TBR News November 23, 2016

Nov 23 2016

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  November 23, 2016: “Clinton has more votes than Trump but he has taken the Electoral College. Now, the Clinton people are screaming for a recount or for the Electoral College to change their vote.

Across the nation, suffragette types are screaming and weeping and the media, hating Trump as it does (because the publishers hate Trump and their editors take orders quickly) reports all of this childish nonsense in serious tones.

If Hillary had won, believe it that the same media would consider efforts of the Trump people for a recount to be nonsense and unAmerican.

The print media has gone to the toilet some time ago and the television news sites are also losing viewers because, in both cases, they lie repeatedly and the public has gone to the Internet for free news.

Newspapers make their money from advertisements and when a potential advertiser learns that, let us say, the New York Times has lost 75% of its subscribers, they find other places to advertise.

The print media has gotten up on the Internet, braying like Baalam’s Ass and packing their columns with as many obnoxious ads as they can.

In the end, the only newspapers in the United States will be ones found in small towns that breathlessly discuss a cow wandering around on a local highway or the coming marriage of Wanda-Sue Globbelmeier to Timmy Crotchrotte.”

Surveillance company cuts half its staff after losing Twitter & Facebook access

November 23, 2016


CIA-backed Chicago tech company Geofeedia’s hand was forced after Facebook, Instagram and Twitter cut ties with them for their part in helping law enforcement surveil protesters. As a result, Geofeedia let go of 31 of its roughly 60 employees.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) discovered in September that at least 13 law enforcement agencies in California were using Geofeedia to keep tabs on protesters, as well as South Asian, Muslim and Sikh activists. Later, it was revealed the company had more than 500 law enforcement customers, including the Denver Police Department, which paid $30,000 for a single year subscription to the service. Law enforcement in Baltimore too used the tool to track protesters during the unrest in the wake of the police-involved killing of Freddie Gray.

Following the subsequent ACLU report, Twitter responded by dropping Geofeedia as a client in early October.

Geofeedia cut mostly sales jobs in its Chicago office less than two weeks after Twitter severed ties with them, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“Following these suspensions, we have decided to scale back our business and focus on a variety of innovations that will allow us to serve our customers and continue our rapid growth trajectory as a leading real-time analytics and alerting platform,” Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris said in an emailed statement to the Tribune.

While Geofeedia may be forced to leave the business of mining real-time location-based social data, a similar ‘advanced alerting’ company, Dataminr, recently found itself a fruitful new client: the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), RT recently reported.

In the document detailing the company’s contact, the FBI noted that Twitter, a five percent stakeholder in Dataminr, is used “extensively by terrorist organizations and other criminals to communicate, recruit, and raise funds for illegal activity.”

Dataminr’s cooperation with the FBI appears to go against Twitter’s policy of disallowing the usage of its users to “investigate, track, or surveil Twitter’s users.”

The contract with the FBI is also at odds with Twitter’s decision in May to ban the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from using Dataminr, so as to not give the appearance of being too close to the intelligence arms of the federal government.

CIA is investing in firms that specialize in sifting through social media posts

April 15, 2016


The Central Intelligence Agency’s venture capital arm is investing in companies that develop artificial intelligence to sift through enormous numbers of social media postings and decipher patterns, according to a report.

A document obtained by The Intercept indicates that In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm, has made unpublicized investments in 38 companies, many of which are startups specializing in analyzing and extracting useful patterns from large amounts of data from social media.

Social media offers a trove of valuable information for intelligence agencies, but separating the signal from the noise is a monumental task.

“ISIL’s tweets and other social media messages publicizing their activities often produce information that, especially in the aggregate, provides real intelligence value,” CIA second-in-command David Cohen said in a speech at Cornell University in September.

Dataminr, PATHAR and Geofeedia and are among the startups listed in the report, and the products that all three of the companies provide are tools that help peer through an otherwise unwieldy volume of data.

Dataminr’s specialty is picking out trends on Twitter by using a stream of data it gets from the social media platform’s API, or application program interface. News organizations, law enforcement agencies and hedge funds are examples of clients who use the service to stay in the loop about relevant events in real time.

PATHAR’s flagship service, Dunami, is used to by clients, including the FBI, to map out networks of relations between people on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find centers of influence.

Geofeedia automatically monitors geotagged social media posts for the purpose of monitoring breaking news events, and even markets its services to help law enforcement predict violent protests.

“During the Baltimore riots, or Ferguson, you could see a drop [in sentiment],” Lee Guthman, head of business development at Geofeedia, told Inverse, adding that a drop in sentiment on social media could reliably predict the violent riots those events.

All of these firms already have deals with the federal government, and the contracts are publicly viewable, thanks to transparency laws. Dataminr’s $254,990 contract was awarded by the Department of Homeland Security, Geofeedia has earned $126,800 from the Department of Justice, and PATHAR has deals totaling $410,118 from both of those agencies.


What Would an ‘America First’ Foreign Policy Look Like?

Rhetoric isn’t enough

November 23, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


As Donald Trump takes the reins and we all prepare for the next four years, the need to translate rhetoric into reality comes to the fore. Trump spent the campaign repeating a phrase that horrified the elites – especially the foreign policy Establishment – even adopting it as his official campaign theme: “America first.”

The elites were aghast because the phrase evokes the legacy of the biggest anti-interventionist movement in American history: the America First Committee, a coalition of conservative businessmen and progressive activists (including the socialist Norman Thomas) who not only opposed US entry into World War II, but also pointed to the authoritarian tendencies of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, which they feared would be exacerbated in wartime – as indeed they were.

Smeared by pro-war liberals and their Communist party allies as “Nazi sympathizers” — in the same way antiwar activists were later accused of being pro-Communist, pro-Saddam Hussein, pro-terroriost, etc. – the AFC has not fared well with historians, who, for the most part, are Roosevelt partisans, and globalists in any case. The America Firsters are the original “isolationists” the War Party warns us about, “dangerous” subversives who saw that in the quest for a “world order,” Americans would lose their old republic.

Which is precisely what happened.

Whether consciously or not, Trump has revived this long-disdained trend in American politics, and, what’s more, he has won. So how does –or should – he translate this kind of rhetoric into reality?

What follows is the first of a series of columns on what a foreign policy that puts “America first” would look like. Today we deal with US-Russian relations.

Stop the new cold war – Hillary Clinton’s unhinged accusation that Trump is a “Russian puppet” gave us a scary preview of what Russo-American relations would be like if she had won. These crazed charges were in response to Trump’s polar opposite view, exemplified when he repeatedly said “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with Russia?” Given a clear choice between a new cold war and rapprochement, voters clearly preferred the latter. Now it’s time to translate rhetoric into reality. Trump should immediately meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and begin negotiating a comprehensive accord to settle all outstanding issues, including:

Unilaterally lifting US sanctions against Russia – This is the prerequisite for productive negotiations, a signal that we don’t consider the Russians our enemies, and that the vindictive policies pursued by the previous administration are a thing of the past.

Renewing arms limitations – Several arms reduction treaties have been allowed to lapse, or have been nullified, increasing the danger of open conflict that could end in disaster. Of particular importance is reviving the joint anti-proliferation efforts designed to locate and secure “loose nukes” floating around the post-Soviet regions.

Pulling back US troops from provocative “military exercises” – This is another perquisite for mutually advantageous relations. The Russians rationally perceive a threat to their security as long as NATO troops are mobilizing at the gates of Moscow. Removing this provocation is essential to normalizing relations.

Abjuring a “missile shield” in Eastern Europe – The rationale for a “missile shield” has always been the alleged threat of an attack on Eastern Europe by … Iran. Aside from being a lie, this is not a very convincing lie: indeed, it is nonsensical. The reality is that a) the real target is Russia, and b) Russia’s military budget – now undergoing reductions – is dwarfed by Europe’s: Russia’s GDP is the equivalent of Spain’s. The idea that they’re going to invade and conquer Europe is pure fiction.

Recognizing the referendum that overwhelmingly voted to reunite Crimea with Russia – The regime change operation that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Viktor Yanukovich and plunged that country into chaos was sponsored and succored by the US, acting in concert with Germany and other European powers. And it was a mistake, one that could have just as far reaching consequences as our disastrous policy in Iraq. Crimea was handed to Ukraine before the fall of the Berlin Wall by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954: it had been an integral part of Russia since the days of Catherine the Great. This thorn in the side of US-Russian relations must be pulled.

Setting up a US-Russian working group, also involving regional stakeholders, to resolve the “frozen conflicts” in South Ossetia, Transnistria, Abhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. These are all tripwires that, due to our membership in NATO, and other commitments,could result in open conflict between the US and Russia. Do we really want to go to war with a nuclear-armed country in order to defend Moldova’s claims to rebellious Transnistria?

Neutralizing Ukraine – Ukraine, formerly part of the old Soviet Union, is now an independent nation, and a sore point between the US and Russia. The current regime is unstable, corrupt, and dependent on US aid. We have no legitimate national interests in propping it up: we do have an interest in reducing tensions in the region. Ukraine should be “neutralized,” i.e. kept out of NATO. Furthermore, US troops currently on “training” missions there should be withdrawn in exchange for a pledge guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Resolving the Syrian conflict – The cries of the War Party to “solve” the Syrian civil war in favor of Islamist rebels have drowned out all sensible realistic solutions to the horrific conflict that has torn that nation apart. It’s time for a fresh approach. First on the agenda is abandoning the bankrupt policy of regime-change that has led to tragic consequences in Libya, Iraq, and now Syria. Funding for the rebels must be ended: as Trump has said “We have no idea who these people are,” and he is absolutely right. All too often we have wound up swelling the ranks of al-Qaeda and its sympathizers by trying to micro-manage the future of that country. Russian intervention on behalf of the government of Bashar al-Assad has complicated the conflict and risks involving US “advisors” in direct confrontation with both Russian and Syrian government forces. We should immediately reestablish diplomatic relations with the Syrian government, appoint an Ambassador, and begin trilateral negotiations with Russia and the Assad government about how to deal with ISIS.

While the Iraq and Afghan conflicts have eaten up most of the energy and attention of US policymakers, relations with Russia have suffered — and have been allowed to dangerously degenerate under President Obama. The famous “Russian reset” consisted of a series of demands made by Washington – e.g. overflight of Russian territory to resupply US troops in Afghanistan – without any corresponding concessions except on the margins. The main issue – NATO’s relentless eastward march and the continuing US regime change campaign in Syria – were ignored in spite of Russian entreaties.

The core of contention is the undefined role of NATO in the post-Soviet world. As President-elect Trump said during the campaign, the alliance is “obsolete” – and a financial burden on the US. An “America first” foreign policy worthy of the name must reevaluate NATO, and be prepared to abandon it if it cannot or will not be fundamentally transformed. NATO’s original mission was to protect Western Europe from a Soviet invasion that never came – and now that the Soviet Union is no more, and the nations of the former Warsaw Pact are out of the Russian orbit, it’s high time Europe began to stand on its own.

We have to ask ourselves: Is defending the “territorial integrity” of, say, Estonia, really worth risking World War III with nuclear-armed Russia? Poland’s borders have changed many times over the previous decades, as have the borders of most of the states in the region. Are we committed to going to war to ensure that they remain forever immutable?

This is one of the most volatile regions on earth, with obscure ethnic conflicts that go back centuries: while we have an interest in peace, we cannot guarantee the security of its governments and peoples. That’s their job. The job of our policymakers and military leaders is to put distinctly American interests first – and that cannot mean policing the world.



From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 96

November 23, 2016


The steps that the incoming Trump Administration could take to revise or reverse policies of the Obama Administration are considered in several new publications from the Congressional Research Service.

“While the Constitution does not permit the President to single-handedly repeal or amend statutes, there is much that a new President can do to rapidly reverse the policies of a previous administration,” CRS explained.

The ease of altering existing policies depends on how those policies were promulgated in the first place: by executive order, through agency policy statements, or through agency rules.

“The President can immediately revoke, modify, or supersede executive orders issued by a predecessor.”

“A new President can also immediately direct the heads of executive branch agencies to withdraw discretionary directives and guidance documents that were issued by an executive agency during a previous administration.”

“Agency rules and regulations may also be repealed by a new administration; however, the repeal process can be time consuming and must comply with certain mandated procedures.”

See With the Stroke of a Pen: What Executive Branch Actions Can President-elect Trump “Undo” on Day One?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 22, 2016.

See also: Can a New Administration Undo a Previous Administration’s Regulations?, CRS Insight, November 21, 2016

The Obama Administration’s 2014 Immigration Initiative: Looking Back at What the Obama Administration Has Done– and Ahead to the Trump Administration, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 22, 2016

“Major” Obama Administration Rules Potentially Eligible to be Overturned under the Congressional Review Act in the 115th Congress, CRS Memorandum, November 17, 2016

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

The Budget Reconciliation Process: The Senate’s “Byrd Rule”, updated November 22, 2016

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Proposed Legislation in the 114th Congress, November 21, 2016

Five-Year Program for Federal Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing: Status and Issues in Brief, November 21, 2016

Unique Identification Codes for Federal Contractors: DUNS Numbers and CAGE Codes, November 21, 2016

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant: A Primer on TANF Financing and Federal Requirements, updated November 21, 2016

Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress, updated November 18, 2016

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations, updated November 21, 2016

Barriers Along the U.S. Borders: Key Authorities and Requirements, updated November 18, 2016

FBI hacked into 8k computers in 120 countries using single disputed warrant – report

November 23, 2016


The FBI hacked into more than 8,000 computers in 120 countries during an investigation into a child pornography website with just one warrant, a court hearing transcript has shown. It represents the largest known law enforcement hacking campaign to date.

The hacking centers around an FBI investigation in February 2015, in which the bureau seized the Playpen child pornography website and ran it from a government server for 13 days. It used a piece of malware known as a network investigative technique (NIT) to break into the computer of anyone who visited certain child pornography threads on the website. It then sent the suspects’ IP addresses back to the FBI.

Over the past year, Motherboard has found that the FBI hacked computers in Australia, Austria, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Greece, and likely the UK, Turkey, and Norway during the investigation.

However, the new transcript from a related case shows that the bureau’s campaign was far larger than previously believed, and that the FBI actually hacked into more than 8,000 computers in 120 different countries.

“The fact that a single magistrate judge could authorize the FBI to hack 8,000 people in 120 countries is truly terrifying,” Christopher Soghoian, a principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who has testified for the defense in Playpen cases, told Motherboard.

The hacking campaign is believed to be the largest ever to be conducted by law enforcement officials.

“We have never, in our nation’s history as far as I can tell, seen a warrant so utterly sweeping,” federal public defender Colin Fieman said in a hearing at the end of October, according to the transcript. The attorney is representing several defendants connected to the child pornography investigation.

It appears, however, that the magistrate judge did not actually have jurisdiction to issue such a sweeping warrant. According to a filing from the Department of Justice, 14 court decisions have found that the warrant granted by Judge Theresa C. Buchanan in the Eastern District of Virginia was not properly issued under Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which determines how search warrants can be authorized.

Courts in four cases have decided to throw out all evidence obtained by malware in the operation due to the violation.

‘New normal’

Despite the hurdles being faced by the FBI in the Playpen investigation, the bureau could soon have undisputed freedom when it comes to using single warrants to conduct similar probes. Changes to Rule 41 are likely to take effect on December 1, meaning judges will be given more power to issue warrants exactly as Judge Buchanan did.

Many have expressed concern that the changes will give law enforcement too much power to hack internet users both inside and outside the US, with Soghoian saying the technique is “probably the new normal.”

“We should expect to see future operations of this scale conducted not just by the FBI, but by other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, and we should expect to see foreign law enforcement agencies hacking individuals in the United States, too,” he added.

The Department of Justice defended the changes to Rule 41 in a Monday blog post.

“We believe technology should not create a lawless zone merely because a procedural rule has not kept up with the times,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Criminal Division wrote in the post.

Although such mass hacking techniques are believed to have so far been limited to child pornography investigations, critics are concerned US authorities will use the changes to Rule 41 to expand the practice to other crimes.

Trump drops repeated threat to jail Clinton: ‘She went through a lot’

The president-elect ‘doesn’t wish to pursue’ criminal investigations into Clinton over her use of a private email server, despite vows he made during campaign

November 22, 2016

by David Smith

The Guardian

Washington, DC-Donald Trump has in effect dropped his threat to jail Hillary Clinton, a prospect that frequently roused supporters to chant “lock her up!” and led critics to compare him to leaders of authoritarian regimes.

The president-elect told the New York Times on Tuesday that it would be “divisive” to pursue criminal investigations into the former secretary of state over her use of a private email server or conflicts of interest involving her foundation. His conciliatory tone provoked a backlash from some conservatives.

“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” Trump said, according to a tweet by Times journalist Mike Grynbaum. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”

Trump was then pressed on whether he had definitively ruled out a prosecution, Grynbaum reported. The president-elect replied: “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about.”

As a candidate, Trump invariably encouraged his supporters’ raucous cries of “lock her up!” at rallies, where T-shirts and badges showed Clinton’s face behind bars, often with profane slogans. He told her at a debate that if he was president she would “be in jail” and vowed to appoint a special prosecutor.

That remark provoked an outcry from critics, who accused Trump of behaving like a dictator. Legal experts argued that, while he could suggest to the Department of Justice that it bring a case, as president Trump would have little constitutional power to make it happen.

In his conversation at the New York Times office, he rejected the idea that his supporters would be upset by his letting Clinton off the hook. “I don’t think they will be disappointed,” he said, according to a tweet by reporter Maggie Haberman. “I think I will explain it that we in many ways will save our country.”

Haberman said Trump made clear he did not favour prosecution when he continued: “My inclination would be for whatever power I have on the matter is to say let’s go forward. This has been looked at for so long, ad nauseum.”

Apparently aware that the election campaign had been extraordinarily polarising, Trump said a prosecution would be “very, very divisive for the country”. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote now exceeds 1.5 million.

The comments were a far cry from the vicious campaign in which Trump branded his Democratic rival “Crooked Hillary”, claimed that foreign entities gave money to the Clinton Foundation in return for favors from the state department when she was secretary of state, and condemned the FBI for refusing to recommend prosecuting her for mishandling classified information.

Clinton suffered a low rating for trustworthiness in opinion polls during the contest. Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday: “I think Hillary Clinton still has to face the fact that a majority of Americans don’t find her to be honest or trustworthy, but if Donald Trump can help her heal then perhaps that’s a good thing.”

The gap between the brash billionaire’s taunts on the campaign trail and his approach now, Conway suggested, is part of a conscious shift away from the tone of his past rhetoric. “I think he’s thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the president of the United States and things that sound like the campaign aren’t among them,” she said.

But the dramatic climbdown earned the wrath of conservatives who had pushed hard for Clinton’s prosecution. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said: “If Mr Trump’s appointees continue the Obama administration’s politicized spiking of a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton, it would be a betrayal of his promise to the American people to ‘drain the swamp’ of out-of-control corruption in Washington, DC.

“President-elect Trump should focus on healing the broken justice system, affirm the rule of law and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Clinton scandals.”

Breitbart, the rightwing website where Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is executive chairman, headlined its article on the subject “Broken promise”.

Ann Coulter, a commentator and author of In Trump We Trust, tweeted: “Whoa! I thought we elected @realDonaldTrump president. Did we make him the FBI, & DOJ? His job is to pick those guys, not do their jobs.”

The FBI investigated Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state during Barack Obama’s first term, concluding earlier this year that her actions were “extremely careless” but not corrupt.

Republicans in Congress have been hammering Clinton for years over issues such as the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House oversight and government reform committee, has said he will continue investigating Clinton’s use of a private server.

Conway indicated that Trump would not favour such a move. “When the president-elect, who’s also the head of your party now, tells you before he’s even inaugurated he doesn’t wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message – tone and content – to the members,” she added.

Others, however, indicated that the saga might not yet be over. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News: “Well, so much for ‘locking her up’, I guess. The bottom line is that I think the Clinton Foundation, the whole mess, should be looked at with an independent view, not a political agenda.

“I never believed Obama’s justice department would seriously look at what she may have done. I can understand wanting to put the election behind us and heal the nation, but I do hope all the things President-elect Trump said about how crooked she was – well, we just don’t let it go without some serious effort to see if the law was truly violated. I think that would be a mistake.”

Legal analysts agreed that Congress could still try to intervene. Henry Chambers, a professor at the University of Richmond’s school of law, said: “Congressional committees can investigate all they want. At the end of the day you don’t want presidents spiking investigations, so we may not be out of the woods in terms of the Clinton investigations.”

But Trump’s decision might be calculated to his own benefit, Chambers added. “There are interesting issues as to whether he’s playing presidential jujitsu here: ‘I’ve said Hillary Clinton should not be investigated, therefore no one should investigate me.’”

Among the most vocal Clinton critics was Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, who said before the election that he could see her in an “orange” or “striped” jumpsuit. But on Tuesday, at Trump Tower, he too appeared to backtrack.

Look, there’s a tradition in American politics that after you win an election, you sort of put things behind you,” he told reporters. “And if that’s the decision he reached, that’s perfectly consistent with sort of a historical pattern of things come up, you say a lot of things, even some bad things might happen, and then you can sort of put it behind you in order to unite the nation.”

Clinton has frequently acknowledged her use of a private email server was a mistake and denied links between foundation donors and her work as secretary of state.

U.S. offers mobile device guidelines to curb driver distraction

November 23, 2016

by Bernie Woodall


DETROIT-The U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday issued voluntary guidelines for makers of mobile devices, asking them to help keep eyes on the road by developing a “driver mode” that would disable some distracting functions in moving cars.

The guidelines also ask manufacturers to make it easy to pair mobile devices with in-vehicle systems to facilitate hands-free phone use.

“These common sense guidelines, grounded in the best research available, will help designers of mobile devices build products that cut down on distraction on the road,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press statement.

Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in statement on Wednesday that driver distraction was one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities. Road deaths rose 10.4 percent in the first half of 2016, NHTSA has said.

Phone calls, text messages, navigation systems and other features on cellphones can be dangerous distractions for drivers and the Transportation Department and NHTSA want to limit their functionality when the devices are in what is termed “driver mode.”

The Transportation Department also called for ease in pairing, which connects smart phones and cars to allow drivers to use voice control on the devices. Phone and vehicle pairing already are available for many new vehicles sold in the United States.

Both the pairing and driver mode will reduce the potential for distraction by limiting the time a driver’s eyes are off the road, while also preserving the full functionality of the devices when used at other times.

Major manufacturers of mobile devices used by American drivers include Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics.

An auto manufacturers trade group earlier this month urged President-elect Donald Trump to establish a presidential advisory committee to “coordinate auto sector regulators.” The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also called on Trump to conduct a “comprehensive regulatory review” of all regulations and actions since Sept. 1, including the Obama administration’s new guidance on self-driving vehicles.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Bill Trott)

Mosul battle: Iraq militias ‘cut off IS access to city’

November 23, 2016

BBC News

An Iraqi paramilitary force says it has seized a key road west of Mosul, effectively encircling the city controlled by so-called Islamic State.

The Popular Mobilisation (Hashd al-Shaabi) declared it had taken control of the road between Tal Afar and Sinjar after linking up with Kurdish forces.

IS militants still control the section of the road between Tal Afar and Mosul.

Meanwhile, an air strike reportedly hit another bridge in Mosul, as troops advanced further into eastern areas.

There is now only one functioning bridge left spanning the River Tigris, which flows through the city.

About 50,000 Iraqi security forces personnel, Kurdish fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia militiamen are involved in the five-week-old offensive to drive IS militants out of their last major urban stronghold in the country.

The Popular Mobilisation, which is dominated by Iranian-backed Shia militias, said it had cut the road between the IS-held town of Tal Afar, 50km (31 miles) from Mosul, and Kurdish-controlled town of Sinjar, 45km (28 miles) further west, on Wednesday afternoon.

A Kurdish security official told the AFP news agency that PM fighters had linked up with other anti-IS forces, including members of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in three villages in the area.

A prominent PM leader, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, suggested it would now focus on severing the route between Mosul and Tal Afar.

But the PM has been warned by the Turkish government not to attempt to storm the predominantly Sunni Turkmen town, from which thousands of civilians have reportedly been leaving for Kurdish-held territory to the north.

“People are fleeing due to the Hashid’s advance, there are great fears among the civilians,” said Nuraldin Qablan, a representative for Tal Afar in the Nineveh provincial council, currently based in the city of Irbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

Shia militias have been accused of committing serious violations, including abducting and killing Sunni civilians, during previous operations against IS.

Also on Wednesday, troops continued to advance further into eastern Mosul, where they have faced fierce resistance from the 5,000 to 6,000 militants estimated to be dug in inside the city.

Earlier, the US-led multinational coalition supporting the offensive bombed another of the bridges over the River Tigris that link eastern and western Mosul.

An Iraqi military commander told the Associated Press that the strike on the so-called Third Bridge had taken place before dawn, while a report by IS’s self-styled news agency, Amaq, reported that it had been “put out of service”.

There were five functioning bridges over the Tigris in Mosul shortly before pro-government forces launched a major offensive to retake the city on 17 October.

A month ago, a US air strike destroyed the Second Bridge, in the city centre. Two weeks later, another strike took out the Fifth Bridge, to the north. On Monday, Amaq reported that the Fourth Bridge, the southernmost, had been damaged.

“This effort impedes Daesh’s freedom of movement in Mosul,” coalition spokesman Col John Dorrian told Reuters news agency on Tuesday, using a pejorative term for IS based on the acronym of its previous name in Arabic.

“It inhibits their ability to resupply or reinforce their fighters throughout the city.”

However, the UN’s International Organisation for Migration warned that the destruction of the bridges could hamper the evacuation of the estimated 1.5 million civilians inside Mosul.

The UN says 68,000 people have been displaced in the past five weeks, with 59,000 coming from districts surrounding Mosul and the rest from inside the city.

“It inhibits their ability to resupply or reinforce their fighters throughout the city.”

However, the UN’s International Organisation for Migration warned that the destruction of the bridges could hamper the evacuation of the estimated 1.5 million civilians inside Mosul.

The UN says 68,000 people have been displaced in the past five weeks, with 59,000 coming from districts surrounding Mosul and the rest from inside the city.

The Deyant CW Plot

November 23, 2016

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

On August 21st, 2008, the MV Iran Deyant, 44,458 dead weight bulk carrier was heading towards the Suez Canal. As it was passing the Horn of Africa, about 80 miles southeast of al-Makalla in Yemen, the ship was surrounded by speedboats filled with members of a gang of Somalia pirates who grab suitable commercial ships and hold them,, and their cargos and crews for ransom. The captain was defenseless against the 40 pirates armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades blocking his passage. He had little choice other than to turn his ship over to them. What the pirates were not banking on, however, was that this was no ordinary ship.

The MV Iran Deyanat is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) – a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on September 10, shortly after the ship’s hijacking. According to the U.S. Government, the company regularly falsifies shipping documents in order to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments to avoid the attention of shipping authorities, and employs the use of cover entities to circumvent United Nations sanctions to facilitate weapons proliferation for the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

It left Nanjing China on July 28th 2008 and was scheduled to sail to Rotterdam where its manifest stated that it would offload 42,500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by an unidentified German client.The ship had a crew of 29 men, including a Pakistani captain, an Iranian engineer, 13 other Iranians, 3 Indians, 2 Filipinos, and 10 Eastern Europeans, stated to be Albanians

As it passed the horn of Africa on its way to the Suez canal it was hijacked by Somali pirates on August 21st.

The MV Iran Deyanat was brought to Eyl, a sleepy fishing village in northeastern Somalia, and was secured by a larger gang of pirates – 50 onboard and 50 onshore. The Somali pirates attempted to inspect the ship’s seven cargo containers but the containers were locked. The crew claimed that they did not have the “access codes” and could not open them. Pirates have stated they were unable to open the hold without causing extensive damage to the ship, and threatened to blow it up The Iranian ship’s captain and the engineer were contactd by cell phone and demanded to disclose the actual nature of the mysterious “powdered cargo” but the captain and his officers were very evasive. Initially they said that the cargo contained “crude oil” but then claimed it contained “minerals.” Following this initial rebuff, the pirates broke open one of the containers and discovered it to be filled with packets of what they said was “a powdery fine sandy soil”

Within a period of three days, those pirates who had boarded the ship and opened the cargo container with its gritty sand-like contents, all developed strange health complications, to include serious skin burns and loss of hair. And within two weeks, sixteen of the pirates subsequently died, either on the ship or on shore

News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. and they witnessed some of the deaths due to exposure to ‘something on that ship.’

The Somali pirates initially set the ship’s ransom at $2 million and the Iranian government provided $200,000 to a local broker “to facilitate the exchange.” The $2 million dollar ransom agreement, which was supposedly secured on September 6th, never took place for reasons unknown. After September 10th, sanctions on IRISL were applied specifically because the company was said to engaged in illicit operations on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Serious negotiations were broken off completely. Iranian authorities subsequently denied that it agreed to the price nor had paid any money to the pirates. Nevertheless, after sanctions were applied to IRISL on September 10, Osman says, the Iranians told the pirates that the deal was off. “They told the pirates that they could not come because of the presence of the U.S. Navy.” The region is patrolled by the multinational Combined Taskforce 150, which includes ships from the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Subsequently, it was disclosed that the U.S. government had offered to pay $7 million to the pirates to “receive entry permission and search the vessel.” Officials in the Pentagon and the Department of State have always consistently refused to comment on the situation.

Documents by U.S. Navy investigators have disclosed that the ship was filled with atomic waste, obtained from the PRC. This highly radioactive material was loaded into commercial cargo containers that had explosive devices fixed beneath them. These devices were activated by a radio signal and it is certain that the containers would be off-loaded at at Israeli port, stored for purported future delivery and then detonated by a radio signal. The resulting explosions would fill the atmosphere with radioactive material that would cause deaths for a considerable distance from the focus of the blast.

European Parliament draws a line in the Bosporus

Europe is squirming as Turkey grows increasingly more autocratic, but if Ankara were to re-instate the death penalty that would kill any chances of EU membership.

November 23, 2016


The European Parliament wants to freeze the “dishonest” membership talks with Turkey. “We wanted to visit the acting heads of the HDP in solitary confinement,” Germany’s MEP Social Democrat, Arne Lietz, said during a debate in Strasbourg, recalling his recent visit to Turkey. He was referring to Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, two of several party members arrested earlier this month. Lietz’s delegation was blocked by police vehicles shortly before the jail close to the Bulgarian border, he said. “Police with assault rifles made it quite clear that we could not proceed,” he said

“The new rounds of mass dismissals, closing of media organizations, banning of 375 NGOs – all government critics are in danger of being detained,” Lietz said. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has swiftly shut down resistance from the military, destroying the country’s balance of power, he added, concluding that Turkey was already a dictatorship. “All the signs are there.”

Freezing membership talks

MEP Kati Piri, who sits on the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, tried meeting with Turkish government representatives last week in Ankara, but canceled the trip because the Turkish side was uninterested in speaking with her. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently received a similarly cold reception. Piri is now calling for a freezing of EU membership talks.

“I’m under no illusions,” the Dutch Social Democrat said as to whether doing so would have any impact on Erdogan’s course. However, there must be a European position on the detainment of 10 representatives, 155 journalists and dismissal of tens of thousands of public workers, she said. Lines of communication should remain open, but “contining with membership talks is not credible when we see a complete deviation from democracy and rule of law.”

Complete end to membership talks?

There is broad agreement across parties to suspend negotiations. But, Greens chair Rebecca Harms has called for some form of dialogue to remain, lest “we lose all bridges to Turkey.”

Other MEPs find this position too lenient, repeatedly citing the laundry list of abuses and political persecution taking place in Turkey. “Negotiations have been deeply dishonest for years,” said liberal MEP Alexander von Lambsdorff. His party’s chair, Guy Verhofstadt, sees it as a matter of maintaining European credibility, which would be lost should the “illusion of membership talks with an increasingly authoritarian regime” continue.

EU governments against a freeze

The European Parliament may be resolute in freezing talks with Turkey, however EU governments will not decide until a meeting in December. A statement by European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini, who is also the EU’s foreign affairs high representative, could offer insight into the EU stance. She warned that ending accession talks would spell the end of EU influence over Turkey.

Although “Turkey has been distancing itself for years from the EU,” EU members have little desire to take drastic measures,” said Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who is responsible for enlargement negotiations. “They want to stick with engagement.”

In both the European Parliament and among EU governments, geopolitical considerations weigh heavily. Turkey is a NATO partner and crucial to Middle East stability. There is also the refugee deal to keep intact, despite many MEPs in Strasbourg arguing to cancel the agreement in favor of European values and a commitment to democratic rule of law. EU governments have reacted pragmatically, understanding that they are dependent on Erdogan regardless of how dictatorial he may become. The red line would be if Turkey reintroduced the death penalty. Since it is not allowed in the EU, that would almost certainly result in an immediate stop to accession talks.

Trump Election Boosts European Populists

Donald Trump’s election has bolstered both right-wing and left-wing populist parties in Europe. Despite ideological differences, they share a rejection of the establishment and the liberal order. Are they about to change the world?

November 21, 2016


It is the seventh day after Donald Trump’s triumph, an election upset that set off a political earthquake around the world, and time for a visit with those far away from Washington who think like him. Members of France’s Front National (FN) are meeting at the five-star Hotel Napoléon in Paris, not far from the Champs-Élysées.

The topics of discussion this evening include disadvantaged youth in the outer districts of the capital, known as the banlieues, and radical Islamists who are recruiting new members there. The mood is explosive in the banlieues, warns the speaker, a resolute blonde woman, who goes on to say it is a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment. “I am the only one who can defuse this bomb,” she adds.

Her words are met with cheers and applause. Marine Le Pen has struck the right note, once again. Here, in the stuffy conference room at the Hotel Napoléon, people want to hear what they have long believed: That Islam constitutes a threat and that France’s very future is on the line. Marine, the daughter of Front National co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been the head of her party for almost six years.

‘We Want To Destroy this EU’

The Frenchwoman will soon enter the presidential election campaign under the slogan “Marine 2017.” Within a few years, she has managed to garner the support of like-minded individuals, and not just in her native France. Le Pen also chairs the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group in the European Parliament. ENF brings together elected representatives from nine countries, people who share an unmistakable common goal. “We want to destroy this EU,” says Le Pen.

Less than two weeks after the election of the new US president, Europe’s anti-establishment parties are feeling the wind in their sails. “A Trump victory was considered unthinkable,” says Le Pen, who sent the billionaire her euphoric congratulatory message on Twitter on the night of the election. “Our life has changed,” Nigel Farage of Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) says over a gin & tonic in the lounge of European Parliament in Brussels. In Vienna, Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) proudly reports that he has already reached out to Trump advisers in Washington. And in Dresden, Frauke Petry of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party is planning to announce her candidacy in the 2017 Bundestag election, which is likely to see AfD land seats in federal parliament for the first time.

Populist leaders, who see themselves as the only true representatives of the people, have long known and respected each other. But the days of backroom deals are now over. Le Pen is flirting with her fellow European populists on the open stage: here a kiss of the hand for Marine in Vienna, there a chuckle and a joke with Geert Wilders in The Hague and even a little dance with Matteo Salvini, leader of the separatist Lega Nord in Italy.

The British “yes” vote on withdrawing from the EU and the American “yes” vote for Donald Trump are supposedly merely the first stations on the road to a global political upheaval. The “democratic revolution” has only just begun, says Brexit propagandist Farage. “There are plenty more shocks to come.” And the chief strategist of the Front National, Florian Philippot, tweeted on the morning after Trump’s election: “Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built.”

In two weeks, Austria will hold a re-vote of its 2015 presidential election, in which FPÖ politician Norbert Hofer stands a strong chance of winning. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for March in the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders of the radical anti-Islamist Freedom Party (PVV) is ahead in the polls. The French will then vote for a new president in April and May, and Le Pen stands a good chance of making it to the second round of voting as the frontrunner. Finally, Germans will vote in the fall on the future composition of the Bundestag.

A G-7 summit in 2017 with Trump, Le Pen, Boris Johnson and Beppe Grillo — instead of US President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande, former British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi — would be a “horror scenario,” Martin Selmayr, the head of the cabinet of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted in May. Now, half a year later, Cameron and Obama are already history, Hollande is viewed as a defeated man and Renzi can be justifiably concerned about his political survival on Dec. 4, when Italians are slated to vote in a referendum on a planned constitutional reform.

The lesson from the most recent events is this: Even crass outsiders have the ability to fundamentally change the policies of a country. Farage’s UKIP holds only one seat in the parliament in Westminster, and yet it played a key role in the Brexit with its warnings of foreign infiltration on a large scale. Trump, meanwhile, succeeded in winning the election even against substantial resistance within his own party.

Populist Explosion

Populists like Marine Le Pen pronounce their verdicts on the ruling elites with the words: “in the name of the people.” The Internet and its social networks have helped shorten the path to voters. What unites the pied pipers on the right and the left, writes author John Judis in his recently published book “The Populist Explosion,” is the rage against the establishment, politics and the financial world, as well as the simultaneous demand for a strong, caring government. And, of course, the fight against immigration and Islam.

In the days of neoliberalism and globalization, social democrats like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder failed to protect their classic clientele, writes extremism expert Cas Mudde of the University of Georgia. According to Mudde, populism is the “illiberal democratic response” to decades of “undemocratic liberal policies.”

The proponents of simple solutions are now at work around the world. In addition to Le Pen and Wilders, Strache, Salvini and Petry, the roster of right-wing populists in Europe includes men like Hungarian Premier Viktor Orbán and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is steering the national conservative government in Poland. The leftist camp, which tries to tell the people what they want to hear, ranges from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and Czech President Miloš Zeman.

Zeman, a former social democrat and Czech president since 2013, wants his government to pursue a “foreign policy based on our own interests” rather than being “subservient in response to pressure from the United States and the EU.” He is critical of the “organized invasion” by Muslims and calls EU sanctions against Russia “nonsense.” Despite the Czech Republic’s ties to the West, he prefers to look to the East. He is eternally grateful to the Russians, says the hard-drinking and confrontational president, for the fact that, since 1945, Czechs have no longer had to shout “Heil Hitler, Heil Himmler, Heil Göring.”

Russian Influence

The Czech Republic is an important node in Moscow’s intelligence network, says retired Brigadier General Andor Sandor, former head of Czech military intelligence, in Prague. “The Russians still have many friends here and use them to exert their influence; they apparently see the Czech Republic as the most vulnerable point within the EU and NATO.” In addition to Zaman, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his predecessor Vaclav Klaus also serves as a tool for Moscow. In his free time, Klaus campaigns on behalf of the AfD.

Russia has been trying to influence political movements in Europe for years. Now fantasies of omnipotence are mixing with the euphoria over Trump’s triumph in the United States. “Washington nash” (“Washington belongs to us”), Putin loyalists are now saying in Moscow — an allusion to the slogan “Krim nash,” coined after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Unified Europe will also soon disintegrate, predicts nationalist author Alexander Prokhanov. “The European nations were in the hands of schemers and liars; their days are over.”

Vladimir Putin prepared the closing of ranks with Europe’s populists with his speech against a “unipolar world” at the 2007 Munich Security Conference. Putin has successfully promoted a new conservatism and the shift toward a “non-liberal democracy,” shaped by anti-globalism, euroskepticism and the advocacy of traditional values, the Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta recently wrote, concluding that “a revolutionary situation has emerged along the periphery of the Brussels kingdom.”

At the first meeting of a group calling itself the International Russian Conservative Forum in St. Petersburg in March 2015, attendees discussed the “national idea” in European countries. They included representatives of almost all euroskeptic movements in Europe, from Greece’s Golden Dawn to Italy’s Forza Nuova to Germany’s far-right NPD party. France’s Front National already maintains excellent relations with Moscow. The new head of the foreign intelligence agency, Sergey Naryshkin, has known Marine Le Pen for years. The First Czech-Russian Bank, owned by financial expert Roman Popov, provided her party with a €9 million ($9.5 million) loan back in 2014. Russian banks are also under consideration as possible financiers of the current election campaign.

The traces of Russian influence also lead to Vienna, where a secret meeting took place in 2014, at Liechtenstein City Palace, between arch-conservative fundamentalists from Russia and the West, sponsored by oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. Viennese far-right politician Johann Gudenus and FPÖ Chairman Strache were there to represent the Austrians. Strache has visited Russia repeatedly, but he denies allegations that his party receives any financial support from Russians.

Eyes on Germany

Strache is also on good terms with Marcus Pretzell, the domestic partner of AfD co-Chair Frauke Petry. Before Alternative for Germany appeared on the scene, foreign far-right parties were unable to find allies in Germany for decades. But now the FPÖ, Front National and UKIP are all the more energetically promoting the first right-wing populist party that is likely to clear the five-percent hurdle required to land seats in the Bundestag.

The AfD leadership is still divided over the issue of how closely to align itself with people like Le Pen and Strache. A group led by co-Chairman Jörg Meuthen and leading AfD politicians is hesitating about whether to develop close ties to these parties. For the two men, the Front National, in particular, is “too socialist.” But Trump’s victory in the United States is likely to invigorate the camp headed by co-Chair Frauke Petry, who, together with her domestic partner, plays a key role in creating a network of far-right groups worldwide.

High-profile meetings with the FPÖ, like the one in Düsseldorf in February where they proclaimed a “Blue Alliance” (named after their shared party color) or joint appearances by Petry and Strache, like the one in June at the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain, suggest increasingly close cooperation between the two parties. An official convergence with the Front National even appears to be getting more likely, after it was leaked that Petry and Le Pen met near Strasbourg in July.

Emerging on the Global Stage

The French politician leaves no room for doubt that if she becomes president, she will push for a referendum based on the British model. “I want to regain control over our currency,” says Le Pen, “and our borders.” British politician Nigel Farage also believes that his mission is far from fulfilled following Brexit. He appeared in the spin room to support the candidate after Trump’s TV debates, Farage says, before heading off to his favorite Brussels bar.

Farage sees himself in a new role, a sort of international traveler on behalf of the common man. He was the first foreign politician to meet with Trump after his election and Trump repeatedly cited Brexit as a model, saying that he too aimed to win against the establishment, and against the polls. He succeeded.

Now Farage and Trump see themselves as pioneers of a movement. They embody the current feeling of intoxication following the victories of anti-liberal forces. After years of waiting, they now believe they are on the verge of their goal of changing the world.

By Melanie Amann, Julia Amalia Heyer, Marc Hujer, Walter Mayr, Christian Neef, Jan Puhl and Simone Salden

 Israeli police to probe alleged Netanyahu submarine scandal

Investigation ordered into allegations about involvement of prime minister’s lawyer in defence procurement deal

November 23, 2016

by Peter Beaumont


Jerusalem-Israel’s most senior law officer has ordered an investigation into an alleged scandal involving one of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest confidants over a controversial deal to buy German submarines.

The affair – which has dominated Israeli headlines for days – involves allegations of a serious conflict of interest in the purchase of the submarines.

At the heart of the issue is a claim that Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, David Shimron, was representing the German arms manufacturer making the submarines at the same time Netanyahu was pushing for the submarine purchase.

Among the allegations are that Netanyahu purchased the new submarines for the Israeli navy over the objections of his own defence ministry.

Although Netanyahu and Shimron – who is also a relative of the prime minister – have insisted they never spoke about Shimron’s business relationship in the submarine deal, the inquiry was ordered after new information emerged both in the media and in a related investigation.

ThyssenKrupp, the German company behind the submarine contract, said last week it believed there was no misconduct in the purchase.

However, on Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 10 disclosed an email it claimed is proof that Shimron used his close relationship to Netanyahu to lobby for the submarine’s manufacturer with at least one defence official – a claim strenuously denied by Shimron.

According to reports in the Israeli media, the inquiry was also prompted by new information that emerged from the case of a second senior official who was arrested last week on charges of corruption.

Former deputy National Security Council head Avriel Bar-Yosef was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of taking bribes.

The order of an inquiry represents a volte face by the country’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, who suggested last week that it was not necessary.

However, a justice ministry statement said that after police received new information on Wednesday, Mandelblit met senior officers, the state prosecutor and senior justice officials.

“At the end of the discussion the attorney general decided to order an examination by the Israel police regarding various aspects related to the affair,” it said. It gave no further details and did not indicate who might be the subjects.

Netanyahu maintains he was unaware his lawyer was advising the seller, and defended the acquisition at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting. “The principle that guides me is clear: Israel will be able to defend itself by itself against any enemy, in any field,” he said.

“The security of Israel requires the acquisition of submarines and the renewal of the submarine fleet. These are strategic weapons systems that ensure the future and, I tell you, the very existence of the state of Israel for decades to come.”


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