Egypt: Turkish Strikes on Kurd’s in Iraq ‘Unacceptable Violation of Sovereignty’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE OFFICIAL RUSSIAN NEWS AGENCY SPUTNIK)

Members of the Kurdish peshmerga forces gather in the town of Sinjar, Iraq. File photo

Egypt: Turkish Strikes on Kurds in Iraq ‘Unacceptable Violation of Sovereignty’

© Sputnik/ Ari Jalal

MIDDLE EAST

00:06 28.04.2017Get short URL
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Egypt has strongly condemned the recent strike conducted by the Turkish Air Force on Kurdish positions in the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar, as the incident could hinder efforts in the fight against terrorism, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

CAIRO (Sputnik) — On Tuesday, the Turkish General Staff said that about 70 Kurdish fighters were killed as a result of the airstrikes in both the northeast of Syria and the north of Iraq.

“[Cairo] condemns the Turkish airstrike in the area of Sinjar mountains… such actions will complicate the situation in the region and hamper anti-terrorist efforts… these [airstrikes] are an unacceptable violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and unjustified aggression against its lands. The Arab Republic of Egypt says that it stands together with the government and people of Iraq in the face flagrant attack, which cannot be justified,” the statement said.

Tensions between Turkey and Kurds escalated in July 2015 when a ceasefire between Ankara and the PKK collapsed because of a series of terror attacks allegedly committed by PKK members. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, the United States and the European Union.Syrian Kurds on Tuesday called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to express its opinion regarding Turkish airstrikes against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) operating in the north of the country.

Tehran Awaits Response From Pakistan on Killing of 8 Iran’s Border Guards

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE RUSSIAN OFFICIAL NEWS AGENCY SPUTNIK)

World cities. Tehran

Tehran Awaits Response From Pakistan on Killing of Iran’s Border Guards

© Sputnik/ Vladimir Fedorenko

ASIA & PACIFIC

17:16 27.04.2017(updated 17:26 27.04.2017) Get short URL
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Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Tehran awaits a response from the Pakistani authorities regarding murder of eight Iranian border guards in southeastern part of the country.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Tehran awaits a response from the Pakistani authorities regarding murder of eight Iranian border guards in southeastern part of the country, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Thursday.

“The Pakistani authorities have to respond on why they allow criminal gangs to operate on the country’s territory,” Ghasemi said.

Late on Wednesday, the Iranian police said that eight border guards were killed by a number of terrorists in southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan Province near the border with Pakistan. The incident took place in the Mirjaveh region, over 74 kilometers (46 miles) from Sistan and Baluchestan’s capital of Zahedan. Police also said Pakistan bore responsibility for the ambush.

An investigation has been launched into the attack.

Iranian Defense Minister Believes Israel Should Be ‘Completely Disarmed’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF RUSSIA’S OFFICIAL NEWS AGENCY SPUTNIK)

Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan

Iranian Defense Minister Believes Israel Should Be ‘Completely Disarmed’

© Photo: Russian Defense Ministry

MIDDLE EAST

18:52 27.04.2017(updated 19:00 27.04.2017) Get short URL
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The Israeli government should be disarmed for the sake of restoring peace and security in the region, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan said Thursday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Earlier in the day, Syrian SANA news service reported that  Israel launched missile strikes targeting a site near Damascus International Airport. Commenting on the reports, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said that the strike was compatible with Israel’s policy of targeting streams of Lebanon-based Hezbollah’s Iranian arms deliveries through Syria.

“Given the history of the Israeli regime, we see that they had [pursued] nothing but war and bloodshed. Therefore, this regime must be completely disarmed. And only after this regime would be completely eliminated, we can restore security and peace,” Dehghan told Rossiya 24 broadcaster.

Hostilities between Israel and Syria regularly escalate, with Israeli Defense Force (IDF) planes hitting targets in Syria in response to cross-border fire incidents while also attacking groups Israel deems hostile inside the country. Meanwhile, Syrian forces have several times claimed to have shot down IDF aircraft which were violating the country’s airspace. Israel has annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 following the 1967 Six-Day War with Syria.

The relations between Israel and Iran have been strained since the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. The ties are overshadowed by a number of issues, including Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs accompanied by controversial anti-Israeli statements made by high-ranking Iranian officials, such as former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hezbollah, considered by Israel a terrorist organization, was established in the 1980s in Lebanon. Both Tehran and Hezbollah have been supporting the Syrian government in its fight against multiple armed groups inside the country.

Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents

By Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott | WASHINGTON

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election.

The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The current and former U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the Russian documents’ classified status. They declined to discuss how the United States obtained them. U.S. intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them.

Putin has denied interfering in the U.S. election. Putin’s spokesman and the Russian institute did not respond to requests for comment.

The documents were central to the Obama administration’s conclusion that Russia mounted a “fake news” campaign and launched cyber attacks against Democratic Party groups and Clinton’s campaign, the current and former officials said.

“Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map,” said one of the sources, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Trump has said Russia’s activities had no impact on the outcome of the race. Ongoing congressional and FBI investigations into Russian interference have so far produced no public evidence that Trump associates colluded with the Russian effort to change the outcome of the election.

Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.

Russia Today did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Sputnik dismissed the assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an “absolute pack of lies.” “And by the way, it’s not the first pack of lies we’re hearing from ‘sources in U.S. official circles’,” the spokesperson said in an email.

PRO-KREMLIN BLOGGERS

Russia Today and Sputnik published anti-Clinton stories while pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a Twitter campaign calling into question the fairness of an anticipated Clinton victory, according to a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the election made public in January. [bit.ly/2kMiKSA]

Russia Today’s most popular Clinton video – “How 100% of the 2015 Clintons’ ‘charity’ went to … themselves” – accumulated 9 millions views on social media, according to the January report. [bit.ly/2os8wIt]

The report said Russia Today and Sputnik “consistently cast president elect-Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional media outlets.”

The report said the agencies did not assess whether Moscow’s effort had swung the outcome of the race in Trump’s favor, because American intelligence agencies do not “analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.” [bit.ly/2kMiKSA]

CYBER ATTACKS

Neither of the Russian institute documents mentioned the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election, according to four of the officials. The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.

The overt propaganda and covert hacking efforts reinforced each other, according to the officials. Both Russia Today and Sputnik heavily promoted the release of the hacked Democratic Party emails, which often contained embarrassing details.

Five of the U.S. officials described the institute as the Kremlin’s in-house foreign policy think tank.

The institute’s director when the documents were written, Leonid Reshetnikov, rose to the rank of lieutenant general during a 33-year-career in Russia’s foreign intelligence service, according to the institute’s website [bit.ly/2oVhiCF]. After Reshetnikov retired from the institute in January, Putin named as his replacement Mikhail Fradkov. The institute says he served as the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service from 2007 to 2016. [bit.ly/2os4tvz]

Reuters was unable to determine if either man was directly involved in the drafting of the documents. Reshetnikov’s office referred questions to the Russian institute.

On its website, the Russian institute describes itself as providing “expert appraisals,” “recommendations,” and “analytical materials” to the Russian president’s office, cabinet, National Security Council, ministries and parliament. [bit.ly/2pCBGpR]

On Jan. 31, the websites of Putin’s office [bit.ly/2os9wMr] and the institute [bit.ly/2oLn9Kd] posted a picture and transcript of Reshetnikov and his successor Fradkov meeting with Putin in the Kremlin. Putin thanked Reshetnikov for his service and told Fradkov he wanted the institute to provide objective information and analysis.

“We did our best for nearly eight years to implement your foreign policy concept,” Reshetnikov told Putin. “The policy of Russia and the policy of the President of Russia have been the cornerstone of our operation.”

(Reporting by Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay, additional reporting by Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Rohde and Ross Colvin)

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

November 24 at 8:27 PM
The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

During a Facebook live discussion, reporter Caitlin Dewey explained how fake news sites use Facebook as a vehicle to function and make money. (The Washington Post)

Watts’s report on this work, with colleagues Andrew Weisburd and J.M. Berger, appeared on the national security online magazine War on the Rocks this month under the headline “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.” Another group, called PropOrNot, a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds, planned to release its own findings Friday showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.

The researchers used Internet analytics tools to trace the origins of particular tweets and mapped the connections among social-media accounts that consistently delivered synchronized messages. Identifying website codes sometimes revealed common ownership. In other cases, exact phrases or sentences were echoed by sites and social-media accounts in rapid succession, signaling membership in connected networks controlled by a single entity.

PropOrNot’s monitoring report, which was provided to The Washington Post in advance of its public release, identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans. On Facebook, PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.

Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were “useful idiots” — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.

Consider these points before sharing a news article on Facebook. It could be fake. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

The Russian campaign during this election season, researchers from both groups say, worked by harnessing the online world’s fascination with “buzzy” content that is surprising and emotionally potent, and tracks with popular conspiracy theories about how secret forces dictate world events.

Some of these stories originated with RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports, the researchers say. On other occasions, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social-media accounts to amplify misleading stories already circulating online, causing news algorithms to identify them as “trending” topics that sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.

The speed and coordination of these efforts allowed Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience. Some of the first and most alarming tweets after Clinton fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York, for example, came from Russian botnets and trolls, researchers found. (She was treated for pneumonia and returned to the campaign trail a few days later.)

This followed a spate of other misleading stories in August about Clinton’s supposedly troubled health. The Daily Beast debunked a particularly widely read piece in an article that reached 1,700 Facebook accounts and was read online more than 30,000 times. But the PropOrNot researchers found that the version supported by Russian propaganda reached 90,000 Facebook accounts and was read more than 8 million times. The researchers said the true Daily Beast story was like “shouting into a hurricane” of false stories supported by the Russians.

This propaganda machinery also helped push the phony story that an anti-Trump protester was paid thousands of dollars to participate in demonstrations, an allegation initially made by a self-described satirist and later repeated publicly by the Trump campaign. Researchers from both groups traced a variety of other false stories — fake reports of a coup launched at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and stories about how the United States was going to conduct a military attack and blame it on Russia — to Russian propaganda efforts.

The final weeks of the campaign featured a heavy dose of stories about supposed election irregularities, allegations of vote-rigging and the potential for Election Day violence should Clinton win, researchers said.

“The way that this propaganda apparatus supported Trump was equivalent to some massive amount of a media buy,” said the executive director of PropOrNot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers. “It was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign. . . . It worked.”

He and other researchers expressed concern that the U.S. government has few tools for detecting or combating foreign propaganda. They expressed hope that their research detailing the power of Russian propaganda would spur official action.

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael A. McFaul, said he was struck by the overt support that Sputnik expressed for Trump during the campaign, even using the #CrookedHillary hashtag pushed by the candidate.

McFaul said Russian propaganda typically is aimed at weakening opponents and critics. Trump’s victory, though reportedly celebrated by Putin and his allies in Moscow, may have been an unexpected benefit of an operation that already had fueled division in the United States. “They don’t try to win the argument,” said McFaul, now director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. “It’s to make everything seem relative. It’s kind of an appeal to cynicism.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied interfering in the U.S. election or hacking the accounts of election officials. “This is some sort of nonsense,” Dmitry Peskov, press secretary for Putin, said last month when U.S. officials accused Russia of penetrating the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.

RT disputed the findings of the researchers in an e-mail on Friday, saying it played no role in producing or amplifying any fake news stories related to the U.S. election. “It is the height of irony that an article about “fake news” is built on false, unsubstantiated claims. RT adamantly rejects any and all claims and insuations that the network has originated even a single “fake story” related to the US election,” wrote Anna Belkina, head of communications.

The findings about the mechanics of Russian propaganda operations largely track previous research by the Rand Corp. and George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

“They use our technologies and values against us to sow doubt,” said Robert Orttung, a GWU professor who studies Russia. “It’s starting to undermine our democratic system.”

The Rand report — which dubbed Russian propaganda efforts a “firehose of falsehood” because of their speed, power and relentlessness — traced the country’s current generation of online propaganda work to the 2008 incursion into neighboring Georgia, when Russia sought to blunt international criticism of its aggression by pushing alternative explanations online.

The same tactics, researchers said, helped Russia shape international opinions about its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in Syria, which started last year. Russian propaganda operations also worked to promote the “Brexit” departure of Britain from the European Union.

Another crucial moment, several researchers say, came in 2011 when the party of Russian President Vladimir Putin was accused of rigging elections, sparking protests that Putin blamed the Obama administration — and then-Secretary of State Clinton — for instigating.

Putin, a former KGB officer, announced his desire to “break the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams” during a 2013 visit to the broadcast center for RT, formerly known as Russia Today.

“For them, it’s actually a real war, an ideological war, this clash between two systems,” said Sufian Zhemukhov, a former Russian journalist conducting research at GWU. “In their minds, they’re just trying to do what the West does to Russia.”

RT broadcasts news reports worldwide in several languages, but the most effective way it reaches U.S. audiences is online.

Its English-language flagship YouTube channel, launched in 2007, has 1.85 million subscribers and has had a total of 1.8 billion views, making it more widely viewed than CNN’s YouTube channel, according to a George Washington University report this month.

Though widely seen as a propaganda organ, the Russian site has gained credibility with some American conservatives. Trump sat for an interview with RT in September. His nominee for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, traveled to Russia last year for a gala sponsored by the network. He later compared it to CNN.

The content from Russian sites has offered ready fodder for U.S.-based websites pushing far-right conservative messages. A former contractor for one, the Next News Network, said he was instructed by the site’s founder, Gary S. Franchi Jr., to weave together reports from traditional sources such as the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times with ones from RT, Sputnik and others that provided articles that often spread explosively online.

“The readers are more likely to share the fake stories, and they’re more profitable,” said Dyan Bermeo, who said he helped assemble scripts and book guests for Next News Network before leaving because of a pay dispute and concerns that “fake news” was crowding out real news.

In just the past 90 days — a period that has included the closing weeks of the campaign, Election Day and its aftermath — the YouTube audience of Next News Network has jumped from a few hundred thousand views a day to a few million, according to analytics firm Tubular Labs. In October alone, videos from Next News Network were viewed more than 56 million times.

Franchi said in an e-mail statement that Next News Network seeks “a global perspective” while providing commentary aimed at U.S. audiences, especially with regard to Russian military activity. “Understanding the threat of global war is the first step to preventing it,” he said, “and we feel our coverage assisted in preventing a possible World War 3 scenario.”

Correction: A previously published version of this story incorrectly stated that Russian information service RT had used the “#CrookedHillary” hastag pushed by then-Republican candidate Donald Trump. In fact, while another Russian information service Sputnik did use this hashtag, RT did not.

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