U.S. needs to stop Russian electoral interference, NSA’s top civilian leader says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

U.S. needs to stop Russian electoral interference, NSA’s top civilian leader says

March 25 at 6:48 PM
The U.S. government has not figured out how to deter the Russians from meddling in democratic processes, and stopping their interference in elections, both here and in Europe, is a pressing problem, the top civilian leader of the National Security Agency said.The NSA was among the intelligence agencies that concluded that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ordered a cyber-enabled influence campaign in 2016 aimed at undermining confidence in the election, harming Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and helping elect GOP nominee Donald Trump.“This is a challenge to the foundations of our democracy,” said NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett, 58, who is retiring at the end of April, in an interview at Fort Meade, Md., the agency’s headquarters. “It’s the sanctity of our process, of evaluating and looking at candidates, and having accurate information about the candidates. So the idea that another nation-state is [interfering with that] is a pretty big deal and something we need to figure out. How do we counter that? How do we identify that it’s happening — in real-time as opposed to after the fact? And what do we do as a nation to make it stop?”The lack of answers, he said, “as an American citizen . . . gives me a lot of heartburn.”

Ledgett, known as a straight-shooting, unflappable intelligence professional, began his NSA career in 1988 teaching cryptanalysis — how to crack codes — and rose to become the agency’s top civilian leader . The NSA, with 35,000 civilian and military employees, gathers intelligence on foreign targets overseas through wiretaps and increasingly by cyberhacking. Its other mission is to secure the government computers that handle classified information and other data critical to military and intelligence activities.

Asked whether the NSA had any inkling that the Kremlin was going to orchestrate the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails last July, he demurred. “I actually don’t want to talk about that.”

At the same time, he said, what Moscow did was “no strategic surprise.” Rather, “what may have been a tactical surprise was that they would do it the way they did.”

Campaigns of propaganda and disinformation, dating back to the Soviet Union, have long been a staple of the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Now, however, it is making effective use of its hacking prowess to weaponize information and combine it with its influence operations, or what intelligence officials call “active measures.”

“In general, if you’re responding to nation-state actions like that, you have to find out what are the levers that will move the nation-state actors and are you able and willing to pull those levers?” said Ledgett when asked how the United States should respond.

The Obama administration slapped economic sanctions on two Russian spy agencies involved in hacking the DNC, three companies believed to have provided support for government cyber operations, and four Russian cyber officials. The administration also ordered 35 Russian operatives to leave the United States and shut down Russian-owned facilities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island believed to have been used for intelligence purposes.

Yet, intelligence officials including NSA Director Michael S. Rogers and FBI Director James B. Comey said on Monday that they believe Moscow will strike again — in 2020, if not in 2018.

So should the government mull other options, such as hacking Russian officials’ emails or financial records and releasing them in a bid to embarrass or show corruption? “I think every element of national power is something we should consider,” he said. “That would probably fall under something like a covert action. But if that’s the right answer, that’s the right answer.”

Ledgett is probably most well-known for leading the agency task force that handled the fallout from the leaks of classified information by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013. The disclosures prompted a national and global debate about the proper scope of government surveillance and led Congress to pass some reforms, including the outlawing of bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata.

But the disclosures also caused great upheaval in NSA’s collection efforts, hurt morale, and damaged relations with allies and with tech firms that enable court-ordered surveillance, Ledgett said. “It was a terrible time for the agency,” he said.

He oversaw the probe of the internal breach; relations with Congress, the White House, foreign governments and the press; and the effort to prevent a recurrence. “There was a bit of a narrative on the outside about this evil agency that hoovered up all the communications in the world and rooted through them for things that were interesting, and that wasn’t actually true.”

The operational hit was significant, he said. More than 1,000 foreign targets — whether a person or a group or an organization — altered or attempted to alter their means of communications as a result of the disclosures, he said. They “tried with varying degrees of success to remove themselves from our ability to see what they were doing,” he said.

The agency, which has some 200 stations worldwide, reworked capabilities including virtually all of its hacking tools. “In some cases, we had to do things very differently” to gather the same foreign intelligence as before.

Raj De, a former NSA general counsel, said Ledgett was relied on heavily by both Rogers and Rogers’s predecessor, Keith B. Alexander. “He has really been a source of steadiness for the agency,” said De, now head of the Cybersecurity & Data Privacy practice at Mayer Brown, a global law firm. “What is particularly notable about Rick is his willingness to engage with all types of people, to keep an open mind.”

In December 2013, Alexander, when he was the NSA director, said that Snowden should be given no amnesty. But Ledgett told CBS’s “60 Minutes” then that “my personal view is yes, it’s worth having a conversation about.”

In his interview earlier this week, however, he said what he meant was that by engaging Snowden in conversation, the agency might have been able to learn what material had not been released and where it was.

Today, he said, there is no longer any need to talk to Snowden. “He’s past his usefulness to us.” Snowden, who is living in Moscow under a grant of asylum, has been charged with violating the Espionage Act, and Ledgett said he should not be pardoned. “I’ve always been of the idea that ‘Hey, I think he needs to face the music for what he did.’ ”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Erdogan Says Turkey May Hold Referendum On EU Accession Bid

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY) 

Erdogan says Turkey may hold referendum on EU accession bid

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey may hold a second referendum on whether to continue with European Union accession talks following a planned vote on April 16 that could give him sweeping new powers.

“Right now we are holding a referendum on April 16 and after that we could choose to do a second one on the (EU) accession talks and we would abide by whatever our people would say there,” Erdogan told a forum in the southern city of Antalya.

Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but they have moved very slowly due to disagreements over Cyprus, human rights and other issues. Relations between Ankara and Brussels have become particularly strained in recent months.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Hate: Is It Ignorance Being Fulfilled?

 

This afternoon in London England there was another ‘terrorist incident’, this time just outside the entrance to their Parliament Building. The last I heard before I started this commentary there are four dead and about 20 wounded. One of the dead is the attacker, another is a Police Officer.  The other two dead people were killed by being driven over by the attacker. What a typical  example of ones hate being forced upon others lives. Folks, when a person chooses to murder someone, do you think they are doing this because they are ‘happy’ with the one they decide to kill? I tend to think, no, how about you? Killing other people, outside of contract obligations such as when you are in your Nation’s Military, or in the case of self-defence, murder is usually done through or because of hate. So, today the actions of one man ended the lives of three others and harmed and scarred many others. One man’s actions caused a lot of chain reactions not just in heroic goodness of some, but in the actions of the Press there in London informing we the people of the events, step by step. Yes they did a rather good job of informing me of the steps that (England’s) has in place that security protocol is designed to function within. In this case a person filled with hate could best figure out where to form a multi-tiered attack. Think of the pure hate concept of bringing an ambulance to a bomb or mass shooting location, filled with C-4 just so you can kill as many First Responders as you possibly can. Folks, this is not the way of a rational mind, nor of a God! It is not a mind filled with any form of morality, it is a mind filled with Evil, hate. When we humans decide to degrade other human beings to a ‘less than’ human status it becomes easier and easier to degrade, hurt or even kill them.

 

Friends this type of hate that we witnessed this afternoon in London is not just a hiccup in human history that we are living in, this is the reality for humans for ever more. Europe is being forced to deal with this hatred toward their own people and toward their own cultures. Here in the U.S. we have suffered several examples of hatred also toward our people and our chosen ways of life. Yet Europe and her people are a tender underbelly to a region full of hatred, for you and your way of life. I believe that the U.S. and all of the ‘America’s’ are just starting to see the damage caused by hatred. The olden days (our version of the good old days), they’re gone, they are not going to return, but why not? The answer is hatred folks. Hatred has a great helpmate which also causes so much heartache and that is ignorance. No one on this planet will ever have a totally unmonitored lifestyle again, nor will we ever be free of people hating you/us. Welcome to the new world everyone, the one filled with unending security measures brought on because of threats that are real or imagined. You see, fear caused by hatred can easily be  duplicated in the one who fears as a way to grow into another hate filled, ignorant, Satan serving beast. A person who is hate filled creates and early grave for themselves and those around them, and a footstool in Hell.

China Underwater Discovery Verifies Unproven Battle As A Historical Event

 

A gold seal was one of the many treasures recovered from the Minjiang River in Sichuan, China.

Underwater Treasure Found in Southwestern China Makes Reality out of 300-Year-Old Mythical Battle

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Chinese archaeologists announced yesterday the discovery of an immense underwater treasure. They stated that they recovered more than 10,000 gold and silver items which had been sitting at the bottom of a river in southwestern Sichuan Province for more than three centuries.

Discovery Verifies Unproven Battle as a Historical Event

Mr. Gao Dalun, director of Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, stated that the finds included a vast amount of gold, silver, and bronze coins and jewelry, as well as iron weapons such as swords, knives, and spears. The archaeologists that made the discovery added that the characters carved in the gold and silver artifacts are still clear and the carved patterns on the jewelry show graceful craftsmanship.

Golden ingot and jewelry unearthed during an archaeological excavation in southwest China's Sichuan Province, where more than 10,000 gold and silver items make up a treasure that sank to the bottom of a river over 300 years ago.

Golden ingot and jewelry unearthed during an archaeological excavation in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, where more than 10,000 gold and silver items make up a treasure that sank to the bottom of a river over 300 years ago. (Xinhua/Li He)

The treasure site, positioned at the crossing of Minjiang River and its branch Jinjiang River, is 31 miles (49.89 km) south of Chengdu. It is thought that in 1646, peasant uprising leader Zhang Xianzhong was defeated in the area by Ming Dynasty soldiers while trying to transport his treasure to the south. Nearly a thousand boats loaded with the valuables sank in the fight and were buried in the river bed. However, for centuries this story was more myth than fact, with no reliable sources verifying it.  Wang Wei, a Chinese archaeologist stated as The Hindu reports, “The objects have helped identify the area where the battle was fought and are direct evidence of this historical event.”

Silver coins were some of the treasures unearthed during excavations in Sichuan, China.

Silver coins were some of the treasures unearthed during excavations in Sichuan, China. (Xinhua/Chen Xie)

The Importance of the Treasure from a Scientific and Historical Point of View

Many valuable objects were found at the site back in 2005, when construction workers found seven silver ingots on the river bank. Five years later, and after the close examination of the finds, local authorities declared the area a protected site in 2010. Despite the evidence, however, a comprehensive excavation didn’t follow as experts argued over the existence of the legendary “sunken boats.”

The treasure found in in Sichuan, China also includes these silver ingots with writing still visible on them.

The treasure found in in Sichuan, China also includes these silver ingots with writing still visible on them. (Xinhua/Li He)

Treasure hunters, on the other hand, were not as patient, as the facts clearly showed: after the local police conducted a year-long investigation in 2015, they arrested over thirty suspects and impounded thousands of gold and silver coins. That nudged experts to agree that an immediate excavation of the site was necessary in order to prevent further raids from treasure hunters. Eventually, Sichuan province launched the project to uncover the hidden treasures and artifacts in January, when the dry season arrived, and they pumped away the river water.

Excavating the site where the treasure was found in Sichuan, China.

Excavating the site where the treasure was found in Sichuan, China. (XINHUA)

In closing, Li Boqian, an archaeologist from Peking University, thinks that the objects of this discovery are of remarkable value and historical significance, “The items are extremely valuable to science, history and art. They are of great significance for research into the political, economic, military and social lives of the Ming Dynasty,” said Boqian, as Xinhuanet reported.

Archaeologists will continue excavations until April 2017.

Top Image: A gold seal was one of the many treasures recovered from the Minjiang River in Sichuan, China. Source: China.org

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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For China And The U.S. ‘Cooperation Is The Only Way Forward’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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Cooperation the only way forward

COOPERATION is the only correct choice for China and the United States, President Xi Jinping told visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Beijing yesterday.

There are important development opportunities resulting from China-US relations, said Xi during the meeting in the Great Hall of People in Beijing.

Xi said he had maintained sound communications with his US counterpart Donald Trump through phone calls and messages, and they had agreed that the two countries could be good cooperative partners.

Xi said that to advance China-US ties in a healthy and steady manner, both sides could enhance exchanges at various levels; expand cooperation in bilateral, regional and global fields; and properly address and manage sensitive issues.

Xi suggested the two countries increase strategic trust and mutual understanding, review bilateral ties from long-term and strategic perspectives and expand fields of cooperation for their mutual benefit.

The two countries should also enhance coordination on regional hotspot issues, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns and encourage friendly exchanges between their two Peoples.

Tillerson told Xi, who extended an invitation for President Trump to visit China, that the US president valued communications with his Chinese counterpart and looked forward to meeting Xi and visiting China.

The US side is ready to develop relations with China based on the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, said Tillerson.

China and the US are discussing arrangements for a meeting between the two presidents and exchanges at other levels, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during his talks with Tillerson on Saturday.

“We attach great importance to your visit,” Wang told the US visitor at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.

It was Tillerson’s first visit to China since he assumed office last month and he is also the first Cabinet-level official in the new US administration to visit.

China-US ties are developing steadily in a positive direction, Wang said.

He called for more cooperation in foreign affairs, the economy and trade, the military, law enforcement, people-to-people exchanges and local communication.

The essence of China-US trade relations is mutual benefit, said Wang, and he encouraged both countries to expand trade and investment cooperation.

Wang also restated China’s position on Taiwan and South China Sea issues, emphasizing that China and the US should respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, discreetly deal with sensitive issues to protect bilateral ties from unnecessary influences.

Tillerson said the US adheres to the “One China” policy and added that closer cooperation and coordination between the two countries was necessary in the face of a changing international situation. The US would like to have more high-level exchanges with China, and more dialogue in diplomatic security, macroeconomic policy coordination, law enforcement, cyberspace and people-to-people exchanges, he said.

Tillerson’s visit aims to make “political preparations” for the meeting between two presidents, and both sides would make the best use of this chance to seek common ground, said Jia Xiudong, a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.

Tillerson arrived in Beijing on Saturday from Seoul. His first official Asian tour began on Wednesday and also took him to Japan.

Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Trump Russia claims: FBI’s Comey confirms investigation of election ‘interference’
Media caption What FBI Director Comey said on Trump, Russia and wiretaps

FBI director James Comey has confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

However, Mr Comey said his agency had seen no evidence to back up President Trump’s claim that his phones had been tapped by the Obama administration.

He was giving evidence to the congressional intelligence committee.

The Trump administration said nothing had changed and there was “no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion”.

Russia has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election.

The FBI investigation would examine possible links between individuals in the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mr Comey said.

The FBI would also assess whether crimes were committed, he said.

Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion.

“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

putinImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Mr Putin “hated Mrs Clinton so much” that he had a strong preference for her rival, Mr Comey said

National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers also appeared before the committee.

He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to harm the campaign of Mr Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.

‘No wiretap on Trump Tower’

Mr Comey said he had no information on unsubstantiated claims tweeted by Mr Trump earlier this month that former president Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower.

This was despite looking carefully for such evidence, he said. The Department of Justice also had no information, he said.


Analysis – BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher

FBI Director James Comey (L) and National Security Agency Director Mike RogersImage copyrightAFP

What FBI Director James Comey didn’t say during intelligence hearings today on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was as important as what he did say.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians? No comment. Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone, who reportedly had communications with individuals who hacked the Democratic National Committee emails? No comment. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after leaked evidence surfaced that he had communicated with a Russian ambassador about US sanctions? No comment.

“I don’t want to answer any questions about a US person,” Mr Comey said.

All of this is evidence that the investigation isn’t just ongoing, it’s substantive and far-reaching.

While Democrats will likely be encouraged by this, it was telling that Republicans pursued the White House line that the topic of greatest concern was the intelligence leaks that put this story in the headlines.

If Mr Trump can consolidate his party’s support, it will go a long way towards insulating the president against any fallout from this investigation.


Meanwhile, Admiral Rogers strongly denied that the NSA had asked Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to spy on Mr Trump – a claim that had been repeated by Mr Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer.

The allegation “clearly frustrates a key ally of ours”, he added.

GCHQ has described the claim as “utterly ridiculous”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump at a press conferenceImage copyrightREUTERS
Image caption Mr Trump raised eyebrows after he suggested both he and Mrs Merkel had been wiretapped by Mr Obama

Mr Trump’s recent joke about how Mr Obama had wiretapped both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and him “complicates things” with an ally, Admiral Rogers added.

However, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said it was still possible that other surveillance activities had been used against Mr Trump and his associates.

What are the allegations?

In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing messages in order to help Mr Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

“That was a fairly easy judgement for the community,” Mr Comey said. “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.”

However, late last summer the Russians concluded that Mr Trump had no chance of winning, based on polls at the time, and so focused on undermining Mrs Clinton, Mr Comey said.

Media caption Trump’s wiretap saga explained in two minutes

Both intelligence chiefs said that Russia had made its intervention in last year’s election campaign unusually obvious, perhaps to further its aim of undermining US democracy.

Mr Comey said Russia had succeeded in this goal, by sowing chaos, division and discord.

Mr Trump has since faced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he saw no evidence of any collusion, up until the time he left his post in January.

Which campaign members have been accused of deception?

Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.

Mr Flynn was fired last month after he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser.

Michael FlynnImage copyright AP
Image caption Michael Flynn encouraged a softer policy on Russia and a harder line on Iran

He allegedly discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Mr Sessions was accused by Democrats of lying under oath during his confirmation hearing in January.

He said he had “no communications with the Russians”, but it later emerged that he had met Mr Kislyak during the campaign.

Mr Sessions denied any wrongdoing, but removed himself from an FBI inquiry into Russia’s alleged interference in the election.

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US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS PAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

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US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

Korea

Beijing – The United States and China vowed to work together against threats of the North Korea’s nuclear program, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the situation has reached a “dangerous” level.

Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart’s language seemed more reconciliatory in light US President Donald Trump’s accusations that China was not exerting enough efforts to control its troublesome neighbor. Beijing had meanwhile accused the White House of causing tensions.

“I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and things have reached a rather dangerous level. And we have committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any kind of conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson added during a press conference in Beijing with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Tillerson’s visit to China is the last leg of his Asian trip, where he made stops in Japan and South Korea.

He avoided using strong language during the joint press conference with Wang, who seemed to have reproached his counterpart for statements he had made earlier this week.

Wang urged the US to remain “cool-headed” and defended his government’s position, saying all international parties should seek diplomatic solutions while implementing UN sanctions against the regime in North Korea.

“We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision,” he added.

Neither parties announced any tangible future steps to solve the issue and Tillerson did not publically respond to Beijing’s calls for negotiations with North Korea.

Trump had increased the pressure on China, accusing it of not exploiting all means possible to control North Korea, whom he said considered Beijing to be its closest ally and economic benefactor.

“North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” he tweeted.

The developments come after North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and launched missiles last month. The US considered the test-launch an attack on its bases in Japan.

The developments alarmed South Korea, spurring it to deploy the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD). The Chinese leadership had accused the US of aggravating the situation through military trainings with its ally Seoul and the deployment of THAAD.

China is hesitant to increase its pressure on North Korea, whose reactions can be unpredictable.

Washington and Seoul insist that the THAAD system is for defense purposes only, but Beijing fears it could undermine its capabilities to denuclearize North Korea.

Beijing had always called for diplomatic talks to denuclearize North Korea, which is barred by the UN from proceeding with its program.

Wang also said that the Korean peninsula nuclear issue is of interest to everyone, reiterating his country’s commitment to the goal of denuclearization

“We are for the settlement of this issue through dialogue and negotiations and the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and the overall region,” he added on Saturday.

Wang reiterated that China, as a close neighbor of the peninsula and a major power, has devoted a lot of energy and efforts to seek a settlement to the issue. The tremendous important efforts China has made are visible to all, he said.

Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil before being appointed secretary of state, said that a military option is possible if Pyongyang intensified its work.

“We do believe that if North Korea stands down on this nuclear program, that is their quickest means to begin to develop their economy and to become a vibrant economy for the North Korean people,” the US officials said.

He added: “All options are on the table, but we cannot predict the future.”

Maybe one of the reasons for the calm American-Chinese rhetoric is the expected talks between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi during the latter’s upcoming visit to US next month, the first such summit between the two leaders.

Trump is expected to host Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on April 6 and 7 for an informal “no necktie” encounter. Experts hope this meeting will reduce tensions between the two officials.

China shares US fears of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition, but it makes sure not to provoke its neighbor.

In February, Beijing issued a strong position when it announced it will stop coal imports from North Korea until the end of this year.

North Korea expert at Beijing University Wong Dong said: “It is a mistake to think that China can control Pyongyang and it is not reasonable for Washington to accuse Beijing of doing nothing. The situation is complicated and sensitive and there is no magical solution.”

The Obama administration ruled out any diplomatic involvement with Pyongyang until the latter shows commitment to denuclearization.

The communist state insists on owning nuclear weapons to defend itself and executed its first test in 2006 despite international objection. It had done four other tests, two last year.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

Trump

Washington –President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to NATO and the US, and that Berlin “should pay.”

Trump’s statements come following his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Trump took it to twitter where he said: “Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

The two leaders did not show any signs of agreement on several pending issues, including NATO and defense expenditures.

During a joint press conference with Merkel, Trump complained that other NATO members have not paid their dues for years. He insisted they pay for “their fair share of the defense they receive.”

NATO countries are asked to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to the alliance’s defense spending.

Merkel said that Germany agreed on the need for “increasing expenditure” to meet the 2 percent goal.

Trump then criticized the way the media had dealt with the meeting saying on Twitter also: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Expenditure was not the only point of disagreement between the two. A German journalist brought up the case of wiretapping and Trump’s accusations that British Intelligence was working with Obama to spy on him.

Despite constant negations and absence of evidence, the US President continued with his allegations and even joked that Merkel had also been a victim of wiretapping.

Since his arrival at the White House, the Republican billionaire had written several controversial tweets, none of which had damaged his credibility as much as the one he wrote on March 4.

He tweeted: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.”

Media reports reveal each day new findings on Trump’s or his close personnel’s contacts with Russia.

Trump had repeatedly denied any affiliations to the Kremlin, but he could not control the flow of information and therefore decided to attack his predecessor.

Since then, Obama, former intelligence director James Clapper and many democratic and republican officials have denied those allegations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to apologize to the UK for press secretary Sean Spicer’s allegation that the GCHQ had spied on Trump Tower for Obama. Spicer almost caused a diplomatic crisis by defending the president.

On Thursday, Spicer quoted a series of articles that discussed surveillance. He referenced comments made earlier this week on Fox News TV by Andrew Napolitano in relation to Trump’s controversial claim that wiretaps had been installed at his New York residence.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ,” Spicer said in the press conference.

British officials were quick to comment on Napolitano’s claims, saying they were “rubbish”.

A government source reportedly said the claim was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd”.

It told Reuters that under British law, GCHQ “can only gather intelligence for national security purposes” and noted that a US election “clearly doesn’t meet that criteria”.

“As for as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said during his press conference with Chancellor Merkel, referring to reports that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel in 2010.

Such incidents do not reassure US Congressmen, including those in Trump’s camp. Trump promised to reveal next week new evidences that prove his allegations.

Chairman of the House intelligence committee, Devin Nunes confirmed Friday that the Justice Department had “fully complied” with the committee’s request.

He did not provide any further details.

FBI Director James Comey is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

The public hearing is the first of several that the intelligence committees are expected to hold on alleged Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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31 Killed When Airstrike Hits Refugee Boat Near Yemen’s Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

31 Killed When Airstrike Hits Refugee Boat Near Yemen’s Coast

SANAA, Yemen — A boat packed with Somali migrants came under attack overnight off Yemen’s coast close to a strategic Red Sea strait, in an incident that killed 31 people, a U.N. agency and a Yemeni medical official said Friday.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the victims carried UNHCR papers. Laurent De Boeck, the IOM chief in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, said the agency believes all the people on board the stricken vessel were refugees but it was not immediately clear where they came from in Somalia.

The SABA news agency in Yemen, run by the country’s Shiite rebels, said the attack was an airstrike that took place off the coast of Hodeida province, close to the Bab al-Mandab strait. It did not say who was behind the airstrike.

De Boeck added that 77 survivors who were pulled out of the water were taken to a detention center in Hodieda. He said the IOM is in contact with the hospital, clinics, and the detention center to provide the necessary medical care the victims.

In Geneva, IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters that he was unable to confirm news reports indicating that an Apache helicopter gunship was responsible for the attack. “Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals,” he told The Associated Press.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government, has accused the Shiite Houthi rebels of using Hodeida as a smuggling route for weapons. There was no immediate comment from the coalition.

The coastal province has been under heavy airstrikes over the past two years since the coalition joined the conflict in support of the government. African migrants continue to head to Yemen, a transit point to Saudi Arabia where they seek jobs and a better life.

A Yemeni medical official in Hodeida said bodies of the dead were being retrieved from the sea and taken to the morgue of a hospital in al-Thawra. Only 14 bodies had arrived at the morgue so far, the Yemeni official said, adding that women were among the dead.

There were also 25 wounded, including those who lost arms and legs, who were brought to the hospital, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

On its Twitter account, the UNHCR said it was “appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen.”

Israeli Jets Strike Inside Syria; Military Site Near Palmyra Reportedly Targeted

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Israeli jets strike inside Syria; military site near Palmyra reportedly targeted

An Israeli fighter jet takes off from the Ramat David ar base, southeast of Haifa, in June.

Story highlights

  • Syria says strikes targeted military site near Palmyra
  • Israeli jets make incursions inside Syria, but IDF rarely confirms it

Jerusalem (CNN) In the most serious clash between Israeli and Syrian forces since the start of the Syrian conflict six-years ago, Israeli aircraft struck several targets in Syria overnight, the Israeli military said Friday.

Israel targeted a military site near the ancient city of Palmyra, the Syrian military said, in what would be one of its deepest airstrikes inside Syrian territory since the civil war began there.
Palmyra, once held by ISIS and retaken by the Syrian government, is strategically important to both the regime and its opponents.
Most of Israel’s reported strikes have been around the capital of Damascus, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
In response, Syrian forces fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli jets, saying they downed one aircraft and hit another. Israeli vehemently denied the assertions, calling them “absolutely not true.”
“At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF aircraft compromised,” a statement from the Israel Defense Forces said. The statement is unusual in that Israel rarely comments on airstrikes in Syria.
The intercept triggered alarm sirens in the Jordan Valley. Shrapnel from the explosion, which was heard as far south as Jerusalem, landed in western Jordan, the Jordanian military said.

Israel denies Syrian claim it downed Israeli plane

Israel denies Syrian claim it downed an Israeli plane
Syria’s latest claims are reminiscent of its statement in September about downing an Israeli aircraft near Quneitra, close to the Golan Heights. Israel seized parts of that region from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.
The Israeli military said then that Syria fired two anti-aircraft missiles at its jets targeting artillery positions, but both missiles missed. They were fired long after Israeli jets left the area, the military added.

Arrow missile defense

One of the missiles overnight was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system, marking its first operational use. Arrow, Israel’s ballistic missile defense system and the long-range version of its Iron Dome, is designed to intercept missiles outside the atmosphere.
The use came more than a year after the first successful Arrow-3 intercept test was carried out in December 2015. At that time, Israeli officials would not say when the missile would become operational.
The Israeli military would not explain why Arrow was used against an anti-aircraft missile, fueling speculation that Israel was either testing the Arrow missile or that its Iron Dome missile defense system wasn’t within range of downing the anti-aircraft missile.

Taking aim at weapons smuggling

Israel has long focused on stopping the transfer of weapons from Syria to terror groups.
In December, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told a delegation of European Union envoys that Israel will “prevent the smuggling of sophisticated weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah.”
It was another acknowledgement of Israel’s ongoing operations in Syria. Last April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel has struck Syria “dozens of times,” breaking with the policy of remaining quiet about involvement in its war-torn northern neighbor.
Netanyahu returned last week from Moscow, where he reaffirmed Israel’s military coordination with Russia in the skies over Syria. The two countries established the coordination last year to avoid conflicts in Syrian airspace, ostensibly to allow both countries to operate freely. Netanyahu also expressed his concerns about a growing Iranian presence in Syria.

Repeated incursions

Israel has attempted to stay out of Syria’s civil war but has reportedly struck the country multiple times in the past, often taking aim at weapons shipments intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
As recently as late February, Syrian media reported that Israeli jets hit military positions and weapons convoys near Damascus.
In November 2012, Israel fired warning shots toward Syria after a mortar shell hit an Israeli military post, the first time Israel had fired on Syria across the Golan Heights since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Israeli jets have been hitting targets in Syria since at least 2013, when US officials told CNN they believed IDF jets had struck nside Syrian territory.
In 2014, the Syrian government and an opposition group both said an IDF strike had hit Damascus’ suburbs and airport.

Israel wary of Russian military buildup in Syria

 Israel wary of Russian military buildup in Syria
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency characterized those strikes as “a flagrant attack on Syria, targeting two safe areas in (the) Damascus countryside in Dimas and near Damascus International Airport.”
Israeli strikes have also gone after ISIS fighters inside Syria. Late last year, IDF troops operating in the disputed Golan region came under fire from militants of the ISIS affiliate Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
The soldiers fired back, triggering an exchange of gunfire. A subsequent Israeli airstrike destroyed a vehicle carrying four militants, Lerner said.

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