The survey ranked Islamic terrorists a close second, with the following top three threats all domestic in origin and sometimes overlapping: the militia movement, racist skinheads, the neo-Nazi movement.

Though the federal CVE program already devotes almost the entirety of its resources to organizations combatting jihadism, the White House feels that the current name is “needlessly ‘politically correct’”, an anonymous government source told CNN.

Officer Paudert’s father – who also happened to be West Memphis chief of police – was driving home with his wife when he heard chatter on the police scanner about an officer-down situation on the interstate.

He headed to the scene, assuming a state trooper had been attacked. He then saw a figure in uniform sprawled at the bottom of the embankment. It was Bill Evans, his gun still locked in its holster.

Paudert then saw another body lying on the asphalt behind the vehicles. One of his officers tried to block him from going further. “Please,” he pleaded, “don’t go around there.” Paudert shoved him aside. As he came around the corner he saw his son, Brandon. Part of his head had been blown off. His arm was outstretched and his pistol still clutched in his hand.

Images of his son as a child, growing up, flooded through his mind. Then he saw his wife, who had been waiting in the car, coming toward him. He moved to stop her. “Is it Brandon?” she asked. “Yes, it is,” he said. “Is he OK?” she asked. “No,” he said, and she broke down.

Sergeant Paudert died at the scene. He had been shot 14 times, and officer Bill Evans, who died at the hospital, had been hit 11 times, suggesting that Joseph Kane shot them again after they were already on the ground, wounded.

Both officers had been wearing ballistic vests, which the rifle rounds from 16-year-old Joseph Kane’s AK-47 punched through as if cloth.

The Kanes’ minivan was spotted 90 minutes later in a Walmart parking lot. Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies closed in. A shootout erupted. The Kanes managed to wound two more law enforcement officers before they were killed.

Cop killers and rightwing extremism: an overlap

In 2009, Daryl Johnson, a career federal intelligence analyst, wrote a report predicting a resurgence of what he called “rightwing extremism”.

Republicans were enraged by what they saw as politically motivated alarmism conflating nonviolent conservative and libertarian groups with terrorists, and especially angry at the report’s prediction that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans would be targets for recruitment by extremist groups.

Johnson defended the report’s conclusions as the product of reasoned and nonpartisan analysis. An Eagle Scout and registered Republican raised in a conservative Mormon family, he says he was particularly perplexed by the accusation that he was guilty of an anti-conservative agenda. But then-secretary of homeland security Janet Napolitano, bowing to political pressure, disclaimed the report and ordered Johnson’s team dissolved. Johnson left government and started a private consultancy.

The eight years since seem to have borne out Johnson’s prediction. The year he left government, 2010, there was a suicide plane attack on the IRS building in Austin; then came a series of other incidents including the 2012 shooting of the Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the 2015 shooting of the Emanuel AME black church in Charleston.

According to data from the Anti-Defamation League, at least 45 police officers have been killed by domestic extremists since 2001. Of these, 10 were killed by leftwing extremists, 34 by rightwing extremists, and one by homegrown Islamist extremists.

In 2009, a man with white supremacist and anti-government views shot five police officers in Pittsburgh, three fatally.

In 2012, self-described sovereign citizens shot four sheriff’s deputies, two fatally, in St John the Baptist, a Louisiana parish.

In 2014, two Las Vegas police officers eating lunch were executed by a husband-and-wife pair inspired by the “Patriot” movement; the couple were killed by police before following through on their plan to take over a courthouse to execute public officials.

The same year, survivalist Eric Frein ambushed a Pennsylvania state police barracks, assassinating one state trooper and wounding another, then led law enforcement on a 48-day manhunt.

In 2016, a marine veteran turned sovereign citizen killed three law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge and wounded three others.

Daryl Johnson and other terrorism experts worry that a generation of people who came of age in the shadow of 9/11 may not understand that historically, most terror attacks in the US have been domestic in origin.

In fact, a 2016 report by the US Government Accountability Office noted that “of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far-rightwing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73%) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27%).” (The report counts the 15 Beltway sniper shootings in 2002 as radical Islamist attacks, though the perpetrators’ motivations are debated.)

“There are a lot of people – millennials – who have no idea of Oklahoma City and what happened there in 1995,” Johnson told me.

The Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people, including 19 children, was widely assumed to be related to Middle Eastern terrorism, but the perpetrator turned out to be someone quintessentially middle American: a white Gulf war veteran, Timothy McVeigh, who used his military knowledge to build a massive truck bomb out of commercial fertilizer. He and collaborator Terry Nichols – who described himself as a sovereign citizen – saw the attack as the opening gambit in an armed revolt against a dictatorial and globalist federal government.

More specifically, the bombing was conceived as payback for two federal law enforcement operations that had become cultural flashpoints for the American far right: the incidents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, where fundamentalist Vicki Weaver was infamously killed by an FBI sniper’s bullet while holding her baby, and Waco, Texas, in 1993, where federal agents negotiated a 51-day standoff with the Branch Davidian cult that only ended when most of the Davidians died in a horrific fire.

An explosion in activity by far-right militias since the 1980s

Partly as a consequence of the 1980s farm crisis, which left American farmers with crippling levels of debt, the 1990s saw an explosion in activity by far-right militias and fringe political and religious groups.

Gary Noesner, a retired FBI agent who served as the chief hostage negotiator during Ruby Ridge and Waco, as well as an 81-day standoff with the sovereign citizen-influenced Montana Freemen in 1996 and the response to a barricade-kidnapping by the Republic of Texas militia group in 1997, sees numerous parallels between the political climate then and now.

“Many of [the people attracted to such movements] are guys my age, middle-aged white guys. They’re seeing profound change and seeing that they have been left behind by the economic success of others and they want to return to a never-existent idyllic age when everyone was happy and everyone was white and everyone was self-sufficient.”

Thanks to the standoff between the Bundy family and the federal government, as well as the headline-grabbing 2014 occupation of the Malheur wildlife preserve in Oregon, the previously dormant militia movement has recently exploded in popularity.

Militia members are not necessarily sovereign citizens, but their beliefs are intertwined. Today’s sovereign citizen movement can be traced in part to two popular patriot ideologies: the Posse Comitatus movement, built around the theory that elected county sheriffs are the highest legitimate law officers, and the Freemen-on-the-land movement, a fringe ideology whose adherents believe themselves subject only to their own convoluted, conspiratorial, and selective interpretation of common law.

There was significant overlap between the patriot movement and white nationalism. One of the movement’s foundational texts was The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel by white supremacist William Luther Pierce that describes a near future in which a small group of patriots fighting the extinction of the white race work to bring about a race war and the eventual genocide of non-white peoples.

McVeigh, who considered the book a blueprint for the coming revolution, was carrying an excerpt when he was arrested, although he later said he did not agree with the book’s racial content.

At the time, the Oklahoma City bombing actually appeared to spell the end of the militia movement: it led to a law enforcement crackdown and an evaporation of public sympathy for the radical right. McVeigh, unrepentant to the end, was executed in 2001, three months to the day before 9/11 made domestic terrorism a distant memory.

The rise of sovereign citizens is linked to home foreclosures

Today, the face of domestic terror looks different from in McVeigh’s day – sometimes literally. Some extremists – like Jerry Kane, who was an unemployed truck driver – still fit roughly into the American popular image: blue-collar white men hiding in the woods and training for doomsday. But many do not. Not all, for example, are people on the economic margins. In 2012 Christopher Lacy, a software engineer with sovereign beliefs who had started a new job only a week earlier, shot a California state trooper in the head during a routine traffic stop.

Furthermore, not all sovereign citizens are white – like Gavin Long, the black sovereign who killed three law enforcement officers in Louisiana last year. An increasing number of black Americans are coming to the sovereign movement from the Moorish Science Temple, a black Muslim church that believes African Americans are the descendants of ancient Moors.

Experts believe white nationalism has waned in influence on some elements of the radical right, opening the movement to anyone enthusiastically anti-government and anti-law enforcement.

“This is no longer a white supremacist movement,” said JJ MacNab, an expert on sovereign citizens and militias and the author of the forthcoming book The Seditionists: Inside the Explosive World of Anti-Government Extremism in America.

“There is still racism and bigotry,” she said. “Some of this is situational. If there are two members of your 12-person militia who are black, who are conservatives, military veterans, whatever – they are your brothers. You would kill for them and you would die for them. But two black guys in Ferguson, on the other side of the political spectrum – if there is a hierarchy of hatred, they are as low as you can get, lower than animals.”

“Their only agenda is they are anti-government,” Bob Paudert, the former West Memphis police chief, said. Paudert believes that in some ways the sovereign citizens are better understood as an extreme left or anarchist movement than an extreme right movement.

“I call them right-wing anarchists,” said Joanna Mendelson, senior investigative researcher and director of special projects at the ADL. “So perhaps it is almost a full circle, if you have that continuum.”

“The sovereign citizens really got big in the late 2000s because people were losing their houses to foreclosure,” MacNab said. Many are house-squatters, either because of foreclosure or because they are preying on others who did vacate their houses. Financial crime is rampant among sovereign citizens, who are also well-known for harassing their enemies with fraudulent liens. “There are a lot of people scamming each other.”

A generational change is taking place as the anti-government movement attracts younger people. Many come from a cluster of amorphous internet communities, MacNab noted, including far-right trolls, the hacking collective Anonymous, and Copwatch, whose supporters upload critical videos of police on YouTube.

Younger and older sovereigns get an overwhelming share of their news from Infowars, the media channel of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and Russia Today, the propaganda network known for pushing negative stories about the American government.

Repeating the cycle

To the knowledge of Daryl Johnson, the former Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst, there are no longer any DHS analysts monitoring domestic terrorism full time. (When asked about it, a DHS representative said “this is a question for the FBI.”)

“The FBI is the only US government agency that still has full-time analysts assessing threats from the far right,” Johnson said, “and their analytical cadre could be measured in the dozens.”

The FBI declined to comment. An FBI press officer noted that holding extremist opinions is not a crime, and the FBI only investigates people suspected of breaking federal law.

In the meantime, renaming CVE to only focus on radical Islam will merely further “alienate Muslims – justify their fears, and reinforce them as well”, Daryl Johnson believes.

Among some of the anti-government groups MacNab tracks, Trump has enjoyed something of a honeymoon since the election, she said. But she believes that it won’t last: when they realize Trump is not the panacea they thought he was, they will feel used, and turn against him.

Extremist sentiment follows certain historical patterns, according to MacNab; the last cycle moved through a series of specific manifestations – tax resistance, sovereign ideology, the militia era – before ending with Oklahoma City.

“We are now repeating that cycle,” MacNab said, and getting near the end.

U.S. top court rejects bid to revive North Carolina voting law

May 15, 2017

by Lawrence Hurley


WASHINGTON-The U.S. Supreme Court put the final nail in the coffin of North Carolina’s strict voter-identification law on Monday, rejecting a Republican bid to revive the measure struck down by a lower court for intentionally aiming to suppress black voter turnout.

The justices left in place a July 2016 ruling by the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that voided the law passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by a Republican governor.

The appeals court found that the North Carolina law’s provisions “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” concluding that the Republican-led legislature enacted the measure “with discriminatory intent.”

The justices’ decision to reject the appeal sets no legal precedent and does not necessarily mean the conservative-leaning court would not endorse such laws in future. Nevertheless, civil rights groups hailed it as a significant victory.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the 4th Circuit’s ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy and elections. This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race,” said Allison Riggs, senior staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the groups that challenged the law.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a two-page statement indicating the move not to hear the case should not be interpreted as saying anything about the merits of the law, noting that one reason for not hearing it was a dispute over who represented the state.

The state’s new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, and its Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein, had told the justices they wanted to drop the state’s appeal of the 4th Circuit ruling. But the Republican-led state legislature said it should be able to intervene in the case to defend the law. The appeal was filed by Cooper’s predecessor, Republican Pat McCrory, before the Democrat took office in January.


Roberts in his statement cited a “blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law.” Roberts noted that a refusal to hear an appeal says nothing about how the court views the merits of a particular legal issue.

The North Carolina law required that certain forms of government-issued photo identification cards be presented by voters, allowing for example driver’s licenses, passports and military identification cards but not public assistance cards used disproportionately by minorities in North Carolina. Other provisions included cutting early voting days and ending same-day voter registration.

The law, one of a number of similar statutes passed by Republican-controlled states, was opposed by civil rights groups, including the state chapter of the NAACP, as well as Democrats.

Republicans have said the laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats have said the laws are voter suppression measures intended to make it harder for groups that tend to back Democratic candidates, including black and Hispanic voters, to cast ballots.

Cooper welcomed the court’s decision not to hear the case.

“Today’s announcement is good news for North Carolina voters. We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder,” the governor said in a statement.

The NAACP and individual voters sued to block the law, arguing it disproportionately burdened black and Hispanic voters, who are more likely than white voters to lack acceptable forms of identification.

North Carolina passed the law weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June 2013 to eliminate a requirement that states with a history of discrimination receive federal approval before changing election laws.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)


Comey willing to testify, but only in public: report

May 13, 3017

by Alicia Cohn

The Hill

James Comey is willing to speak to Congress following his sudden dismissal as head of the FBI earlier this week, but he wants the testimony to be public, according to a new report.

Comey declined an invitation to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed door session next week.

However, The New York Times reports that Comey is willing to speak if it’s a public hearing.

Comey was the face of the FBI throughout the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged coordination with President Trump’s campaign. He was fired by Trump on Tuesday in a surprise move that sparked criticism and confusion throughout Washington.

“He was not doing a good job,” Trump said Wednesday when asked why he fired Comey. “Very simply, he was not doing a good job.”

If he testifies, Comey is likely to face questions from the committee about both the Russia probe and the timing of his unexpected removal from the office.


Obama’s Deportation Policy Was Even Worse Than We Thought

May 15 2017

by Leighton Akio Woodhouse

The Intercept

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement imprisons more than 10,000 parents of American citizens in California each year, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch.

The report, entitled “I Still Need You,” analyzes the impact of immigration enforcement policy on immigrant families in California and finds that parents with U.S. citizen children were more likely to be deported from detention rather than released. The report also finds that from January 2011 to June 2015 nearly half of the immigrants detained in California had no criminal history, findings that directly contradict claims President Obama made about his immigration enforcement policy at that time. Under President Trump, the report’s authors believe, the trends suggested by the data have likely become even more pronounced.

In 2014, Obama announced a new immigration enforcement policy known informally as “felons, not families,” which purported to prioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants with serious criminal histories and avoid separating families. But as the Marshall Project has shown, less than a fifth of the immigrants deported nationwide under the policy had been convicted of violent or potentially violent crimes. More than 40 percent had no criminal convictions whatsoever.

An even higher proportion — 47 percent — of immigrants detained by ICE in California from October 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 had no criminal history, according to Human Rights Watch’s review. (The data showed criminal history only for this shorter period of the overall time span.) The report estimates that only 9 percent were convicted of a violent felony.

“Instead of focusing on violent criminals, U.S. immigration policy has ripped apart American families and communities through the deportation of large numbers of lawful residents and undocumented immigrants with less serious criminal histories,” the report argues.

Human Rights Watch also estimates that 42 percent of the immigrants ICE detained in California over that time period were parents of U.S. citizen children. After being detained, parents of American citizens were more likely than others to be deported. Close to 47 percent of those who were deported had a child with U.S. citizenship, versus 35 percent of those who were released.

Together, the figures indicate that contrary to Obama’s avowed policy, a huge part of ICE’s enforcement efforts resulted in the separation of families, and a much smaller portion went toward deporting people who posed legitimate public safety threats.

The long-term consequences of the vast number of families shattered by this indiscriminate deportation regime are difficult to measure but disturbing to contemplate. “One of the things that’s important to understand is the ripple effects when someone is deported from the U.S., on our schools, in dependency on the foster care system, the juvenile delinquency system,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles. “For so many kids that pain and trauma stunts their growth and development. Also, the deported parent is often the primary breadwinner. It throws a curveball into their lives.”

Under the Trump administration, it’s likely that the figures cited by Human Rights Watch have become even more lopsided, though data is not yet available to reach a definitive conclusion.

Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to mass deport undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, a population he claimed to number 2-3 million. That figure has been widely debunked. In order to meet this ambitious goal, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued two memoranda that jettisoned Obama’s “felons, not families” approach and made nearly every undocumented immigrant in the country subject to priority deportation.

Since the Kelly memoranda were issued, ICE has engaged in high profile arrests of immigrants with negligible criminal histories and with strong family and community ties.

“It’s too soon to know for sure but if the policies stated in the memo were fully enforced, the numbers of detained parents would certainly increase,” Clara Long, a Human Rights Watch lawyer and a co-author of the report, wrote in an email. “Trump’s policy essentially makes everyone a priority whereas Obama’s specifically weighed the impact of deportation on U.S. citizen children.”

Pro-immigrant elected officials in California have responded to the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement regime by passing laws to prohibit state and local government agencies from collaborating with ICE, and establishing legal defense funds for undocumented immigrants in removal proceedings.

In Los Angeles County, whose metropolitan region is home to nearly 10 percent of the country’s undocumented immigrant population, a $10 million “L.A. Justice Fund” is in the process of being established to provide attorneys to deportation defendants who cannot afford them (unlike in criminal courts, under federal law legal counsel is not guaranteed in immigration proceedings). Some city and county officials, led by former Obama administration labor secretary and current Los Angeles County supervisor Hilda Solis, have been pushing to exclude people with certain felony convictions from eligibility for the fund. They have faced strong resistance from immigrant rights activists who favor “universal representation,” arguing that every deportation defendant regardless of background deserves due process under the law, which is only possible with legal representation.

“You’re five times more likely to not be deported with a lawyer fighting for you while you’re in detention,” said Toczylowski. “The L.A. Justice Fund means fewer families will be broken up in L.A. County; fewer children will suffer the trauma of having their parents deported.”


Power messages from the past: The Antarctic message

May 15, 2017

by Rolf Hosenbrummer, PhD

The Sneed Institute

Further excavations under the Antarctic ice cap by Dr. Elkham Tuchess of the Iceland Scientific Institute, has revealed an extensive network of roads, toll-bridges, truck-stops and fast food restaurants frozen in the ice.

The giant penguins who occupied the huge city were probably killed off by the sudden freezing of the continent eons ago. Teams of scientists believe this freezing was caused by bursts of energy from the planet Pluto, caused by eruptions of giant volcanos. These, coupled with an eruption of sun spots from the sun of our own system caused instant freezing.

Although many written tablets have been found, scientists at Yale University have not yet managed to break them. “It’s a lot  like Liniar A” said one professor, “and now we are going to submit this to the NSA who are used to breaking all kinds of email codes.”


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