WASHINGTON — Kurt D. Volker, the State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine, who got caught in the middle of the pressure campaign by President Trump and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to find damaging information about Democrats, resigned his post on Friday.
Mr. Volker, a former ambassador who served in the part-time, unpaid position to help Ukraine resolve its armed confrontation with Russia-sponsored separatists, told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday that he was stepping down.
His departure came just days after Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats came to light and triggered a full-blown House impeachment inquiry. House leaders announced on Friday that they would interview Mr. Volker in a deposition next week.
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Claim that U.S. funded “coup” in Ukraine long-since disproven
On Thursday December 20, Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told theTASS news agency that the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine, set for March 31, 2019, is further straining bilateral relations with Russia.
“[Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko has to win electoral support by all means, because the approval of him is low compared to the rivals who have overtaken him in the electoral rating. And this is exactly what he is doing, and this is clearly visible to us all,” Peskov said.
Peskov said that despite Poroshenko’s “relatively weak electoral positions,” the United States was stuck “babysitting” him on account of the sunk cost fallacy.
“Too much money was invested into Ukraine, too much money was poured into the coup in Ukraine, and justifying this coup also requires too much money,” Peskov said.
Kremlin officials and the state media in Russia label the popular pro-EU uprising in Ukraine a “coup” when in reality the movement was civilian in nature and involved no military support.
Claiming Washington is waiting for its investment in Ukraine to “yield dividends,” Peskov said the U.S. “did not quite succeed” and now needs to do its best “to save the situation.”
“Washington has to support Poroshenko and turn a blind eye to the real situation, which is exactly what it is doing now,” he said.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine flared following a November 25 incident, in which three Ukrainian ships attempting to transit through the Kerch Strait in the Sea of Azov were fired on and then captured by Russian vessels.
The following day, martial law was introduced in Ukraine for 30 days in the 10 regions that would be on the front lines of a military conflict with Russia.
Russian media and officials have argued that Poroshenko provoked the incident in the Sea of Azov as a pretext to introduce martial law and buoy his electoral prospects.
During his annual year-end press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Poroshenko had sent Ukrainian servicemen to die in the Sea of Azov to provoke Russia and boost his approval ratings.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has gone so far as to claim that Kyiv is planning a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine’s war-torn east.
Peskov’s claim that the U.S. funded the “coup” in Ukraine is false.
While not stated explicitly, his comment is likely based on a claim promulgated by Russian state media that the U.S. invested $5 billion in the Ukrainian uprising.
Politifact reported the claim stems from a December 2013 speech by then Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, a non-governmental agency promoting democracy in Ukraine.
In that speech, Nuland said that the United States had invested over $5 billion since Ukraine’s independence in 1991 to help the country “build democratic skills and institutions” so it can “achieve its European aspirations.”
As Brian Bohm noted in the Moscow Times in May 2014: “U.S. law prohibits the funding of opposition leaders and movements, and there have been no violations of this law in Ukraine.”
Since the annexation of Crimea and Russian-backed war erupted in Ukraine in 2014, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with more than $1 billion in security assistance.
In July, the Pentagon told CNN it had released $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine.
In March, the U.S. State Department formally approved the sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and 37 launchers for an estimated cost of $47 million. That was the first time lethal military aid to Kyiv has been approved.
Citing the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Council on Foreign Relations said the U.S. had spent $49 billion on foreign aid in 2016, around 1.2 percent of the federal budget. That included security and military assistance.
USAID, which put total U.S. obligations at $50 billion that year, said $513 million, or roughly 1% of the total, had gone to Ukraine.
The idea that U.S. support for Ukraine is based strictly on a need to “recoup an investment” and not on broader security issues in the region does not appear to be supported by the data.
As for Peskov’s argument that the U.S. funded the 2014 revolution in Ukraine, Polygraph.info finds that claim to be false.
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS/POLITICS)
Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks, Sources Say
Tillerson worries secret plan could plunge region into chaos
White House rejects accusation State Department isn’t informed
Jared Kushner’s Rise to Power Mirrors Trump’s
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is increasingly alarmed by what he sees as secret talks between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — fearful that the discussions could backfire and tip the region into chaos, according to three people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns.
The central goal of the negotiations, as described by two people with knowledge of the talks, is for an historic agreement featuring the creation of a Palestinian state or territory backed financially by a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, which could put tens of billions of dollars toward the effort.
A lasting Middle East peace treaty has been a U.S. goal for decades, and at the start of his administration Trump assigned the 36-year-old Kushner to head up the effort to make it happen.
Tillerson believes Kushner hasn’t done enough to share details of the talks with the State Department, according to the people, leaving senior U.S. diplomats in the dark on the full extent of the highly sensitive negotiations.
“The problem is, the senior presidential adviser does not consult with the State Department — and it’s unclear the level of consultation that goes on with the NSC,” one of the people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns said, referring to the National Security Council. “And that’s a problem for both the NSC and the State Department and it’s not something we can easily solve.”
Kushner to Speak
Kushner is scheduled to speak publicly for the first time about the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East on Sunday. He’ll appear at the Saban Forum in Washington, an annual conference organized by the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution that’s focused on U.S.-Israel relations.
The State Department’s concerns about Kushner’s approach predate reports this weekthat Trump may move to oust Tillerson by the end of the year. The president rejected the reports, which Tillerson’s team believes are being stoked by Kushner allies, one person said. An administration official said Kushner had nothing to do with the reports.
Asked about Tillerson’s concerns, State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond said, “If he has any concerns, he brings them up one-on-one or in private.”
Trump provided a public boost to Tillerson on Friday, saying on Twitter that while he and the secretary of state “disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” Tillerson, earlier in the day, called the reports of his ouster “laughable.”
Tillerson and other senior State Department officials are also concerned that Saudi leaders, having been held at arm’s length by President Barack Obama, see the connection with Kushner as a way to regain influence in the White House and U.S. backing for actions that could be controversial. Already, Prince Mohammed, heir to the Saudi throne, has put several such steps into motion.
Those include summoning Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where he initially resigned only to postpone his decision upon returning to Beirut; the arrest and detention of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen on corruption charges; and a more aggressive posture in the war in Yemen. Indeed, Trump tweeted his support for the anti-graft crackdown and the White House has offered only muted comments on Hariri and the conflict in Yemen.
A White House official said Kushner was not aware in advance of the Saudi moves and gave no signal of approval beforehand.
NSC spokesman Michael Anton denied that the NSC and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster aren’t being fully informed by Kushner.
“General McMaster and the National Security Council believe that the Israeli-Palestinian peace team led by Jared runs a thorough and transparent interagency process, feel completely in the loop about their conversations with the Saudis and other parties and have complete confidence in their overseeing the Administration’s efforts to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with regional support,” Anton said in a prepared statement.
Tillerson is concerned that Saudi Arabia may want to act with a freer hand in Qatar, moving beyond its economic embargo to pursue military action, according to the people. One risk is that such a move could have any number of unpredictable and dangerous consequences, including inflamed tensions with Russia and Turkey, an armed response from Iran, or a missile attack on Israel by Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Put the Brakes On
In recent weeks, Tillerson has attempted to put the brakes on key parts of any potential plan, the people said, saying he is does not want the Saudis to get mixed messages from U.S. diplomats and the president’s son-in-law.
The White House denied the contention that Kushner isn’t fully communicating with Tillerson and the State Department, and also disputed the description of the discussions between Kushner and Prince Mohammed.
“This description of our potential plan and conversations is flat out false. While we have obviously discussed economic support for a potential peace deal from many countries, not just Saudi Arabia, we have never discussed specific numbers with other countries and we have not linked a deal to Qatar,” Jason Greenblatt, the president’s Mideast envoy, said in an emailed statement. “Anybody who is suggesting these details or linkage were discussed is not in the know.”
Kushner frequently visits the State Department to brief Tillerson about his efforts in the Middle East, but the worry is that, whether by design or neglect, Kushner hasn’t kept the secretary of state or his top aides informed about many of the details of his overseas negotiations.
Tillerson has concluded that even Trump didn’t know all of the details of Kushner’s discussions with the crown prince.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in an emailed statement: “The President is very pleased with the engagement and progress being made by his team managing the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio and is supportive of their efforts including travel to the region and ongoing discussions with counterparts. He is aware of the conversations and developments and this remains a priority for his administration.”
Kushner has grown close to Prince Mohammed, 32, and has traveled to Saudi Arabia for some of the discussions. What’s worrisome to U.S. officials is that Kushner may have given the Saudis secret assurances that don’t have wider support.
In September, Trump himself intervened on the question of Saudi military action against Qatar, telling Saudi Arabia’s leaders to drop the idea, Bloomberg reported at the time. Yet the Saudis may not have given up, said two of the people. Trump has authorized Tillerson to inform Saudi leaders the U.S. won’t tolerate an attempt to force regime change in Qatar, even if they had heard otherwise from Kushner, one of the people said.
A senior Saudi official denied such plans existed. “Qatar is a small matter and has been resolved by the boycott and we have forgotten it,” he said. “It will return to its senses and its natural size.”
It isn’t clear how far along the discussions are between Kushner and Prince Mohammed, three people said. And some in the U.S. government are skeptical the effort will succeed, in part because of the historic intractability of Israelis and Palestinians, and because any peace deal would ultimately require the support of many competing leaders in the region.
The State Department officials’ skepticism about the Middle East discussions also reveals ongoing frustration at the president’s decision to go around them and the U.S. diplomatic corps he regularly disparages. Instead, Trump placed delicate peace negotiations in the hands of Kushner, who has no experience in diplomacy and little background in the complexities of one of the world’s most volatile regions.
Yet Trump, who has long spoken of Mideast peace as the ultimate trophy for a career deal maker, has shown unwavering faith in his son-in-law’s ability to deliver. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump told Kushner on-stage at a black-tie presidential inaugural event in January. “All my life I’ve been hearing that’s the toughest deal to make, but I have a feeling Jared is going to do a great job.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal jury has found a suspected Libyan militant not guilty of the most serious charges stemming from the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Jurors on Tuesday convicted Ahmed Abu Khattala of terrorism-related charges but acquitted him of murder.
Prosecutors accused Abu Khattala of leading a rampage aimed at killing personnel and plundering maps and other property from the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Defense attorneys said their evidence against him was shoddy.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the attack, along with a State Department information management officer. Two more Americans died in a mortar attack at a nearby CIA complex.
The Sept. 12, 2012, attack became political fodder in the 2012 presidential campaign.
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Washington (CNN) Talk of a potential “Rexit” at Foggy Bottom, new tests for President Trump on immigration, tax reform and media relations and a big challenge for the nation’s oldest civil rights organization — it’s all part of our Inside Politics Forecast.
1) A chill across the executive branch — and new rumblings from State Department
There was a decided chill across the executive branch as last week came to a close after a tumultuous series of events that rattled worker bees and caught the attention of Cabinet secretaries.
A large part of that dynamic was the result of the White House staff shakeup — which saw President Trump overruling top advisers to hire Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, and the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer.
Bigger, though, were the continuing conversations about The New York Times interview in which Trump sharply criticized his attorney general and longtime supporter — Jeff Sessions — saying it was “unfair to the President” that Sessions recused himself from any decisions related to the Russia election meddling investigation.
Washington Post: Sessions discussed Trump campaign with Russian Ambassador Kislyak01:16
Among those who viewed the President’s public rebuke of Sessions as unprofessional, according to several sources, is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon-Mobil CEO.
Tillerson has a growing list of differences with the White House, including a new debate over Iran policy and personnel. His frustration is hardly a secret and it has spilled out publicly at times. But friends sense a change of late.
For weeks, conversations with Tillerson friends outside of Washington have left the impression that he, despite his frustrations, was determined to stay on the job at least through the end of the year. That would allow time to continue efforts to reorganize the State Department and would mean he could claim to have put in a year as America’s top diplomat.
But two sources who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity over the weekend said they would not be surprised if there was a “Rexit” from Foggy Bottom sooner that that.
Both of these sources are familiar with Tillerson conversations with friends outside Washington. Both said there was a noticeable increase in the secretary’s frustration and his doubts that the tug-of-war with the White House would subside anytime soon. They also acknowledged it could have been venting after a tough week, a suggestion several DC-based sources made when asked if they saw evidence Tillerson was looking for an exit strategy.
2) Tax reform next? White House nervous as it eyes clock
Trump pushed again Saturday for GOP senators to resolve their differences and settle on an Obamacare repeal and replace package. The White House wants a win, and worries failure will further damage the President’s political standing.
Some top Trump aides are worried about the calendar — believing all this time spent on health care, without success, might have a domino effect on another top White House priority.
Julie Hirshfeld Davis of The New York Times detailed the anxiety over finding a path toward tax reform.
“What we’re seeing, what we’re hearing, from these meetings that have been going on behind the scenes with Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director and the top congressional leaders on the Republican side is that they’re sort of starting to think about potentially trimming their sales and not doing a big massive tax reform but instead a tax cut,” Davis said. “There is a lot of uncertainty about whether they’re even going to be able to get that this year.”
Why tax reform is so hard02:05
3) A reset — with the media?
New White House communications chief, Antony Scaramucci, is a feisty defender of President Trump
But even as he echoes the President in tossing around the “Fake News” label, he also says he is looking to rebalance the White House relationship with traditional or mainstream media outlets.
The timing, Michael Shear of The New York Times suggests, could at least present a genuine opportunity.
“There could be an opportunity for a press reboot over some of the issues that the press corps has been arguing with the White House for: access to the President, press conferences, on-camera briefings,” Shear said.
“There is a new White House Correspondents’ Association president who is coming in, as it happens, at exactly the same time that we have a new communications director and head of the communications shop.”
The moral of that story? It’ll be a wait-and-see moment for White House reporters.
Scaramucci: Trump unsure of Russia meddling01:34
4) DREAM Act push — lost cause or a chance for clarity?
Trump has sent mixed signals about policy toward so-called Dreamers — undocumented workers who came to the United States illegally but at an age when they were too young to be responsible for that decision.
During the campaign, he at times promised to reverse Obama administration protections extended to them. He has not done so as President, and he has on several occasions discussed how difficult it is for him to square his tougher views on immigration with understanding and compassion for a group that is otherwise law-abiding and did not make a decision to break the law.
A new push in Congress could offer a chance to bring some clarity to the Dreamer question. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball discussed the possibility of a revised version of the so-called DREAM Act, and its bipartisan sponsors: Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“It might seem like a strange time to be doing that. But this administration has sent very conflicting signals about DACA,” Ball said.
“There are some state attorneys general that have imposed a deadline on the administration to basically tell them whether this is going to go or stay. They have been issuing work permits. And so Lindsey Graham at the press conference introducing this said, you know, President Trump, you can really sort of act against type, you can solve this problem.”
5) NAACP meets this week — no presidential visit — but a Democratic parade
The nation’s oldest civil rights organization — the NAACP — holds its annual meeting this week amid a host of questions about how to navigate American politics and policy in the Trump years.
Trump declined an invitation to attend Several Democrats thinking about the 2020 presidential campaign are scheduled to speak. CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson shared her reporting on how this legacy organization is trying to modernize its approach.
“The question there, how does this very old, the oldest civil rights organization in the country, reboot and re-imagine themselves in the Trump era and the era of Black Lives Matter? And in the era of resistance? They invited Donald Trump. He said ‘no,’ he wasn’t going to come,” Henderson said.
“Eric Holder will be there. He’ll be talking about gerrymandering — something that’s very important to Democrats particularly. Also, it’s being looked at as something of a 2020 cattle call. Also in attendance, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders, of course, struggled a bit with getting African-American support when he ran last go around. So we’ll see what those folks have to offer.”
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A Muslim woman who spent eight days working in President Donald Trump’s White House penned a powerful essay about the experience.
Rumana Ahmed was hiredright after college to work in the White House, eventually landing on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman — I was the only hijabi in the West Wing — and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included,” Ahmed wrote in The Atlantic. “It felt surreal — a 22-year-old American Muslim woman from Maryland who had been mocked and called names for covering my hair, working for the president of the United States.”
Though she said that Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims during the 2016 presidential election dismayed her, she decided to remain on the National Security Council so she could have a seat at the table. “Cautiously optimistic, and feeling a responsibility to try to help them continue our work and be heard, I decided that Trump’s NSC could benefit from a colored, female, hijab-wearing, American Muslim patriot,” she said.
But she ultimately came to regret that decision, saying that the diverse White House she worked for under President Obama became a “monochromatic and male bastion.” She decided to leave after President Trump signed an executive order that temporarily suspendedthe State Department’s Refugee Assistance Program and temporarilybanned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“I knew I could no longer stay and work for an administration that saw me and people like me not as fellow citizens, but as a threat,” she wrote.”
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WASHINGTON — When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk.
His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.
The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks.
Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.
“I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo, obtained by The New York Times, that detailed his contact with the F.B.I.
It was the cryptic first sign of a cyberespionage and information-warfare campaign devised to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, the first such attempt by a foreign power in American history. What started as an information-gathering operation, intelligence officials believe, ultimately morphed into an effort to harm one candidate, Hillary Clinton, and tip the election to her opponent, Donald J. Trump.
Like another famous American election scandal, it started with a break-in at the D.N.C. The first time, 44 years ago at the committee’s old offices in the Watergate complex, the burglars planted listening devices and jimmied a filing cabinet. This time, the burglary was conducted from afar, directed by the Kremlin, with spear-phishing emails and zeros and ones.
An examination by The Times of the Russian operation — based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response — reveals a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack.
The D.N.C.’s fumbling encounter with the F.B.I. meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.
The low-key approach of the F.B.I. meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top D.N.C. officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems. In the meantime, the hackers moved on to targets outside the D.N.C., including Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, whose private email account was hacked months later.
By last summer, Democrats watched in helpless fury as their private emails and confidential documents appeared online day after day — procured by Russian intelligence agents, posted on WikiLeaks and other websites, then eagerly reported on by the American media, including The Times. Mr. Trump gleefully cited many of the purloined emails on the campaign trail.
Many of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aides believe that the Russian assault had a profound impact on the election, while conceding that other factors — Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate; her private email server; the public statements of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, about her handling of classified information — were also important.
While there’s no way to be certain of the ultimate impact of the hack, this much is clear: A low-cost, high-impact weapon that Russia had test-fired in elections from Ukraine to Europe was trained on the United States, with devastating effectiveness. For Russia, with an enfeebled economy and a nuclear arsenal it cannot use short of all-out war, cyberpower proved the perfect weapon: cheap, hard to see coming, hard to trace.
“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of United States Cyber Command, said at a postelection conference. “This was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance, this was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily,” he said. “This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”
“It was just a sucker punch to the gut every day,” Ms. Tanden said. “It was the worst professional experience of my life.”
The United States, too, has carried out cyberattacks, and in decades past the C.I.A. tried to subvert foreign elections. But the Russian attack is increasingly understood across the political spectrum as an ominous historic landmark — with one notable exception: Mr. Trump has rejected the findings of the intelligence agencies he will soon oversee as “ridiculous,” insisting that the hacker may be American, or Chinese, but that “they have no idea.”
Mr. Trump cited the reported disagreements between the agencies about whether Mr. Putin intended to help elect him. On Tuesday, a Russian government spokesman echoed Mr. Trump’s scorn.
“This tale of ‘hacks’ resembles a banal brawl between American security officials over spheres of influence,” Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote on Facebook.
Over the weekend, four prominent senators — two Republicans and two Democrats — joined forces to pledge an investigation while pointedly ignoring Mr. Trump’s skeptical claims.
“Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks,” said Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed.
“This cannot become a partisan issue,” they said. “The stakes are too high for our country.”
A Target for Break-Ins
Sitting in the basement of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, below a wall-size 2012 portrait of a smiling Barack Obama, is a 1960s-era filing cabinet missing the handle on the bottom drawer. Only a framed newspaper story hanging on the wall hints at the importance of this aged piece of office furniture.
Andrew Brown, 37, the technology director at the D.N.C., was born after that famous break-in. But as he began to plan for this year’s election cycle, he was well aware that the D.N.C. could become a break-in target again.
There were aspirations to ensure that the D.N.C. was well protected against cyberintruders — and then there was the reality, Mr. Brown and his bosses at the organization acknowledged: The D.N.C. was a nonprofit group, dependent on donations, with a fraction of the security budget that a corporation its size would have.
“There was never enough money to do everything we needed to do,” Mr. Brown said.
The D.N.C. had a standard email spam-filtering service, intended to block phishing attacks and malware created to resemble legitimate email. But when Russian hackers started in on the D.N.C., the committee did not have the most advanced systems in place to track suspicious traffic, internal D.N.C. memos show.
Mr. Tamene, who reports to Mr. Brown and fielded the call from the F.B.I. agent, was not a full-time D.N.C. employee; he works for a Chicago-based contracting firm called The MIS Department. He was left to figure out, largely on his own, how to respond — and even whether the man who had called in to the D.N.C. switchboard was really an F.B.I. agent.
“The F.B.I. thinks the D.N.C. has at least one compromised computer on its network and the F.B.I. wanted to know if the D.N.C. is aware, and if so, what the D.N.C. is doing about it,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo about his contacts with the F.B.I. He added that “the Special Agent told me to look for a specific type of malware dubbed ‘Dukes’ by the U.S. intelligence community and in cybersecurity circles.”
Part of the problem was that Special Agent Hawkins did not show up in person at the D.N.C. Nor could he email anyone there, as that risked alerting the hackers that the F.B.I. knew they were in the system.
Mr. Tamene’s initial scan of the D.N.C. system — using his less-than-optimal tools and incomplete targeting information from the F.B.I. — found nothing. So when Special Agent Hawkins called repeatedly in October, leaving voice mail messages for Mr. Tamene, urging him to call back, “I did not return his calls, as I had nothing to report,” Mr. Tamene explained in his memo.
In November, Special Agent Hawkins called with more ominous news. A D.N.C. computer was “calling home, where home meant Russia,” Mr. Tamene’s memo says, referring to software sending information to Moscow. “SA Hawkins added that the F.B.I. thinks that this calling home behavior could be the result of a state-sponsored attack.”
Mr. Brown knew that Mr. Tamene, who declined to comment, was fielding calls from the F.B.I. But he was tied up on a different problem: evidence suggesting that the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s main Democratic opponent, had improperly gained access to her campaign data.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz, then the D.N.C.’s chairwoman, and Amy Dacey, then its chief executive, said in interviews that neither of them was notified about the early reports that the committee’s system had likely been compromised.
Shawn Henry, who once led the F.B.I.’s cyber division and is now president of CrowdStrike Services, the cybersecurity firm retained by the D.N.C. in April, said he was baffled that the F.B.I. did not call a more senior official at the D.N.C. or send an agent in person to the party headquarters to try to force a more vigorous response.
“We are not talking about an office that is in the middle of the woods of Montana,” Mr. Henry said. “We are talking about an office that is half a mile from the F.B.I. office that is getting the notification.”
“This is not a mom-and-pop delicatessen or a local library. This is a critical piece of the U.S. infrastructure because it relates to our electoral process, our elected officials, our legislative process, our executive process,” he added. “To me it is a high-level, serious issue, and if after a couple of months you don’t see any results, somebody ought to raise that to a higher level.”
The F.B.I. declined to comment on the agency’s handling of the hack. “The F.B.I. takes very seriously any compromise of public and private sector systems,” it said in a statement, adding that agents “will continue to share information” to help targets “safeguard their systems against the actions of persistent cybercriminals.”
By March, Mr. Tamene and his team had met at least twice in person with the F.B.I. and concluded that Agent Hawkins was really a federal employee. But then the situation took a dire turn.
A second team of Russian-affiliated hackers began to target the D.N.C. and other players in the political world, particularly Democrats. Billy Rinehart, a former D.N.C. regional field director who was then working for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, got an odd email warning from Google.
“Someone just used your password to try to sign into your Google account,” the March 22 email said, adding that the sign-in attempt had occurred in Ukraine. “Google stopped this sign-in attempt. You should change your password immediately.”
Mr. Rinehart was in Hawaii at the time. He remembers checking his email at 4 a.m. for messages from East Coast associates. Without thinking much about the notification, he clicked on the “change password” button and half asleep, as best he can remember, he typed in a new password.
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BANGKOK — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
PHILIPPINES DOESN’T WANT TO BE USED FOR U.S. FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION MISSIONS
The Philippines has again thumbed its nose at the U.S., its longtime defense ally, saying it won’t be used as a springboard for U.S. ships and planes conducting operations that challenge China in the South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines will not allow its territory to be used as a staging ground for U.S. patrols — a possible departure from the current policy that allows U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines access to designated Philippine military bases under a 2014 defense agreement.
Lorenzana said U.S. ships and planes can use Guam or Okinawa in Japan for South China Sea missions. But he said they can still refuel and resupply in the Philippines after conducting such maneuvers, not before.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said she could not comment on Lorenzana’s remarks as she hadn’t seen them, but added: “Our adherence to freedom of navigation is well known. You know, we will fly, we will sail anywhere within international waters and we will continue that.”
Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the commander of the U.S. Army’s I Corps who leads international military exercises in the Pacific, said that the U.S. military was prepared to change next year’s joint exercises with the Philippines to humanitarian and disaster relief training.
“If we change the training, we would probably look at putting a different force and a different capability in the Philippines versus the initial one that had been planned to go there,” he told Voice of America, referring to the initial focus on the Philippines’ territorial defense.
President Rodrigo Duterte has reached out to China to try to smooth over the territorial disputes. He also said he wants to scale back the Philippines’ military engagements with the U.S., including scuttling a plan to carry out joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the disputed waters, which he said China opposes.
But Manila still continues to rely on Washington. On Friday, the Philippine navy took delivery of a third frigate decommissioned from the U.S. Coast Guard.
US, CHINA REACT TO VIETNAM’S REPORTED ISLAND DREDGING
The United States has called on Vietnam and other claimants to refrain from reclamation and militarization activities in contested South China Sea waters following reports that Hanoi has carried out dredging on one of the features it occupies in the Spratlys.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters that the U.S. is aware of the reports.
“We have consistently warned that reclamation and militarization in contested areas of the South China Sea will risk driving a destabilizing and escalatory trend. We encourage all claimants to take steps to lower tensions and peacefully resolve differences,” she said.
Vietnam’s government has not commented on satellite imagery purportedly showing dredging activities inside a channel on Ladd Reef, about 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers) west of Spratly Island where Hanoi recently began extending a runway and building hangers. It wasn’t clear if the latest activity was meant as repair or construction work.
Ladd Reef, which is submerged at high tide, has a lighthouse, which also serves as quarters for Vietnamese troops.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged Vietnam to “respect China’s sovereignty and rights, stop illegal invasion and construction activities, and not to take actions that could complicate the situation.”
He repeated Friday that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.
CHINA WARNS BRITAIN AGAINST SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS
China has reacted angrily to Britain’s announcement that its four Typhoon fighter jets on a training visit to Japan will patrol the skies over the East and South China sea, where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with neighbors.
The British ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, also said last week that his government plans to conduct freedom of navigation operations involving its newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, when it becomes operational in 2020. He said that Britain “absolutely shares” the U.S. objective to protect freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters despite China’s claiming virtually the entire South China Sea as its territory.
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, in an opinion piece, said Darroch was perhaps trying to impress his Japanese colleague and that his remarks create the impression that London may soon deviate from “a largely aloof attitude” toward the South China Sea issue and start to meddle like the U.S. and Japan.
“Should a British warplane embark on a so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ mission in the South China Sea, it would only serve to further complicate the issue and weigh on thriving China-Britain ties,” Xinhua said.
It says China has never denied any legitimate passage of ships or planes in the area.
CHINA ADDS SECOND CRUISE IN THE PARACELS
China is adding a second cruise ship to the Paracel Islands, a tropical paradise of pristine beaches and little else.
The new cruise ship called Nanhai Zhi Meng will start its maiden four-day voyage in late December from Sanya, a port on southern Hainan Island, to Yinyu, Quanfu and Yagong islands in the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
The first cruise was launched in April 2013 and so far has attracted 23,000 Chinese tourists.
The tours only serve islands with no military installations and are only open to Chinese nationals. Unlike the largest island in the Paracels, Woody Island, which is also an administrative center founded in 2012, the coral reefs on the cruise tour have no accommodation or any significant infrastructure.
Prices range from $580 to $1,450 per person.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.
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In the U.S. Media all I had heard for at least the first 24 hours after the event was Mr. Trump being blasted for calling the President of Taiwan, Ms. Tsai Ing-wen. This afternoon it took me reading about the event in the Times of Israel News Paper that Mr. Trump hadn’t actually called the President of Taiwan, the truth is that she called him. Evidently Mr. Trump was supposed to act like Mr. Obama did and say, no thank you, China’s leaders wouldn’t like that. There are so many reasons that the politicians in Washington D.C. are perceived as being weak kneed and undependable by most Countries throughout the world. Our Allies throughout the world are and have been worried that the U.S. will not help them if they are attacked by a larger Nation. Here in the U.S. our politicians are always playing games with real life issues. Our politicians only seem interested in increasing their bank accounts and conning people out of their vote, not in handling the real world issues that we voted them in office to do. Putting it bluntly, we have a bunch of cowards in the Congress and the Senate as well as someone bought and paid for in the Oval Office. This is not an issue with just one of our ‘National’ parties, it is both.
Earlier today I read in the Shanghai Daily News and the Times of Israel how the “American Chamber Of Commerce” in Beijing was worried about China clamping down on American businesses that are in China because of their ‘displeasure’ of Mr. Trump taking that phone call from Taiwan’s President. Here in the U.S. our great and wonderful “State Department” whom we all know is always looking out for the best interest of the American people also was chastising Mr. Trump for taking the call. They were more concerned about how China would react to this (basically treason) of breaking protocol regarding the “One China Policy.” Our Media have been talking of late how Mr. Trump has been ‘flying by the seat of his pants’ in regard to his actions instead of relying on ‘the professionals.’ Today the ‘unnamed’ representative at the State Department said that Mr. Trump needed to consult with them as they are the ones that sets what is proper protocol. To this arrogance I have only one thing to say, well, actually two things. One, it is the President who sets what Protocol is and will be, not midlevel ‘managers’ at the State Department. Two, I hope that people like this person at the State Department have their U-Haul trucks reserved for late January because there are going to be a lot of folks moving out of D.C. soon.
Taiwan is one of our Allies in Southeast Asia, China is just going to have to get over that fact. China has been trying to scare the life out of every Nation in the region of the South China Sea for at least the past two years minimum. I have no problem with the people of China at all. China could be a great friend to every Nation in the region if they chose to, the issue is their Government. Communism is and has always been an enemy of all people who simply want to have some freedom in their lives. In a lot of ways I think well of their current President Mr. Xi Jinping but he has a blade at his throat if he decided to step out of line with the Ruling Communist Party Leadership. I have one thing to tell Mr. Trump that I hope he will tell the Leadership in Beijing and that is that we agree about the ‘One China Policy’. The issue is that the Country of Taiwan is not China, there is China and there is the Country of Taiwan, one China, one Taiwan, not two China’s. Communist Leaders only respect one thing in other Leaders and that is strength. If a leader of a Country is weak, China or Russia or North Korea will dominate you and take away all of your freedoms.
People of Nations that are supposed to be America’s Allies have been very scared for at least the past 8 years minimum that the U.S. would not come to their aid if they are attacked. Our current President is far more likely to issue sanctions against a Nation attacking one of our Allies than to actually physically assist them at getting the knife away from their throat. In the real world of blood, sweat and fears, both responses must be able to be counted on for people to feel any sense of safety. America’s leaders have spent at least the last 8 years cowering down to Russia and to China and the world is a much more dangerous place because of these actions. We have been trying to destroy relationships with our real Allies like Israel while showing indecision and weakness as well as ignorance in Middle East foreign policies in places like Libya and Syria. I did not vote for Mr. Trump nor did I vote for Hillary but I am old enough and wise enough to know that if the U.S. doesn’t quit acting like cowards toward Russia and China and start acting like we have a backbone and some basic intelligence, very soon, we are not going to have any Allies.
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President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone Friday with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan. The call was the first in more than 30 years between an American president-elect and a leader of the semi-autonomous island.
According to a readout of the call from the Trump transition team, Tsai congratulated Trump on his victory, and the two discussed “the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States.”
But the Trump team’s description of the call belies the fact that the conversation has the potential to upset three decades of relations between the United States and its most important global trading partner.
China, the United States and most of the international community consider Taiwan to be a Chinese territory. But Taiwan, with its own elected government, constitution and military, considers itself an independent nation.
In recognition of China’s claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, the U.S. cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979. Trump’s call will likely enrage Beijing, and stands to damage U.S. relations with Chine before Trump even takes office.
“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” Evan Medeiros, a former Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times, which first reported the call Friday afternoon.
“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations,” Medeiros said.
The call with Tsai is the latest in a string of conversations between Trump and foreign leaders that have left foreign policy experts and career diplomats shocked and concerned.
Earlier this week, Trump spoke with Pakistani president Nawaz Sharif and said he looked forward to visiting the country as president ― something President Barack Obama has deliberately avoided doing because of the complex, and sometimes duplicitous, security and intelligence relationship between the two countries. Trump also spoke with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a despot and international pariah who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1989.
On Friday, Trump also spoke to Rodrigo Duterte, the newly elected president of the Philippines. Since taking office, Duterte has encouraged the extra-judicial murder of hundreds of people accused of dealing drugs, and he has suggested that journalists deserve to be assassinated.
In response to the alarm raised by Trump’s phone calls, White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursdaydelicately urged Trump to seek out advice from career diplomats at the State Department. “President Obama benefited enormously from the advice and expertise that’s been shared by those who serve at the State Department,” he told reporters at the daily press briefing.
“I’m confident that as President-elect Trump takes office, those same State Department employees will stand ready to offer him advice as he conducts the business of the United States overseas. Hopefully he’ll take it.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) was more direct with his criticism. “What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start,” Murphy tweeted on Friday. “And if they aren’t pivots – just radical temporary deviations – allies will walk if they have no clue what we stand for. Just as bad. It’s probably time we get a Secretary of State nominee on board. Preferably w experience. Like, really really soon.”