TBR News May 16, 2017

May 16 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. May 16, 2017: “Official Washington leaks like a rotten garden hose.

At luncheons, cocktail parties, gyms, family gatherings, the most sensitive of official secrets are blabbed about, sounding like a chorus of drunken ducks.

It isn’t necessary for a curious foreign government to learn anything they wish about American political, intelligence and military activity by tapping into the official computer systems.

They only need to spend time inside the Beltway to learn anything they want. And, for instance, at the Cosmos Club on Massachusetts Avenue, the lobby and the dining rooms sound like meetings of top level security personnel.

While I was waiting for my host to take me to lunch there yesterday, I sat in the lobby and heard conversations about a CIA operation in Germany using their extensive contacts in the BND and a few minutes later, two men were sitting in the neighborhood of my arm chair and discussing  the methodology of dealing with North Korea.

One was a proclaimed senior official at the Department of State and the other worked in the Trump White House.

Most of these creatures suffer from mental constipation but manifest verbal diarrhea to an astonishing degree.”

Table of Contents

  • As cyberattacks slow, potential North Korea links emerge
  • WannaCry ransomware shares code with North Korea-linked malware – researchers
  • A Murderous History of Korea
  • North Korea renews accusation of CIA assassination plot
  • How Did Russiagate Start?
  • Trump, in tweets, defends his sharing of information with Russians
  • Iraq says 90 percent of west Mosul recaptured from ‘Islamic State’
  • Selling More Weapons to the Reckless Saudis
  • Deadly rhetoric: Saudi Arabia opens war of words with Iran
  • Facebook promised to tackle fake news. But the evidence shows it’s not working
  • US teen died after drinking caffeine too quickly, coroner says

 As cyberattacks slow, potential North Korea links emerge

Cybersecurity experts have detected similarities between the ransomware used in the recent global attacks and earlier code from a North Korean hacking ring.

May 16, 2017


As the computer infection rate from last week’s “WannaCry” ransomware virus slowed on Monday, defying predictions of a second surge, researchers from various technology and cybersecurity firms confirmed indications that could potentially trace the attack to the North Korean-based Lazarus group.

Google researcher Neel Mehta was the first to publicize the similar sections of code shared by the “WannaCry” malware that infected around 300,000 computers across 150 countries and a previous hacking operation allegedly undertaken by Lazarus in 2015.

Other security labs quickly followed up on the Google cybersecurity researcher’s findings. The Israeli-based cybersecurity firm Intezer Labs expressed its conviction that the “WannaCry” attack could be traced to Lazarus, though they did not expand on the proof behind their certainty.

In contrast, Russia-based firm Kaspersky Lab took a more cautious tone.

Costin Raiu, Kaspersky’s director of global research and analysis, tweeted screenshots of the overlapping sections of code found by Mehta and also published a link to an analysis of the similarities on the lab’s official blog, Securelist.

In its analysis, Kaspersky called Mehta’s discovery “the most significant clue to date” in relation to uncovering the origins of the ransomware. But the firm simultaneously called for global investigations to “discover more facts about the origin of ‘WannaCry.'”

“Further research can be crucial to connecting the dots,” its experts wrote.

Hackers often lift code from other operations, meaning that similar or even small identical sections of code do not necessarily indicate shared origins.

“The similarities we see between malware linked to that group and ‘WannaCry’ are not unique enough to be strongly suggestive of a common operator,” John Miller, a researcher at FireEye cybersecurity firm, pointed out.

The Lazarus hackers have been traced to various cyberattacks including the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank in 2016 and a 2014 attack on Sony Pictures.

WannaCry ransomware shares code with North Korea-linked malware – researchers

May 16, 2017


The source for WannaCry ransomware, which has spread to 150 countries, may be Pyongyang or those trying to frame it, security analysts say, pointing to code similarities between the virus and a malware attributed to alleged hackers from North Korea.

The speculation over a North Korean connection arose Monday, after the well-known Google security researcher Neel Mehta revealed a resemblance between the code used in what is said to be an early version of WannaCry ransomware and that in a hacker tool attributed to the notorious Lazarus Group in a Twitter post.

Containing what might look like a random set of figures and letters to an outsider accompanied by the hashtag #WannaCryptAttribution, the post has immediately drawn attention of cybersecurity experts and has been since extensively shared. Shedding light on the otherwise cryptic message, Kaspersky Lab explained in a blog post that Mehta drew parallels between “a WannaCry cryptor sample from February 2017” and “a Lazarus APT [Advanced Persistent Threat] group sample from February 2015.”

Labelling Mehta’s revelation “the most significant clue to date regarding the origins of WannaCry,” Kaspersky researches at the same time acknowledged that the apparent use by the WannaCry attackers of the similar code is not enough to come to definitive conclusions about its origin, as there is a possibility of it being a false flag operation and more international effort is necessary to unearth its roots.

“It’s important that other researchers around the world investigate these similarities,” the post reads.

At the same time, they said there is little doubt that February 2017 code, referenced by Mehta, “was compiled by the same people, or by people with access to the same source code” as the current spree of attacks.

Another renowned researcher, Matthieu Suiche from Comae Technologies, also said on Twitter that the discovered code similarities might have put security experts on the trail of the hackers.

“WannaCry and this [program] attributed to Lazarus are sharing code that’s unique. This group might be behind WannaCry also,” Suiche said, as cited by Wired.

However, he agreed with Kaspersky researchers that it would be wrong to rush to pin the blame on North Korea, based on these assumptions.

“Attribution can always be faked, as it’s only a matter of moving bytes around,” Suiche said, as cited by Cyberscoop.

Meanwhile, American security giant Symantec voiced a similar opinion in a statement Monday. Saying that it had discovered a code used in the malware that “historically was unique to Lazarus tools,” the company refused to speculate on North Korea’s role in the attack.

“We have not yet been able to confirm the Lazarus tools deployed WannaCry on these systems,” it stressed.

The Lazarus Group is believed to be behind numerous high-profile hacking attacks on banks’ SWIFT servers, including an attempt to steal $851 million from Bangladesh Central Bank last February and is deemed to be responsible for the November 2014 Sony Pictures hack.

While no compelling proof that would implicate North Korea or other state actor in the array of cyber heists has been revealed, some of the evidence uncovered by Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, Kaspersky Lab, last month, appears to support the speculation.

In an April 3 blog post, Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research & Analysis Team said that it had traced some of the IPs used by the Lazarus attackers back to North Korea, thus for the first time establishing “a direct link” between the suspected cyber criminals involved in the Lazarus operations and the rogue state. However, Kaspersky experts then fell short of naming North Korea a culprit, citing lack of evidence.

“Now, is it North Korea behind all the Bluenoroff attacks after all? As researchers, we prefer to provide facts rather than speculations,” they wrote.

The ransomware began its global spread on Friday. Dubbed WannaCry, it exploits vulnerability in the Windows operating system that was first discovered by the National Security Agency (NSA) and was later leaked to public by the hacker group the Shadow Brokers last month, prompting Windows to close the loophole and issued an update. Once the malware infects the system, it sends the user a text file with a ransom demand for some $300 worth of Bitcoins. It also installs a countdown timer on the victim’s wallpaper, demanding to pay the ransom if one does not want private files deleted.

Among the notable victims affected by the virus were the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK, Russia’s Interior Ministry, Spain’s telecommunications company Telefonica and reportedly some Chinese government agencies.

Speaking in Beijing on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the international community to offer a coordinated response to the cybersecurity threats at “the highest political level” and lamented the US’s refusal to discuss the issue with Russia. The Russian leader also cited another theory on the origin of the malware, stating that “Microsoft’s management has made it clear that the virus originated from US intelligence services.”

Meanwhile, cyber security firm Check Point Software Technologies Ltd said that it had discovered and neutralized the updated version of the WannaCry on Monday by successfully initiating what it called a “kill switch” inside the software.

The spread of WannaCry ransomware seems to be well past its peak, the 22-year-old security expert Marcus Hutchins who is in the forefront of the battle against the virus told AP. The attack is “done and dusted” thanks to the accumulated effort of hundreds of specialists over the weekend, he said.


A Murderous History of Korea

by Bruce Cumings

London Review of Books Vol. 39 No. 10 · 18 May 2017

More than four decades ago I went to lunch with a diplomatic historian who, like me, was going through Korea-related documents at the National Archives in Washington. He happened to remark that he sometimes wondered whether the Korean Demilitarised Zone might be ground zero for the end of the world. This April, Kim In-ryong, a North Korean diplomat at the UN, warned of ‘a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment’. A few days later, President Trump told Reuters that ‘we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.’ American atmospheric scientists have shown that even a relatively contained nuclear war would throw up enough soot and debris to threaten the global population: ‘A regional war between India and Pakistan, for instance, has the potential to dramatically damage Europe, the US and other regions through global ozone loss and climate change.’ How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea.

North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army on 25 April, amid round-the-clock television coverage of parades in Pyongyang and enormous global tension. No journalist seemed interested in asking why it was the 85th anniversary when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was only founded in 1948. What was really being celebrated was the beginning of the Korean guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in north-east China, officially dated to 25 April 1932. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, many Koreans fled across the border, among them the parents of Kim Il-sung, but it wasn’t until Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo in March 1932 that the independence movement turned to armed resistance. Kim and his comrades launched a campaign that lasted 13 difficult years, until Japan finally relinquished control of Korea as part of the 1945 terms of surrender. This is the source of the North Korean leadership’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people: they are revolutionary nationalists who resisted their country’s coloniser; they resisted again when a massive onslaught by the US air force during the Korean War razed all their cities, driving the population to live, work and study in subterranean shelters; they have continued to resist the US ever since; and they even resisted the collapse of Western communism – as of this September, the DPRK will have been in existence for as long as the Soviet Union. But it is less a communist country than a garrison state, unlike any the world has seen. Drawn from a population of just 25 million, the North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world, with 1.3 million soldiers – just behind the third largest army, with 1.4 million soldiers, which happens to be the American one. Most of the adult Korean population, men and women, have spent many years in this army: its reserves are limited only by the size of the population.

The story of Kim Il-sung’s resistance against the Japanese is surrounded by legend and exaggeration in the North, and general denial in the South. But he was recognisably a hero: he fought for a decade in the harshest winter environment imaginable, with temperatures sometimes falling to 50° below zero. Recent scholarship has shown that Koreans made up the vast majority of guerrillas in Manchukuo, even though many of them were commanded by Chinese officers (Kim was a member of the Chinese Communist Party). Other Korean guerrillas led detachments too – among them Choe Yong-gon, Kim Chaek and Choe Hyon – and when they returned to Pyongyang in 1945 they formed the core of the new regime. Their offspring now constitute a multitudinous elite – the number two man in the government today, Choe Ryong-hae, is Choe Hyon’s son.

Kim’s reputation was inadvertently enhanced by the Japanese, whose newspapers made a splash of the battle between him and the Korean quislings whom the Japanese employed to track down and kill him, all operating under the command of General Nozoe Shotoku, who ran the Imperial Army’s ‘Special Kim Division’. In April 1940 Nozoe’s forces captured Kim Hye-sun, thought to be Kim’s first wife; the Japanese tried in vain to use her to lure Kim out of hiding, and then murdered her. Maeda Takashi headed another Japanese Special Police unit, with many Koreans in it; in March 1940 his forces came under attack from Kim’s guerrillas, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. Maeda pursued Kim for nearly two weeks, before stumbling into a trap. Kim threw 250 guerrillas at 150 soldiers in Maeda’s unit, killing Maeda, 58 Japanese, 17 others attached to the force, and taking 13 prisoners and large quantities of weapons and ammunition.

In September 1939, when Hitler was invading Poland, the Japanese mobilised what the scholar Dae-Sook Suh has described as a ‘massive punitive expedition’ consisting of six battalions of the Japanese Kwantung Army and twenty thousand men of the Manchurian Army and police force in a six-month suppression campaign against the guerrillas led by Kim and Ch’oe Hyon. In September 1940 an even larger force embarked on a counterinsurgency campaign against Chinese and Korean guerrillas: ‘The punitive operation was conducted for one year and eight months until the end of March 1941,’ Suh writes, ‘and the bandits, excluding those led by Kim Il-sung, were completely annihilated. The bandit leaders were shot to death or forced to submit.’ A vital figure in the long Japanese counterinsurgency effort was Kishi Nobusuke, who made a name for himself running munitions factories. Labelled a Class A war criminal during the US occupation, Kishi avoided incarceration and became one of the founding fathers of postwar Japan and its longtime ruling organ, the Liberal Democratic Party; he was prime minister twice between 1957 and 1960. The current Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo, is Kishi’s grandson and reveres him above all other Japanese leaders. Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Abe on 11 February when a pointed message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: it had just successfully tested a new, solid-fuel missile, fired from a mobile launcher. Kim Il-sung and Kishi are meeting again through their grandsons. Eight decades have passed, and the baleful, irreconcilable hostility between North Korea and Japan still hangs in the air.

In the West, treatment of North Korea is one-sided and ahistorical. No one even gets the names straight. During Abe’s Florida visit, Trump referred to him as ‘Prime Minister Shinzo’. On 29 April, Ana Navarro, a prominent commentator on CNN, said: ‘Little boy Un is a maniac.’ The demonisation of North Korea transcends party lines, drawing on a host of subliminal racist and Orientalist imagery; no one is willing to accept that North Koreans may have valid reasons for not accepting the American definition of reality. Their rejection of the American worldview – generally perceived as indifference, even insolence in the face of overwhelming US power – makes North Korea appear irrational, impossible to control, and therefore fundamentally dangerous.

But if American commentators and politicians are ignorant of Korea’s history, they ought at least to be aware of their own. US involvement in Korea began towards the end of the Second World War, when State Department planners feared that Soviet soldiers, who were entering the northern part of the peninsula, would bring with them as many as thirty thousand Korean guerrillas who had been fighting the Japanese in north-east China. They began to consider a full military occupation that would assure America had the strongest voice in postwar Korean affairs. It might be a short occupation or, as a briefing paper put it, it might be one of ‘considerable duration’; the main point was that no other power should have a role in Korea such that ‘the proportionate strength of the US’ would be reduced to ‘a point where its effectiveness would be weakened’. Congress and the American people knew nothing about this. Several of the planners were Japanophiles who had never challenged Japan’s colonial claims in Korea and now hoped to reconstruct a peaceable and amenable postwar Japan. They worried that a Soviet occupation of Korea would thwart that goal and harm the postwar security of the Pacific. Following this logic, on the day after Nagasaki was obliterated, John J. McCloy of the War Department asked Dean Rusk and a colleague to go into a spare office and think about how to divide Korea. They chose the 38th parallel, and three weeks later 25,000 American combat troops entered southern Korea to establish a military government.

It lasted three years. To shore up their occupation, the Americans employed every last hireling of the Japanese they could find, including former officers in the Japanese military like Park Chung Hee and Kim Chae-gyu, both of whom graduated from the American military academy in Seoul in 1946. (After a military takeover in 1961 Park became president of South Korea, lasting a decade and a half until his ex-classmate Kim, by then head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, shot him dead over dinner one night.) After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950. Inside the South itself – whose leaders felt insecure and conscious of the threat from what they called ‘the north wind’ – there was an orgy of state violence against anyone who might somehow be associated with the left or with communism. The historian Hun Joon Kim found that at least 300,000 people were detained and executed or simply disappeared by the South Korean government in the first few months after conventional war began. My own work and that of John Merrill indicates that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people died as a result of political violence before June 1950, at the hands either of the South Korean government or the US occupation forces. In her recent book Korea’s Grievous War, which combines archival research, records of mass graves and interviews with relatives of the dead and escapees who fled to Osaka, Su-kyoung Hwang documents the mass killings in villages around the southern coast.​* In short, the Republic of Korea was one of the bloodiest dictatorships of the early Cold War period; many of the perpetrators of the massacres had served the Japanese in their dirty work – and were then put back into power by the Americans.

Americans like to see themselves as mere bystanders in postwar Korean history. It’s always described in the passive voice: ‘Korea was divided in 1945,’ with no mention of the fact that McCloy and Rusk, two of the most influential men in postwar foreign policy, drew their line without consulting anyone. There were two military coups in the South while the US had operational control of the Korean army, in 1961 and 1980; the Americans stood idly by lest they be accused of interfering in Korean politics. South Korea’s stable democracy and vibrant economy from 1988 onwards seem to have overridden any need to acknowledge the previous forty years of history, during which the North could reasonably claim that its own autocracy was necessary to counter military rule in Seoul. It’s only in the present context that the North looks at best like a walking anachronism, at worst like a vicious tyranny. For 25 years now the world has been treated to scaremongering about North Korean nuclear weapons, but hardly anyone points out that it was the US that introduced nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula, in 1958; hundreds were kept there until a worldwide pullback of tactical nukes occurred under George H.W. Bush. But every US administration since 1991 has challenged North Korea with frequent flights of nuclear-capable bombers in South Korean airspace, and any day of the week an Ohio-class submarine could demolish the North in a few hours. Today there are 28,000 US troops stationed in Korea, perpetuating an unwinnable stand-off with the nuclear-capable North. The occupation did indeed turn out to be one of ‘considerable duration’, but it’s also the result of a colossal strategic failure, now entering its eighth decade. It’s common for pundits to say that Washington just can’t take North Korea seriously, but North Korea has taken its measure more than once. And it doesn’t know how to respond.

To hear Trump and his national security team tell it, the current crisis has come about because North Korea is on the verge of developing an ICBM that can hit the American heartland. Most experts think that it will take four or five years to become operational – but really, what difference does it make? North Korea tested its first long-range rocket in 1998, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the DPRK’s founding. The first medium-range missile was tested in 1992: it flew several hundred miles down range and banged the target right on the nose. North Korea now has more sophisticated mobile medium-range missiles that use solid fuel, making them hard to locate and easy to fire. Some two hundred million people in Korea and Japan are within range of these missiles, not to mention hundreds of millions of Chinese, not to mention the only US Marine division permanently stationed abroad, in Okinawa. It isn’t clear that North Korea can actually fit a nuclear warhead to any of its missiles – but if it happened, and if it was fired in anger, the country would immediately be turned into what Colin Powell memorably called ‘a charcoal briquette’.

But then, as General Powell well knew, we had already turned North Korea into a charcoal briquette. The filmmaker Chris Marker visited the country in 1957, four years after US carpet-bombing ended, and wrote: ‘Extermination passed over this land. Who could count what burned with the houses? … When a country is split in two by an artificial border and irreconcilable propaganda is exercised on each side, it’s naive to ask where the war comes from: the border is the war.’ Having recognised the primary truth of that war, one still alien to the American telling of it (even though Americans drew the border), he remarked: ‘The idea that North Koreans generally have of Americans may be strange, but I must say, having lived in the USA around the end of the Korean War, that nothing can equal the stupidity and sadism of the combat imagery that went into circulation at the time. “The Reds burn, roast and toast.”’

Since the very beginning, American policy has cycled through a menu of options to try and control the DPRK: sanctions, in place since 1950, with no evidence of positive results; non-recognition, in place since 1948, again with no positive results; regime change, attempted late in 1950 when US forces invaded the North, only to end up in a war with China; and direct talks, the only method that has ever worked, which produced an eight-year freeze – between 1994 and 2002 – on all the North’s plutonium facilities, and nearly succeeded in retiring their missiles. On 1 May, Donald Trump told Bloomberg News: ‘If it would be appropriate for me to meet with [Kim Jong-un], I would absolutely; I would be honoured to do it.’ There’s no telling whether this was serious, or just another Trump attempt to grab headlines. But whatever else he might be, he is unquestionably a maverick, the first president since 1945 not beholden to the Beltway. Maybe he can sit down with Mr Kim and save the planet.

North Korea renews accusation of CIA assassination plot

May 15, 2017

by Philip Wen


BEIJING-North Korea, increasingly isolated over its repeated weapons tests in violation of UN resolutions, on Monday renewed its accusation of a U.S. and South Korean intelligence plot to assassinate leader Kim Jong Un.

At a media briefing at its embassy in Beijing, North Korea’s ambassador to China said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and South Korean National Intelligence Service conspired “secretly and meticulously” in hatching their plot to use “radioactive or nano-poisonous substances” to assassinate Kim.

“We believe this extreme crime was orchestrated by hostile forces in order to damage North Korea’s domestic affairs,” Ambassador Ji Jae Ryong said.

Earlier this month, Pyongyang accused the two intelligence services of a failed plot to assassinate Kim with a biochemical bomb at a military parade in Pyongyang.

Last week, it demanded that the South hand over its spy chief.

South Korea has said it was unaware of what North Korea was referring to, while the CIA and the White House declined to comment on the May 6 statement from North Korea’s Ministry of State Security.

North Korea launched another ballistic missile on Sunday, which it said was aimed at verifying the capability to carry a “large-scale heavy nuclear warhead”, the latest in a series of tests that has increasingly alarmed its neighbors and raised tensions with the United States.

North Korea is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching the U.S. mainland, though the U.S. military’s Pacific Command said the type of missile fired on Sunday was “not consistent” with an ICBM.

“The test firing of ICBMs will occur at any time and place, at the will of North Korea’s highest leadership,” Ji said.

(Editing by Tony Munroe)

How Did Russiagate Start?

Amid the chaos of James Comey’s firing, new questions about the timeline of his fateful investigation

May 15, 2017

by Matt Tabbi

Rolling Stone

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on This Week Sunday, and said some head-scratching things.

Clapper back in March told Meet the Press that when he issued a January 6th multiagency intelligence community assessment about Russian interference in the election, the report didn’t include evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, essentially saying he hadn’t been aware of any such evidence up through January 20th, his last day in office.

On Sunday, he said that didn’t necessarily mean there was no such evidence, because sometimes he left it up to agency chiefs like former FBI Director James Comey to inform him about certain things.

“I left it to the judgment [of] Director Comey,” Clapper said, “to decide whether, when and what to tell me about counterintelligence investigations.”

Clapper said something similar when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Monday. In prepared remarks, he essentially said that there was nothing odd about his not being informed about the existence of an FBI counterintelligence investigation involving Donald Trump’s campaign.

Speaking generally, Clapper seemed to imply that the Trump-Russia-collusion scandal, the thing colloquially known as #Russiagate all over the world now, may have originated in information gleaned by the intelligence community, who in turn may have tipped off the FBI.

“When the intelligence community obtains information suggesting that a U.S. person is acting on behalf of a foreign power,” he said, “the standard procedure is to share that information with the lead investigatory body, which of course is the FBI.”

He went on, explaining that in such a situation, it wouldn’t be unusual for the DNI to not be informed about an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

“Given its sensitivity,” he said, “even the existence of a counterintelligence investigation’s closely held, including at the highest levels.”

In his Senate testimony, Clapper went out of his way to say this didn’t contradict his earlier statements. But if he’s not contradicting himself, he’s certainly added a layer of confusion to what is already the most confusing political scandal ever.

Back on March 5th, when Clapper gave that interview to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, he sounded definitive on a number of counts.

Todd for instance asked Clapper if he would know if the FBI had a FISA court order for surveillance. Clapper answered unequivocally: “Yes.”

Clapper made it clear that he would have known if there were any kind of surveillance authority against “the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.”

Todd realized this was an important question and re-asked it, to make sure Clapper heard it right.

“You would be told this?” he asked.

“I would know that,” Clapper answered.

Todd asked again: Are you sure? Can you confirm or deny that a FISA warrant exists?

“I can deny it,” Clapper said flatly.

It wasn’t until the fourth time Todd asked the question that Clapper finally added the caveat, “Not to my knowledge.”

Even so, there was no way to listen to the March 5th interview and not come away feeling like Clapper believed he would have known of the existence of a FISA warrant, or of any indications of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, had they existed up until the time he left office on January 20th of this year.

Todd went out of his way to hammer at the question of whether or not he knew of any evidence of collusion. Clapper again said, “Not to my knowledge.” Here Todd appropriately pressed him: If it did exist, would you know?

To this, Clapper merely answered, “This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.”

That’s not an unequivocal “yes,” but it’s close. There’s no way to compare Clapper’s statements on March 5th to his interviews last week and not feel that something significant changed between then and now.

Clapper’s statements seem even stranger in light of James Comey’s own testimony in the House on March 20th.

In that appearance, Comey – who by then had dropped his bombshell about the existence of an investigation into Trump campaign figures – was asked by New York Republican Elise Stefanik when he notified the DNI about his inquiry.

“Good question,” Comey said. “Obviously, the Department of Justice has been aware of it all along. The DNI, I don’t know what the DNI’s knowledge of it was, because we didn’t have a DNI – until Mr. Coats took office and I briefed him his first morning.”

Comey was saying that he hadn’t briefed the DNI because between January 20th, when Clapper left office, and March 16th, when former Indiana senator and now Trump appointee Dan Coats took office, the DNI position was unfilled.

But Comey had said the counterintelligence investigation dated back to July, when he was FBI director under a Democratic president. So what happened between July and January?

If Comey felt the existence of his investigation was so important that he he had to disclose it to DNI Coats on Coats’ first day in office, why didn’t he feel the same need to disclose the existence of an investigation to Clapper at any time between July and January?

Furthermore, how could the FBI participate in a joint assessment about Russian efforts to meddle in American elections and not tell Clapper and the other intelligence chiefs about what would seemingly be a highly germane counterintelligence investigation in that direction?

Again, prior to last week, Clapper had said he would know if there was a FISA warrant issued on this matter. But then on April 11th, law enforcement and government officials leaked – anonymously, as has been the case throughout most of this story – that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant for surveillance of Trump associate Carter Page.

So what’s going on here? In talking to people on the Hill last week, I heard a number of theories.

One interpretation is that the FBI, concerned about operational security, conducted a secret investigation during the last months of Barack Obama’s presidency without informing the likes of Clapper and other agency chiefs.

But why hide your investigation in Obama’s administration, only to tell superiors about it under Trump? Why keep a secret from Clapper and not Coats? Moreover, why hide it from the voting public before the election, but announce it on live TV on March 20th?

Another interpretation is that Clapper was simply not telling the whole truth, either on March 20th or last week. In this version of events, he knew of the FBI investigation all along. More than one person I spoke with found it implausible that Clapper could have been ignorant of any investigation, especially following the issuance of the reported FISA warrant against Page.

But the context of these interviews still makes Clapper dissembling in his March interview a strange and unlikely possibility. Clapper has not been in the habit of doing Trump political favors this season. And if indeed it’s standard practice for a DNI to not know what counterintelligence operations the FBI might be up to, it would have made a lot more sense for Clapper to say that on Meet the Press on March 5th.

Instead, he did Trump a solid by stating unequivocally that there were no FISA warrants out, and that he would have known if there were, adding he had seen no evidence of collusion. Why?

When James Comey was fired last week, I didn’t know what to think, because so much of this story is still hidden from view.

Certainly firing an FBI director who has announced the existence of an investigation targeting your campaign is going to be improper in almost every case. And in his post-firing rants about tapes and loyalty, President Trump validated every criticism of him as an impetuous, unstable, unfit executive who additionally is ignorant of the law and lunges for authoritarian solutions in a crisis.

But it’s our job in the media to be bothered by little details, and the strange timeline of the Trump-Russia investigation qualifies as a conspicuous loose end.

What exactly is the FBI investigating? Why was it kept secret from other intelligence chiefs, if that’s what happened? That matters, if we’re trying to gauge what happened last week.

Is it a FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) case involving former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn or a lower-level knucklehead like Carter Page?

Since FARA is violated more or less daily in Washington and largely ignored by authorities unless it involves someone without political connections (an awful lot of important people in Washington who appear to be making fortunes lobbying for foreign countries are merely engaged in “litigation support,” if you ask them), it would be somewhat anticlimactic to find out that this was the alleged crime underlying our current white-hot constitutional crisis.

Is it something more serious than a FARA case, like money-laundering for instance, involving someone higher up in the Trump campaign? That would indeed be disturbing, and it would surely be improper – possibly even impeachable, depending upon what exactly happened behind the scenes – for Trump to get in the way of such a case playing itself out.

But even a case like that would be very different from espionage and treason. Gutting a money-laundering case involving a campaign staffer would be more like garden-variety corruption than the cloak-and-dagger nightmares currently consuming the popular imagination.

However, let’s say the FBI is actually investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian state. That’s the most serious possibility, and the one exciting so much public dread.

If it’s that, what’s at the heart of that case? Why can’t we be told what’s going on? Operational secrecy would be a believable excuse, were it not for the fact that so much else has been leaked. Intelligence sources even appeared to give up their ability to capture Russian officials celebrating Trump’s election win. If something like that can be leaked, and if even foreign governments can be told about “leverages of pressure” Russia allegedly has on Trump, it stands to reason that the American public should have heard what’s behind the Trump-Russia investigation by now.

Trump easily could have committed some disqualifying act in response to this scandal. The worry about that is why we’ve always needed an independent investigation.

Such an investigation into Trump’s campaign might very well uncover a range of improprieties and shady dealings by some of the campaign “associates” who’ve figured into news reports. This wouldn’t be surprising, I don’t think, even to some of the people in the White House.

But when it comes to the collusion investigation, there are serious questions. A lot of our civil liberties protections and rules of press ethics are designed to prevent exactly this situation, in which a person lingers for extended periods of time under public suspicion without being aware of the exact nature, or origin, of the accusations.

It’s why liberal thinkers have traditionally abhorred secret courts, secret surveillance and secret evidence, and in the past would have reflexively discouraged the news media from printing the unverified or unverifiable charges emanating from such secret sources. But because it’s Donald Trump, no one seems to care.

We should care. The uncertainty has led to widespread public terror, mass media hysteria and excess, and possibly even panic in the White House itself, where, who knows, Trump may even have risked military confrontation with Russia in an effort to shake the collusion accusations. All of this is exacerbated by the constant stream of leaks and hints at mother lodes of evidence that are just around the corner. It’s quite literally driving the country crazy.

The public deserves to know what’s going on. It deserved to know before the election, it deserved to know before the inauguration, and it deserves to know now.

Trump, in tweets, defends his sharing of information with Russians

May 16, 2017


U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to disclose information to Russian officials during a White House meeting last week, saying he had an “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

The president took to Twitter to counter a torrent of criticism, including from his fellow Republicans, after reports that he had revealed highly classified information about a planned Islamic State operation.

Two U.S. officials said Trump shared the intelligence, supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during a meeting last Wednesday.

The disclosures late on Monday roiled the administration as it struggled to move past the backlash over Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating the president’s ties to Russia.

The turmoil overshadowed Republican legislative priorities such as healthcare and tax reform and laid bare sharp divisions between the White House and U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded late last year that Russia had tried to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Russia has denied such meddling, and Trump bristles at any suggestion he owed his Nov. 8 victory to Moscow.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump said on Twitter. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump weighed in personally the morning after his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, issued statements saying no sources, methods or military operations were discussed at the Russian meeting.

McMaster said the story, initially reported by the Washington Post, was false.

The U.S. officials told Reuters that while the president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardize a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement.

Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the allegations “very, very troubling.”

“Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now,” he said on Monday, “and they’ve got to come to grips with all that’s happening.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, Jeff Mason, Mark Hosenball; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)



From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 36

May 16, 2017


President Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russian officials, reported by the Washington Post, may have been reckless, damaging and irresponsible. But it was not a crime.

Disclosures of classified information are not categorically prohibited by law. Even intelligence sources and methods are only required to be protected under the National Security Act from “unauthorized disclosure.” This leaves open the possibility that disclosures of such classified information can actually be authorized. And we know that they are, from time to time.

One statute in particular — 18 USC 798 — does come close to matching the circumstances of the Trump disclosure to Russia, with a crucial exception.

That statute makes it a felony to disclose to an unauthorized person any classified information “concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or […] obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government.”

But it further explains that an “unauthorized person” is one who has not been “authorized to receive information… by the President.”

This morning, President Trump tweeted that “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

(Was the gratuitous parenthetical phrase “at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting” intended to rule out a clandestine transfer of classified information?)

All of that is to say that this episode, though it may have far-reaching ramifications for national security, is probably not a matter for law enforcement. (Based on the reporting by the Washington Post, the President’s actions did violate the terms of an intelligence sharing agreement with a foreign government that supplied the information. But that agreement would not be enforced by the criminal justice system.)

Instead, this is something to be weighed by Congress, which has the responsibility to determine whether Donald J. Trump is fit to remain in office.


In order to appoint a special counsel to investigate potential criminal activity in the executive branch, the Congressional Research Service explained last week, the Attorney General (or his deputy) “must determine that a criminal investigation is warranted; that the normal process of investigation or prosecution would present a conflict of interest for DOJ or other extraordinary circumstances exist; and that public interest requires a special counsel to assume those responsibilities.”

See Special Counsels, Independent Counsels, and Special Prosecutors: Investigations of the Executive Branch by the Executive Branch, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 11, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The Removal of FBI Director James Comey: Presidential Authority and the Senate’s Role in the Appointment of the FBI Director, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 10, 2017

FBI Director: Appointment and Tenure, May 10, 2017

Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure, updated May 12, 2017

Cybersecurity: Legislation, Hearings, and Executive Branch Documents, updated May 12, 2017

The Growing Gap in Life Expectancy by Income: Recent Evidence and Implications for the Social Security Retirement Age, May 12, 2017

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 12, 2017

Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 12, 2017

Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 12, 2017

Energy and Water Development: FY2017 Appropriations for Nuclear Weapons Activities, updated May 10, 2017

 Iraq says 90 percent of west Mosul recaptured from ‘Islamic State’

Iraqi forces have said the battle for Mosul is nearly over after reportedly retaking 90 percent of west Mosul from “Islamic State” (IS). The troops are moving into the Old City, where IS will likely make its last stand.

May 16, 2017


After retaking Mosul’s eastern side earlier this year, Iraqi forces have now reclaimed the vast majority of the western part of the city, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

The so-called “Islamic State” (IS) still controls “10.5 percent of…the right bank,” Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, said during a news conference in Baghdad.

Planes also dropped leaflets into the city telling civilians that the battle for Mosul was almost over.

Seven months after the start of the US-backed campaign, IS militants now control only a few districts in the western portion of Mosul, including the Old City which is one of the country’s historic jewels.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition that is supporting Iraqi troops said that the IS fighters were completely surrounded in the city and that their resources were being destroyed.

“The enemy is on the brink of total defeat in Mosul,” U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said during the Baghdad press conference.

The Old City’s narrow streets and closely spaced buildings make it difficult for the troops to push out the IS militants, requiring Iraqi troops to fight on foot instead of from vehicles.

Around 250,000 civilians are believed to be trapped inside west Mosul. The large civilian population, which either chose not to leave the city or was prevented from doing so by IS also complicates the final assault in Mosul. Many in Mosul have been killed either by IS or heavy bombardments.

The Iraqi government is hoping to declare victory in Mosul by the holy month of Ramadan, which is to begin on May 27, even if some pockets of IS resistance remain in the Old City.

IS overtook large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since retaken much of the territory with the help of US-led air strikes.

 Selling More Weapons to the Reckless Saudis

May 15, 2017

by Daniel Larison

The American Conservative

As Trump prepares to go to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip, the U.S. is gearing up to sell the Saudis a lot more weapons:

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are working on a package of arms deals and financial investments aimed at elevating economic and security cooperation between Washington and Riyadh after several years of strained relations over the U.S. diplomatic outreach to Iran.

The potential agreements, coupled with Mr. Trump’s scheduled arrival in Saudi Arabia this week or his first stop outside the U.S. since taking office, include a missile-defense system and heavy arms the Obama administration either refused to sell Saudi Arabia or pulled back from amid concerns about Riyadh’s role in the conflict in Yemen, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.

According to a separate Reuters report, the arms deals are estimated to be worth at least $100 billion, and when all is said and done may be worth more than $300 billion. Obama held the previous record for offering arms sales to the Saudis with more than $115 billion over eight years, but if these estimates are correct Trump will soon surpass him and become the top Saudi enabler of all time. Offering these deals represents the Trump administration’s endorsement of the Saudis and their recent behavior, and it will certainly be interpreted as a green light from Washington to keep doing what they’ve been doing to Yemen. Taken together with Trump’s visit to Riyadh, these arms sales send the worst possible message and deepen U.S. complicity in the Saudi-led war at a time when the U.S. needs to be extricating itself from it.

Lavishing Riyadh with new weapons raises some basic questions.

1) Why should a government that has been actively destabilizing the region be rewarded with the means to do more of the same?

2) What U.S. foreign policy objective is served by throwing more weapons at an evidently incompetent Saudi military?

3) What benefit does the U.S. get from having a stronger relationship with a reckless client that routinely commits war crimes?

4) Since the Saudi-led war on Yemen has strengthened Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and AQAP has occasionally fought alongside coalition-backed forces, how does continuing to back the Saudis’ war make the U.S. more secure?

I don’t think the Trump administration has any good answers to these questions, but members of Congress ought to demand that they provide them and ought to block further arms sales if those answers aren’t forthcoming.

Deadly rhetoric: Saudi Arabia opens war of words with Iran

May 16, 2017

by Sharmine Narwani


For years the Saudis have waged proxy battles against Iran, with little success. Now, despite this history of losses, Riyadh appears to be mobilizing for an ill-conceived confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

“We know we are a main target of Iran,” speculated Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in an interview early this month.

Then came the threat. “We are not waiting until there becomes a battle in Saudi Arabia, so we will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”

These are fighting words indeed. The Iranians certainly thought so, Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan responding with unusual ferocity: “We warn them (Saudis) against doing anything ignorant, but if they do something ignorant, we will leave nowhere untouched apart from Mecca and Medina.”

In other words, if the Saudis launch direct aggression against Iran, this will be Riyadh’s last war anywhere, ever.

It’s an important line to draw. The Saudis, after all, have been in meltdown since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran saw popular protests dethroning a King (gasp).

And so, for the past 38 years, we have witnessed an increasingly aggressive Saudi Arabia in the region, chasing down Iranian/Shia enemies where there were none. Just look at Yemen, where the two-year Saudi bombing blitz has killed over 10,000 civilians, or Bahrain, where Saudi troops and tanks snuffed out dissent in the Shia-majority state, or Syria, where Saudis send weapons, cash and support to ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other head-chopping extremists. This Saudi hysteria has now touched every corner of the world, and by the $100+ billion Riyadh has invested in radical schools, mosques, and propaganda to indoctrinate an entire generation of Muslims in Wahhabi-style intolerance.

But while the Saudis are hell-bent on thwarting Iranian influence – real or imagined – Riyadh has never dared to take on the Islamic Republic directly.

As former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously noted in a 2010 WikiLeaks cable, the Saudis always want to “fight the Iranians to the last American.” To which he then added, “it is time for them to get in the game.”

Now perhaps, under the direction of a 31-year old princeling, the Saudis are planning to do just that.

Saudi Arabia vs. Iran

Some perspective first on these two Persian Gulf “rivals,” in which I borrow heavily from an earlier interview of mine:

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are rich in energy resources and have used this rentier wealth to advance their national goals, albeit with vastly differing results. Iran’s economy is focused on diversification away from the energy sector, developing self-sufficiency and becoming a net exporter. Saudi Arabia is import-focused. Iran spends $15 billion per annum on its military – compared to Saudi’s $80 billion – yet has one of the most competent military forces in the region and builds its own hardware. The Iranian political system is Constitution-based, diverse, and representative, with loudly competing political blocs that come with their own media and constituencies. The Saudi monarchy is based entirely on the rule of one family, with no meaningful elections or contesting political bodies, and little freedom of expression in the media. Regarding power projection, Iran favors the soft power tools of diplomacy, trade, and alliance-building based on common worldviews/objectives, whereas the Saudis have expanded their influence far and wide by spreading Wahhabi doctrine through schools, mosques, media and other institutions globally – and by blatantly buying the loyalty of allies.

In the past few years, we have clearly observed how Iran and Saudi Arabia’s nation-building approaches have affected the success of their geopolitical strategies. Both states have experienced existential fears and threats, and their respective alliances have now confronted each other on a few battlefields. Iran has approached the matter of its strategic depth carefully and built alliances with partners that genuinely share the common values of independence, self-determination, and resistance against imperialism. The Saudis, on the other hand, have forged their external alliances with hegemony or dominance as the primary objective – irrespective of the divergent interests and values of allies. There is little contest – one side is a nation- and region-building, while the other flails about with unreliable alliances, propped up by petrodollars and all the strategic brilliance of a sledgehammer.

How can this relationship be classed as a rivalry, when the two don’t even operate on the same playing field? Would Tehran even notice Riyadh outside of OPEC meetings if it weren’t so belligerent at every turn, on every border?

But MbS’s promise to bring “the battle” to Iran must be taken seriously because it will not be launched alone. The Saudi prince’s chest thumping comes courtesy of an upgrade in relations with Washington. US President Donald Trump is enthusiastically pushing billions of dollars in weapons sales to the Saudis, and has chosen Riyadh as the destination for his first official foreign visit, championing the establishment of an “Arab NATO” that partners with Israel to confront Iran.

Don’t expect a conventional military confrontation as the opening gambit, however. The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are experienced in subversion and sabotage activities against the Islamic Republic, and this is where they are likely to focus their initial efforts.

Last week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned of foreign interference in the lead-up to Friday’s presidential poll: “the security of the country should be fully protected during the elections. Anyone who violates this should know he will certainly be punished.”

Calling for public vigilance, Khamenei outlined short, medium and long-term “enemy” goals in Iran: “to distort the country’s security and trigger chaos and sedition… targeting issues like that of the economy and living conditions of the people…(and) an effort to change the system.”

So how will the Saudis play a role? Riyadh’s hand in this “battle” will likely be seen on and inside Iran’s borders, in the same form we have witnessed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters flooded with Saudi-backed militants.

Stirring up minority populations

Demographically, Iran is around 60 percent ethnically Persian, followed by a mix of Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Turkmens, Arabs, and others. Some 99 percent of Iranians are Muslim, more than 90 percent of these Shia, the rest Sunni, and the remaining one percent a mix of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and others.

The main pockets of Kurds are in the northwest on the Iraqi/Turkish borders and in the north-east bordering Turkmenistan – Iranian Kurds are both Sunni and Shia. The second largest ethnicity, Azeris, who are mainly Shia, are also in the northwest on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Iranian Arabs who are concentrated in the south near the Iraqi border and the Persian Gulf – as well as around the Strait of Hormuz – are also mostly Shia. Iranian Sunni populations consist mainly of Kurds, Turkmens, and Balochis, and this is the demographic where signs of foreign interference are most notable today.

In recent years, thousands of Iranian security forces have been killed on the border of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province with Pakistan – most recently in April when ten Iranian border guards died in a cross-border terrorist raid.

Reportedly, the operation was conducted by Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), a sectarian terrorist group the Iranians say is being directed by the US and Saudi Arabia. The US has traceable ties to some of these groups, notably Jundallah which received Bush-era funds from Washington before being listed as a terrorist organization. That “terrorist” designation, Iran knows, means little. The Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) was listed by the State Department for decades, but then de-listed in 2012 and is today being actively courted by US officials.

Jaish al-Adl is an offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba, an anti-Shia extremist group banned in Pakistan, but which appears to continue to enjoy both Saudi and Pakistani support. Sipah leaders are ferried around the border areas with Pakistani guards, and fill their ranks with young graduates of Saudi-funded Deobandi madrassahs rife inside the Pakistani border.

US hands are all over the minority map in Iran too. Media, think tanks and politicians highlight and encourage aspirations of Iranian minorities at every opportunity, and will undoubtedly take a more active role in stirring divisions as tensions escalate.

Cue the Kurds.

Both US and Saudi fingerprints are all over this project of inciting a Kurdish rebellion inside Iran. Last June and July, for the first time in 20 years, Kurds in Iran’s northwest clashed with Revolutionary Guards, killing several on both sides.

The Kurdish group involved was the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), a longtime Iranian-designated terrorist organization that announced in 2015 it would take up arms against the state. Not surprisingly, that declaration came shortly after PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri visited congressional leaders in Washington.

A vigilant Iran

American dirty tricks are certainly not new in Iran. Former Kennedy-era State Department official Richard J. Barnet wrote in 1968: “The (US) intervention in Iran in 1953 to unseat Premier Mohammed Mossadeq was America’s first successful attempt in the postwar period to subvert a nationalist government.”

According to Barnet, “Five US agents and seven Iranian intelligence operatives” led by CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt “plotted the coup from a Tehran basement.” They were responsible for “recruiting street mobs to oppose the Mossadeq supporters… With the help of substantial sums, which Roosevelt used for hired demonstrators to whip up the growing anti-Mossadeq mobs, and the support of the Iranian army, heavily dependent on US equipment, the insurgents were able to turn the tide against the intractable premier and to drive him from office.”

Iran is intimately familiar with these foreign machinations and has been vigilantly countering them in the decades since the Islamic Revolution.

This is not the compliant Shah’s Iran – this Iran, today, is an independent, sovereign nation-state that came through an 8-year foreign-imposed war with Iraq and built with its own hands a formidable military deterrent.

As we have seen with Iran’s activities in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, the country’s ‘strategic depth’ is a red line – its national borders even more so. After warning the Iraqi government in 2014 that it would take decisive action if ISIS came within 40 kilometers of its border, the Iranian air force – for the first time since the Iran-Iraq war – used F-4 Phantom fighter jets to conduct airstrikes in Diyala province on its western border.

Iran’s armed forces chief Mohammad Hossein Bagheri has also now threatened military action on Pakistani territory unless Islamabad takes control of its borders, saying: “Unfortunately, the Pakistani border area has turned into a refuge and training ground for terrorists hired by Saudi Arabia, with the approval of the United States.”

In a letter this month to the UN Security Council, Iran’s UN Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo addressed the Saudi threats: “We have no desire, nor any interest, in an escalation of tension in our neighborhood…We continue to stand ready for dialogue and accommodation to promote regional stability, combat destabilizing extremist violence and reject sectarian hatred…We hope Saudi Arabia will be persuaded to heed the call of reason.”

The Saudi princeling Mohammad bin Salman made a novice’s mistake by threatening to bring war to Iran – he put the world on notice. Any Iranian reaction now bears the full legitimacy of international law for a measured retaliation. The Saudi borders are long, its populations restive, and its soldiers have not seen this kind of war. We may yet live to see a Saudi royal eat his words.

Facebook promised to tackle fake news. But the evidence shows it’s not working

Following pressure from users, the social network introduced tools to stem the spread of false information. But the rollout has been rocky at best

May 16, 2017

by Sam Levin

The Guardian

San Francisco-When Facebook’s new fact-checking system labeled a Newport Buzz article as possible “fake news”, warning users against sharing it, something unexpected happened. Traffic to the story skyrocketed, according to Christian Winthrop, editor of the local Rhode Island website.

“A bunch of conservative groups grabbed this and said, ‘Hey they are trying to silence this blog – share, share share,’” said Winthrop, who published the story that falsely claimed that hundreds of thousands of Irish people were brought to the US as slaves. “With Facebook trying to throttle it and say, ‘Don’t share it,’ it actually had the opposite effect.”

The spreading of Winthrop’s piece after it was debunked and branded “disputed” is one of many examples of the pitfalls of Facebook’s much-discussed initiatives to thwart misinformation on the social network by partnering with third-party fact checkers and publicly flagging fake news. A Guardian review of false news articles and interviews with fact-checkers and writers who produce fake content suggests that Facebook’s highly promoted initiatives are regularly ineffective and in some cases appear to be having minimal impact.

Articles formally debunked by Facebook’s fact-checking partners – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News and PolitiFact – frequently remain on the site without the “disputed” tag warning users about the content. And when fake news stories do get branded as potentially false, the label often comes after the story has already gone viral and the damage has been done. Even in those cases, it’s unclear to what extent the flag actually limits the spread of propaganda.

The social network’s efforts to curb fake news followed widespread backlash about the site’s role in proliferating misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. The rocky rollout of Facebook fact-checking is as much a product of the enormity of the problem of internet propaganda as it is a reflection of what critics say is a failure by the company to take this challenge seriously

“Fake news is flying thick and fast,” said Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of Snopes, one of the popular fact-checking sites that is partnering with Facebook to review content that users flag as false. Asked if she believes Facebook’s new system is having an effect on false news through the use of tags, she added: “I honestly can’t tell.”

Last year, Facebook faced growing criticisms that it may have helped Donald Trump get elected by allowing fake election news to outperform real news and creating filter bubbles that facilitated the increasing polarization of voters. In response, Facebook announced that it would work to stop misinformation in part by letting users report fake news articles, which independent fact-checking groups could then review.

When two or more fact-checkers debunk an article, it is supposed to get a “disputed” tag that warns users before they share the piece and is attached to the article in news feeds, a feature rolled out in March.

While some of the fact-checking groups said the collaboration has been a productive step in the right direction, a review of content suggests that the labor going into the checks may have little consequences.

ABC News, for example, has a total of 12 stories on its site that its reporters have debunked as part of its Facebook partnership. But with more than half of those stories, versions can still be shared on Facebook without the disputed tag, even though they were proven false. That includes several of the original stories that ABC bunked, such as an AngryPatriotMovement.com article about Obama planning a coup, an EmpireNews.net story that Obama built a statue of himself for the White House, and a USANewsToday.org article about Republicans taking secret payments from Hillary Clinton.

Xana O’Neill, managing editor of ABC News Digital, said her group has done roughly two-dozen Facebook fact checks and said she believed the process was having a positive impact. But, she added, “it’s hard to know the scope of it without the Facebook numbers.”

Facebook refused to provide data or information on the number of articles that have been tagged as disputed, how a flag impacts traffic and engagement, if there are specific websites most frequently cited and how long after publication the flags are typically added. A spokesman said “we have seen that a disputed flag does lead to a decrease in traffic and shares”, but declined to elaborate.

Robert Shooltz, who runs the site RealNewsRightNow.com, said it did not seem that the debunking of his content by Facebook fact-checkers was impacting traffic. Both Snopes and PolitiFact recently debunked his article that said Trump wants to bring back the military draft.

But the piece, which was published last year and recently began spreading again, does not have a disputed tag on it. It has had more than 33,000 likes, shares and comments, according to Facebook data.

“It’s had absolutely no effect. I’m happy about that,” said Shooltz, who considers his work satire, such as the Onion.com, and does not believe it should be targeted by Facebook fact-checking.

Another piece of his, headlined “Pope Francis: God Has Instructed Me to Revise the Ten Commandments” was also debunked by Snopes and the AP in March and does have the “disputed” tag. But he said it wasn’t clear to him if there was any serious impact on traffic and noted that the article had already experienced a spike in views prior to the debunks.

Paul Horner, another well-known fake news writer, said some of his websites have been blocked on Facebook, but that other articles have gone unchecked, including one saying Trump issued an order allowing bald eagles to be hunted and another about the president canceling Saturday Night Live. Both were published on the St George Gazette fake news site and both were debunked by Snopes.

Chris Kitze, who runs BeforeItsNews.com, said that although he allows users to post any content without fact-checking, he hasn’t noticed Facebook tagging any of his site’s articles as fake news. That includes a recent piece debunked by Snopes claiming to include leaked photos showing how Obama practiced Islam in the White House.

“A lot of people think Obama is Muslim. That’s what it plays on. Is it real? I don’t know,” he said. “The fact is a lot of people thought it was real or it reflects their sentiment.”

Aaron Sharockman, executive director of PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site that is also fact-checking for Facebook, said that by the time his reporters debunk an article, it could have been up for several days to a week or more, meaning the effect of the flag may be limited.

“We don’t have a great sense of the impact we’re having,” he said, adding “We haven’t seen anything from Facebook.”

Jestin Coler, a writer who got widespread attention for the fake news he published last year, said it was hard to imagine Facebook’s effort having any impact.

“These stories are like flash grenades. They go off and explode for a day,” said Coler, who said he is no longer publishing false news. “If you’re three days late on a fact check, you already missed the boat.”

He also noted that many consumers of fake news won’t be swayed by a “disputed” tag given their distrust of the media and fact-checkers: “A far-right individual who sees it’s been disputed by Snopes, that adds fuel to the fire and entrenches them more in their belief.”

A writer with TheLastLineofDefense.org, another site that posts fake news, said the website has “definitely seen a drop in traffic since Facebook started relying on outside fact-checkers”, but did not respond to further questions.

Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College, who created a viral list of untrustworthy news sites, said it seemed Facebook was largely responding to bad press: “My initial read on it is it’s ultimately kind of a PR move. It’s cheap to do. It’s easy. It doesn’t actually require them to do anything.”

A Facebook spokesperson said the fact-checking tags were just one tool in its ongoing efforts, which include taking action against fake accounts, disrupting financial incentives of fake news creators and launching an educational tool.

“We take seriously the issue of fighting false news and are utilizing an all-of-the-above approach. There’s no silver bullet solution, which is why we’ve deployed a diverse, concerted and strategic plan.”

US teen died after drinking caffeine too quickly, coroner says

May 16, 2017

BBC News

A healthy teenager in the US state of South Carolina died from drinking several highly-caffeinated drinks too quickly, a coroner has ruled.

Davis Allen Cripe collapsed at a high school in April after drinking a McDonald’s latte, a large Mountain Dew soft drink and an energy drink in just under two hours, Gary Watts said.

The 16-year-old died from a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia”.

He had no pre-existing heart condition.

The teenager weighed 90kg (200 lbs) but would not have been considered morbidly obese, Mr Watts said.

“This is not a caffeine overdose,” Mr Watts told Reuters news agency.

“We’re not saying that it was the total amount of caffeine in the system, it was just the way that it was ingested over that short period of time, and the chugging of the energy drink at the end was what the issue was with the cardiac arrhythmia.”

Caffeine would probably not have been seen as a factor in the teenager’s death if witnesses had not been able to tell officials what he had been drinking before his death, the Richland County coroner said.

The main witness could not say which brand of energy drink Davis drank but said it was from a container the size of a large soft drink.

“We’re not trying to speak out totally against caffeine,” Mr Watts said. “We believe people need to pay attention to their caffeine intake and how they do it, just as they do with alcohol or cigarettes.”

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has warned against children and teenagers consuming energy drinks, saying their ingredients have not been tested on children and “no-one can ensure they are safe”.

It says they have side-effects including irregular heartbeats and blood pressure changes.

Most energy drinks contain a caffeine equivalent of three cups of coffee and as much as 14 teaspoons of sugar, the AAP says.

Davis may have consumed about 470mg of caffeine in just under two hours, based on statistics from the website caffeineinformer.com.

It says a McDonald’s latte has 142mg of caffeine, a 570ml (20oz) Mountain Dew has 90mg, and a 450ml (16oz) energy drink can have as much as 240mg.

In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority said drinking more than 400mg could lead to increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, tremors, nervousness, insomnia and panic attacks.

How can caffeine kill?

Michelle Roberts, BBC News Online Health Editor:

Caffeine is a stimulant. It acts on the body’s central nervous system within minutes, increasing alertness and reducing sleepiness.

But it has other effects too. It can raise your heart rate and make you feel jittery or anxious.

And once you’ve drunk it, it will take hours to clear it from your system.

Having a few cups of coffee or other caffeinated drinks a day is considered perfectly safe. But drinking too much or lots in a short space of time is risky.

You can overdose on caffeine and it is possible to die if you ingest too much.

Up to 400mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of Coca-Cola or two “energy shot” drinks (although check the caffeine content of the beverage as it can vary).

Adolescents and pregnant women are advised to have less than this, though. Caffeinated drinks are unsuitable for toddlers and young children.

Caffeine warning signs

You may want to cut back on caffeine if you experience side effects such as:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach upset
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tremors

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