U.N. World Legal Maritime Claims

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘CIA FACTBOOK’)

 

Maritime claims
This entry includes the following claims, the definitions of which are excerpted from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which alone contains the full and definitive descriptions:
territorial sea – the sovereignty of a coastal state extends beyond its land territory and internal waters to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea in the UNCLOS (Part II); this sovereignty extends to the air space over the territorial sea as well as its underlying seabed and subsoil; every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles; the normal baseline for measuring the breadth of the territorial sea is the mean low-water line along the coast as marked on large-scale charts officially recognized by the coastal state; where the coasts of two states are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither state is entitled to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line, every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baseline from which the territorial seas of both states are measured; the UNCLOS describes specific rules for archipelagic states.
contiguous zone – according to the UNCLOS (Article 33), this is a zone contiguous to a coastal state’s territorial sea, over which it may exercise the control necessary to: prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration, or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea; punish infringement of the above laws and regulations committed within its territory or territorial sea; the contiguous zone may not extend beyond 24 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured (e.g., the US has claimed a 12-nautical mile contiguous zone in addition to its 12-nautical mile territorial sea); where the coasts of two states are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither state is entitled to extend its contiguous zone beyond the median line, every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baseline from which the contiguous zone of both states are measured.
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – the UNCLOS (Part V) defines the EEZ as a zone beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea in which a coastal state has: sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents, and winds; jurisdiction with regard to the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations, and structures; marine scientific research; the protection and preservation of the marine environment; the outer limit of the exclusive economic zone shall not exceed 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
continental shelf – the UNCLOS (Article 76) defines the continental shelf of a coastal state as comprising the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance; the continental margin comprises the submerged prolongation of the landmass of the coastal state, and consists of the seabed and subsoil of the shelf, the slope, and the rise; wherever the continental margin extends beyond 200 nautical miles from the baseline, coastal states may extend their claim to a distance not to exceed 350 nautical miles from the baseline or 100 nautical miles from the 2,500-meter isobath, which is a line connecting points of 2,500 meters in depth; it does not include the deep ocean floor with its oceanic ridges or the subsoil thereof.
exclusive fishing zone – while this term is not used in the UNCLOS, some states (e.g., the United Kingdom) have chosen not to claim an EEZ, but rather to claim jurisdiction over the living resources off their coast; in such cases, the term exclusive fishing zone is often used; the breadth of this zone is normally the same as the EEZ or 200 nautical miles.

The History Of The CIA

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘CIA FACTBOOK’)

 

History of the CIA

CIA’s Family Tree

CIA Family Tree

Like all government agencies, the CIA was not created overnight and functioning at full capacity the following morning. In fact, there were various renditions of an intelligence agency for 6 years prior to the formal establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency. At the beginning of World War II America’s first peacetime, non-departmental intelligence organization was created. That organization moved and morphed and changed names and ownership, was dissected and dismantled before President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 creating a permanent Central Intelligence Agency.

Though our directives have changed and generations have turned, our goal to further US national security objectives remains the same. The Agency embraces its roots and celebrates the path that led to the making of America’s premier foreign intelligence agency. As we look to the future we glance at our past to trace the lineage of the CIA to its very beginnings, and to reflect on the different phases it went through, culminating in the creation of the CIA.

* * * *

Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI)

Established 11 July 1941, Duration: 337 Days

When World War II started in 1939 the State Department, Army, Navy and FBI were randomly collecting intelligence with no direction or coordination. Nor were these agencies designed to collect the strategic and economic intelligence that was needed during WWII. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, desperate for solid intelligence, was frustrated by the piecemeal, stove-piped information these agencies were providing him. To solve the problem, he created the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) to streamline the collection, organization, and dissemination of the intelligence that the government agencies collected. The COI was also created to conduct unconventional warfare. Roosevelt appointed World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, to lead the organization with a $10 million budget and 600 staffers.

William Donovan
General William “Wild Bill” Donovan

COI’s first operation was debriefing refugees in New York City who had fled war-torn Europe. Additionally, COI gathered intelligence overseas and worked closely with the British in London to gain information, training, and experience from their intelligence organizations.

As the war progressed Donovan came to the realization that he needed to move his budding organization under the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to ensure the support of the military. President Roosevelt agreed, but, he wanted to keep a portion of COI’s elements out of military hands. Roosevelt moved white propaganda, along with half of the COI’s staff, to the Office of War Information.

What was left of COI after the transition became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) on June 13, 1942. The name change fulfilled Donovan’s wish for a title that reflected the importance of ‘strategy’ in intelligence gathering and clandestine operations.

* * * *

Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

Established 13 June 1942, Duration: 3 years, 3 months

The OSS had a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information requested by the JCS and to conduct unconventional and paramilitary operations. To do this Donovan sent OSS personnel to North Africa, Europe, China, Burma, and India. However, the OSS never received complete jurisdiction over all foreign intelligence activities. The Department of State and the armed services arranged a Presidential decree that effectively banned most of OSS and several other agencies from acquiring and decoding the war’s most important intelligence intercepts. General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz kept OSS from contributing to the main American campaigns against Imperial Japan and the FBI, G-2 and Navy intelligence stood together to protect their monopoly on domestic counterintelligence work.

Nonetheless, OSS did eventually develop a capable counterintelligence apparatus of its own overseas and utilizing military, diplomatic and non-official cover, began to build a world-wide clandestine capability.

At its peak OSS employed almost 13,000 people, 35% of whom were women. Two-thirds of its ranks were comprised of US Army and Army Air Forces personnel. Civilians made up another quarter, the rest were from the Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard. Nearly 7,500 OSS employees, men and women, served overseas.

OSS Organization Chart
OSS Organization Chart

There was never an expectation that the OSS would continue to operate after the war despite Donovan’s insistence on the necessity of a peacetime intelligence Agency. President Truman took office and in late August 1945, he ordered that OSS be dismantled.

Donovan had just ten days to disassemble his agency. The Research & Analysis Branch moved to the State Department. Donovan’s Deputy was asked to stay on and help preserve the Counterintelligence Branch and the Secret Intelligence Branch, both now under the War Department in a new office dubbed the Strategic Services Unit (SSU). Donovan was not asked to stay on. On October 1, 1945, the OSS closed its doors.

* * * *

Strategic Services Unit (SSU)

Established 1 October 1945, Duration: 1 year, 5 months

SSU temporarily took over the former OSS posts in London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Cairo, Chungking, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Rangoon, as well as various smaller posts until a more permanent solution could be put in place.

In January 1946, a new National Intelligence Authority was established along with a small Central Intelligence Group (CIG). In the spring of 1946 the President and Congress decided to give SSU’s duties, responsibilities, personnel, overseas field stations, communications and logistical capabilities to CIG. The decision to do this was based exclusively on the challenge of producing coordinated intelligence assessments.

Souers
Rear Admiral Sidney Souers

The Deputy Chief of Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral Sidney Souers, USNR, was appointed Executive Secretary of CIG and was responsible for carrying out the integration of SSU into CIG. Souers openly admitted he had no desire to run the new organization and would only do so for as long as it took to establish the organization, which was six months.

CIG screened all SSU employees and offered positions to the best of them. CIG then took over SSU’s headquarter elements in Washington and SSU ceased to exist.

* * * *

Central Intelligence Group (CIG)

Established January 1946, Duration: 1 year, 6 months

CIG was responsible for coordinating, planning, evaluating and disseminating intelligence. CIG also acquired a clandestine collection capability as well as authority to conduct independent research and analysis. This was key as CIG was no longer just coordinating the intelligence it received from government agencies, but was now producing intelligence on its own. This enlarged CIG’s personnel strength considerably.

The new organization spied overseas with employees lent to it from the Army, Navy and Department of State. CIG functioned under the National Intelligence Authority, which was composed of a presidential representative and the secretaries of State, War and Navy. Within months of its creation, CIG became the nation’s primary agency for strategic warning and management of clandestine activities abroad. Yet, it was shackled to the constraints and resistance of the Department of State and the armed services. And so, to free itself, CIG became an independent department and was renamed the Central Intelligence Agency.

* * * *

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Established 18 September 1947, Duration: 70 years

The CIA was created under the National Security Act of 1947, which President Truman signed on July 26, 1947. The CIA officially came into existence on September 18 that same year. President Truman appointed the Deputy Director of CIG, Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter as the first Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. One third of the CIA’s personnel were OSS veterans.

DCI_Roscoe Hillenkoetter.jpg
Former DCI Roscoe Hillenkoetter

The 1947 Act loosely defined CIA’s mission and while the Act did not alter the functions of CIG, it did add four broad tasks: (1) advise the National Security Council (NSC) on matters related to national security; (2) make recommendations to the NSC regarding the coordination of intelligence activities of the Departments; (3) correlate and evaluate intelligence and provide for its appropriate dissemination and (4) ” perform such other functions… as the NSC will from time to time direct…”

Two years later, President Truman signed the Central Intelligence Agency Act, which authorized CIA to secretly fund intelligence operations and conduct personnel actions outside of standard US Government procedures.

E Street Sign
CIA’s first street sign

By 1953, the Agency was an established element of government. Its contributions in the areas of political action and paramilitary warfare were recognized and respected. The Agency attracted some of the most able lawyers, academicians, and young, committed patriots in the country. They brought with them professional associations and friendships which extended to the senior levels of government.The Agency had also achieved the basic structure and scale it retained for the next twenty years. The Korean War, United States foreign policy objectives, and the Agency’s internal organizational arrangements combined to produce an enormous impetus for growth. The CIA was six times the size it had been in 1947 and three of its current five directorates had been established.

Originally housed in a sprawling set of buildings in the center of Washington, D.C., the CIA’s physical presence gave it the advantage of seeming an integral part of, rather than a separate element of, the government.

In late 1961, CIA employees began relocating from a disparate collection of buildings in Washington, DC, to a newly constructed headquarters complex in Langley, Virginia. The Original Headquarters Building (OHB) was the first home designed specifically for Agency officers, and it still serves today as an iconic symbol of CIA and its mission.

Artist's Rendering of OHB
On August 4, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill authorizing $46 million for construction of a CIA Headquarters Building. This is an artist’s rendering of OHB.

On December 17, 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act which restructured the Intelligence Community by abolishing the position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) and creating the position the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (D/CIA). The Act also created the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which oversees the Intelligence Community and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).The CIA has continued to adjust and adapt to the emerging trends of an ever-changing global landscape. Today the CIA is America’s and the world’s premier foreign intelligence agency, shaped by its resilient past. We accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go. We are the Nations eyes and ears, and sometimes, its hidden hand. We will continue our mission of collecting, analyzing, evaluating, and disseminating foreign intelligence to assist the President and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security now and indefinitely into the future.

Posted: Apr 10, 2007 08:04 AM
Last Updated: Sep 18, 2017 01:13 PM

 

 

Trump plans to release JFK assassination documents despite concerns from federal agencies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Trump plans to release JFK assassination documents despite concerns from federal agencies


The Kennedy motorcade drives through Dallas moments before the president was fatally shot Nov. 22, 1963. (Jim Altgens/AP)
 October 21 at 2:00 PM
President Trump announced Saturday morning that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents left in the files related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration.“Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened,” Trump tweeted early Saturday.Experts have been speculating for weeks about whether Trump would disclose the documents. The 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act required that the millions of pages, many of them contained in CIA and FBI documents, be published in 25 years — by Thursday. Over the years, the National Archives has released most of the documents, either in full or partially redacted.

But one final batch remains, and only the president has the authority to extend the papers’ secrecy past the deadline.

In his tweet, Trump seemed to strongly imply he was going to release all the remaining documents, but the White House later said that if other government agencies made a strong case not to release the documents, he wouldn’t.

“The president believes that these documents should be made available in the interests of full transparency unless agencies provide a compelling and clear national security or law enforcement justification otherwise,” the White House said in a statement Saturday.

In the days leading up to Trump’s announcement, a National Security Council official told The Washington Post that government agencies were urging the president not to release some of the documents. But Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone told conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars this week that he personally lobbied Trump to release all of the documents.

Stone also told Jones that CIA Director Mike Pompeo “has been lobbying the president furiously not to release these documents.”

Some Republican lawmakers have also been urging Trump for a full release. Earlier this month, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, brought forward resolutions calling on Trump to “reject any claims for the continued postponement” of the documents.

“No reason 2 keep hidden anymore,” Grassley tweeted earlier this month. “Time 2 let American ppl + historians draw own conclusions.”

 Play Video 12:06
What you may not have known about JFK’s last days
On the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, author James Swanson shares the stories he learned while writing his book, “The End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy”. (The Washington Post)

Though Kennedy assassination experts say that they do not think the last batch of papers contains any major bombshells, the president’s decision to release the documents could heighten the clarity around the assassination, which has fueled so many conspiracy theorists, including Trump.

In May 2016, while on the presidential campaign trail, Trump gave an interview to Fox News strongly accusing the father of GOP primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) of consorting with Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald right before the shooting.

Some Kennedy assassination researchers think that the trove could shed light on a key question that President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to unsuccessfully put to rest in 1963: Did Oswald act alone, or was he aided or propelled by a foreign government?

The records are also said to include details on Oswald’s activities while he was traveling in Mexico City in late September 1963 and courting Cuban and Soviet spies, as well as the CIA’s personality profiles written of Oswald after the assassination.

But some experts fear the history that may be lost forever in unreadable documents in the trove. One listed as “unintelligible” is a secret communication from the CIA to the Office of Naval Intelligence about Oswald in October 1963 — weeks before the assassination. Oswald had been honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1959, but it was later changed to a dishonorable discharge. He was outraged and made threats late in 1963 when he learned the military had rejected his appeal of its decision.

Phil Shenon, who wrote a book about the Warren Commission, the congressional body that investigated Kennedy’s killing, said he was pleased with Trump’s decision to release the documents. But he wonders to what degree the papers will ultimately be released.

“It’s great news that the president is focused on this and that he’s trying to demonstrate transparency. But the question remains whether he will open the library in full — every word in every document, as the law requires,” Shenon said. “And my understanding is that he won’t without infuriating people at the CIA and elsewhere who are determined to keep at least some of the information secret, especially in documents created in the 1990s.”

There are about 3,100 previously unreleased files that hold tens of thousands of pages of new material. The National Archives also has another 30,000 pages with information that has been disclosed before, but only partially and with redactions.

Jefferson Morley, a former Post reporter who has studied the Kennedy assassination records for years, said that the last tranche of material is also intriguing because it contains files on senior CIA officials from the 1960s — officers well aware of Oswald’s activities in the days before the assassination.

He specifically pointed to the files of former CIA officers William K. Harvey and David Phillips. Morley said Harvey led the agency’s assassinations operations and feuded constantly with Kennedy’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, over the administration’s crisis with Cuba. Phillips, Morley said, oversaw the agency’s operations against Cuban President Fidel Castro and was deeply familiar with the CIA’s surveillance of Oswald in Mexico City.

“What’s in those files could tell us how those men did their jobs,” said Morley, who wrote a 2008 book on the agency’s Mexico City station chief. “There might be stuff on why we were interested in the Cuban consulate, how we surveilled the consulate, how we did our audio work, and how did we recruit spies there? We might understand much better why they were watching Oswald.”

John Wagner and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

North Korea’s ‘No. 2’ official on 10-day visit to Iran that may signal wider military ties

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNBC NEWS)

 

North Korea’s ‘No. 2’ official on 10-day visit to Iran that may signal wider military ties

  • Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported Kim Yong Nam, head of North Korea’s parliament, arrived Thursday for the weekend inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
  • But given he is expected to stay 10 days, the trip is being seen as a front for Pyongyang to perhaps increase military cooperation with Tehran and to boost the hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime.
  • “There could be very problematic cooperation going on,” an Israeli-based national security expert said.

33 Mins Ago 

Iran's President Hassan Rowhani meets with North Korea's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-Nam in 2013.

Atta Kenare | AFP | Getty Images
Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani meets with North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-Nam in 2013.

Amid new U.S. sanctions, North Korea‘s “No. 2” official began a 10-day visit to Iran on Thursday that could result in the two sides expanding their ties.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported Kim Yong Nam, chairman of the Supreme Assembly of North Korea, arrived Thursday for the weekend inauguration ceremony for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

But given the head of North Korea’s parliament is expected to stay for 10 days in Iran, the trip is being seen as a front for other purposes, including expanding military cooperation. At the same time, Pyongyang is looking for ways to counter sanctions and to boost the hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime.

“There could be very problematic cooperation going on because of the past history and because it makes strategic sense, especially for Iran now,” said Emily Landau, a senior research fellow at the Israeli-based Institute for National Security Studies and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. INSS is an independent think tank affiliated with Tel Aviv University.

The man whom Iran described as the North’s “No. 2” is believed to be traveling with a delegation of other officials from Pyongyang, including economic and military officials.

“For North Korea, it’s not a question of ideology,” Landau said. “It’s not a question of being close politically and maybe in terms of any of their religious orientation. It’s all about who can pay in hard cash. That’s what makes North Korea a very dangerous source of nuclear technology, components and know-how.”

Last month, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said in a speech at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance that he had “created two new mission centers aimed at focusing on putting a dagger in the heart of the Korean problem and the problem in Iran.”

“Both the North Koreans and Iranians feel a serious threat from the United States and the West and sort of see each other as very different countries but facing a somewhat similar situation,” said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear proliferation expert and professor of practice at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In July, nuclear-armed North Korea conducted two tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Iran could have an ICBM capability similar to North Korea within a few years, as just last week it successfully launched a satellite-carrying rocket that some see as a precursor to long-range ballistic missile weapon capability.

“There’s been fairly extensive cooperation on missiles,” said Bunn. “And in fact, early generations of Iranian missiles were thought to be basically modestly adapted North Korean missiles.”

For example, Tehran’s Shahab-3 ballistic missile, capable of reaching Saudi Arabia from Iranian land, is based on technology from North Korea’s Nodong-1 rockets. Iran’s Ghadir small submarine, which in May conducted a cruise-missile test, is a vessel remarkably similar to those used by Pyongyang.

There’s still a bit of a mystery on the nuclear side, but some former CIA analysts have previously said Iranian scientists have attended nuclear tests in North Korea. There have been recent reports North Korea may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test.

Tehran’s hands are tied due to the international nuclear agreement, although there’s a possibility it could quietly be teaming up with North Korea on nuclear research and doing it from the Korean Peninsula.

“The fact they are cooperating so closely on the missile realm is cause to believe that there could be even more cooperation going on even directly in the nuclear realm,” said Landau, the Israeli-based national security expert.

Bunn, however, isn’t so sure there’s currently any collaboration on the nuclear side between the two regimes but said “there’s a real danger potential” of it happening.

Is Jeff Sessions Just Another one of many Russian Crony’s On The Trump/Putin Payroll?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Jeff Sessions just added even more smoke to the Trump-Russia story

Story highlights

  • Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form.
  • If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to properly disclose his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a security clearance application, CNN reported on Wednesday night.

Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form. The FBI employee told Sessions he didn’t need to note every interaction — especially passing ones — with foreign officials. So, Sessions didn’t.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Phil Mudd, who spent time at the CIA and the FBI and now works as a counter-terrorism analyst for CNN, acknowledged Thursday morning on “New Day” that he, too, didn’t list every foreign official he came into contact with on his security clearance forms — comparing it to going 62 in an area where the speed limit is 55.
Fair enough.
The problem here for Sessions — and the Trump administration more broadly — is that the meetings the Attorney General failed to disclose are with the Russian ambassador. Not the ambassador to France or England or literally any other place in the world.
And that means the omissions matter. Because they land amid a federal investigation now being run by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. And two congressional investigations into the matter. And the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn due to his misleading comments about his own conversations with Kislyak. And the Russia ties of former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Carter Page. And Sessions’ own recusal from the federal investigation due to his meetings with Kislyak. And the reports that Trump asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and the Russians during a Feb. 14 meeting.
You get the idea. There’s just a massive amount of smoke here. Is it possible that the smoke isn’t being produced by a fire, as Trump insists? Sure. But the growing amount of smoke belies Trump’s repeated insistence that the investigation is simply “fake news” or a “witch hunt.”
The public disagrees with Trump on this, too. In a new Fox News national poll, more than six in ten (61%) of people said they were concerned with reports of “Russian meddling in U.S. affairs,” as opposed to just 38% who said they weren’t concerned. Almost 7 in 10 (68%) approved of the appointment of a special counsel to look into Russia’s meddling and possible collusion with elements of the Trump campaign. People were split on whether they thought evidence would be found proving the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians; 43 percent said they expected that to happen while 45 percent said they didn’t.
If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation. Because Mueller is the only person at this point who can clear away all the smoke and show that there is no fire. (Not even Trump can do that at this point — even if he wanted to. The story has gotten totally beyond his control.)
And yet, Trump continues to work to undermine Mueller and his findings. Which means that every development like this latest one with Sessions will just add more smoke to the story. At this point, there’s so much smoke surrounding Trump and Russia, it’s getting very hard to see.

Jared Kushner now a focus in Russia investigation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Jared Kushner now a focus in Russia investigation

Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow , is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said.

The Washington Post reported last week that a senior White House official close to the president was a significant focus of the high-stakes investigation, though it did not name Kushner.

FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.

The Post has not been told that Kushner is a target — or the central focus — of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Target is a word that generally refers to someone who is the main suspect of investigators’ attention, though prosecutors can and do bring charges against people who are not marked with that distinction.

“Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” said Jamie Gorelick, one of his attorneys.

In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said, “I can’t confirm or deny the existence or non-existence of investigations or subjects of investigations.” The FBI declined to comment.

At the time of the December meetings, Trump already had won the election. Contacts between people on the transition team and foreign governments can be routine, but the meetings and phone calls with the Russians were not made public at the time.

In early December, Kushner met in New York with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak again. Flynn was also present at the early December meeting, and later that month, Flynn held a call with Kislyak to discuss U.S.-imposed sanctions against Russia. Flynn initially mischaracterized the conversation even to the vice president — which ultimately prompted his ouster from the White House.

Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In addition to the December meetings, a former senior intelligence official said FBI agents had been looking closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and the Russians dating back to the spring of 2016, including one at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Kushner and Kislyak — along with close Trump adviser and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions — were present at an April 2016 event at the Mayflower where then-candidate Trump promised in a speech to seek better relations with Russia. It is unclear whether Kushner and Kislyak interacted there.

The New York Times reported that Kushner omitted from security clearance forms his December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov, though his lawyer said that was mere error and he told the FBI soon after that he would amend the forms. The White House said that his meetings were normal and inconsequential.

Kushner has agreed to discuss his Russian contacts with the Senate Intelligence Committee — which is conducting one of several investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In many ways, Kushner is a unique figure inside the White House. He is arguably the president’s most trusted adviser, and he is also a close member of the president’s family. His list of policy responsibilities is vast— his foreign policy portfolio alone includes Canada and Mexico, China, and peace in the Middle East — yet he rarely speaks publicly about any of them.

Former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III is now leading the probe into possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, and he has set up shop in the Patrick Henry Building in downtown D.C. Even before he was picked by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to take over the case, investigators had been stepping up their efforts — issuing subpoenas and looking to conduct interviews, people familiar with the matter said.

A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was recently notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing.

It is unclear exactly how Mueller’s leadership will affect the direction of the probe. This week, Justice Department ethics experts cleared him to take over the case even though lawyers at his former firm, WilmerHale, represent several people who could be caught up in the matter, including Kushner, Manafort and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is married to Kushner.

Mueller resigned from the firm to take over the investigation.

Investigators are continuing to look aggressively into the dealings of Flynn, and a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., recently issued a subpoenas for records related to Flynn’s businesses and finances, according to people familiar with the matter.

Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials for research on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Turkey’s current president believes was responsible for a coup attempt last summer. Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department in March as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests.

Separately from the probe now run by Mueller, Flynn is being investigated by the Pentagon’s top watchdog for his foreign payments. Flynn also received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization.

CIA: Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

“If there ever was any effort by Russians to influence me, I was unaware, and they would have failed,” Mr. Manafort said in a statement. “I did not collude with the Russians to influence the elections.”

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment. Mr. Flynn’s lawyer did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it.

Last week, CNN reported about intercepted phone calls during which Russian officials were bragging about ties to Mr. Flynn and discussing ways to wield influence over him.

In his congressional testimony, Mr. Brennan discussed the broad outlines of the intelligence, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials.

“I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive,” Mr. Brennan said. Still, he said, even at the end of the Obama administration he had “unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

Mr. Brennan’s testimony offered the fullest public account to date of how American intelligence agencies first came to fear that Mr. Trump’s campaign might be aiding Russia’s attack on the election.

By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans — foreign spies had hacked previous campaigns, and the United States does the same in elections around the world, officials said. The view on the inside was that collecting information, even through hacking, is what spies do.

But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.

An unclassified report by American intelligence agencies released in January stated that Mr. Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

Before taking the helm of the Trump campaign last May, Mr. Manafort worked for more than a decade for Russian-leaning political organizations and people in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych, the former president. Mr. Yanukovych was a close ally of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Manafort’s links to Ukraine led to his departure from the Trump campaign in August, after his name surfaced in secret ledgers showing millions in undisclosed payments from Mr. Yanukovych’s political party.

Russia views Ukraine as a buffer against the eastward expansion of NATO, and has supported separatists in their years long fight against the struggling democratic government in Kiev.

Mr. Flynn’s ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.

But in private life, Mr. Flynn cultivated even closer ties to Russia. In 2015, he earned more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia, including a cargo airline implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations, and an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

The biggest payment, though, came from RT, the Kremlin-financed news network. It paid Mr. Flynn $45,000 to give a speech in Moscow, where he also attended the network’s lavish anniversary dinner. There, he was photographed sitting next to Mr. Putin.

A senior lawmaker said on Monday that Mr. Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about how he was paid for the Moscow trip. He also failed to disclose the source of that income on a security form he was required to complete before joining the White House, according to congressional investigators.

American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.

But after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of the calls, Mr. Flynn was fired as national security adviser after a tumultuous 25 days in office.

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

Story highlights

  • House investigators are interest in diving into Russian meddling in the US election
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony isn’t the only high profile hearing Tuesday

Washington (CNN) Former CIA Director John Brennan told House Russia investigators Tuesday that Russia “brazenly interfered” in the US elections, including actively contacting members of President Donald Trump’s campaign — but he stopped shy of dubbing it “collusion.”

“I saw interaction that in my mind raised questions of whether it was collusion,” Brennan told Rep. Trey Gowdy, saying that he supported the FBI digging further. “It was necessary to pull threads.”
Brennan was speaking to the House intelligence committee on the extent of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections and possible ties to the Trump campaign, where he was asked about how Moscow recruits sources “wittingly and unwittingly.”
“Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” Brennan said.
Brennan said that he first picked up on Russia’s active meddling last summer and, in an August 4, 2016, phone call with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, warned him against further interference. Bortnikov, Brennan said, denied any active efforts in the election.
Brennan cautioned lawmakers that although he could not definitively say if those contacts amounted to “collusion,” he knew that Russians were actively cutivating US contacts and, very likely, did not present themselves as Russian spies.
Brennan also said Trump might have broken protocol if he revealed highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting earlier this month.
The panel will get two cracks at Brennan — the first in public at 10 a.m. ET and the second behind closed doors — almost two months after his first appearance was dramatically canceled amid the chaos sparked by House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ clandestine White House trip.
House investigators are particularly interested in finding out more about how Russia conducted its election attacks inside the US and who Russian spies attempted to recruit to their side, said a House intelligence committee source. Intelligence sources have previously told CNN that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page was being cultivating as a source for a Russian spy — whether he knew it or not. Page has flatly and continually denied that charge.
But Brennan’s isn’t the only high-profile hearing Tuesday. The latest news most likely to hold the Capitol captive is word that Trump asked his own intelligence chiefs — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers — to rebut Comey’s then-public statement that the FBI had opened a criminal probe into Russia’s meddling in July of last year.
Coats is testifying in the Senate and Rogers is expected to testify in the House on budget issues, but the blockbuster news of Trump’s attempt to curtail a federal probe, first reported by The Washington Post, has already come up.
Meanwhile, Brennan is also likely to face questions about a split among intelligence leaders last summer over the purpose of Russia’s meddling in the US election — whether it was designed to support Trump or merely spur chaos and confusion in the election. Brennan told senior lawmakers as early as last summer that the Russian operation was squarely designed to support Trump.
Brennan’s appearance comes as the Russia probes have escalated greatly since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and subsequently the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia.
On Monday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate intelligence committee left open the threat of holding former national security adviser Michael Flynn in contempt if he continues to withhold documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

How The World Sees Trump, 100 Days In—(And It Isn’t Pretty)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

How the world sees Trump, 100 days in

Updated 4:53 PM ET, Sat April 29, 2017

(CNN) The world was dumbfounded by the election of Donald Trump, and his first 100 days in office have done little to alleviate a deep sense of uncertainty and unpredictability. Indeed, as one observer put it, the last few weeks alone have caused a severe case of global geostrategic whiplash.

The number of campaign promises that have morphed into presidential U-turns is staggering. Allies and adversaries alike are trying to figure out whether a Trump Doctrine is emerging, or whether, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden recently told me, a discernible doctrine does not exist in what resembles a family-run business of policy from the White House.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster “has hired a very bright woman to write the US National Security Strategy,” he said. “It’s a tough job. I did it twice for George H.W. Bush. But I was building on precedent and historic consensus. It’s really going to be interesting to see what an America First national security strategy looks like when you’ve got to write it down.”
Long-time American allies are comforted, though, knowing McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis make up an experienced national security team. NATO partners also welcomed Trump’s declaration that he no longer considers the transatlantic military alliance obsolete.
They, along with regional allies, supported Trump enforcing the previously declared US red line in Syria against the regime’s use of chemical weapons on its own people. After such an attack that the West attributed to the Syrian government earlier in the month, Trump launched retaliatory strikes.
But Asian allies, such as South Korea and Japan, are worried about US policy on North Korea. They welcome the tougher stance against Kim Jong Un’s ramped up nuclear missile program, but they were rattled by the USS Carl Vinson debacle, when for a time it was unclear if the aircraft carrier was steaming towards North Korea or not. It raised the question of whether the administration really has its deterrence policy in order, and South Korea was said to feel utter confusion, even betrayal, when the carrier was actually found to be steaming away from, not towards, the Korean Peninsula.
On Iran, signals are slightly harder to read. On the one hand, the State Department again certified Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Yet a day later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly hinted the US could walk away from it, or try to link it to other issues it has with Iran. So far the deal remains in place and neither the EU nor the UN would agree to reimpose international sanctions on Tehran, which helped bring the country to the negotiating table.
On the Paris Climate Accord, Trump’s closest advisers seem to be having an almighty tussle about whether he should stay or stray from the historic deal. Big US companies like ExxonMobil are urging the US to abide by the deal and thereby have more say at the table.
Trump has also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and seems to have reversed many of his pledges to play hardball with Beijing. But on trade, just recently a Financial Times newspaper headline blared: “Trump Fires First Protectionist Warning over steel Industry,” saying this paves the way for a global showdown on steel and possible sweeping tariffs on steel imports.
In his first 100 days, President Barack Obama visited nine countries. President George W. Bush visited two. Trump has visited none. But next month he visits Brussels for a NATO summit, and Sicily, for a meeting of the G7. Whether he can convince America’s allies that they have a trust-worthy friend with a strategic worldview as their most powerful ally remains to be seen, abroad and at home.
“I think I know what the policy is,” Hayden told me. “I have more difficulty, Christiane, putting this policy into a broader global view. And I think that’s causing unease with you, with me, and with a whole bunch of other folks who are trying to see, ‘Where are the Americans going globally?'”

Afghanistan

Nick Paton Walsh
It was the mother of all statements, but he may have had nothing to do with it.
The MOAB (officially know as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast) wiped out an ISIS tunnel complex in the volatile eastern part of the country last week, killing around 90 militants.

Why did the US use the MOAB?

Why did the US use the MOAB?
It was the largest non-nuclear bomb used by the US in combat, but whether the new commander in chief personally approved its use is unclear.
The airstrike was immediately followed up by National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster visiting Kabul and assuring President Ashraf Ghani his country had a friend in the US and a strategic review was under way.
Yet outside of the huge bomb and its message of might, little has changed — as the new White House is inheriting the exhaustion of both resolve and policy options of the last.
A massive troop surge? Talks with the Taliban? A lighter footprint training Afghan security forces to secure the country? All have been tried, and all have failed to stop the insurgency controlling or contesting over half Afghanistan, and the heavy-handed rise of ISIS. Add to that the intense and escalating in-fighting in the Kabul political elite, and there is a very messy summer ahead, with few decent options.

China

David McKenzie
It’s arguably the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
But when President Donald Trump was inaugurated back in January, several Chinese policy experts told me there was a lot of nervousness about the incoming leader.

China's delicate balance with North Korea

China’s delicate balance with North Korea
After all, during the campaign Trump said he would name China a currency manipulator on Day One of his term and threatened a trade war.
As President-elect, he spoke to Taiwan’s president on the phone and openly questioned the ‘One China’ policy, a cornerstone of Washington-Beijing relations in which the US recognizes Taiwan as part of China. And Trump accused China of not doing enough to put pressure on North Korea.
100 days on? Well, it’s a 180-degree shift.
In his first phone call with President Xi Jinping, Trump reaffirmed the One China policy. He has praised Beijing for taking some positive steps on the North Korea issue and he recently said that China is not manipulating its currency.
Trump denies these positions represent a flip-flop; the businessman-turned-president is saying it’s all part of a deal.
“I actually told him (Xi Jinping), I said, ‘You’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea.’ Because that’s what it is, it’s a menace right now,” Trump said last week.
Trump said he has developed a strong relationship with Xi Jinping and that their scheduled 15-minute meetings at the Mar-a-Lago summit stretched into “hours.”
But Yan Xuetong, a foreign policy expert at Tsinghua University, told me that the Chinese are skeptical. He said that if North Korea goes ahead with its nuclear program, then China will take the blame.
“Trump will use China as scapegoat to tell (the) American public that it is not his problem,” said Yan.
In Yan’s eyes, at least, the Chinese suspect more Trump policy turns.

Egypt

Ian Lee
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate President Donald Trump after he won the November 2016 presidential election. The two leaders had instantly hit it off when they met a few months earlier in New York.
Their views are more aligned than were those of President Barack Obama, which reacted coolly to the 2013 coup by Egypt’s military — led at the time by Sisi. When he became president soon afterward, he ushered in a new low between Washington and Cairo.

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts
It was an open secret that Cairo wished for a Trump victory over Obama’s former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton. Trump was perceived by Cairo as a pragmatist who had little interest in human rights.
In his first days in office, Trump invited Sisi to visit him in Washington. The Egyptian president arrived with three main objectives: deepen military cooperation, strengthen the war against terror and revive Egypt’s economy. The invitation to the White House also gave the Egyptian president a legitimacy that the Obama administration had previously denied him.
Recently, in a gesture of good will and eagerness to cooperate, American Aya Hijazi was released from an Egyptian prison after Trump directly intervened to secure her release.
Expect relations to remain warm as long as Trump’s administration keeps the lid on any criticism of Sisi.

Germany

Nic Robertson
German Chancellor Angela Merkel took heat from Donald Trump even before he was sworn in as president.
He accused her of making a “catastrophic mistake” on migrants, only being as trustworthy as Vladimir Putin, and intentionally trying to take business from the US.

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech
For Europeans, Trump’s attitude to Merkel is symptomatic of wider issues: his like of Brexit and his dislike of the EU’s single market and liberal trade values.
At the EU leaders summit in Malta this February, both French and German leaders said openly that Trump’s attitude was uniting Europe to stand on its own feet.
Since then, Trump has said the EU is “wonderful” and he is “totally in favor of it.” Yet he still supports Brexit and seems unaware of the instability and frustrations Europe feels because of it.
It’s not the only cross-Atlantic reversal he has had. Coming into office, he said NATO was “obsolete.” He told the alliance nations they need to pay their way, and has given them a deadline to promise they will.
In recent weeks Trump has changed his tune. NATO, he said, is “not obsolete” — but he still wants members’ money.
Merkel’s March visit to see Trump at the White House did little to quell European concerns over his attitude to Europe, and trade in particular.
That Merkel was ignored by Trump when asking for a handshake in the Oval Office, and embarrassed by him again at the news conference that followed with an awkward comment about being spied on, reveals this relationship has some way to go before it gets on an even keel.
Iran
Frederik Pleitgen
Iran’s leadership realized that Donald Trump was an unknown commodity, but many in the country’s senior leadership hoped they would be able to deal with the new man in the White House.
“We hope that he will have a pragmatic approach,” Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister, Amir Hossein Azamaninia, told me in an interview during the transition period shortly before Trump took office. He suggested that perhaps President Donald Trump would similar to the businessman Donald Trump — a shrewd dealmaker, whom the Islamic Republic with its oil wealth could possibly even strike deals with.

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship
But Iran soon learned that the new administration was going to take a harder line towards Tehran than President Barack Obama had. When Iran tested ballistic missiles in late January — which the US believes could strike targets in Israel — then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn came down hard and fast on Tehran, announcing there would be new sanctions. He also said the US was “putting Iran on notice,” without specifying what that meant.
This harsh reaction and subsequent statements by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have sowed further uncertainty in Tehran about America’s strategy on Iran. The tough talk and action have put a severe damper on any notion the Rouhani administration had that its fairly constructive relations with Washington during the Obama years would continue.
At the same time, the Trump team’s hard line seems to be having an effect on Iran’s behavior.
There have so far been fewer reports of incidents and close encounters between US and Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf’s narrow Strait of Hormuz than during the end of the Obama administration. And during Iran’s National Revolution Day in February, the leadership did not display ballistic missiles as it usually has.
This has led some experts to believe that Tehran — for all its harsh rhetoric — is making an effort to not further antagonize an American president and Cabinet whom the Iranians view as erratic and very hostile towards the Islamic Republic.
If this was the Trump administrations intent, it could be working.

Iraq

Ben Wedeman
“I would bomb the s**t out of them,” declared candidate Donald Trump, summarizing his strategy to defeat ISIS. “I would bomb those suckers … and I’d take the oil.” The crowds loved it.
A decisive victory over ISIS, plus a grand prize of a lot of cheap oil, sounds great, but the real world just doesn’t work that way and slowly, perhaps, the new administration has learned this in its first 100 days.

Trump's son-in-law visits Iraq

Trump’s son-in-law visits Iraq
For one thing, the battle to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, Iraq — now into its seventh month — has underscored just how hard it is to defeat the extremists. Since the push in the western part of the city began in February, both the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have been bombarding ISIS as promised, using much heavier firepower than during the battle for west Mosul in the waning months of the Obama administration.
But the tactic has come at a high cost in terms of civilian casualties, brought home by what US officials concede was probably a US-led airstrike on March 17 that mistakenly killed almost 150 civilians. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still in western Mosul, often exploited by ISIS as human shields.
But even with the heavy assault, the Trump administration is largely settling down and following the same slow, deliberate approach of the Obama administration.
The battle for Mosul has taken more than half a year and may take many more months. In neighboring Syria, there are nearly a thousand US boots on the ground, backing a mixed Kurdish-Arab force that aims at overrunning the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. When this will happen is anyone’s guess.
And then there’s that other topic Trump has toyed with: taking Iraq’s oil. That was decisively shot down by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who flew to Baghdad in February and told reporters, “We’re not in Iraq to seize anyone’s oil.”

Israel

Oren Liebermann
Donald Trump’s fiery pro-Israel rhetoric during the campaign had the right and far right in Israel salivating at the prospects of a Trump administration, while Palestinians worried about an American government adopting a more hostile stance.
Trump pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, “dismantle” the Iran deal, reduce funding to the United Nations and cut aid to the Palestinians. At the same time, Trump said he wanted to close “the ultimate deal” — a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump ties to Israeli settlements

Trump ties to Israeli settlements
Save for the last, Trump has moderated his stance and backed off his positions in his first 100 days in office. The Trump administration has said its still considering an embassy move, but has also called Israeli settlements in the West Bank unhelpful for peace and acknowledged that Iran is sticking by the terms of the nuclear deal. Some analysts in Israel have pointed out that Trump’s positions on the region are beginning to resemble Obama’s positions.
The Israeli right wing’s fervor over Trump has cooled somewhat, but it still expects him to be a friend in the White House. From Israel’s perspective, the big star of the Trump administration so far is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has repeatedly criticized the United Nations for focusing disproportionately on Israel. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Trump, refusing to suggest even the slightest hint of criticism, since he entered office.
Meanwhile, a recent visit by Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left Palestinians cautiously optimistic that prospects weren’t as grim as initially feared and that Trump was serious about attempting to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Trump in Washington shortly after Trump hits the 100-day mark. The meeting could be a litmus test of how the dynamic between Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas develops.

Mexico

Leyla Santiago
President Trump still has yet to meet face-to-face with Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, after an awkward encounter during the 2016 campaign. According to Mexican government officials, no plans are in the works, signaling tensions remain between the two leaders.

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico
Twitter exchanges, however, have cooled down since a public war of words in January between @EPN and @realDonaldTrump over payment for a wall along the US-Mexico border. Mexico still maintains it will not pay for Trump’s muro (wall).
Many Mexicans still fear Trump could cut off a portion of their income, if he imposes taxes on remittances as a form of payment for the wall.
The Mexican government says, though, that its No. 1 concern is human rights violations. It has invested $50 million to expand legal services at its consulates and embassies in the US in an effort to help Mexicans fearing deportation.
Major questions also loom over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has called the 23-year-old deal that allows free trade between Mexico, Canada and the US a one-sided agreement.
If a good deal is not renegotiated, Mexico plans to walk away from the pact. The uncertainty in trade relations has led Mexico to strengthen ties with other countries and explore opportunities in Asian, European and South American markets instead of the US.
After Mexico featured repeatedly in the US elections, Trump himself is now playing a role in who will become Mexico’s next leader. Anti-Trump rhetoric has become a central part of Mexican campaigns heading toward the 2018 election. Leading candidates are hoping a stance against Trump will protect Mexico’s interests and win over voters.

North Korea

Will Ripley
When I ask ordinary North Koreans about the impact of President Donald Trump on their lives, they give strikingly similar answers. The response is usually something like this: “It doesn’t matter who the US president is. All that matters is that they discontinue America’s hostile policy against my country.”

North Koreans celebrate 'Army day'

North Koreans celebrate ‘Army day’
Of course, they are only repeating the same message given to them by their state-controlled media, the only media North Koreans have access to. Because US politics are not a primary focus of North Korean propaganda, the vast majority of citizens are blissfully unaware of Trump’s twitter account or the cloud of controversy that has swirled around the first 100 days of his administration.
But they are aware of a few key facts. They know that Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian regime air base, viewed by many as an indirect threat to Pyongyang. They also know that Trump dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula, albeit by an indirect route.
The reason North Koreans know these things is simple: The actions of the Trump administration play right into their government’s long-standing narrative that they are under the imminent threat of attack by the ‘imperialist’ United States.
People have been told for their entire lives that America could drop a nuclear bomb at anytime. Citizens always voice their unanimous support of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Of course, in an authoritarian country where political dissent is not tolerated, there are no opposing voices.
The North Korean government uses this ‘imminent threat’ to justify its substantial investment in weapons of mass destruction, even if this means citizens must sacrifice. And government officials in Pyongyang told me the policies of the Trump administration in its first 100 days only add to their sense of urgency to accelerate development of a viable intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the mainland US.
They say such a weapon is key to their survival as a nation, even as critics fear North Korea continuing down the nuclear road will only lead to further diplomatic isolation, economic hardship or worse.
There are signs that North Korea is monitoring and responding to the unpredictable rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration. After news broke that the USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed to the Korean Peninsula, I was hand-delivered a statement in Pyongyang saying, “The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”
We’ve never seen dynamics like this before. An untested US President who tweets in real time and isn’t afraid to launch missiles to prove a point. And a North Korean leader who has consolidated his power by purging opponents (including his own uncle) and has launched more missiles than his father and grandfather combined.
This could be a recipe for disaster. Or a recipe for lasting peace. Or perhaps a recipe for the continuation of a decades-long stalemate. If Trump’s first 100 days provide any clues, it’s going to be a wild ride regardless.

Russia

Matthew Chance
President Donald Trump entered the White House on a promise of improving the strained relationship between Washington and Moscow.
He was full of praise for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, suggesting he might recognize annexed Crimea as Russian, cooperate over international terrorism and join forces in Syria.

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty
It was all music to the Kremlin’s ears and talk was of a pivotal moment, of the Trump administration transforming the way in which the United States and Russia saw each other.
But 100 days on, none of that has come to pass.
“One could say the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved,” said Putin on April 12, “but rather has deteriorated.”
US officials have criticized Russia for fueling conflict in Ukraine, castigated the Kremlin for its treatment of sexual minorities, even bombed Russia’s Syrian ally while implying Moscow might have been complicit in dozens of agonizing deaths there caused by chemical weapons.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly the toxic political atmosphere in Washington, where lingering allegations of Russian interference in the US presidential election are being investigated by Congress.
But there is also a growing sense that the Trump administration, at 100 days old, has finally encountered a stark reality: Russia and the United States simply have different geopolitical priorities — whether in Syria, Ukraine or elsewhere — that won’t be easily reconciled.

Syria

Clarissa Ward
When President Donald Trump first assumed office, his strategy on Syria, like much of his foreign policy, was opaque. On the campaign trail he had said that his priority was to eliminate ISIS — indeed, he promised to put together a plan to do so in his first 30 days. He attempted to place a ban on any Syrian refugees entering the US, calling them a security threat. But on the subject of Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, and the brutal civil war he has presided over that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, he was noticeably silent.

Syria, a war on children?

Syria, a war on children?
Trump’s strong admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and interesting in getting the relationship with Russia back on track led many to assume that he would do little to interfere in Syria, where Moscow is closely allied with Damascus. This was reinforced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comment in March that it would be “up to the Syrian people” whether or not Assad would go, a demand long made by the Obama administration. Regime change, it seemed, was no longer desirable for the US.
Yet, within a few weeks, everything changed.
After seeing the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed dozens of children, Trump suddenly took action against the Assad regime. Two days later, dozens of American tomahawk missiles rained down on the regime’s Shayrat air base.
The Syrian people were stunned. Those who oppose Assad had dreamed of this moment for many years, but after President Barack Obama had chosen not to enforce his red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013, their dream had died. Suddenly, Trump was hailed as something of a hero. Some took to calling him by a new nom de guerre, Abu Ivanka al Amriki.
The strikes on Shayrat changed very little on the ground in Syria. The regime was continuing its daily bombardment within hours.
Still, after six years of standing on the sidelines, the shift in US policy (if it is a sustained shift) has given some cause for optimism. There is hope that perhaps Assad will think twice before using chemical weapons against his own people, that the US may now have more leverage at the negotiating table.
Yet the question still remains: What is the US’s policy on Syria? 100 days into the Trump presidency, we still don’t really know.

Turkey

Ian Lee
Relations with the Obama administration warmed under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when that suited him and then soured accordingly. They have yet to be really tested under President Donald Trump.
Since taking office, Trump has taken a softer tone in dealing with Turkey. Ankara responded positively to the United States’ missile strike on a Syrian air base. Trump congratulated the Turkish president for the success of his referendum, giving him significantly expanded powers, despite the process being deeply flawed according to international monitors, an opinion echoed by the State Department.

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result
By the time President Barack Obama left office, US-Turkish relations had cooled. The two leaders had differing opinions regarding Syria. Where Obama wanted to focus on defeating ISIS while Erdogan wanted to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The United States saw Syrian Kurdish militants, the YPG, as an ally against ISIS, while the Turks viewed them as terrorists. And Obama criticized Turkey’s crackdown on the political opposition, intellectuals, activists and journalists and wouldn’t extradite spiritual leader Fetullah Gulen, on whom the Turkish blames July’s coup attempt. Elements of Erdogan’s party even accused the United States of supporting the failed effort.
There is optimism in Turkey among the government and its supporters that a new page can be turned, especially when both leaders plan to meet in Washington in May.
But Trump is likely to face similar tensions as Obama did. One of the toughest will be the upcoming operation against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. Turkey wants to take part but won’t fight along side the YPG. Trump will likely have to choose between a NATO ally and a proven fighting force.

The UK

Phil Black
President Donald Trump helped create what is so far the most iconic image of Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May — the American president holding May’s hand as they walked outside the White House in January.
May later said Trump was “being a gentleman.”

Scotland calls for independence referendum

Scotland calls for independence referendum
She provided the opportunity for his gallantry by swiftly moving to be the first world leader to visit the new president.
May has unashamedly pursued a close bond with Trump, believing “the special relationship” between the UK and US is especially important as Britain prepares for a future outside the European Union.
May has pushed for a quick post-Brexit trade deal while also trying to persuade Trump to align with Britain’s traditional positions on key foreign policy issues like NATO (crucial) and Russia (deserves suspicion).
The British Prime Minister also threw in a sweetener. She invited Trump to visit the UK with full state honors. That usually means time with the Queen, banquets, parades and gilded carriages.
Such invitations are rarely offered to new presidents and it’s proved to be hugely controversial in a country where many disagree with Trump’s policies, including his attempts to block immigration from select, majority-Muslim countries.
More than 1.8 million people signed a petition opposing a state visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” Thousands protested on the streets and have promised to do so again when Trump arrives. That could create some awkward moments.
May’s efforts to stay close to Trump will likely be judged by whether she secures a free trade agreement with the United States. But they can’t even begin talking about that officially until after Brexit has taken place, so that’s at least two years away.

Now Even The Pentagon Is Investigating Retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn

 

Now Even The Pentagon Is Investigating Retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn

on April 27, 2017

T&P ON FACEBOOK

Michael Flynn just can’t catch a break.

On Thursday, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announced that the Department of Defense’s inspector general had launched an investigation into money the former national security adviser and retired Army lieutenant general received from foreign organizations, the Washington Post reports.

On April 11, acting DODIG Glenn Fine notified the House committee’s chairman, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, in writing that the Pentagon had initiated an investigation to determine “whether [Flynn] failed to obtain required approval prior to receiving any emolument from a foreign government.”

Flynn has now been subjected to investigations by the Pentagon IG, FBI, the Army, the House Intelligence Committee, and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and “U.S. counterintelligence agents” we can only presume work for the CIA and NSA.

Flynn was fired from his position as national security adviser to President Donald Trump in February after revelations he misled the White House, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. His tenure as chief security adviser to the president was the shortest in modern political history.

RELATED: MIKE FLYNN MADE A LOT MORE MONEY IN RUSSIA THAN HE DISCLOSED BEFORE »

The Pentagon investigation appears focused on the $45,000 Flynn received in 2015 to appear alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Russia Today-sponsored gala, as well as his work as the he collected $530,000 between last August and November from Turkish government interests while working for Trump’s presidential campaign (his Turkish contract reportedly concluded on November 15, 2016, three days before he was named national security adviser). Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign lobbyist with the Department of Justice in March.

Flynn, through a lawyer, has vehemently rebuffed allegations of wrongdoing. “Notwithstanding his life of national service, the media are awash with unfounded allegations, outrageous claims of treason, and vicious innuendo directed against him,” Flynn’s lawyer said in March, as the former sought immunity in exchange for congressional testimony. (His request was denied.) “He is now the target of unsubstantiated public demands by Members of Congress and other political critics that he be criminally investigated.”

Well, with good reason! According to documents released by HOC’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, was warned by Pentagon officials as early as October 2014 “not to take foreign government-sourced money without ‘advance approval’ from the Pentagon,” the Associated Press notes. Yet Flynn reportedly continued to take on foreign contracts without clearing his connections with the appropriate channels.

“These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,” Cummings said in a statement. “Our next step is to get the documents we are seeking from the White House so we can complete our investigation. I thank the Department of Defense for providing us with unclassified versions of these documents.”

The letter comes just days after both Chaffetz and Cummings announced that Flynn “may have broken the law” by receiving payments from foreign groups.

RELATED: LT GEN FLYNN CONFIRMS HE WAS A FOREIGN AGENT DURING THE 2016 CAMPAIGN »

Let’s remember for a second that, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, Flynn made a big show out of grilling then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton about her mishandling of classified information as Secretary of State. “Lock her up, that’s right!” Flynn chanted along with the crowd. “Damn right, exactly right… And you know why we’re saying that? We’re saying that because, if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.”

Karma’s a bitch, Mike — and according to these documents, you should have known better.

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