Trump administration opposes bill meant to deter Russia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Trump administration opposes bill meant to deter Russia

(CNN)The Trump administration is pushing back on a wide-ranging piece of legislation meant to deter and punish Russian aggression and its interference in the 2016 election.

In a 22-page letter to Congress dated Tuesday, a senior State Department official outlined a series of concerns about the bill, calling it “unnecessary” and in need of “significant changes.”
“The Administration shares the goal of deterring and countering Russian subversion and aggression,” Bureau of Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary Mary Elizabeth Taylor wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNN. However, she said the administration “strongly opposes” the bill in its current form.
The Daily Beast was the first to report on the contents of the letter, sent exactly a week after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.
Russia sanctions have been an ongoing source of contention between the Trump White House and Congress, where there has been strong bipartisan support for measures to punish Moscow since its 2014 annexation of Crimea. The US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to bolster Trump, and former and current administration officials’ warnings that it will meddle again in 2020, have lent urgency to congressional efforts.
The President, however, has consistently urged better relations with Russia and displayed an affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The State Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the letter, which said the administration opposes the bill because it “risks crippling the global energy, commodities, financial and other markets.”
A bipartisan group of senators, including Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, introduced the “DASKA” bill in February. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday advanced the bill to the full Senate for a vote that’s not expected until next year.
On Wednesday, Graham said he was “incredibly pleased with the overwhelming bipartisan support for my legislation.”
“This strong vote indicates an overwhelming desire by the Senate as a whole to push back against Russian interference in our election and Putin’s misadventures throughout the world,” Graham said, before going on to signal a willingness to make adjustments to the bill. “I am committed to working with my colleagues to improve this legislation, but it must be strong to be meaningful,” he said.

‘It must be strong’

The legislation would force the administration to assess whether Russia is a state sponsor of terror and would hammer Russia with a host of additional sanctions. It would require a two-thirds Senate vote if Trump decides to leave NATO and includes measures to crack down on Russian disinformation and cyber crimes. Additionally, it would also require a series of reports on illicit Russian activities worldwide.
In its letter, the Trump administration argued that the bill is too inflexible and “would divert resources from the ongoing aggressive targeting of Russian malign actors under existing authorities…as well as from efforts with respect to Iran, North Korea, ISIS, Venezuela, Hezbollah, counter terrorism, human rights and corruption and other (US government) priorities.”
T
he administration also claimed that it “has aggressively imposed sanctions that are targeted, tailored, and impactful to address Russian malign activities while mitigating negative effects on allies and close partners utilizing these authorities.”
Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, said that no administration likes legislative sanctions out of Congress, adding that “there’s good reason for that.”
“If sanctions are about changing another state’s behavior, then the promise of sanctions relief has to be credible,” Charap said. “If it requires the approval of Congress, that limits the ability of the executive branch of government to make credible promises that it will relieve sanctions” to reward a change of behavior.
The tension between lawmakers and the White House over sanctioning Russia reflects a broader dynamic, Charap said.
“The Congress doesn’t trust the President on Russia policy… I think that’s what’s going on here,” he said.
The Trump administration has long faced criticism for its soft-handed approach to Russia. It was more than six months late in imposing legally mandated sanctions on the Kremlin for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the United Kingdom.
In his public rhetoric, Trump has largely failed to condemn Russia for its interference in the 2016 US election or for its illegal annexation of Crimea.

Breathtaking Photos of the Coldest City in the World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WEATHER CHANNEL)

 

Breathtaking Photos of the Coldest City in the World

By Nicole Bonaccorso

January 31 2014 10:15 AM EST

weather.com

This communist-era monument marks the record-breaking temperature of -71.2 recorded in the village in 1924. The monument reads "Oymyakon, the Pole of Cold." (Amos Chapple)
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This communist-era monument marks the record-breaking temperature of -71.2 recorded in the village in 1924. The monument reads “Oymyakon, the Pole of Cold.” (Amos Chapple)

Next time we’re having a brutal cold snap, think of the poor souls in the coldest city on Earth. Winter temperatures in Oymyakon, Russia, average minus 50 C ( minus 58 F). The remote village is generally considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth. Oymyakon is a two-day drive from Yakutsk, the regional capital which has the lowest winter temperatures of any city in the world.

How do the locals deal with the cold? “Russki chai, literally Russian tea, which is their word for vodka,” photographer Amos Chapple told weather.com after his visit to the coldest city.

Oymyakon ironically means “unfrozen water.” This is due to the thermal spring located nearby. Originally the location was used by reindeer herders who would water their flock in the warm springs.

Oymyakon’s lowest recorded temperature was a frigid minus 71.2  C (minus 96.16 F) back in 1924. According to The Independent, wearing glasses outdoors can cause them to stick to the wearer’s face. This is just one of the more menial problems of the extremely cold weather.

Other adaptations locals have to make in their daily lives are more extreme than a short time of nearsightedness or farsightedness when stepping outside. The frozen ground makes it difficult for working indoor plumbing, so most toilets are outhouses. The bitter cold also makes it difficult to dig graves. The ground  has to be warmed with a bonfire before a funeral. Locals use heated garages for their cars. Cars left outside need to be kept running, otherwise they will not restart. Planes cannot fly into the area in the winter. And of course the risk of frostbite is great after only a few minutes in the cold.

“I was wearing thin trousers when I first stepped outside into minus 47 C,” Chapple said. “I remember feeling like the cold was physically gripping my legs, the other surprise was that occasionally my saliva would freeze into needles that would prick my lips.”

Due to the frozen ground, crops cannot be grown in Oymyakon. The population survives on mostly meats. “Yakutians love the cold food, the frozen raw Arctic fish, white salmon, whitefish, frozen raw horse liver, but they are considered to be delicacy,” local Bolot Bochkarev told weather.com. “In daily life, we like eating the soup with meat. The meat is a must. It helps our health much.”

Chapple traveled through Oymyakon and Yaktusk on a journey for interesting pictures about life in the brutally cold environment. As a photojournalist, he searches for uplifting stories around the globe. He said that the cold posed some difficulties for his photography. He said that focusing the lens would sometimes be as challenging as opening a pickle jar.

Summers, however, in Oymyakon and Yakutsk, are relatively warm, and average around the mid-60’s and 70’s, and have reached as high as 94 degrees F, according to meteorologist Jon Erdman. But the winters are long and the summers, short, and according to Bochkarev, many locals actually complain about the warmer weather.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Ukraine, Russia agree on full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before 2019-end

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS AGENCY ‘SHINE’)

 

Ukraine, Russia agree on full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before 2019-end

Xinhua
Ukraine, Russia agree on full ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before 2019-end

AFP

This handout picture released by the Ukrainian presidential press service early on December 10, 2019, shows (from left to right) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin giving a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace, in Paris.

Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a full and comprehensive implementation of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine before the end of 2019, announced leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany on Monday evening.

“The parties commit to fully implementing the ceasefire, which will be consolidated by the implementation of all necessary ceasefire support measures, before the end of 2019,” said a joint declaration issued by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Following the talks called Normandy Four Summit, the parties also agreed to hold another meeting in the Normandy format in the next four months, discussing “political and security conditions for local elections,” said the declaration.

Established in June 2014, the Normandy Four is a contact group for senior officials from the four countries to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine that erupted in April 2014.

Monday’s summit was the first of its kind in three years. The last was held in Berlin in 2016.

It was also the first time that Putin and Zelensky met face to face since the latter was elected president earlier this year. After the four-party talks, the two leaders had a separate one-on-one meeting.

Russian president Vladimir Putin signs law to label journalists as ‘foreign agents’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Russian president Vladimir Putin signs law to label journalists as ‘foreign agents’

Foreign agents, defined as involved in politics and receiving money from abroad, must register with the justice ministry, label publications with the tag and submit detailed paperwork or face fines.

WORLD Updated: Dec 03, 2019 06:23 IST

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Moscow
Russian legislation passed in 2012 already gave authorities the power to brand media organisations and NGOs as foreign agents, a term that has Soviet-era overtones.
Russian legislation passed in 2012 already gave authorities the power to brand media organisations and NGOs as foreign agents, a term that has Soviet-era overtones.(REUTERS FILE)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a controversial law allowing independent journalists and bloggers to be labelled as “foreign agents”, a move that critics say will violate media freedom.

Russian legislation passed in 2012 already gave authorities the power to brand media organisations and NGOs as foreign agents, a term that has Soviet-era overtones. The new law, which now extends to individuals, will come into effect immediately, according to a document published on the Russian government website.

Foreign agents, defined as involved in politics and receiving money from abroad, must register with the justice ministry, label publications with the tag and submit detailed paperwork or face fines.

Nine human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, have expressed concern that the amendments may be aimed not only at journalists, but also at bloggers and internet users who benefit from scholarships, funding or revenues from a relevant media outlet.

NGOs said in a joint statement last month the law was “a further step to restrict free and independent media” and “a strong tool to silence opposition voices”.

Authors of the bill have said it is intended to “perfect” existing legislation on “foreign agents” that already covers NGOs and media organisations. Russia says it wants the law as a tit-for-tat mechanism if its journalists are defined as foreign agents in the West. Russia first passed legislation allowing media organisations to be slapped with the label in 2017, after Kremlin-funded RT television was declared a foreign agent in the United States. Russian opposition politician Alexi Navalny’s organisation has been branded a foreign agent, as has US-financed media outlet Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

The term foreign agent was used negatively during the Stalinist era in the 1970s and 1980s for opponents accused of being paid by the West.

Xi, Putin witness launching ceremony of China-Russia east-route natural gas pipeline

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS AGENCY ‘SHINE’)

 

Xi, Putin witness launching ceremony of China-Russia east-route natural gas pipeline

Xinhua
Xi, Putin witness launching ceremony of China-Russia east-route natural gas pipeline

Xinhua

The Heihe section of the east-route natural gas pipeline.

Chinese President Xi Jinping had a video call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Monday afternoon, as the two heads of state jointly witnessed the launching ceremony of the China-Russia east-route natural gas pipeline.

“East-route natural gas pipeline is a landmark project of China-Russia energy cooperation and a paradigm of deep convergence of both countries’ interests and win-win cooperation,” Xi told Putin via the video call in Beijing.

He congratulated the launch of the pipeline and expressed appreciation to the construction teams from both countries.

The east-route natural gas pipeline began providing China with Russian natural gas, which is scheduled to reach 5 billion cubic meters in 2020 and increase to 38 billion cubic meters annually from 2024, under a 30-year contract signed between the China National Petroleum Corp and Russian gas giant Gazprom in May 2014.

Speaking highly of the arduous efforts Chinese and Russian builders and companies have made in frozen and snow-covered land in the past five years, Xi said they have shown to the world their consummate skills and the fruitful results of China-Russia cooperation.

Xi and Putin witnessed the signing of the pipeline agreements in 2014 in Shanghai.

The launch of the pipeline is not only an important result at the current stage but also a new start for future cooperation, Xi said.

He called on both countries to make the pipeline a safe and green pipeline of development and friendship, ensure the safe operation of the pipeline and boost the sustainable development of the regions along the line.

Xi, Putin witness launching ceremony of China-Russia east-route natural gas pipeline

Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping has a video call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Beijing to witness the launching ceremony of the China-Russia east-route natural gas pipeline, December 2, 2019.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Russia. Xi and Putin announced in June in Moscow to lift bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in the new era.

Stressing that he and Putin agreed to continue putting bilateral ties as a priority of each other’s foreign relations and enhancing strategic coordination and cooperation, Xi called on both countries to redouble their efforts to initiate more key projects like the east-route natural gas pipeline, to boost both countries’ development and better benefit both peoples.

Putin, who made the video call from the Russian city of Sochi, said it is of great historic significance that the east-route natural gas pipeline was launched on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Russia-China diplomatic ties.

The launch has lifted bilateral strategic coordination to a new level, said Putin.

Hailing the five-year toil of construction teams from both countries on the project under extreme weather and the completion on schedule, Putin said Russia will provide 1 trillion cubic meters of natural gas to China in the next 30 years.

This is conducive to the realization of a Russia-China trade volume of 200 billion U.S. dollars in 2024, Putin said.

Russia stands ready to work with China to ensure the smooth implementation of the landmark strategic project, he said.

During the video call, China and Russia representatives at northeast China’s Heihe station and Russia’s Atamanskaya compressor station and Chayandin gas field reported in turn to the two presidents that they were ready to receive or provide natural gas. Xi and Putin then gave the go-ahead to the teams.

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng attended the ceremony in Beijing.

The cross-border gas pipeline has a 3,000-km section in Russia and a 5,111-km stretch in China.

Mummified Pup Died in Siberia 18,000 Years Ago

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF LIVE SCIENCE)

 

Mummified Pup Died in Siberia 18,000 Years Ago … And Might Be a Wolf (or Something Else)

The pup still had its milk teeth, suggesting it was under 2 months old when it died.

The pup still had its milk teeth, suggesting it was under 2 months old when it died.
(Image: © Sergey Fedorov/The Siberian Times)

A young pup that spent 18,000 years buried in Siberian permafrost looks remarkably lifelike and pettable — for a freeze-dried mummy. From its frozen tomb, the Ice Age canine’s body emerged in near-perfect condition, retaining even the pads and nails on its small feet and plenty of hair, down to its tiny eyelashes and delicate whiskers.

The pup still had its milk teeth, suggesting it was under 2 months old when it died; The body is so well preserved that its resemblance to a wolf is clearly visible, The Siberian Times recently reported.

But is the youngster a wolf … or a dog?

Dogs are descended from wolves, and their lineage may have split from their lupine ancestors’ as early as 40,000 years ago, according to ancient DNA evidence. Scientists at the University of Stockholm’s Centre for Palaeogenetics conducted genetic tests on the Siberian pup’s remains, but they were unable to determine if the mummy represented a dog or a wolf, the Times reported.

Related: Photos: Is Ice Age Cat Mummy a Lion or a Lynx?

DNA analysis did tell the scientists that the pup was a male. They named it “Dogor” — “friend” in the Yakut language — though in English, the name references the mummy’s uncertain status: dog or … something else, according to the Times.

The scientists named the pup "Dogor" — "friend" in the Yakut language.

The scientists named the pup “Dogor” — “friend” in the Yakut language. (Image credit: Sergey Fedorov/The Siberian Times)

Researchers discovered the mummified pup during the summer of 2018 near the Indigirka River in Yakutia, in the northeastern part of Russia. The oldest known fossil of a domesticated dog dates to 14,700 years ago, though remains of dog-like canines are known from 35,000 years ago, another research team reported in 2017 in the journal Nature. In the study, the scientists suggested that dogs diverged genetically from their wolf ancestors between 36,900 and 41,500 years ago.

What does this mean for the Siberian pup? A mummified canine dating to 18,000 years ago could be a dog, a wolf or possibly even a transitional form — an animal with traits of both species, the Times reported.

“This is intriguing,” said Sergey Fedorov, a researcher with the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Russia, and one of the scientists investigating the puppy. “We can’t wait to get results from further tests,” he told the Times.

Preserved in ice

After spending 18,000 years buried in Siberian permafrost, this pup looks pretty good.

After spending 18,000 years buried in Siberian permafrost, this pup looks pretty good. (Image credit: Sergey Fedorov/The Siberian Times)

Over the past several years in Siberia, melting permafrost has released some astonishingly well-preserved examples of ancient animals. In 2017, paleontologists unearthed an astonishing mummy of a young horse from a crater in Yakutia; the 2-month-old foal lived 30,000 to 40,000 years ago and its body was whole and undamaged, with its skin and hooves intact. And in 2018, a man searching for mammoth tusks discovered the mummy of a young Ice Age feline. Like the newfound puppy, the wild kitten’s species was hard to pin down, and experts suspect it could be a cave lion or a Eurasian lynx.

Then in June, a man walking by a river in Yakutia in Russia spied the enormous, severed head of an Ice Age wolf, dating to more than 40,000 years ago.

The frozen Siberian wilderness also recently revealed something more gruesome than ancient animal remains: a bag containing 54 severed human hands, buried in snow on a river island and found in 2018. Unlike the Ice Age mummies, the hands were modern in origin and were likely discarded illegally by a nearby forensic lab, according to Russian authorities.

Originally published on Live Science.

College shooting kills one, injures four in the Far East of Russia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SIBERIAN TIMES)

 

College shooting kills one, injures four in the Far East of Russia

By The Siberian Times reporter
14 November 2019

19 year old student opens fire at group mates before turning the gun on himself.

One of the victims injured during the college attack. Picture: Amurskaya Pravda

Two injured students are reported to be in grave condition after morning attack at the Amur College of Construction, Housing Maintenance and Utilities in the center of Blagoveshchensk.

The young man identified by Russian police as Daniil Zasorin opened fire from Izh-81 pump-action shotgun at fellow students, and later at police officers who tried to stop him.

Student Alexey Golubichniy, 19, was initially reported to be killed in the attack, but later local media and Russian Ministry of Health corrected the reports saying he was alive.

Golubichniy’s friend named Kirill said: ‘He wasn’t killed, he was gravely wounded and went through a surgery. When the attacker ran inside the room, Alexey refused to run away and said that the wasn’t scared.’

 


College shooting kills one, injures four in the Far East of Russia


Zasorin refused to stop and opened fire at traffic policeman, who fired back and wounded the gunman. The attacker who by then was inside the classroom turned the gun at himself. Pictures: Amurskaya Pravda


Three other male students confirmed as wounded were identified as Kasiyan Kamanets, 19, Igor Stasyuk, 17 and Vladislav Rozhkov, 20.

They were rushed to hospital with neck and back injuries.

Zasorin was reported to carry a gun in a bag past the college security man, and assembled it in a bathroom before walking upstairs to his class room.

He pushed a young female teacher out of the class, shut the door and opened fire.

As other students fled the building in panic, one of them managed to report the attack to a nearby traffic police patrol.

Zasorin refused to stop and opened fire at traffic policeman, who shot back and wounded the gunman.

The attacker who by then was inside the classroom turned the gun at himself.

College shooting kills one, injures four in the Far East of Russia
College shooting kills one, injures four in the Far East of Russia. Picture: Amurskaya Pravda


The tragedy was reportedly caused by Zasorin’s conflict with group mates.

He was described as ‘quiet and peaceful’ by fellow students.

‘The attacker was acting along, he is dead. My deepest condolences to relatives of everyone wounded and killed, their families will be given support and help’ said Vasily Orlov, acting governor of the Amur region.

Criminal investigation was launched into the circumstances of the attack, with several investigators flying to Amur region from Moscow at the order of Head of Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin.

The Real Reason Trump Withheld Military Is A Favor To Putin?

The Real Reason Trump Withheld Military Aid To UKraine Is A Favor To Putin?

 

This is just an oped on my part, I am only giving you my opinion about this issue. This is something that I have thought to be the truth ever sense the Ukraine story broke. As most of the world knows President Putin of Russia took the State of Crimea by military force from the country of UKraine a few years ago and Russian forces have been at war with the nation of UKraine in the east of that country ever sense. So, of course Mr. Putin does not want the US selling military arms to the nation of UKraine because those weapons are being used against his Russian soldiers on the battle field. I simply believe that it only makes sense that Mr. Putin wanted Mr. Trump to freeze that weapons sale to the Ukrainian government. As most of the world realizes, including the Republicans in the US Congress and Senate, Mr. Trump is nothing but a Putin Patsy. Now because of all of Mr. Trumps habitual lying he has found himself on the impeachment hot seat, it isn’t like he can actually tell the truth about his collusion with the Russian government to undermine an American Ally. These are just my thoughts, right, wrong or only somewhat correct, or not. What are you thoughts on this matter?

Russia: Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria a ‘wrong move’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia: Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria a ‘wrong move’

Moscow, which is allied with Assad regime, says reprisal attack after rockets launched at Israel is in ‘stark contrast’ with international law; IDF said it coordinated with Kremlin

Russia's deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, speaks with journalists after meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Beirut, Lebanon, December 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, speaks with journalists after meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Beirut, Lebanon, December 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Russia on Wednesday condemned Israel for striking Iranian targets in Syria overnight, saying the operation was in contravention of international law.

In the predawn hours, the Israeli Air Force launched a large airstrike operation, targeting dozens of Iranian and Syrian military sites in Syria in response to a rocket attack on northern Israel the day before.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that at least 11 people were killed, including seven “foreigners” who were likely Iranian, and that others were injured during the overnight strikes.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the strikes were a “wrong move” that is in “stark contrast” to international law, Interfax reported.

He added that Moscow had reached out to its allies regarding the incident, the report said.

Russia backs the government of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and has criticized previous Israeli attempts to prevent an Iranian entrenchment near Israel’s northern border.

Photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows an Israeli flag fluttering above the wreckage of an Israeli tank sitting on a hill in the Golan Heights and overlooking the border with Syria. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The IDF had said it coordinated its aerial campaign with Moscow through the deconfliction mechanism the two countries established in light of Russia’s significant military presence in Syria.

Israel has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and that it will retaliate for any attack on the Jewish state from there.

Israel’s leaders issued fresh threats to Iran after the operation, with the defense minister saying even Tehran’s leaders were “not immune.”

“The rules have changed: Whoever fires at Israel during the day will not sleep at night. That was the case last week and it is the case this week,” said newly installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, also referring to last week’s targeted killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata in his home in Gaza, which sparked a two-day conflagration.

“Our message to the leaders of Iran is simple: You are not immune anymore. Wherever you send your octopus tentacles, we will hack them off,” Bennett added.

A senior defense official told reporters Israel believes it killed and injured a number of Iranians in the strike. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reiterated the image of an octopus as a metaphor for Iran’s actions in Syria, as well as the implicit threat to attack Iranian leaders.

“Iran is an octopus with its head in Tehran that sends its tentacles to wrap around us. We have not yet threatened Tehran, but we are beginning to get close to the head of the octopus. We struck a building staffed by Iranians at the Damascus airport. We assess that there are Iranians killed and injured,” the official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

The official said that Israel destroyed six Syrian air defense batteries, as well as multiple buildings on Syrian military bases that are controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the strike: “I have made clear that anyone who attacks us, we will attack them. That is what we did tonight toward military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets in Syria.”

The IDF said it was girding for several possible Iranian responses, from total calm to a full-scale attack.

“We are preparing for defense and attack, and we will respond to any attempt to retaliate,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters Wednesday morning.

“We are ready for three scenarios: no response, a minor response, and a more significant response,” he said.

Video footage from Syria appeared to show a Syrian air defense missile crashing to the ground in a heavily populated area shortly after launching, which could account for the casualties.

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Zilberman said the targets of its strikes were all located within 80 kilometers of Israel’s border and were focused around Damascus and the Syrian Golan Heights.

The Quds Force is a part of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for extraterritorial operations, and is a key actor in Syria — both against rebels and in Tehran’s efforts to entrench itself along Israel’s border and threaten the Jewish state from there.

AFP contributed to this report.

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COMMENTS

Russian spies likely intercepted ambassador’s cell phone call with Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Russian spies likely intercepted ambassador’s cell phone call with Trump

Washington (CNN)US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s cell phone call to President Donald Trump from a restaurant in Ukraine this summer appears to be a shocking security breach that raises significant counterintelligence concerns, according to several former officials, who told CNN there is a high probability that intelligence agencies from numerous foreign countries, including Russia, were listening in on the conversation.

“If true, the cell phone call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump is an egregious violation of traditional counterintelligence practices that all national security officials — to include political appointee ambassadors such as Sondland — are repeatedly made aware of,” according to Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer who oversaw operations in Europe and Russia before retiring this summer.
“I cannot remember in my career any time where an ambassador in a high counterintelligence environment like Kiev would have such an unsecure conversation with a sitting president. This just should not happen,” he said.
Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed during the first public impeachment hearing Wednesday that a member of his staff, who was accompanying Sondland to meetings in Kiev, saw the ambassador call Trump from his cell phone and overheard the President asking about “the investigations.”
Taylor confirmed that he had come to understand the term “investigations” meant matters related to the 2016 election and to probes of Joe and Hunter Biden and Burisma.
“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward,” Taylor told lawmakers.
The call occurred on July 26, according to Taylor — the day after Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump solicited “interference” from a foreign country to help his 2020 presidential campaign.
This new information could strengthen Democrats’ argument for impeachment that Trump engaged in an alleged quid pro quo but it also serves as another example of top US officials ignoring security protocols related to sensitive communications.
It remains unclear if Sondland’s cell phone was encrypted but US ambassadors do not typically have that type of protection on their mobile devices, according to current and former US government officials.
The State Department did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on whether Sondland’s cell phone was outfitted with any sort of enhanced security.
Normally, a US ambassador talking to the President would do so from the embassy using a secure line, one former intelligence official told CNN. “Of all the communications, cell phones are even more vulnerable than non-secure landlines, which are way more vulnerable than secure communications facilities,” the former official said.
That lapse was only amplified by the fact that Sondland made the call in public, where it could have been easily overheard and in a foreign country that is already being targeted by foreign adversaries of the US, including Russia, current and former officials said.

‘Crazy for today’s age’

“Why a president is talking to an ambassador on a non-encrypted telephone is crazy for today’s age, and worse in public,” said Todd Carroll, a former FBI official who served as assistant special agent in charge of the cyber and counterintelligence branch.
“Ukraine is one of the most open areas for intelligence agencies to work in. Both sides. I was told when I was there in 2010 that expect all your calls to be monitored,” Carroll added.
The Russians, in particular, maintain a particularly large intelligence presence in Ukraine and are known to target the communications of US officials.
“There is little doubt that the Russians and perhaps multiple other foreign intelligence services would have intercepted this call. Moscow undoubtedly would have been pleased,” according to Polymeropoulos.
“This would offer the Russians some important validation that President Trump was in effect doing exactly what Moscow almost certainly was already aware of: that our President was inserting a serious wedge into ongoing US security assistance programs that Ukraine so desperately needed in their ongoing battle with Russia,” he added.
Fiona Hill, a former Russia aide on Trump’s National Security Council, testified in October that she had previously tried to get Sondland to stop using his personal cell phone for work.
“I mean, some of it was comical, but it was also, for me and for others, deeply concerning. And I actually went to our Intelligence Bureau and asked to have (redacted) sit down with him and explain that this was a counterintelligence risk, particularly giving out our personal phone numbers,” Hill told House investigators.
“All of those communications could have been ex-filtrated by the Russians very easily,” she said.
CNN has previously reported that Trump was using his personal cell phone to contact outside advisers, raising concerns that his calls were vulnerable to eavesdropping from foreign governments.
“All communications devices of all senior government officials are targeted by foreign governments. This is not new,” Bryan Cunningham, executive director of the Cyber security Policy and Research Institute at the University of California-Irvine, told CNN last year.
“What is new in the cell phone age is the ease of intercepting them,” Cunningham added. “Of course, calls are only secure if both parties use a secure device.”