China moves cutting-edge AWACS planes near disputed S. China Sea islands – media

China moves cutting-edge AWACS planes near disputed S. China Sea islands – media
The Chinese military has deployed its latest airborne early warning and control aircraft to an air base in the vicinity of the contested South China Sea islands, according to Defense News, citing satellite imagery.

The imagery provided by DigitalGlobe company shows a number of Shaanxi KJ-500 and KJ-200 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft at the Jialaishi Air Base in the northern part of China’s Hainan island, Defense News reported on Friday.

According to the news outlet, this is the first time China has stationed its state-of-the-art KJ-500 aircraft in Hainan.

The KJ-500, bearing a distinctive radar antenna over the fuselage, is equipped with a “dorsal radar dish mounting a phased array radar with three fixed arrays angled at 120 degrees relative to each other for all-round coverage.”

The new aircraft are expected to replace the ageing KJ-200s currently in service with the Chinese military. The large radar array provides for better situation awareness and allows guidance and control of enemy and friendly aircraft, while smaller radars installed on the nose and rear fuselage ensure additional coverage.

KJ-500s entered service with the Chinese Air Force in late 2014 or early 2015, Defense News reports, with six KJ-500s known to have been delivered to the military as of January 2017, including at least two for the Navy.

The aircraft deployed in Hainan come from two Air Force regiments tasked with carrying out special missions. The detachments usually operate from Lingshui on the southeastern part of Hainan.

Jialaishi is one of three major Chinese Navy air bases in Hainan, which is located in the northern part of the South China Sea and its disputed islands.

While Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other nations all claim parts of the South China Sea as their own, China says that most of it has been within its territory for centuries.

Tensions have been running high in the region, with claimants moving military assets closer to the disputed islands. Over the past few years, China has built a number of military installations, airfields, radars, and anti-aircraft systems covering a sizeable area of the South China Sea.

Though Beijing says that these facilities are for civilian purposes only, the US and its regional allies are stepping up their military presence off Chinese waters. The build-up includes regular aerial and maritime patrols, as well as massive military exercises, to ensure what Washington calls “freedom of navigation.”

Earlier on Thursday, the Philippines moved troops and equipment to a disputed island in the South China Sea which is claimed by both Manila and Beijing, according to Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, head of the Philippines military’s Western Command. Troops and materiel arrived at Pag-asa Island last week – a move which triggered a harsh response from China.

One day earlier, a top US Navy commander said American vessels will continue to operate in the area regardless of Beijing’s reaction. “US forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region on a daily basis, including in the South China Sea,” US Navy Commander Gary Ross told the South China Morning Post newspaper in an email.

Spread of global cyberattack curbed – for now

The spread of a global cyberattack appears to have slowed after a researcher accidentally found a “kill switch.” The breakthrough won’t help fix systems worldwide that are already crippled by ransom-demanding malware.

Symbolbild Hackerangriff (picture alliance/dpa)

Governments and companies on Saturday scrambled to respond to a massive global cyberattack that hit computers in nearly 100 countries by exploiting vulnerabilities believed to have been exposed in documents leaked from the US National Security Agency.

Cyber extortionists on Friday used malicious software to exploit a vulnerability in Windows operating systems to infect thousands of computers with a variant of WannaCry ransomware.

The spread of the ransomware appeared to have stopped on Saturday after a security researcher registered a domain name connected to the malware.

The researcher, tweeting as @MalwareTechBlog, said the discovery was accidental but registering the domain name triggered a “kill switch.”

It’s very important everyone understands that all they need to do is change some code and start again. Patch your systems now! https://twitter.com/MalwareTechBlog/status/863189077843116032 

The security researcher warned that those behind the cyberattack can “change some code and start again.” Computers already infected by the malware will not be helped by the fix.

Cybersecurity experts said after the domain was registered the number of new infections dropped.

“We are on a downward slope, the infections are extremely few, because the malware is not able to connect to the registered domain,” said Vikram Thakur, principal research manager at Symantec. “The numbers are extremely low and coming down fast.”

One of largest cyberattacks ever

The ransomware locks up computer systems by encrypting files and data, demanding users pay $300 (275 euros) in the virtual currency Bitcoin to recover the files. Payment is demanded in three days or the price is doubled. After seven days it threatens to delete all files.

“This is one of the largest global ransomware attacks the cyber community has ever seen,” said Rich Barger, director of threat research with Splunk.

The security firm and others have linked WannaCry to a NSA hacking code known as “Eternal Blue” that was leaked last month by  hacking group Shadow Brokers. It is unclear who led the ransomware attack or from which country.

Cyber security software company Avast said it had detected 57,000 infections in 99 countries, with Russia, Britain, Ukraine and Taiwan being the hardest hit.

Friday’s wave of attacks hit several high-profile organizations, including Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), Russia’s interior ministry, French car maker Renault, Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica, international shipper FedEx and German rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

Watch video02:18

Massive cyber attack hits Britain’s NHS

The attack on NHS wrecked havoc on the British health care system, with a number of hospitals and clinic turning away patients and forcing ambulances to divert to neighboring hospitals. The Health Service Journal reported that X-ray imaging systems, pathology test results and patient administration systems were all affected.

Russia’s interior ministry reported that roughly 1,000 of its computers had been infected, but that the ministry’s servers had not been impacted. The central bank said it was also targeted, but that its systems were not compromised.

Deutsche Bahn said destination boards at several train stations had been infected but that transportation had not been impacted. The attack also affected the rail operator’s video surveillance technology.

Deutschland Weltweite Cyber-Attacke - Hauptbahnhof Chemnitz (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Götzelt)A Deutsche Bahn departure display shows the ransonware demanding payment.

Britain’s National Cyber Security Center and Spain’s National Center for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure said they were working with companies hit by or potentially targeted by the attack. The US Department of Homeland Security said that it has shared information with domestic and international partners.

Microsoft said it released Windows updates to defend against WannaCry. It issued a patch in March to protect against Eternal Blue.

cw/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

 

 

 

 

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The Comey affair: What happens now that Trump fired the head of the FBI?

US President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey has left Washington reeling as the White House searches for a replacement. Some critics have said Trump opened himself up to impeachment over the affair.

Bildkombo U.S. Präsident Donald Trump und FBI Direktor James Comey (Reuters/J. Lo Scalzo/G. Cameron)

US President Donald Trump’s surprising move to fire the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), James Comey, sent resounding shockwaves throughout the US capital.

Trump said the decision was based on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, but critics said they believe the real reason was the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit and possible Russian ties to officials in Trump’s campaign.

Watch video00:49

Fired FBI chief Comey reacts to dismissal

The next order of business in Washington will be naming an interim FBI head while the White House searches for a permanent replacement. While the process is sure to be politically charged, Trump’s Republicans enjoy a razor-slim majority in the Senate, where the president’s candidate will require a simple majority to enter office.

Some Democrats have suggested that they would oppose Trump’s FBI chief nominee if the White House refuses to allow an independent special prosecutor to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the election.

“I would oppose confirmation of a new FBI director until there is support for a special prosecutor,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters on Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter that the Democrats “demand” the appointment of a special prosecutor.

.@SenateDemsdemand the appt of a special prosecutor by a non-political appointee at the Dept. of Justice,

Democrats said they are concerned that the Russia investigation will now be conducted by a hand-picked Trump ally, which they said could compromise the probe.

Who will be the new FBI head?

Although the White House hasn’t named any potential candidate to serve as the new FBI director, US media reports have honed in on several possible picks:

Where does this leave the Russia investigation?

The investigation is still on-going and Comey’s departure does not change that. The question is who will now hold the reins.

Watch video01:41

US Democrats call for special prosecutor

As it is a part of the US Justice Department, the FBI’s investigation is currently being overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation after it was revealed that he had his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador in Washington.

There are also oversight investigations being pursued by the Senate and House intelligence committees. The committees, however, cannot bring criminal charges and are not privy to the same information as an FBI investigation. Their results can be issued in classified and public reports.

Why did Trump fire Comey?

Since dismissing Comey, Trump has stood by his rationale for the sacking, saying Comey “was not doing a good job” with the Clinton email probe. Sources speaking anonymously to US media told a very different story than the one coming from the White House.

The New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post all reported that shortly before Comey was fired, he requested additional funding and personnel for the FBI’s Russia probe.

Some 30 officials from the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and senior Republicans, told the Washington Post that Trump was angry with Comey for paying more attention to the Russia investigation and not inspecting leaks of White House policies to journalists.

Could Trump really be impeached over this?

The short answer? Not based on what is currently known about Russia’s alleged role in manipulating the US election and not in the current US political landscape.

The long answer? Some observers have said Comey’s dismissal could potentially be seen as an abuse of office – an impeachable offense – if Trump fired Comey to stop the investigations against himself and members of his campaign and administration.

Removing the president for committing an impeachable offense is a two-step process. First at least half of the lawmakers in the House of Representatives would have to vote to impeach the president, then after hearing evidence, at least two-thirds of the Senate would have to decide to convict the president and thus remove him from office.

While a case could possibly be made for Trump’s impeachment on possible obstruction of justice charges over Comey’s firing, there isn’t enough credible evidence yet to prove it. Furthermore, Republicans in Congress do not seem interested in pursuing any investigation.

Although some Republicans have questioned the timing of Trump’s decision, there is no indication that they would turn on the president in the number required for impeachment. The Republican Party enjoys majorities in both houses of the US Congress; so there is no chance Democrats could remove the president from office without Republican support.

The day after Comey’s firing, Vice President Mike Pence said Trump “made the right decision at the right time.” Similarly, leading Republicans including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also firmly stood behind Trump’s decision.

McConnell also dismissed calls on Wednesday for a special prosecutor to be brought in on the Russia campaign, saying it “could only serve to impede the current work being done” by the FBI and the Senate intelligence committee.

Maximiliane Koschyk contributed reporting.

Watch video03:29

Has Trump crossed a red line by firing Comey? – DW’s Carsten von Nahmen

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North Korea’s mystery islands: Man-made keys could be new nuclear launch sites

North Korea is at it again. Or rather, it is continuing what it started five years ago.

Artificial islands have been discovered surrounding Sohae Satellite Launching Station, a missile development and testing site roughly 70 miles northwest of Pyongyang. Satellite images suggest the islands are home to military installations and have been under development for at least five years.

While their purpose is unknown, suspicions are high that the islands could be used to launch missiles. Those speculations are not far off the mark, according to Gordon Chang, author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World.”

PRISONER OF NORTH KOREA: AN AMERICAN SAFE AT HOME SHARES HIS ORDEAL

“North Korea is never up to any good,” Chang said in an emailed statement to Fox News. “The new facilities, whatever their purpose, will be used for evil deeds, mischief, or troublemaking of some sort.”

“My sense is that the facilities on the new islands will be used for missile launches of some kind, especially because they are near Sohae.”

North Korea could just be following in its neighbor China’s footsteps. In recent years, China has reportedly been stocking its disputed man-made islands with missiles.

The missile theory is being rebuffed by some. North Korea expert and political science professor Dr. Bruce Bechtol does not think the islands deserve so much focus.

NORTH KOREA DETAINS ANOTHER AMERICAN OVER ALLEGED HOSTILE ACTS

“As far as the islands being something that could present a real imminent threat to the U.S. or South Korea,” he said, “I’m just not seeing it.”

According to Bechtol, North Korea has far stealthier stockpiles than what could be placed on islands easily monitored via satellite.

“The land mass of those islands is too small to move around missiles,” he said. “It’s interesting that they’re developing these islands, but they’re probably mostly for civilian use.”

The islands could very well be used agriculturally, which could benefit North Korea since the country has struggled to feed its citizens.

“They [North Korea] ruined a lot of their soil in the 80s and 90s. These islands have the potential to really help them out through possible fish farms or oyster farms,” Bechtol stated.

Or, maybe the country has two goals in mind.

“The North Koreans build just about everything for dual purpose,” Steve Sin, a researcher on unconventional weapons and technology at the University of Maryland, told the Los Angeles Times. “So, building something that is of military use on an agricultural project is certainly within its usual pattern.”

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