Trump sides with Putin over U.S. intelligence

Politico reports: Donald Trump angrily insisted on Wednesday night that he is not Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.”

But at a minimum, in recent months he has often sounded like the Russian president’s lawyer—defending Putin against a variety of specific charges, from political killings to the 2014 downing of a passenger jet over Ukraine, despite the weight of intelligence, legal findings and expert opinion.

Wednesday, for instance, Trump dismissed Hillary Clinton’s assertion that Russia was behind the recent hacking of Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails.

“She has no idea whether it’s Russia or China or anybody else,” Trump retorted. “Our country has no idea.”

As Clinton tried to explain that the Russian role is the finding of 17 military and civilian intelligence agencies, Trump cut her off: “I doubt it.”

On Oct. 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement saying that the U.S. intelligence community “is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” That finding has also been relayed directly to Trump in the classified national security briefings he receives as a major party nominee. [Continue reading…]


U.S. urged Ecuador to act against WikiLeaks leader Assange

NBC News reports: Quiet pressure from the U.S. government played a role in Ecuador’s decision to block WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from using the internet at Ecuador’s London embassy, U.S. officials told NBC News.

“It was a bit of an eviction notice,” said a senior intelligence official.

Ecuador’s government said Tuesday it had partly restricted internet access for Assange, the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, who has lived in the South American country’s London embassy for more than four years. A source familiar with the situation says the Ecuadoran government has been frustrated with Assange and his presence at the embassy in London for months and has been considering how best to proceed.

The action came after U.S. officials conveyed their conclusion that Assange is a willing participant in a Russian intelligence operation to undermine the U.S. presidential election, NBC News has learned. U.S. intelligence officials believe Assange knows he is getting the information from Russian intelligence, though they do not believe he is involved in helping plan the hacking, officials told NBC.

“The general view is he is a willing participant in the Russian scheme but not an active plotter in it. They just realized they could use him,” said a senior intelligence official. [Continue reading…]


Czech police arrest Russian in connection with U.S. hacking attacks

Reuters reports: Czech police have detained a Russian man wanted in connection with hacking attacks on targets in the United States, the police said, without giving further details.

The arrest was carried out in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Czech police said on their website on Tuesday evening. Interpol had issued a so-called Red Notice for the man, seeking his arrest, they added. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy: Do ‘just enough to lose slowly’

The Washington Post reports from Camp Shorab: Earlier this month, a small district center just south of this desolate U.S. base came under attack from Taliban militants who threatened to overrun the local police. Frantic calls arrived from Afghan officials: They needed air support.

In a U.S. command center, a steel hut of plywood walls and a dozen video monitors piping in drone feeds and satellite imagery, soldiers began directing aircraft to the area. Redhanded 53, the call sign for a gun-metal-gray twin-engine propeller plane loaded with sensors, arrived overhead just in time to watch a truck loaded with explosives slam into the main police station.

Within an hour, the Americans had marshaled an armed Predator drone in the skies over the battle in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. But the commanding officer, Col. D.A. Sims, and his troops were unable to determine whether the men with guns on the ground were Taliban or Afghan soldiers. So Sims directed the Predator to fire one of its two hellfire missiles into an adjacent field — a $70,000 dollar warning shot just to let the militants know that the Americans had arrived.

The Oct. 3 battle is a microcosm of what is happening across Afghanistan: Taliban fighters that show enormous resilience despite being on the wrong side of a 15-year, $800 billion war; an Afghan army that still struggles with leadership, equipment, tactics and, in some units, an unwillingness to fight; and the world’s most sophisticated military reduced at times to pounding fields with its feared armaments.

The future of the U.S. role in Afghanistan after a decade and a half of war has received little attention in the presidential campaign and debates. But the next administration will be bequeathed a strategy that is doing “just enough to lose slowly,” said Douglas Ollivant, a senior national-security-studies fellow at the New America Foundation. [Continue reading…]


Russian air defense raises stakes of U.S. confrontation in Syria

The Washington Post reports: Russia’s completion this month of an integrated air defense system in Syria has made an Obama administration decision to strike Syrian government installations from the air even less likely than it has been for years, and has created a substantial obstacle to the Syrian safe zones both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have advocated.

Deployment of mobile and interchangeable S-400 and S-300 missile batteries, along with other short-range systems, now gives Russia the ability to shoot down planes and cruise missiles over at least 250 miles in all directions from western Syria, covering virtually all of that country as well as significant portions of Turkey, Israel, Jordan and the eastern Mediterranean.

By placing the missiles as a threat “against military action” by other countries in Syria, Russia has raised “the stakes of confrontation,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday.

While there is some disagreement among military experts as to the capability of the Russian systems, particularly the newly deployed S-300, “the reality is, we’re very concerned anytime those are emplaced,” a U.S. Defense official said. Neither its touted ability to counter U.S. stealth technology, or to target low-flying aircraft, has ever been tested by the United States.

“It’s not like we’ve had any shoot at an F-35,” the official said of the next-generation U.S. fighter jet. “We’re not sure if any of our aircraft can defeat the S-300.” [Continue reading…]


A million refugees could make a Mosul victory look like defeat

The Daily Beast reports: In a shabby school building that has ceased to be a place of learning, families crowd the spaces that are shielded from the intense autumn sun. Women sit on pieces of cardboard to avoid the dirty floors of the school’s courtyard, corridors, and classrooms. Their children are clustered around them.

With little more than the clothes on their bodies, these families are recent arrivals at the Debaga displacement camp in Kurdish administered northern Iraq. They’ve walked through the dark of the night and the heat of the day to escape the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

These men, women, and children have staggered through the arid plains of Nineveh province, arriving here with fear and exhaustion etched on their faces. And every day more civilians seep through the front lines, a trickle expected to turn into a flood as Iraqi forces begin their assault on Mosul, the final ISIS stronghold in Iraq.

More than 100,000 people have fled the crumbling caliphate in the run-up to the battle, which could begin as soon as mid-October, and of those, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 62,000 fled Mosul and its environs. [Continue reading…]


In Somalia, U.S. escalates a shadow war

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

Hundreds of American troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993.

The Somalia campaign, as it is described by American and African officials and international monitors of the Somali conflict, is partly designed to avoid repeating that debacle, which led to the deaths of 18 American soldiers. But it carries enormous risks — including more American casualties, botched airstrikes that kill civilians and the potential for the United States to be drawn even more deeply into a troubled country that so far has stymied all efforts to fix it.

The Somalia campaign is a blueprint for warfare that President Obama has embraced and will pass along to his successor. It is a model the United States now employs across the Middle East and North Africa — from Syria to Libya — despite the president’s stated aversion to American “boots on the ground” in the world’s war zones. This year alone, the United States has carried out airstrikes in seven countries and conducted Special Operations missions in many more. [Continue reading…]


Three Kansas men calling themselves ‘Crusaders’ charged in terror plot targeting Muslim immigrants

The Washington Post reports: Three Kansas men were accused of plotting a bomb attack targeting an apartment complex home to a mosque and many Muslim immigrants from Somalia, authorities said Friday.

Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Eugene Stein face federal charges of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, the Department of Justice announced Friday.

“These charges are based on eight months of investigation by the FBI that is alleged to have taken the investigators deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said in a statement. “Many Kansans may find it as startling as I do that such things could happen here.”

According to the complaint, the investigation was prompted by a paid confidential informant who had attended meetings with a group of individuals calling themselves “the Crusaders,” and heard plans discussed plots to attack Muslims, whom they called “cockroaches.” [Continue reading…]


CIA prepping for possible cyber attack against Russia

NBC News reports: The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”

When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”

Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates. [Continue reading…]

And what better way to expose such information than by providing it to Wikileaks. Julian Assange can then demonstrate that he’s not a puppet of Putin’s — or risk being outed if it turns out his organization chooses not to release such material.

Wouldn’t that turn Wikileaks into a puppet of the U.S. government? Kind of — except Assange’s position is that it’s not his job to pass judgment on the motives of his sources. His commitment is to protect his sources and publish secrets.


If we don’t act now, all future wars may be as horrific as Aleppo

Paul Mason writes: To single day of fighting in June 1859, among the vineyards and villages near Lake Garda, left 40,000 Italian, French and Austrian soldiers dead or wounded. The Battle of Solferino might have been remembered simply for its carnage, but for the presence of Henry Dunant. Dunant, a Swiss traveller, spent days tending the wounded and wrote a memoir that led to the founding of the Red Cross and to the first Geneva convention, signed by Europe’s great powers in 1864.

Solferino inspired the principle that hospitals and army medical personnel are not a legitimate target in war. Today, with the bombing of hospitals by the Russians in Syria, the Saudis in Yemen and the Americans in Afghanistan, those who provide medical aid in war believe that principle is in ruins.

So far this year, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), 21 of their supported medical facilities in Yemen and Syria have been attacked. Last year an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was destroyed by a US attack, in which those fleeing the building were reportedly gunned down from the air, and 42 patients and staff died.

A UN resolution in May urged combatants to refrain from bombing medical facilities. MSF says that the resolution “has made no difference on the ground”. Four out of the five permanent members of the UN security council, it says, are actively involved in coalitions whose troops have attacked hospitals.

To understand the renewed popularity of killing sick people in hospital beds, it’s not enough to point – as MSF does – to the new techniques of war, such as drones and special forces. Something has been eroded about our perception of humanitarian principles. [Continue reading…]


Trump campaign CEO wanted to destroy Speaker Ryan

The Hill reports: Steve Bannon, the chairman of the right-wing news outlet Breitbart who became CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, gave explicit orders to his staff to destroy Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

On editorial conference calls, the Breitbart chairman would often say “Paul Ryan is the enemy,” according to a source who worked with Bannon at the news organization.

A former Breitbart staffer said Bannon used to rage against Ryan all the time.

Bannon views Ryan as a leader of an elite globalist cabal determined to sell out America by opening its borders on immigration and trade.

“Bannon has Alex Jones-level paranoia about Paul Ryan,” the source said, referring to the right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist who runs the pro-Trump website Infowars.

“He goes on these amazing rants,” the source added of Bannon. “He thinks Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government.” [Continue reading…]


U.S. military operations are biggest motivation for homegrown terrorism, FBI study finds

The Intercept reports: A secret FBI study found that anger over U.S. military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “homegrown” terrorism. The report also identified no coherent pattern to “radicalization,” concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts.

The study, reviewed by The Intercept, was conducted in 2012 by a unit in the FBI’s counterterrorism division and surveyed intelligence analysts and FBI special agents across the United States who were responsible for nearly 200 cases, both open and closed, involving “homegrown violent extremists.” The survey responses reinforced the FBI’s conclusion that such individuals “frequently believe the U.S. military is committing atrocities in Muslim countries, thereby justifying their violent aspirations.”

Online relationships and exposure to English-language militant propaganda and “ideologues” like Anwar al-Awlaki are also cited as “key factors” driving extremism. But grievances over U.S. military action ranked far above any other factor, turning up in 18 percent of all cases, with additional cases citing a “perceived war against Islam,” “perceived discrimination,” or other more specific incidents. The report notes that between 2009 and 2012, 10 out of 16 attempted or successful terrorist attacks in the United States targeted military facilities or personnel. [Continue reading…]