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TBR News September 19, 2018

Sep 19 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. September 19, 2018 : “The  emergence of China and India, as well as others, as new major global players—similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19 th century and a powerful United States in the early 20 th century—has transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries.

In the same way that commentators refer to the 1900s as the “American Century,” the 21 st century will be seen as the time when Asia, led by China and India, comes into its own. A combination of sustained high economic growth, expanding military capabilities, and large populations will be at the root of the expected rapid rise in economic and political power for both countries.

Most forecasts indicate that by 2020 China’s gross national product (GNP) will exceed that of individual Western economic powers except for the United States. India’s GNP will have overtaken or be on the threshold of overtaking European economies.

Because of the sheer size of China’s and India’s populations—projected by the US Census Bureau to be 1.4 billion and almost 1.3 billion respectively by 2020—their standard of living need not approach Western levels for these countries to become important economic powers.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 26
  • The Broken Encirclement Plan: Nato and the CIA in Eastern Europe
  • America ‘One Of 45 Countries’ Infected By Uber-Powerful Israeli Smartphone Spyware
  • US can spy on journalists domestically using FISA warrants, declassified guidelines show
  • Opposition to Kavanaugh grows, support at historic low: Reuters/Ipsos poll
  • Trump on Sessions: ‘I don’t have an attorney general’
  • Yemen’s Descent into Hell
  • Yemen conflict: 5 million children face famine

 

 

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 26

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

  • Sep 8, 2017

“Our incredible U.S. Coast Guard saved more than 15,000 lives last week with Harvey. Irma could be even tougher. We love our Coast Guard!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: The Coast Guard rescued 11,022 people, Coast Guard spokesman Brandon Giles told the Star

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times

 

  • Sep 12, 2017

 

“Also, Malaysia is a massive investor in the United States in the form of stocks and bonds, and the stock exchange.”

Source: Joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak

in fact: This is false at least when it comes to bonds. While “massive” is subjective, Malaysia is not even in the top 35 countries in holdings of U.S. Treasury securities, according to the Treasury’s August report. (The department does not bother to individually list the countries lower than the top 35, so it is not clear where exactly Malaysia ranks.) Though information on stock ownership is harder to come by, there is no evidence that Malaysia is a major investor in U.S. stocks either. (At this event, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak spoke of a $7 billion investment by a Malaysian pension fund and a $400 million investment by its sovereign fund.)

 

“He does not do business with North Korea any longer, and we find that to be very important.”

Source: Joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak

in fact: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has not agreed to cut off trade ties with North Korea. The joint statement Razak and Trump issued after their meeting said Trump applauded Razak’s commitment to conduct “a review of its diplomatic relations and business links with North Korea”; it did not say Razak had agreed to cut those links. And in March, Malaysia’s trade minister said: “There is no trade embargo. We are not going to say (that) you can’t trade with them. If private companies see they can make money by doing business with them, they have to assess the risks themselves.” (Trade between the two countries is minimal and mostly related to palm oil.)

 

  • Sep 13, 2017

“We’re looking at a 15 per cent rate. And we want a 15 per cent rate because that would bring us low — not by any means the lowest — but it would bring us to a level where China and other countries are.”

Source: Remarks at meeting with members of Congress

in fact: China has a business tax rate of 25 per cent. It offers a 15 per cent rate only to certain firms, mostly in the high-tech sector, in about 20 particular cities. Further, U.S. corporations do not tend to pay that 35 per cent headline rate. The Congressional Budget Office reported in March 2017: “CBO estimates that, at 18.6 per cent, the U.S. effective corporate tax rate in 2012 was more than 20 percentage points lower than the top statutory rate (of 39.1 per cent, including state taxes).”

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

 

“And by doing that, we’re going to have to reduce the taxes for companies. Right now, we’re at 35 percent and really much higher when you add state taxes in. And China is at 15 per cent, and we wonder why are we not competing well against China. So they’re at 15 per cent and we’re at 35 per cent plus. And that doesn’t work.”

Source: Remarks at meeting with members of Congress

in fact: China has a business tax rate of 25 per cent. It offers a 15 per cent rate only to certain firms, mostly in the high-tech sector, in about 20 particular cities. Trump is highly misleading to compare the basic U.S. rate to a special rate in China. Further, U.S. corporations do not tend to pay that 35 per cent headline rate. The Congressional Budget Office reported in March 2017: “CBO estimates that, at 18.6 per cent, the U.S. effective corporate tax rate in 2012 was more than 20 percentage points lower than the top statutory rate (of 39.1 per cent, including state taxes).”

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

 

“Crooked Hillary Clinton blames everybody (and every thing) but herself for her election loss. She lost the debates and lost her direction!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Every scientific poll showed that Clinton handily won all three of their debates.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“China has a business tax rate of 15%. We should do everything possible to match them in order to win with our economy.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: China has a business tax rate of 25 per cent. It offers a 15 per cent rate only to certain firms, mostly in the high-tech sector, in about 20 particular cities. Trump is wrong to suggest that 15 per cent is China’s general business rate.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

 

“The approval process for the biggest Tax Cut & Tax Reform package in the history of our country will soon begin. Move fast Congress!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: This is highly misleading at best. Trump suggests that a policy “package” is ready, or close to ready, to be approved in Congress. In fact, to be approved in Congress. In fact, there is no bill at all, and Republican leaders have not come to an agreement about what they would like to see in it. On the day of Trump’s tweet, a New York Times headline read: “Trump Goes All In on a Tax Overhaul Whose Details Remain Unwritten.” The article read: “Republicans remain divided on key details: whether they can meet Mr. Trump’s demand for a 15 percent corporate tax rate; which small businesses and partnerships would qualify for a new low business tax rate; whether tax cuts in the package should be paid for by closing loopholes; and whether hedge fund and private equity managers would continue to see their huge fees taxed at the low rate of capital gains instead of at income tax rates.”

 

  • Sep 14, 2017

“It (Hurricane Irma) actually hit the Keys with a — it was a Category 5.”

Source: Speech to White House Historical Association

in fact: Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm.

 

“And in Florida you got hit with the strongest winds ever recorded.”

Source: Speech to White House Historical Association

in fact: This is wrong in two ways. First, Hurricane Irma did not even have the strongest hurricane winds ever recorded, though it is near the top of the list. Irma’s winds reached 185 miles per hour, but Hurricane Allen, which damaged the U.S. in 1980, had winds of 190 miles per hour. (Other weather events have produced much stronger winds than that; Cyclone Olivia of 1996 produced winds of more than 250 miles per hour.) Second, the winds had weakened by the time the storm hit Florida. Wind gusts were at 130 miles per hour when the storm made landfall in the U.S., the National Weather Service reported.

 

“(Susan Rice is) not supposed to be doing that and what she did was wrong. We’ve been saying that. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. She wasn’t supposed to be doing that the unmasking and the surveillance. I heard she admitted that yesterday.”

Source: Comments to reporters on Air Force One

in fact: Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, did not admit that she had done anything wrong in her decision to “unmask,” or obtain the names of, Trump officials whose identities had been protected in raw intelligence reports. Trump was inaccurately describing a CNN report that said Rice had told the House Intelligence Committee in private that “she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year.” CNN reported that even Republicans on the committee were satisfied with the explanation. “I didn’t hear anything to believe that she did anything illegal,” Florida Rep. Tom Rooney told CNN.

 

“We all feel, look, 92 per cent of the people agree on DACA, but what we want is very, very powerful border security.”

Source: Remarks before trip to Florida

in fact: The DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program is very popular, but it is not that popular. Polls have found that more than two-thirds of Americans believe the undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers, who are protected by DACA, should be allowed to stay in the country, but no poll has showed more than 80 per cent support for this idea, nor for DACA in particular.

 

  • Sep 17, 2017

“I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: There were not long gas lines, foreign residents of Pyongyang told the Washington Post’s correspondent for the region, Anna Fifield. NK News, an American news site focused on North Korea, cited multiple sources saying the same thing.

 

“Also with the fact that I know in the case of FEMA and the case of Coast Guard, the job you’ve done in saving people, saving lives. As an example, in Harvey in Texas, we talked — over 16,000 lives.”

Source: Remarks at Florida briefing on hurricane

in fact: Trump’s figure is an exaggeration. The Coast Guard told the Star that they rescued 11,022 people during their response to Hurricane Harvey.

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times

 

 

 

The Broken Encirclement Plan: Nato and the CIA in Eastern Europe

September 19, 2018

by Christian Jürs

The first serious, and successful, U.S. direct interference in Russian leadership policies was in 1953. An ageing Josef Stalin, suffering from arteriosclerosis and becoming increasingly hostile to his subordinates, was poisoned by Laverenti P. Beria, head of his secret police. Beria, was a Mingrelian Jew, very ruthless and a man who ordered and often supervised the executions of people Stalin suspected of plotting against him, had fallen out of favor with Stalin and had come to believe that he was on the list of those Stalin wished to remove. With his intelligence connection, Beria was contacted by the American CIA through one of his trusted agents in Helskinki and through this contact, Beria was supplied dosages of warfarin

The first drug in the class to be widely commercialized was dicoumarol itself, patented in 1941 and later used as a pharmaceutical. potent coumarin-based anticoagulants for use as rodent poisons, resulting in warfarin in 1948. The name warfarin stems from the acronym WARF, for Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation + the ending -arin indicating its link with coumarin. Warfarin was first registered for use as a rodenticide in the US in 1948, and was immediately popular; although it was developed by Link, the WARF financially supported the research and was assigned the patent.

Warfarin was used by a Lavrenti Beria to poison Stalin. Stalin’s cooks and personal bodyguards were all under the direct control of  Beria. He acknowledged to other top Soviet leaders that he had poisoned Stalin, according to Molotov’s memoirs. Nikita Khrushchev and others to poison Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Warfarin is tasteless and colorless, and produces symptoms similar to those that Stalin exhibited. Stalin collapsed during the night after a dinner with Beria and other Soviet leaders, and died four days later on 5 March 1953.

Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, in his political memoirs (published posthumously in 1993), claimed that Beria told him that he had poisoned Stalin. “I took him out,” Beria supposedly boasted. There is evidence that after Stalin was found unconscious, medical care was not provided for many hours. Other evidence of the murder of Stalin by Beria associates was presented by Edvard Radzinsky in his biography Stalin. It has been suggested that warfarin was used; it would have produced the symptoms reported.

After the fall of Gorbachev and his replacement by Boris Yeltsin, a known CIA connection, the Russian criminal mob was encouraged by the CIA to move into the potentially highly lucrative Russian natural resource field.

By 1993 almost all banks in Russia were owned by the mafia, and 80% of businesses were paying protection money. In that year, 1400 people were murdered in Moscow, crime members killed businessmen who would not pay money to them, as well as reporters, politicians, bank owners and others opposed to them. The new criminal class of Russia took on a more Westernized and businesslike approach to organized crime as the more code-of-honor based Vory faded into extinction.

The Izmaylovskaya gang was considered one of the country’s most important and oldest Russian Mafia groups in Moscow and also had a presence in Tel Aviv, Berlin, Paris, Toronto, Miami and New York City. It was founded during the 1980s under the leadership of Oleg Ivanov and was estimated to consist of about 200 active members (according to other data of 300–500 people). In principle, the organization was divided into two separate bodies—Izmailovskaya and Gol’yanovskaya  which utilized quasi-military ranks and strict internal discipline. It was involved extensively in murder-for-hire, extortions, and infiltration of legitimate businesses.

The gangs were termed the Oligarchy and were funded by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Israeli-owned Bank of New York all with the assisance of the American government.

The arrival of Vladimir Putin as the new leader of Russia was at first ignored in Washington. A former KGB Lt. Colonel who had been stationed in East Germany, Putin was viewed as inconsequential, bland and colorless by the purported Russian experts in both the Department of State and the CIA.

Putin, however, proved to be a dangerous opponent who blocked the Oligarchs attempt to control the oil fields and other assets, eventual control of which had been promised to both American and British firms.

The Oligarchs were allowed to leave the country and those remaining behind were forced to follow Putin’s policies. Foreign control over Russian natural resources ceased and as both the CIA, various foreign firms and the American government had spent huge sums greasing the skids, there was now considerable negative feelings towards Putin.

The next serious moves against Russia came with a plan conceived by the CIA and fully approved by President George W. Bush, whose father had once been head of the CIA.

This consisted of ‘Operation Sickle’ which was designed to surround the western and southern borders of Russia with states controlled by the United States through the guise of NATO membership. Included in this encirclement program were the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia and a number of Asiatic states bordering southern Russia. It was the stated intention of the NATO leadership to put military missiles in all these countries. The so-called “Orange Revolution” funded and directed by the CIA, overthrew the pro-Moscow government in the Ukraine, giving the United States theoretical control over the heavy industrialized Donetz Basin and most importantly, the huge former Soviet naval base at Sebastopol.

The Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) was an American-sponsored 18-month, $64-million program aimed at increasing the capabilities of the Georgian armed forces by training and equipping four 600-man battalions with light weapons, vehicles and communications. The program enabled the US to expedite funding for the Georgian military for Operation Enduring Freedom.

On February 27, 2002, the US media reported that the U.S. would send approximately two hundred United States Army Special Forces soldiers to Georgia to train Georgian troops. The program implemented President Bush’s decision to respond to the Government of Georgia’s request for assistance to enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities and addressed the situation in the Pankisi Gorge.

The program began in May 2002 when American special forces soldiers began training select units of the Georgian Armed Forces, including the 12th Commando Light Infantry Battalion, the 16th Mountain-Infantry Battalion, the 13th “Shavnabada” Light Infantry Battalion, the 11th Light Infantry Battalion, a mechanized company and small numbers of Interior Ministry troops and border guards.

Eventually, responsibility for training Georgian forces was turned over to the US Marine Corps in conjunction with the British Army. British and American teams worked as part of a joint effort to train each of the four infantry battalion staffs and their organic rifle companies. This training began with the individual soldier and continued through fire team, squad, platoon, company, and battalion level tactics as well as staff planning and organization. Upon completing training, each of the new Georgian infantry battalions began preparing for deployment rotations in support of the Global War on Terrorism

The CIA were instrumental in getting Mikheil Saakashvili, an erratic policician, pro-West, into the presidency of Georgia but although he allowed the country to be flooded with American arms and “military trainers” he was not a man easily controlled and under the mistaken belief that Ameriacn military might supported him, commenced to threaten Moscow. Two Georgian provinces were heavily populated by Russians and objected to the inclusion in Georgia and against them, Saakashvili began to make threatening moves.

The 2008 South Ossetia War or Russo-Georgian War (in Russia also known as the Five-Day War) was an armed conflict in August 2008 between Georgia on one side, and Russia and separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the other.

During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reclaim the territory. Georgia claimed that it was responding to attacks on its peacekeepers and villages in South Ossetia, and that Russia was moving non-peacekeeping units into the country. The Georgian attack caused casualties among Russian peacekeepers, who resisted the assault along with Ossetian militia. Georgia successfully captured most of Tskhinvali within hours. Russia reacted by deploying units of the Russian 58th Army and Russian Airborne Troops in South Ossetia, and launching airstrikes against Georgian forces in South Ossetia and military and logistical targets in Georgia proper. Russia claimed these actions were a necessary humanitarian intervention and peace enforcement.

When the Russian incursion was seen as massive and serious, U.S. president George W. Bush’s statement to Russia was: “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.” The US Embassy in Georgia, describing the Matthew Bryza press-conference, called the war an “incursion by one of the world’s strongest powers to destroy the democratically elected government of a smaller neighbor”.

Initially the Bush Administration seriously considered a military response to defend Georgia, but such an intervention was ruled out by the Pentagon due to the inevitable conflict it would lead to with Russia. Instead, Bush opted for a softer option by sending humanitarian supplies to Georgia by military, rather than civilian, aircraft. And he ordered the immediate evacuation of all American military units from Georgia. The huge CIA contingent in the Georgian capital fled by aircraft and the American troops, mostly U.S. Marines, evacuated quickly to the Black Sea where they were evacuated by the U.S. Navy. British and Israeli military units also fled the country and all of them had to leave behind an enormous amount of military equipment to include tanks, light armored  vehicles, small arms, radio equipment, and trucks full of intelligence data they had neither the time nor foresight to destroy.

The immediate result of this demarche was the defection of the so-called “NATO Block” eastern Europeans from the Bush/CIA project who saw the United States as a paper tiger that would not, and could not, defend them against the Russians. In a sense, the Russian incursion into Georgia was a massive political, not a military, victory.

The CIA was not happy with the actions of Vladimir Putin and when he ran for reelection, they poured money into the hands of Putin’s enemies, hoping to reprise the Ukrainian Orange Revolution but the effort was in vain.

And when the Poles, nervous about the apparent speed with which the US forces had abandoned their bases in Georgia, were in the progress of establishing a rapprochement with Vladimir Putin, the CIA was determined to prevent this.

The leadership of Poland was slated to fly into Smolensk for a ceremony to mark the killing by Stalin of many Polish officer prisoners of war.

Someone, the Russians are sure was CIA, tampered with the landing signals on the airfield so that the foggy landing strip appeared to be at a lower altitude. He plane, with the entire upper level of the Polish government, slammed into the ground, killing all of the passengers.

Elegant diplomacy executed by true gentlemen!

 

America ‘One Of 45 Countries’ Infected By Uber-Powerful Israeli Smartphone Spyware

September 18, 2018

by Thomas Brewster

Forbes

Some of the world’s most sophisticated Android and iPhone spyware has been found floating around America for the first time. It’s one of as many as 45 countries in which NSO Group malware was uncovered. And together they may represent breaches of American and other nations’ computer crime laws against cross-border hacking, not to mention a severe concern for citizens’ privacy, according to the researchers who uncovered the professional spy software.

The malware of concern, dubbed Pegasus, is the creation of NSO Group, an Israeli company valued at close to $1 billion. It can hide on Apple or Google devices, spying via the camera, listening in on conversations through the microphone, stealing documents and siphoning off once-private messages, amongst other surreptitious activities.

NSO has always protested that its tools are designed to be used to track the most heinous criminals, from terrorists to drug cartels. But the company has been caught up in spying scandals in Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. In both cases, civil rights organizations were up in arms that the iPhone malware had targeted activists, journalists and lawyers, among others who appeared entirely innocent of any crimes. Just last month, Forbes reported that an Amnesty researcher focusing on issues in the UAE had been targeted by NSO spyware. And most recently, leaked emails included in lawsuits in Israel and Cyprus against NSO Group appeared to show the company had hacked the phone of a journalist working at an Arab newspaper.

Now it seems infections of NSO’s Pegasus tool have metastasized across more nations than previously believed. In a report released Tuesday, researchers from Citizen Lab, based out of the University of Toronto, claimed Pegasus had spread its wings in as many as 45 countries. Previously, Citizen Lab told Forbes it had evidence of as many as 174 individual infections across Android and iOS phones.

Bill Marczak, one of the Citizen Lab researchers behind today’s report, said it was “very concerning” to see Pegasus infections across as many as 45 countries. He said six of those nations were “known spyware abusers,” including Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Mexico. Another two on the list, Togo and Uzbekistan, may not have been caught targeting innocents with malware before but had “dubious human rights records,” Marczak added.

“It indicates the market for these tools remains largely unregulated. And as long as that is the case, repressive regimes will use them to covertly surveil and invisibly sabotage people holding governments to account.”

NSO Group, for its part, said its products weren’t designed to work in the U.S. and claimed there were inaccuracies in the Citizen Lab report.

Hunting a Pegasus

Citizen Lab was able to track down Pegasus infections by creating “fingerprints.” They are formed of unique signifiers of the spy software. For instance, a form of encryption could be unique to the malware, or Web servers associated with its snooping. Citizen Lab is keeping those fingerprints secret for now but found they could then be detected by scanning the internet.

In total, the researchers discovered 36 “distinct operators” of the NSO tool, many of whom are likely customers. Ten appeared to have infected systems across multiple countries, including the U.K. and America, which may be a breach of U.S. law.

As per the Citizen Lab report, handed to Forbes ahead of publication: “The scope of this activity suggests that government-exclusive spyware is widely used to conduct activities that may be illegal in the countries where the targets are located.

“For example, we have identified several possible Pegasus customers not linked to the United States, but with infections in U.S. IP space. While some of these infections may reflect usage of out-of-country VPN or satellite internet service by targets, it is possible that several countries may be actively violating United States law by penetrating devices located within the U.S..”

VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, typically take internet traffic through different servers across various geographies. It’s possible NSO or its customers have used VPN servers in America, rather than infecting cellphones.

The company has repeatedly tried to break the American market. It once set up a company called Westbridge Technologies to sell into the U.S. that was acquired by an American private equity firm, Francisco Partners, in 2014. But there’s been no clear evidence so far that it managed to find clients within the States.

Marczak said there were suspected infections from three separate operators of the Pegasus malware. Two were interested in matters related to the Middle East, the other on Mexico.

“It’s hard to unequivocally rule out factors like VPNs or satellite connections,” Marczak told Forbes. “That said, the ISPs where we found the suspected infections were Cox, Comcast and Time Warner. My mental model of these companies is that they provide cable services and not necessarily VPN or satellite teleports.”

Another five operators were found focusing on European countries, including Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Switzerland.

NSO response

NSO Group said it worked in full compliance with all countries’ applicable laws, including export control regulations.

“Our products have saved the lives of thousands of people, prevented suicide terror attacks, helped convict drug cartel lords, facilitated complex crime investigations and returned kidnapped children to their parents. These are just a few examples of the critical security support our systems have provided worldwide,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement sent to Forbes.

They said there were some problems with the Citizen Lab research. In particular, NSO does not sell in many of the 45 countries listed, the spokesperson added, noting that all contracts went through a business ethics committee.

“The product will not operate outside of approved countries. As an example, the product is specifically designed to not operate in the USA,” the spokesperson said.

Marczak said that, given there were 33 suspected operators with infections across 45 suspected countries, the list necessarily included nations that do not themselves operate Pegasus.

 

US can spy on journalists domestically using FISA warrants, declassified guidelines show

September 19, 2018

RT

Newly declassified Department of Justice memos show guidelines for the US government spying on journalists and their sources using FISA warrants – the same method used to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Two documents reveal the rules the FBI would have to follow in obtaining warrants to spy on reporters under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act  (FISA), implicitly confirming the existence of such cases. The documents were obtained as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

A March 19, 2015 memo by then-Attorney General Eric Holder specifies that the FBI needs to refer surveillance applications against “known media entities” and “known members of the media” to the AG himself, his deputy or, in certain cases, the assistant attorney general of the National Security Division of the DOJ, for review.

This means that Holder and his successor Loretta Lynch, former DAG Sally Yates, and former AAG John P. Carlin all had knowledge of any FISA warrants taken out against members of the media under the Obama administration. The individuals with that authority in the current administration are AG Jeff Sessions, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, and AAG John C. Demers.

Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute have reacted to the revelation by asking if the current government is spying on journalists. The Obama administration has been accused of spying on reporters in the past, though not of using FISA warrants to do so.

While the mainstream media may have reasons for concern, given that relations between them and President Donald Trump can be charitably described as hostile, the rules laid out in the memos suggest it is highly likely that both the Trump and the Obama administration snooped on journalists they considered “foreign agents” – and anyone they might have been in contact with.

“You can safely assume that pretty-much any RT reporter can easily be under surveillance under these guidelines,” investigative journalist Max Blumenthal told RT.

“I always assume I’m under surveillance when I’m abroad,” Blumenthal said, but the newly revealed FBI rules “provide the basis for government officials, including the president, to obtain private communications of reporters operating domestically.

The FISA court cannot be counted on to curb government spying, Blumenthal added, noting that it is a “rubber-stamp” institution that approves something like 98 percent of applications. The DOJ could easily get a warrant to spy on RT journalists solely on the basis of the network’s status under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). RT and Sputnik were the only foreign media outlets the DOJ demanded register under FARA until Tuesday, when it was reported that similar request was made of the China Global Television Network (CTNG) and the news agency Xinhua.

In the most infamous recent case, the court authorized – and extended three times – a surveillance application against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and everyone he was in contact with, based on the “dodgy Steele Dossier,” Blumenthal said.

The FISA application against Page was the subject of the ‘Nunes memo,’ made public in February. In the document, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-California) accused the Obama DOJ and FBI of abusing the FISA process by misleading the court about the origin and authorship of the dossier – compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign through the Washington, DC firm Fusion GPS.

On Monday, Trump ordered the declassification of previously redacted portions of the FISA application against Page dated July 2017, as well as a number of other FBI and DOJ documents. The release of those documents is still pending.

 

 

Opposition to Kavanaugh grows, support at historic low: Reuters/Ipsos poll

September 19, 2018

by Maria Caspani

Reuters

A growing number of Americans said they opposed President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, as the candidate’s confirmation hearings took place and as he fended off a sexual assault claim, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

The Sept. 11-17 poll found that 36 percent of adults surveyed did not want Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court, up 6 points from a similar poll conducted a month earlier.

Only 31 percent of U.S. adults polled said they were in favor of Kavanaugh’s appointment.

If support for his nomination remains this weak, Trump’s pick would rank among the lowest-supported Supreme Court nominees to later be confirmed, according to historical data from Gallup.

“Not after the sexual charges,” said Jeffrey Schmidt, 56, from Colorado, who opposes President Trump and his policies. “Before the allegations, I was not sure.”

Kavanaugh has denied the claim that he assaulted a woman while in high school in 1982, calling it “completely false.”

Support for Kavanaugh was higher among Republicans, but fewer than two out of three, or 64 percent, said they were in favor of his nomination.

Thirty-five-year-old Karis Reeves, a Republican-leaning professional from Arizona, said he supported Kavanaugh’s nomination, but added he wasn’t “informed enough” and that the timing of the sexual misconduct allegation was “conspicuous.”

More women — 33 percent — opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, up seven percentage points from a month earlier.

“It was already a ‘no’ but now it’s a stronger ‘no,’” said Bonnie Mann, 29, when asked about whether her view of Kavanaugh’s nomination had changed since the allegation.

Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in California whose sexual assault allegations have roiled a confirmation process that once seemed smooth for Kavanaugh, wants her claim to be investigated by the FBI before she appears at a Senate hearing her lawyers said on Tuesday.

Trump has stepped up his defense of Kavanaugh and expressed sympathy toward his nominee, saying on Wednesday that it was hard for him “to imagine anything happened.”

The Reuters/Ipsos poll surveyed 2,196 adults online across the United States and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 2 percentage points.

Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Bernadette Baum

 

Trump on Sessions: ‘I don’t have an attorney general’

September 19, 2018

BBC news

US President Donald Trump has said he does not “have an attorney general” in his fiercest attack yet on Jeff Sessions.

In an interview with Hill.TV, Mr Trump renewed criticism of Mr Sessions’ decision to step aside from the inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He also said he was unhappy with Mr Sessions’ response to immigration.

The attorney general is yet to respond to Mr Trump’s comments.

It is unusual for a sitting president to attack their attorney general and critics accuse Mr Trump of trying to meddle in the legal system.

After the president criticised Mr Sessions last month, two key Republican senators signalled that they would support Mr Trump if he were to fire Mr Sessions after the November mid-term elections.

However, other Republicans told Politico they thought this would be a bad move and said they were standing by the attorney general.

Mr Sessions was an early supporter of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.

But he left the Russia investigation – which is also reportedly now looking into whether Mr Trump has attempted to obstruct justice – in 2017, citing a potential conflict of interest, and handed control to his deputy, Rod Rosenstein.

The president insists there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government, and denies he has attempted to obstruct justice.

What did Trump say?

“I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Mr Trump said during Tuesday’s interview.

He added that he was “very disappointed” about Mr Sessions’ decision to leave the investigation.

Asked whether he would consider firing Mr Sessions, the president responded: “We’ll see what happens. A lot of people have asked me to do that.

“And I guess I study history, and I say I just want to leave things alone, but it was very unfair what he did [in recusing himself from the Russia investigation].”

Mr Trump also told Hill.TV that he was “not happy” with Mr Sessions on immigration and other issues, and said the attorney general had performed “very poorly” during the nomination process for the post.

“I mean, he was mixed up and confused, and people that worked with him for, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him, but he was giving very confusing answers,” he said.

“Answers that should have been easily answered. And that was a rough time for him.”

What has Trump previously said about Sessions?

This is not the first time Mr Trump has publicly criticised Mr Sessions.

Last month, Mr Trump accused the attorney general of having failed to take control of the justice department.

Mr Sessions rejected the president’s remarks, saying: “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.

“I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.”

 

Yemen’s Descent into Hell

A Saudi-American War of Terror

September 19, 2018

by Rajan Menon

Tom Dispatch

It’s the war from hell, the savage one that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with seven other Middle Eastern and North African states, have been waging in Yemen since March 2015, with fulsome support from the Pentagon and American weapons galore. It’s got everything. Dead children in the dozens, a never-ending air campaign that pays scant heed to civilians, famine, cholera, you name it. No wonder it’s facing mounting criticism in Congress and from human rights groups. Still, ever since President Donald Trump (like Barack Obama before him) embraced the Saudi-led coalition as this country’s righteous knight errant in the Middle East, the fight against impoverished Yemen’s Houthi rebels — who have, in turn, been typecast as Iran’s cats-paw — has only grown fiercer. Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda affiliate there continues to expand.

For years now, a relentless Saudi air campaign (quite literally fueled by the U.S. military) has hit endless civilian targets, using American smart bombs and missiles, without a peep of protest or complaint from Washington. Only a highly publicized, completely over-the-top slaughter recently forced the Pentagon to finally do a little mild finger wagging. On August 7th, an airstrike hit a school bus — with a laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin — in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them schoolchildren. Seventy-nine others were wounded, including 56 children. Soon after, a U.N. Security Council-appointed group of experts issued a report detailing numerous other egregious attacks on Yemeni civilians, including people attending weddings and funerals. Perhaps the worst among them killed 137 people and wounded 695 others at a funeral in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, this April.

The attack on those schoolchildren and the U.N. report amplified a growing global outcry against the carnage in Yemen. In response, on August 28th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis let it be known that the Trump administration’s support for the Persian Gulf potentates’ military campaign should not be considered unreserved, that the Saudis and their allies must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.” Considering that they haven’t come close to meeting such a standard since the war started nearly five years ago and that the Trump administration clearly has no intention of reducing its support for the Saudis or their war, Mattis’s new yardstick amounted to a cruel joke — at the expense of Yemeni civilians.

The Statistics of Suffering 

Some appalling numbers document the anguish Yemenis have endured. Saudi and Emirati warplanes officially have killed — and it’s considered a conservative estimate — 6,475 civilians and wounded more than 10,000 others since 2015. Targets struck have included farms, homes, marketplaces, hospitals, schools, and mosques, as well as ancient historic sites in Sana’a. And such incidents haven’t been one-off attacks. They have happened repeatedly.

By April 2018, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted 17,243 airstrikes across Yemen, hitting 386 farms, 212 schools, 183 markets, and 44 mosques. Such statistics make laughable the repeated claims of the Saudis and their allies that such “incidents” should be chalked up to understandable errors and that they take every reasonable precaution to protect innocents. Statistics compiled by the independent Yemen Data Project make it clear that the Gulf monarchs don’t lie awake at night lamenting the deaths of Yemeni civilians.

Saudi Arabia and its partners have accused the Houthis, the rebels with whom they have been in such a deadly struggle, of also attacking Yemeni civilians, a charge Human Rights Watch has validated. Yet such a they-do-it-too defense hardly excuses the relentless bombing of non-military sites by a coalition that has overwhelming superiority in firepower. Houthi crimes pale by comparison.

And when it comes to the destruction of civilian lives and livelihoods, believe it or not, that may be the least of it. Take the naval blockade of the country by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that cut the number of ships docking in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida from 129 between January and August 2014 to 21 in the same months of 2017. The result: far less food and medicine entered the country, creating a disaster for Yemenis.

That country, the Arab world’s poorest, has long relied on imports for a staggering 85% of its food, fuel, and medicine, so when prices soared, famine spread, while hunger and malnutrition skyrocketed. Nearly 18 million Yemenis now rely on emergency food aid to survive: that’s an unbelievable 80% of the population. According to the World Bank, “8.4 million more are on the brink of famine.” In December 2017, following a barrage of bad publicity, the Saudi-Emirati blockade was eased marginally, but it had already set in motion a spiral of death.

The blockade also contributed to a cholera epidemic, which the shortage of medicines only exacerbated. According to a World Health Organization report, between April 2017 and July 2018, there were more than 1.1 million cholera cases there. At least 2,310 people died from the disease, most of them children. It is believed to be the worst cholera outbreak since statistics began to be compiled in 1949. At 800,000 cases between 2010 and 2017, Haiti held the previous record, one that the Yemenis surpassed within half a year of the first cases appearing. The prime contributors to the epidemic: drinking water contaminated by rotting garbage (uncollected because of the war), devastated sewage systems, and water filtration plants that stopped running due to lack of fuel — all the result of the horrendous bombing campaign.

Wartime economic blockades starve and sicken civilians and soldiers alike and so amount to a war crime. The Saudi-Emirati claim that the blockade’s sole purpose is to stanch the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthis is nonsense, nor can it be considered a legitimate act of self-defense, even though it was instituted after the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at the airport in the Saudi capital and the residence of that country’s monarch. (Both were shot down by Saudi air defenses and were clear responses to coalition airstrikes on Houthi-held territory that killed 136 civilians.) By the standards of international humanitarian law or simply common sense, choking off Yemen’s imports was a disproportionate response, and clairvoyance wasn’t required to foresee the calamitous consequences to follow.

True to form, President Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, echoed Saudi charges that the Houthi missiles were Iranian-supplied Qiam-1s and condemned that country’s interference in Yemen. Given the scale of destruction by a foreign coalition using armaments and technical assistance provided by the United States (and Britain), her comments, in less grim circumstances, would have been laughable.

Those American-supplied weapons have included cluster munitions, which pose a particular hazard to civilians because, when dropped from a plane, their devastating bomblets often disperse over enormous areas. (Such bombs are banned under a 2008 treaty signed by 120 countries that neither Riyadh nor Washington has joined.) In May 2016, the Obama White House confirmed that it had stopped sending such weapons to Saudi Arabia, which then continued to use Brazilian-made variants. However, other American arms have continued to flow to Saudi Arabia, while its warplanes rely on U.S. Air Force tankers for mid-air refueling (88 million pounds of fuel as of this January according to a Central Command spokeswoman), while the Saudi military has received regular intelligence information and targeting advice from the Pentagon since the war began. And with the advent of Donald Trump, such military involvement has only deepened: U.S. Special Operations forces are now on the Saudi-Yemen border, helping to find and attack Houthi redoubts.

In June 2018, ignoring U.S. opposition, the Saudi coalition heightened the risk to Yemeni civilians yet more by launching an offensive (“Golden Victory”) to capture the port of Hodeida. (So much for the Pentagon’s standard claim that supporting the war gives the U.S. influence over how it is waged and so limits civilian casualties.) Saudi and Emirati airpower and warships supported Emirati and Sudanese troops on the ground joined by allied Yemeni militias. The advance, however, quickly stalled in the face of Houthi resistance, though only after at least 50,000 families had fled Hodeida and basic services for the remaining 350,000 were disrupted, creating fears of a new outbreak of cholera.

The Roots of War

Yemen’s progression to its present state of perdition began as the Arab Spring’s gales swept through the Middle East in 2011, uprooting or shaking regimes from Tunisia to Syria. Street demonstrations grew against Yemen’s strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and only gathered strength as he attempted to quell them. In response, he allied ever more strongly with Saudi Arabia and the United States, alienating the Houthis, whose main bastion, the governate of Saada, abuts the Saudi border. Adherents of Zaydi Islam, the Houthis played a pivotal role in creating a political movement, Ansar Allah, in 1992 to assert the interests of their community against the country’s Sunni majority. In an effort to undercut them, the Saudis have long promoted radical Sunni religious leaders in Yemen’s north, while intermittently raiding Houthi territories.

As a Houthi rebellion began, Saleh tried to make himself an even more indispensable ally of Washington in its post-9/11 anti-terrorist campaigns, notably against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a growing local franchise of al-Qaeda. For good measure, he joined the Saudis in painting the Houthis little more than tools of an Iran that Washington and Riyadh both loathed. When those powers nonetheless came to see the Yemeni autocrat as a political liability, they helped oust him and transfer power to his deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Such moves failed to calm the waters, as the country started to disintegrate and Saudi-U.S. efforts to consolidate the transition from Saleh to Hadi unraveled.

Meanwhile, regular American drone strikes against AQAP angered many Yemenis. In their eyes, not only did the attacks violate Yemen’s sovereignty, they intermittently killed civilians. Hadi’s praise for the drone campaign only discredited him further. AQAP’s power continued to grow, resentment in southern Yemen rose, and criminal gangs and warlords began to operate with impunity in its cities, highlighting the Hadi government’s ineffectuality. Neoliberal economic reforms only further enriched a clutch of families that had long controlled much of Yemen’s wealth, while the economic plight of most Yemenis worsened radically. The unemployment rate was nearly 14% in 2017 (and exceeded 25% for young people), while the poverty rate rose precipitously, as did inflation.

It was a formula for disaster and when Hadi proposed a plan to create a federal system for Yemen, the Houthis were infuriated. New boundaries would, among other things, have cut their homeland off from the Red Sea coast. So they gave up on his government and girded for battle. Soon, their forces were advancing southward. In September 2014, they captured the capital, Sana’a, and proclaimed a new national government. The following March, they occupied Aden in southern Yemen and Hadi, whose government had moved there, promptly fled across the border to Riyadh. The first Saudi airstrikes against Sana’a were launched in March 2015 and Yemen’s descent to hell began.

The American Role

The commonplace rendition of the war in Yemen pits a U.S.-backed Saudi coalition against the Houthis, cast as agents of Iran and evidence of its increasing influence in the Middle East. Combatting terrorism and countering Iran became the basis for Washington’s support of the Saudi-led war. Predictably, as this cartoonish portrayal of a complicated civil war gained ground in the mainstream American media and among Beltway pundits (as well, of course, as in the Pentagon and White House), inconvenient facts were shunted aside.

Still, all these years and all those dead later, it’s worth considering some of those facts. There are, for instance, significant differences between the Houthis’ Zaydi variant of Shia Islam and the Twelver Shiism dominant in Iran — and some similarities between Zaydis and Sunnis — which makes the ubiquitous claims about a Iran-Houthi faith-based pact shaky. Moreover, Iran did not jump into the fray during the violent 2004-2010 clashes between Saleh and the Houthis and did not have longstanding ties to them either. In addition, contrary to the prevailing view in Washington, Iran is unlikely to be their main source of weaponry and support. Sheer distance and the Saudi coalition’s naval blockade have made it next to impossible for Iran to supply arms to the Houthis in the volume alleged. Besides, having pillaged various military bases during their march toward Aden, the Houthis do not lack for weaponry. Iran’s influence in Yemen has undoubtedly increased since 2015, but reducing the intricacies of that country’s internal crisis to Iranian meddling and a Tehran-led Shiite bloc expanding from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula amounts to, at best, a massive oversimplification.

The obsession of Trump and his key advisers with Iran (a remarkable number of them are Iranophobes) and The Donald’s obsession with plugging American arms makers and hawking their wares helps explain their embrace of the House of Saud and continuing support for its never-ending assault on Yemen. (Jared Kushner’s bromance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman undoubtedly played a part as well.) None of that, however, explains the full-scale American backing for the Saudi-led intervention there in the Obama years. Even as his administration denounced Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians, his officials seemed unmoved by the suffering war was inflicting on Yemenis. In fact, the Obama administration offered $115 billion worth of weaponry to Riyadh, including a $1.15 billion package finalized in August 2016, when the scale of Yemen’s catastrophe was already all too obvious.

In recent years, opposition to the war in Congress has been on the rise, with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna playing prominent roles in mobilizing it. But such congressional critics had no effect on Obama’s war policy and are unlikely to sway Trump’s. They face formidable barriers. The mainstream narrative on the war remains powerful, while the Gulf monarchies continue to buy vast quantities of American weaponry. And don’t forget the impressive, money-is-no-object Saudi-Emirati lobbying operation in Washington.

That, then, is the context for the Pentagon’s gentle warning about the limits of U.S. support for the bombing campaign in Yemen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s subsequent certification, as required by Congress, that the Saudis and Emiratis were taking perfectly credible action to lower civilian casualties — without which the U.S. military could not continue refueling their planes. (Mattis “endorsed and fully supported” Pompeo’s statement.)  As the fifth anniversary of this appalling war approaches, American-made arms and logistical aid remain essential to it.  Consider President Trump’s much-ballyhooed arms sales to the Saudis, even if they don’t total $100 billion (as he claimed): Why then would the Saudi and Emirati monarchs worry that the White House might actually do something like cutting off those lucrative sales or terminating the back-end support for their bombing campaign?

One thing is obvious: U.S. policy in Yemen won’t achieve its declared goals of defeating terrorism and rolling back Iran. After all, its drone strikes began there in 2002 under George W. Bush. Under Obama, as in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, drones became Washington’s anti-terrorist weapon of choice. There were 154 drone strikes in Yemen during the Obama years according to the most reliable high-end estimates, and civilian casualties ranged between 83 and 101. Under Trump they soared quickly, from 21 in 2016 to 131 in 2017.

The reliance on drone attacks has bolstered al-Qaeda’s narrative that the American war on terror amounts to a war on Muslims, whose lives are deemed expendable. And so many years later, in the chaos of Yemen, the group’s power and reach is only growing. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led intervention is also likely to prove not just self-defeating but self-prophetic. It seems to be cementing an alliance between Iran and the Houthis who, though they have been pushed out of Aden, still control a big chunk of Yemen. Meanwhile, in a move that could make the war even deadlier, the Emiratis appear to be striking out on their own, supporting secession in southern Yemen. There’s not much to show on the anti-terrorism front either. Indeed, the Saudi coalition’s airstrikes and U.S. drone attacks may be moving Yemenis, enraged by the destruction of their homes and livelihoods and the deaths of loved ones, toward AQAP. In short, a war on terror has turned into a war of and for terror.

In Yemen, the United States backs a grim military intervention for which — unless you are a weapons company — it is hard to find any justification, practical or moral. Unfortunately, it is even harder to imagine President Trump or the Pentagon reaching such a conclusion and changing course.

 

Yemen conflict: 5 million children face famine

More than 5 million children are at risk of famine in war-torn Yemen, according to the charity Save the Children. Renewed attacks on the key port city of Hodeida could further disrupt food, fuel and aid supplies.

September 19, 2018

DW

Disruption to supplies coming through Hodeida could “cause starvation on an unprecedented scale,” the UK-based NGO Save the Children has said in a new report.

Renewed attacks on the Red Sea city by the Saudi-led coalition could temporarily shut down the key port, putting 5.2 million children at risk of famine as food and fuel prices soar.

Even the smallest disruption to food, fuel and aid supplies through its vital port could mean death for hundreds of thousands of malnourished children unable to get the food they need to stay alive,” said Yemen representative Tamer Kirolos on Wednesday.

Around 80 percent of food, fuel and humanitarian aid enters the impoverished country through Hodeida, which has been under control of Houthi rebels since 2014.

The report said rising food and transportation prices were already endangering families across Yemen.

The Yemeni army, pro-government militias and the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition relaunched a bid to retake Hodeida earlier this month after nearly two months of UN-mediated peace talks collapsed.

The UN has warned an assault on the city of 600,000 people could impact food distribution to 8 million people dependent on humanitarian aid for survival.

‘Babies too weak to cry’

“Millions of children don’t know when or if their next meal will come,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International. “In one hospital I visited in north Yemen, the babies were too weak to cry, their bodies exhausted by hunger.

“This war risks killing an entire generation of Yemen’s children, who face multiple threats, from bombs to hunger to preventable diseases like cholera,” she added.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed by the Yemen conflict and 3 million have been displaced. Thousands more have died from malnutrition and disease.

Houthi rebels overran parts of the north and took control of the capital, Saana, in 2014.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 to support the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

They have imposed a partial blockade of Hodeida to thwart what they say are Iranian arms shipments to the Houthis, charges the Houthis and Iran have denied.

Rights groups have accused both warring parties of potential war crimes.

Western governments have come under criticism for selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States provides intelligence and air refueling to Saudi jets, which have been accused of repeatedly bombing civilian targets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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