Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(IS TRUMPS HIDING HIS TAX ISSUES BECAUSE HE HIMSELF HAS BEEN THE TRAITOR IN CHIEF WITH PUTIN?)(TRS)

Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat

Story highlights

  • Trump lashes out at Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia
  • Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia

Washington (CNN) As President Donald Trump lashes out at former President Barack Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia for election meddling, Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials.

“I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did
nothing about it,” Trump told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday. “To me — in other words — the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it.”
But the Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the President is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.
“I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.
Top intelligence officials have raised alarm about Russia’s cyberattacks, calling them a “major threat” to the US election system. In public hearings on Capitol Hill and classified briefings behind closed doors, intelligence officials have drawn the same conclusions: Russia launched an unprecedented attack on America’s electoral process during the 2016 presidential campaign and — barring a full-throated response from the US — the Russians are almost certain to do so again.
It’s a warning some fear the White House isn’t taking seriously.
In a recent closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers expressed frustration to lawmakers about his inability to convince the President to accept US intelligence that Russia meddled in the election, according to a congressional source familiar with the meeting.
Another congressional source said Rogers has shared concerns with lawmakers about the lack of White House focus on the continued threat from Russian cyber efforts, particularly relating to US voting systems. In addition, the US intelligence community sees such potential threats not only from Russia but also from China, North Korea and Iran.
One intelligence official said the intelligence community continues to brief Trump on Russia’s meddling in the election as new information comes to light. The source said the President appears no less engaged on issues surrounding Russian election meddling than on any other matters covered in the presidential daily brief. But the official acknowledged that Trump has vented his frustration with officials outside of the briefings about the amount of attention paid to the investigation into Russian election interference.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Trump is taking Russian cyberattacks seriously and said the administration is taking action — albeit quietly.
“The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber activity, and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism,” Spicer said in a statement.
Spicer noted that Trump has upheld the sanctions the Obama administration put in place against Russia, signed a cybersecurity executive order to consolidate responsibility for protecting the government from hackers and created an election commission. That commission has yet to convene in person but met via conference call on Wednesday.
But some in Trump’s own party believe he hasn’t done enough to repudiate Russia’s actions and are pushing him to back a sanctions package Congress is considering.
“We haven’t done anything,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. “We passed a bill through the Senate, and it’s hung up in the House. Tell me what we’ve done?”
Asked what he wants the President to do, the Arizona Republican said he should tell the House “to take up the bill we passed through the Senate. Sign it, get it out there.”
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
The President doesn’t differentiate between investigations into Russian election meddling and investigations into potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia, according to sources that have spoken to Trump about the issues.
The collusion probe is only one element of a larger landscape. The FBI’s counterintelligence team has been trying to piece together exactly how Russia interfered in the election, in order to learn techniques and adapt for the future. This part is less about collusion and more about Russian cyberattacks against US political organizations and attempted hacks of voters’ personal information.
Former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, testifying in front of the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, faulted Obama for failing to take action against Russia more quickly when he was president. But he unleashed his fury at Trump for doing so little to curtail Russian aggression.
“It is his duty, President Trump’s, to be skeptical of Russia. It’s his duty to investigate and defend our country against a cyber offensive because Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today,” said Burns, a career foreign service officer who has served under presidents of both parties. “And if he continues to refuse to act it’s a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.”
At a Senate hearing last week, Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division and a career civil servant, also highlighted the ongoing threat from Russia, saying, “I believe the Russians will absolutely continue to try to conduct influence operations in the US, which will include cyber intrusions.”
But the President’s muted interest in election interference stands in stark contrast to the collusion investigation, which has consumed his attention. Trump takes questions about Russia personally, sources said, because he sees them as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
“He thinks one equates with the other,” one Republican congressional source said. “He can’t admit anything that may taint his election. He is more hung up on how it affected the election outcome than what Russia did.”
In his statement for this story, Spicer also referenced the election outcome, saying, “The ballot boxes were not hacked and the tallies were unaffected. Numerous authorities have confirmed this.”
Another source close to the President says Trump sees everything regarding Russia as being “organized as a challenge to him.”
Trump aired those frustrations this week on Twitter, writing, “There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”
In Trump’s mind “he had nothing to do with Russia,” one source said. “He knows in his own mind there is not one single iota of anything that could implicate him.”
One administration official suggested there wasn’t necessarily a need for Trump to convene briefings on election interference — aside from his daily intelligence briefing — because little has changed since Trump was briefed on the matter in January, before his inauguration.
At that point, the 17 intelligence agencies released a declassified report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 election with the goal of disparaging Hillary Clinton while boosting Trump and undermining the public’s faith in the democratic process.
Since that briefing, there have been major developments on the cyber front. The final days of the French election featured a hack-and-leak attack targeting Emmanuel Macron, now the president of France. And US officials believe Russia hacked Qatari state-run media and planted a fake news story that which helped trigger a diplomatic crisis among critical US allies in the Gulf.

Trump’s skepticism

During the campaign and since taking office, Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Russia was responsible for the election-related cyberattacks. He has blamed the Democratic National Committee, China and “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
Trump has only once stated clearly and in public that Russia was behind the hacks — during a news conference as President-elect on January 11, just days after his briefing from top intelligence officials.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” Trump said.
On Monday, Spicer said the President stands by his assessment from January. The intelligence community has found no evidence that other countries also meddled in the election, an intelligence official said.
A source familiar with the President’s thinking said he views Russia’s action as something that “everybody has been doing to each other for years. Everybody spies,” the source said. “He believes that intel operations hack each other.”
The result: Trump sees the Russian hacking story as “nothing new.” In fact, the source said, Trump views it as “the establishment intelligence community trying to frame a narrative that is startling to the average viewer, but he regards it as business as usual.”
Intelligence experts disagree. They describe Russia’s actions as far from the usual foreign espionage attempts.
John Hultquist, the director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a cyber security and threat intelligence company, said Russia broke the rules in the “gentlemen’s game of espionage” by stealing information, leaking it and using it to try to influence voters and undermine the democratic process.
“In every previous incident, we believed they wouldn’t cross the next red line. They’ve shown us they’re willing to do so,” said Hultquist, who has a military background and is an expert in cyberespionage. “If we fail to respond with resolve they learn that they can get away with it.”
The administration’s inaction is raising alarm with experts like Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a counter-terrorism expert who recently testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee about Russia’s efforts in the 2016 election.
“It’s ridiculous that nothing’s been done,” Watts said. “There is no Russia policy. No one knows if they can work on Russia. No one knows what their assignment is with regards to Russia.”
While Trump may have little concern about Russia’s election aggression, other top officials in the administration have been vocal about the threat.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in May that Russian cyberattacks remain a “major threat” to the United States, especially after Russia showcased its aggressive posture by interfering in the 2016 election. But he acknowledged that the US still hasn’t devised a clear strategy to counter the Kremlin.
“Relative to a grand strategy, I am not aware right now of any — I think we’re still assessing the impact,” Coats told the Senate intelligence committee in early May.
Later that month he reiterated his concerns in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think we’re learning that we do need to take this seriously — which we do,” Coats said. “And shaping a policy and a plan to address this, I think, rises to a top priority.”
But across the government, administration officials appear to be publicly confirming the concerns NSA Director Rogers expressed privately –Russia’s attacks on American democracy aren’t a top priority for Trump.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, testified earlier this month that during his nine private conversations with Trump, the President never asked about Russia’s meddling in the election or what was being done to protect the country against future Russian interference.
“I don’t recall a conversation like that,” Comey told the Senate intelligence committee, shortly after his testimony describing a President who seemed much more interested in making sure that the public knew he wasn’t personally under investigation as part of the Russia probe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified that he had never received a briefing on Russia’s election meddling efforts — even before he officially recused himself from the collusion investigation.

Working around the President

Obama retaliated against Russia’s interference in the election in January with a package of sanctions that included ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the US, closing two Russian compounds and sanctioning two Russian intelligence services.
While the Trump administration has upheld those measures, it has not taken additional steps.
But lawmakers have tried. The Senate passed a bill to slap Russia with new sanctions for its election interference and the legislation has moved to the House, which would also need to pass it before it goes to Trump’s desk. But congressional sources said the Trump administration is hoping to water down the sanctions package, which the White House is eyeing warily.
“I think our main concern overall with sanctions is how they — how will the Congress craft them and any potential erosion of the executive branch’s authority to implement them,” Spicer said Friday.
There are also bipartisan efforts underway in Congress to develop a policy to prevent Russian meddling in future US elections.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, says he is working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, on legislation to create a 9/11-style commission to explore what happened in 2016 on the cyber front.
Graham tells CNN their idea is to create a commission made up of all experts — no politicians. “We want to look at the vulnerabilities on cyber security and get policy recommendations from experts on how to harden our infrastructure,” said Graham.
Meanwhile, top US cybersecurity leaders are taking action on their own to prevent future meddling.
“This is one of our highest priorities,” Jeanette Manfra, one of the Department of Homeland Security’s top officials handling cyber issues and a career civil servant said at a Senate hearing last week. “And I would also note that we’re not just looking ahead to 2018, as election officials remind me, routinely, that elections are conducted on a regular basis. And so — highest priority, sir.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said earlier this month that he would keep in place a decision to designate election systems as “critical infrastructure.”
The designation means that the federal government will put more resources toward protecting election systems and voting machines. They’ll get the same treatment as other “critical infrastructure” that is paramount to national security, like dams and the power grid.
Kelly’s predecessor in the Obama administration, Jeh Johnson, made the change in January shortly before leaving office. Johnson testified last week that he wished he made the decision sooner — before the 2016 election — but that he backed down after resistance from the states.

Security Clampdown in Far-Western China Exacts Toll on Businesses

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND REUTERS)

URUMQI, China — The economy of the vast Xinjiang region in far western China is officially growing at a robust pace, faster than the country as a whole. That is largely thanks to big investments in infrastructure from Beijing as the region – with its links to much of central Asia – is critical to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new Silk Road initiative.

But traders, business owners and residents in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, are seeing little benefit from the central government’s cash injection, according to about 20 interviews with people in the city.

One major reason for that, they say, is due to tightened security as the Chinese government seeks to control one of its biggest domestic threats. Beijing accuses separatist extremists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of plotting attacks on the ethnic Han majority in Xinjiang and other parts of China, following a series of violent events in recent years.

As a result, there are roadblocks and stringent security checks across the region, including at restaurants, hotels and shops, making it slow and frustrating to move around.

The new Silk Road, officially known as the Belt and Road initiative, is Xi’s signature foreign and economic policy which aims to increase economic and political ties through roads, railways and other projects that link China to Central Asia and beyond. But the contrast between that ambition and the views at street level in Urumqi reflects the difficulty Beijing faces in trying to balance security against its other top priorities.

This is particularly the case as China is determined to avoid any trouble ahead of a critical Communist Party congress in the autumn at which Xi is expected to consolidate his power, and as it faces the threat from some Uighurs who have become battle-hardened Islamic State fighters in the war in Syria and Iraq and may return home.

DELIVERIES DIFFICULT

The impact of the clampdown is clear at the Frontier International Trade Centre in Urumqi,  where padlocked stores outnumber traders.

“Business became really bad last year. I’ve got nothing to do except a stock-take,” said Wei Chun, a shoe trader, surrounded by piles of high-heels.

She blames poor sales partly on the impact of sluggish economies in neighbours Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, among the eight countries with which Xinjiang has borders.  But she also says the Chinese authorities’ obsession with keeping Xinjiang secure at all costs is making it tough to do business here.

“It’s very difficult to send and receive deliveries because of the security crackdown,” she said, complaining that authorities will often shut down the delivery system for “security reasons”.

The Xinjiang government declined to make officials available for comment for this article. It also did not respond to a series of faxed questions.

Xu Bin, the head of the Xinjiang government’s statistics bureau,  told reporters in February that its growth – which was 7.6 percent last year – is mostly fuelled by fixed asset investment. But he then added: “Xinjiang faces slowing economic growth, falling industrial prices, companies are feeling the pain of falling profits and the growth rate of our tax revenue has dropped off.”

Xinjiang’s trade with other countries fell in the first quarter of this year, according to the customs bureau, and is still below the level it recorded in the first quarter of 2013, the year that Belt and Road launched.

Much of that drop was because a slump in the rouble in 2014-2015 hurt Xinjiang’s neighbours, and following the 2015 establishment of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). That aims to develop Central Asia and lessen its reliance on Chinese goods.

EVENTS CANCELLED

People here point to many disruptions in ordinary life as one reason the economy doesn’t feel buoyant at street level.

Group gatherings, whether for charity fun runs or trade expos, are often banned or cancelled at the last minute, they say. Phone lines sometimes go dead, and there’s no 4G internet because the authorities fear high-speed internet would help militants organize.

While Belt and Road has created opportunities, small businesses complain these projects often reward large state-owned enterprises.

“The Belt and Road Initiative doesn’t help small businessmen like me,” said Zhou Bangquan who sells men’s shoes in Urumqi.

“It helps big state-owned enterprises that do energy or have big infrastructure projects.”

Among the projects financed are a highway to Pakistan and a network of high-speed railroads connecting cities in Xinjiang and the rest of China, with 1.5 trillion yuan (171.69 billion pounds) in capital investment expected in the region this year alone.

But it is unclear how much of the money is used to buy materials from factories outside the region or ends up being sent to other provinces by workers brought in temporarily from elsewhere in China.

It’s not just heightened security measures that concern businesses. People are required to attend flag ceremonies and other patriotic education, instead of working, say locals. Such events are meant to encourage Uighurs to become patriotic Chinese citizens but can also be used to monitor their behaviour.

    PATRIOTIC EDUCATION

    “I’m losing my mind, I’ve already had six staff sent back to their home towns this past month for study,” said a restaurant manager in Urumqi who, like many people Reuters spoke to in Xinjiang, declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

His Uighur staff were required to return home to southern Xinjiang for one month’s study of Mandarin Chinese, another month learning about China’s legal system and a month of vocational training, he said.

“We all spend so much time doing things that aren’t our actual jobs. I have to take my staff to watch a flag-raising forty weeks of the year. If I don’t, I will be taken away for thirty days of study,” he said.

As well as the time spent on such matters, Uighurs – who represent just over 45 percent of the population – are being increasingly marginalized by the Han Chinese, undermining the overall economy.

Three Han Chinese entrepreneurs told Reuters local authorities had told them not to employ Uighurs. And a Han Chinese real estate agent in Urumqi said he had been told not to sell properties to Uighurs from southern Xinjiang.

There has been a change in attitude towards balancing stability and economic growth in Xinjiang since Chen Quanguo became its new Communist Party boss last August in what analysts say was an implicit endorsement of his previous hard-line management of ethnic strife in Tibet.

“Xinjiang used to have a policy of ‘with one hand we maintain stability, with the other hand we grow the economy’ but now it’s just ‘maintain stability with both hands, at all costs’,” said a local businessman and former government official.

Chen said in a speech last September that “all our work in Xinjiang revolves around maintaining a tight grip on stability.”

(Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong; Additional reporting by the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Martin Howell)

President Trump Proves National Security Clearances Are Not A High Priority To Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner should “absolutely” have his security clearance suspended, Rep. Mike Quigley told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Appearing on “The Situation Room,” the Illinois Democrat said Kushner “shouldn’t have clearance at this point,” echoing a letter from House oversight committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings and citing a “whole series of activities,” including “concerns about Mr. Kushner’s activities prior to the Inauguration.”
Cummings’ letter criticized the White House for allowing fired national security adviser Michael Flynn to keep a security clearance despite concerns raised by then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates that he could be vulnerable to blackmail based on intelligence assessments that she reviewed; the letter raised “parallel concerns” about Kushner’s security clearance over previously undisclosed calls to Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak and undisclosed meetings Kushner had with Kislyak and the CEO of Vnesheconombank, a state-run Russian bank under US sanctions.
In his letter, Cummings cited an executive order requiring employees to have their security clearance preemptively suspended if they are suspected of being a national security risk.
“In general, when there are credible allegations that employees may be unfit to continue accessing classified information, security clearances are supposed to be suspended while the allegations are investigated,” Cummings wrote in the letter, sent June 21.
A spokeswoman for House oversight committee Chairman Trey Gowdy declined comment on the letter Wednesday.
The White House declined to offer comment on Wednesday about Democrats’ requests to look into Kushner’s security clearance.
“I will have to get back to you on that,” spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters aboard Air Force One.
In his interview with CNN, Quigley indicated there were additional concerns about Kushner’s security clearance, referencing “a whole series of activities that I can’t get into at this point in time, but they raise concerns about his judgment and his ability to keep our nation’s secrets.” When pressed by Wolf Blitzer, Quigley said, “I can’t get into details, because some of those things were also discussed in classified settings.”
Kushner arrived in Israel earlier Wednesday, where he’s scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to negotiate a peace deal, a role Quigley also questioned.
“Look, I like that we are always moving forward on peace deals. This is exactly what our country should do,” Quigley said. “First of all, he is wholly unqualified to make those efforts. Second, to what Mr. Cummings was referencing — that’s what I was referencing — he shouldn’t have clearance at this point.”

Morocco, Tunisia: No Military Solution to Libyan Crisis

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

Morocco, Tunisia: No Military Solution to Libyan Crisis

Protest against the UN to draft agreement talks headed by the Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon in Benghazi

Rabat – Morocco and Tunisia have announced their support to a political solution to the crisis in Libya, namely the Skhirat Agreement, which was signed in late 2015 under the auspices of the United Nations.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the 19th session of the Tunisian-Moroccan High Joint Commission in Rabat, the two countries praised efforts that are aimed at “supporting our Libyan brothers and accompanying them in the path towards a comprehensive political settlement.”

The meeting, which was co-chaired by Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine al-Othmani and his Tunisian counterpart, Youssef Chahed, stressed the two countries’ rejection of the military options.

The statement underlined the importance of reaching a political solution as the only means to overcome the current situation by preserving the country’s territorial unity.

The two sides expressed their condemnation of all forms of terrorism, highlighting the need to unify efforts to fight terrorist groups in the Maghreb region and the world.

In this regard, the two countries urged the five Maghreb states to “promote cooperation, consolidate dialogue and increase security cooperation in order to face terrorism according to an organized mechanism that aims at prioritizing common interests and rejecting all forms of introversion.

Tunisia and Morocco also called for the need to overcome all deadlocks within the Maghreb Union, as well as activating the work of institutions.

“This requires a strong political will and serious work by the five Maghreb countries in line with the noble goals which were set in the Marrakesh agreement,” the statement said.

It also called for fulfilling the aspirations of the Maghreb population with regards to growth, stability and decent living.

The two sides also condemned the violations committed by Israel and the attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque, urging the international community to force the Jewish state to abide by the international legitimacy.

The commission discussed means to boost bilateral cooperation and signed 10 agreements in various sectors, including agriculture, investment, civil aviation, vocational training, higher education, and employment.

Republican House whip Steve Scalise shot in Virginia shooting

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Republican House whip Steve Scalise shot in Virginia shooting

Story highlights

  • The shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack,” sources tell CNN
  • Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords

Washington (CNN) Rep. Steve Scalise was shot Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, a House colleague told CNN, in what sources are calling an apparent “deliberate attack.”

The shooting took place at a practice for the GOP congressional baseball team.
Scalise, a member of the House Republican leadership as the majority whip, appeared to have been shot in the hip and it appeared two Capitol Hill police agents were shot, according to Rep. Mo Brooks, who told CNN he was on deck when the shooting occurred.
According to both congressional and law enforcement sources, the shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack.”
Two law enforcement sources told CNN the shooter, who is in police custody, has been taken to a hospital.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who was at the practice, told CNN “it would have been a massacre” had Capitol Police not been present.
“Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police,” Paul said on CNN. “It would have been a massacre without them.”
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake added that he saw a member of Scalise’s security detail return fire on the gunman for what felt like 10 minutes, even though the police officer was wounded in the leg.
“50 (shots) would be an understatement, I’m quite sure,” Flake said when asked about the total amount of gunfire, including police returning fire.
Flake said two members of Scalise’s security detail were wounded, and another man was wounded in the chest.
Once they were able, Flake said he and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who is a physician, went out to where Scalise was lying after dragging himself away from the shooting to apply pressure to the wound. Scalise was coherent the whole time, Flake said.
The President is monitoring the situation, the White House said in a statement.
“The Vice President and I are aware of the shooting incident in Virginia and are monitoring developments closely,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”
Trump subsequently tweeted, “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are safe on Capitol Hill and receiving updates, aides tell CNN. Neither was at the practice.
Brooks said there were a number of congressmen and congressional staffers lying on the ground, and at least one of them was wounded. The Alabama Republican said he used his belt as a tourniquet to help one of the victims.
He said the shooter appeared to be a white male but added that “I saw him for a second or two.” He said the shooter was behind the third base dugout and didn’t say anything.
“The gun was a semiautomatic,” Brooks said, adding that he was sure it was a rifle but unsure what kind. “It continued to fire at different people. You can imagine, all the people on the field scatter.”
Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in January 2011. Giffords was shot in the head by Jared Lee Loughner at a “Congress On Your Corner” event at a Tucson grocery store. Giffords, who authorities said was the main target of the shooting, survived the attack but six others were killed and an additional 12 were injured.
Loughner pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

Saudi King Salman, Russian President Discuss Counter-Terrorism in Phone Call

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

Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Salman, Russian President Discuss Counter-Terrorism in Phone Call

Saudi

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz received on Tuesday a telephone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The two leaders discussed joint cooperation to confront extremism and terrorism in order to achieve security and stability in the region.

They also tackled the latest developments in the region, as well as Saudi-Russian ties and ways to develop them in all fields, said SPA.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

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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Why Terror Suspects in Europe Slip Through Security Cracks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND FROM THE WASHINGTON POST)

Why Terror Suspects in Europe Slip Through Security Cracks

London- About a year ago, police stopped a young man in the airport of Bologna, a town in northern Italy. Youssef Zaghba, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, had raised suspicions because he was to embark on a one-way ticket for Istanbul: They feared he was trying to reach Syria through Turkey to join a terror group.

After ISIS propaganda materials were found on his smartphone, Zaghba was arrested and briefly detained between March and April 2016. (Attempting to join a foreign ogranization is a crime in Italy, since a special law was introduced in 2015.)

Eventually authorities had to release him because his lawyer found irregularities in the arrest, but the secret services kept monitoring him and put his name in the Schengen Information System (SIS), the database where European Union member states share security information, so that other countries could be alerted that Zaghba posed a danger.

On June 3 of this year, Zaghba participated in the London Bridge attack that left eight people dead, along with the three terrorists.

Despite being in the EU’s watch list, Zaghba was let into Britain at least twice. Moreover, according to the local media, he was not considered “a subject of interest” by British security. Most recently, Zaghba traveled between two countries in January: He was briefly questioned in London’s Stansted airport. (It is unclear if the British failed to go through a check of the SIS database, or if they saw his name on the database and simply ignored the warning, as the newspaper Repubblica suggests.)

How could a terror suspect be on Italy’s watch list and not in the British one? And why didn’t the presence of Zaghba’s name in the SIS prompt UK authorities to keep an eye on him?

The London Bridge attack raises issue about the sharing of security information between European countries, at a time when terrorists have been shown to move often across the EU’s open borders.

It is not unusual after an attack to learn that the perpetrators were already known to anti-terror agencies. Some analysts argue that this doesn’t always imply a security failure, because there are too many people on watch-lists to monitor effectively all of them: There are some 23,000 “subjects of interests” for anti-terror agencies in the UK and 15,000 in France.

“Since it takes at least four agents to monitor a single suspect, it becomes apparent that many European countries lack the resources to monitor all of them and that there’s an overload of security information,” said Arturo Varvelli, the head of the Terrorism Program at ISPI, a think tank in Milan.

However, Zaghba’s case is different — and the way he slipped by, despite all the warnings, might not be just the result of an overburdened security system but also symptomatic of a different problem: European countries still haven’t fully learned how to read (and perhaps trust) each other’s red flags.

“It’s the second time, in less than a year, that a terrorist already known to Italian authorities has carried an attack in another European country,” notes Francesco Strazzari, a security expert at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, referring to last winter’s attack in Berlin. The Christmas Market attack was carried by a Tunisian man who immigrated to Italy, and whom Italian authorities had tried to deport because they were aware of his radical tendencies.

In an interview, Strazzari recalled that the November 2015 attacks in France were also carried out by terrorists that had ties to a different country, Belgium, and who seemed to move freely between the two.

Critics of the EU have blamed its open borders for security failures, while its supporters point out that assets such as the SIS database are actually supposed to improve the security of each country. But Strazzari says that the main problem is that sometimes information gets “lost in translation.”

The EU, he says, doesn’t really have a pan-European security apparatus, but only a system that aims at coordinating the security services of each of its member states.

Varvelli, the ISPI researcher, argues that lack of trust might also pose a problem. Red flags about individuals are not clear cut, he explains: “Security officials need to interpret them, in order to grasp the level of danger, and knowing where that information comes from plays an important part in the process.”

But while they are bound to share information, the secret services of different countries aren’t keen on sharing with each other how they gathered that information — which ends up making the information less useful.

Varvelli said that ISIS is “well aware” of this weakness and are exploiting it: “Terrorists have realized that if they are closely monitored in the country they are based in, a good strategy is to move to a different country.”

The Washington Post

Jordan Army Shoots Dead 5 For Approaching Border Near Syria

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

Jordan Army Shoots Dead 5 for Approaching Border near Syria

Jordan

The Jordanian army announced on Sunday that its forces shot dead five people who were approaching their position from the Syrian side of the border.

The border guards killed the individuals who were coming from Tanf, a Syrian desert town where US special forces training rebels are based.

The Jordanian army said it destroyed a car and two motorbikes in the incident.

The army statement did not give any details of the identity of the men and whether they were smugglers or militants in the area where Jordan’s northeastern borders meet both Iraq and Syria.

The statement however said that before the shooting, a convoy of nine cars had approached from the Tanf area but fled after the army fired warning shots.

The town has been a flashpoint in recent weeks as militias backed by Iran have tried to get near the US garrison, prompting US coalition jets to strike back.

Tanf lies near the strategic Damascus-Baghdad highway that was once a major weapons supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria.

ISIS militants launched a suicide attack last April on the heavily defended base in which the Pentagon said an estimated 20-30 ISIS fighters were involved. US jets bombed the militants in the hit and run attack.

Staunch US ally Jordan has also been threatened by the militants.

Moscow on Wednesday condemned the US-led coalition strike on pro-regime fighters in Tanf as an “act of aggression” that targeted the most effective forces battling “terrorists” in the war-torn country.

“It was an act of aggression which breaches the territorial sovereignty of Syria and intentionally or not targeted those forces that are the most effective in fighting the terrorists on the ground,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The US-led coalition on Tuesday said it had destroyed a unit of pro-regime forces in Syria as they advanced near an area where coalition commandos have been training and advising rebels.

A group of about 60 pro-regime forces moved into the area with a tank, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons and armed technical vehicles, the coalition said in a statement. They posed a threat to the coalition forces at the Tanf Garrison, it added.

The assault marks the second time in less than a month that coalition forces have attacked pro-regime forces as they headed toward the garrison inside a supposed “deconfliction zone” claimed by the US.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

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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Iran Foreign Minister: “Trump’s Comment After Tehran ISIS Attacks Are Repugnant”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Iran has slammed US President Donald Trump’s response to Wednesday’s twin terror attacks in Tehran as “repugnant”, as the death toll from the ISIS-claimed assaults rose to 16.

“Repugnant WH (White House) statement & Senate sanctions as Iranians counter terror backed by US clients. Iranian people reject such US claims of friendship,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted Thursday.
Zarif was responding to President Trump’s statement following the bombings that said, “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people who are going through such challenging times.”
It then added, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”
Six attackers mounted simultaneous gun and suicide bomb assaults on Iran’s Parliament building and the tomb of the republic’s revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini in one of the most audacious assaults to hit Tehran in decades.
All six of the attackers, who all died in the assault, have been identified. Five of them had previously fought with ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry said in a statement Thursday.
The five men were associated with “Takfiri groups” — a term referring to extremist Sunnis — and left Iran after joining ISIS, the statement said.
The men entered Iran last year under the command of a man known as “Abu Ayesha.” They intended to carry out attacks at religious sites but were thwarted after key members of their cell were apprehended. Abu Ayesha was killed at the time, according to the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.
The armed assailants, apparently dressed as women, attacked the parliament buildings on Wednesday morning equipped with assault rifles, handguns and suicide vests, killing security guards and ordinary people before taking hostages in the upper floors of the building.
Security forces then laid siege to the parliament for several hours. Three of the gunmen were shot dead in an exchange of gunfire, while another blew himself up.
In the attack at the mausoleum, one suicide bomber blew himself up while the second one was killed in a gunfight, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
The ISIS media wing, Amaq, claimed “fighters with the Islamic State” carried out the assault. It was the first time that ISIS, a Sunni Muslim group fighting Iranian-backed militias in Syria, has claimed responsibility for an attack in Iran and the choice of locations were also highly symbolic.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said Thursday it will soon release the names and pictures of the gunmen involved in the terrorist attacks, all of whom were killed on Wednesday, Tasnim reported.

Iran envoy reacts to terror attacks in Tehran

Iran envoy reacts to terror attacks in Tehran
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vowed revenge for the attack, which it says was supported by Saudi Arabia, and tied it to the visit of President Trump to Saudi Arabia in May.
The Revolutionary Guards’ accusation comes at a time of heightened Saudi-Iranian tensions following a regional rift with Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar this week and has blocked several of the country’s media outlets. The rift was over comments allegedly made by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Hamad Al Thani hailing Iran as an “Islamic power” and criticizing Trump’s policy toward Tehran.
The Emir’s alleged comments appeared on Qatar’s official news agency, but Qatar said the website was hacked and the report fabricated by the culprits.

 It’s a tough time to work in national security and have opinions, or even a conscience

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) It’s a tough time to work in national security and have opinions, or even a conscience. On Monday, a 25-year-old federal contractor named Reality Leigh Winner was arrested for allegedly leaking a top-secret NSA document to The Intercept.

The apparent document, dated a month ago, contains shocking details about an alleged Russian cyberattack on a supplier of US voting software, as well as malicious emails sent to voting officials in an attempt to hack their computers. Unlike previous reports, this one, if accurate, was far more overt in what it revealed, leaving little doubt that the attacks were coordinated by the GRU, the Russian state’s military intelligence unit. Winner was charged under the Espionage Act for the leak, and faces up to 10 years in prison.

Jill Filipovic

Depending whom you ask, Winner is either a criminal or a whistle blower. If she is indeed the person behind the leak, then perhaps she’s both: someone who felt an understandable moral obligation to release information that is in the public interest, but who also broke the law.
Her case is an important one to follow, and the sloppy missteps by The Intercept offer important lessons for journalists who receive leaked documents and outlets that publish them. But it shouldn’t eclipse the bigger picture: that while low-level leakers like Winner become the subjects of large-scale public prosecutions, our own President has a nasty habit of spewing highly classified and sensitive information to boost his own ego and impress his audience.
Beyond this, that same President has time and again complained about and may even have obstructed a thorough investigation into whether a hostile foreign power interfered in our elections.
There are good reasons to have laws against leaks — the intelligence community needs to be able to do its job, which means protecting its sources and keeping some information out of public view. But over the past two decades, our national security apparatus has grown to a monstrous size, while it has also become less transparent and more difficult for public watchdogs to check in on.
Leaks have long been a regular feature of American government, and they are rarely prosecuted, because, as Malcolm Gladwell details in an essential New Yorker article on national security whistle blowing, their very existence is often beneficial to the administration in charge. Even the Obama administration, which was more aggressive in prosecuting leakers than any before it, didn’t bother tracking down the source of, let alone seeking punishment for, the overwhelming majority of leaks.
This administration is a wild card, and the President dis-comfortingly unpredictable. He has vowed to prosecute more leakers, and Winner may just be paraded as a threat to other would-be purveyors of classified intelligence. Which is why the conversations and reporting on this case must maintain crucial context — that leaks are common, but prosecutions are not, which suggests the administration is seeking to make a bigger point here. Its message: Leakers will be particularly targeted if the intelligence they give journalists suggests that Russia helped Trump win the election.
This is especially rich, by the way, given that Trump himself disclosed classified intelligence to the Russians, compromising our relationships with some of our most important allies.
All of which makes this leak more understandable: Winner, if she was the leaker, had in her hand a document clearly tying the Russian military intelligence apparatus to direct meddling in the American presidential election, and reasonably believed the administration in power would like to bury it.
She made the mistake of believing the site she anonymously leaked the document to would be careful to not make her identifiable; instead, The Intercept all but gave her away, and she was arrested almost immediately after the story was published. This kind of amateur-hour screw up may, unfortunately, scare others away from coming forward with vital information that sheds light on the darkest corners of our recent history.
Now, the impulse will be to focus on Winner: Did she break the law? Could she have conscientiously blown the whistle any other way? What are her politics and motivations?
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This will certainly be the emphasis from the Republican Party, whose members are eager to weasel out of the position they’ve put themselves in, claiming to be aggressive defenders of the nation while looking away from the growing mound of evidence that our elections were compromised, that members of the Trump campaign, and possibly even the administration, may have been involved, and that the leader of their party is trying to squelch any probes.
We shouldn’t take the bait and get distracted by what Winner tweeted about or whose Twitter feeds she followed. Instead, we should retrain our gaze on the issues at hand: A loose-lipped President who is obstructing justice; a hostile foreign power interfering with our democratic system; and a craven, mealy mouthed majority party in Congress doing absolutely nothing because, hey, their guy won, and that seems to matter more than the integrity and security of the United States.
One leak is the least of our problems.