Jared Kushner subject of FBI Russia investigation: reports

Donald Trump’s son-in-law is reportedly being investigated for meetings with the Russian ambassador and a sanctioned bank. He failed to disclose the meetings when applying for White House security clearance.

Washington Jared Kushner (Getty Images/AFP/N. Kamm)

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US news outlets reported Thursday.

Meetings between Kushner and Russian officials in December have come under scrutiny as part of an investigation into potential Russian meddling in the US election, newspaper “The Washington Post”and broadcaster NBC reported.

Kushner, a key White House adviser who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, reportedly met late last year with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov.

“The Washington Post” cited anonymous “people familiar with the investigation,” who said the FBI investigation did not mean Kushner was suspected of a crime.

Gorkov, is chairman of VneshEconomBank, a state bank under US sanctions since July 2014.

Kushner intially failed to declare the meetings in forms required to obtain security clearance to serve in the White House. His lawyer later said it was a mistake, telling the FBI that he would amend the forms.

“Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings,” Jamie Gorelick, one of his attorneys, said in a statement.

“He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key figure in the FBI probe, which is targeting other members of Trump’s campaign team.

Joe Lieberman out of leadership run

Joe Lieberman, a former US Senator and vice presidential candidate, withdrew from consideration as the next director of the FBI on Thursday due to a potential conflict of interest.

Lieberman currently works at a New York City law firm led by Marc Kasowitz, whom Trump hired to represent him against collusion investigations by the Justice Department and Congress, which are being conducted concurrently with that of the FBI. The law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, has represented Trump on many occasions over previous years.

Former US Sen. Joseph Lieberman departs the White House after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump (Getty Images/W. McNamee)Joe Lieberman, a favorite to head the FBI, has removed himself from the running

“With your selection of Marc Kasowitz to represent you in the various investigations that have begun, I do believe it would be best to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Lieberman wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday, which was made public on Thursday.

Lieberman was considered a top candidate to become FBI director. Trump said last Thursday that he was “very close” to selecting a new director. The White House did not release an immediate comment on Lieberman’s withdrawal.

Trump fired previous FBI director James Comey on May 9. In his role, Comey led the FBI’s campaign collusion probe. Trump and Russia have both denied the accusations.

Lieberman served as a Senator from Connecticut from 1989 until he retired in 2013. He was the Democratic vice presidential candidate during the 2000 US presidential election, but later left the Democratic party to serve as an independent.

aw, kbd/kl (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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Trump: ‘no collusion’ with Russia

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Trump’s woes at home mount as he travels abroad

As President Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first foreign tour, US media reports have kept the focus on his White House and relations to Russia. Senators say fired FBI head Comey will testify in Congress.

Donald Trump, Melania Trump (picture alliance/AP Photo/E.Vucci)

The New York Times has reported that President Trump told Russian officials that his firing of former FBI Director James Comey had eased “great pressure” Trump faced.

The newspaper cited a document detailing the White House meeting Trump held with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said on May 10, according to the paper. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The New York Times cited an unnamed US official as its source for receiving the comments, which had been taken down in notes summarizing the meeting.

Other news reports have alleged Trump had previously asked Comey to stop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. On Thursday, the Justice Department said a special counsel had been appointed to look into allegations of Russian interference in last year’s election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

USA Richard Burr Senator (Getty Images/G. Demczuk)Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr

Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, although a date has not yet been set, according to the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard Burr.

Burr said on Friday the former FBI director would testify in an open setting before the committee which wanted to know from Comey about his role in the assessment Russia interfered in last year’s election and his response to questions that have arisen since his dismissal.

White House response

In response to the latest reports on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer again rejected the allegations and said, “A thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”

Spicer said of the former FBI director: “by grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”

USA Donald Trump und James Comey (Getty Images/A. Harrer)President Trump with former FBI Director James Comey in January

A person of interest

In a separate news report on Friday, the Washington Post claimed that a senior White House adviser was a person of significant interest in the investigation into possible ties between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

The Post said the source of its information would not further identify the official, who was described as being a person close to Trump. The report claimed the investigation appeared to be entering a more open and active phase, with investigators conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas.

The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials.

Capitol reaction

House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in response to the reports “every day the president gives us more reason to believe that he does not respect the office that he holds.” She expressed optimism ahead of 2018 midterm elections, which could return Democrats back to control of the House.

Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the panel should request White House documents related to the May 10 meeting and subpoena them if necessary. Cummings called Trump’s reported comment “astonishing and extremely troubling.”

Trump himself left Washington on Friday for his first international trip, beginning in Saudi Arabia. Air Force One took off with the president, first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as senior advisers and journalists. The group will then travel to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.

jm/gsw (Reuters, AP)

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Russia steps up North Korea support to constrain US

In spite of international sanctions on North Korea’s communist regime, Russia has been increasing fuel exports to Pyongyang and filling in the supply gap created by China halting trade. Julian Ryall reports.

Russland Militärparade in Moskau (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Despite efforts by the United Nations to impose isolating sanctions on North Korea in response to the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, trade between Russia and North Korea soared more than 85 percent in the first four months of the year.

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Citing Russian customs data, the Voice of America broadcaster has reported that bilateral trade climbed to $31.83 million (29 million euros) in the January-March quarter, with the vast majority being energy products going over the border into the North.

This included $22 million worth of coal, lignite with a value of around $4.7 million, and oil estimated at $1.2 million. In return, North Korean exports to Russia were estimated to be worth $420,000. The most significant exports were chemicals and – curiously – wind instruments.

China trade falls

In contrast, North Korea’s trade with China, traditionally its most important economic partner, has plummeted. Pyongyang’s exports of coal to China in March came to 6,342 tons, a fraction of the 1.44 million tons sent to China in January, with an estimated value of $126.39 million. Similarly, Beijing has stopped supplying critically-needed fuel oil to the North, a clear demonstration of China’s displeasure at North Korea’s ongoing weapons tests.

The release of the figures detailing Russia’s increased trade with North Korea coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s statement on Monday that Pyongyang’s latest missile launch was “dangerous” – but, he added, “We must stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to this problem.”

Read more: North Korea claims successful test of new rocket able to carry nuclear warhead

James Brown, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo campus of Temple University, believes some of the cross-border trade may be “economic opportunism” but the motivation for the vast majority of it is geopolitical.

“Russia is very worried about the isolation of North Korea and believes that makes the situation dangerous as the US is taking a confrontational approach,” he told DW.

“Moscow’s position is that pressure on the North has not worked and has in fact caused Pyongyang to react because it feels threatened,” he said. “So instead of isolation, which is not working, Russia is proposing engagement.”

Nordkorea Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) Raketentest (Reuters/KCNA)The UN condemned North Korea’s missile test and vowed new sanctions

New ferry route

The most recent example of this support for Pyongyang is the plan to open a ferry route between North Korea and the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok, although the proposal has been delayed by strong protests from Japan.

Read more: North Korea builds closer ties with fellow outcast Russia

In 2014, Russia announced that it was canceling $10 billion of North Korea’s $11 billion in Soviet-era debt and that the remaining $1 billion would be invested back into the country. Russian investors also agreed to sink $25 billion into the North’s dilapidated railway system, while more would go into basic infrastructure. The two governments also announced that Russia would rebuild the North’s power grid, while the two countries would develop the ice-free port of Rason for exports of Russian coal.

In total, Russia planned to increase bilateral trade almost ten-fold to $1 billion by 2020, and that does not appear to have been hampered by more recent UN sanctions.

But Putin is also motivated by security concerns in Russia’s Far East, Brown said.

“Moscow has always been worried that the defensive missile systems that the US is deploying in the region – the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea and now Japan is discussing having Aegis Ashore – are more directed at its interests than North Korea,” he said.

Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, believes that Putin – who is at odds with the international community over the Ukraine conflict and has been accused of meddling in a number of elections, including those in the US and France – may be forging closer ties with Pyongyang to sow further disarray among his perceived enemies.

Watch video00:33

North Korea launches ballistic missile

‘Slash-and-burn approach’

“Putin seems to have adopted a slash-and-burn approach to the liberal international order, so anything that serves to undermine institutions such as NATO, the European Union or democracy in general is fair game,” Pinkston said. “He is intent on creating instability in a way that serves Russian interests and this sort of multi-front, hybrid war serves to undermine the US and its allies.”

“North Korea fits neatly into that agenda because it causes problems for Washington, keeps the US tied down, drains its resources and causes friction with allies in the region.”

Pinkston points out that playing neighboring nations off one other for their respective favors is not a new North Korean tactic. It has manipulated China and Russia for its own ends in the past.

“That sort of back-and-forth was easier to pull off in the Cold War, but they seem to be trying to capitalize on their relations with Russia now that China has become more distant,” the expert underlined. “And I think it is clear that North Korea will take whatever it can get in terms of political, diplomatic or military support, as well as resources.”

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Thousands of ransomware cyberattacks reported worldwide

Thousands of ransomware cyberattacks reported worldwide
A ransomware virus is reported to be spreading aggressively around the globe, with over 50,000 computers having been targeted. The virus infects computer files and then demands money to unblock them.

An increase in activity of the malware was noticed starting from 8am CET (07:00 GMT) Friday, security software company Avast reported, adding that it “quickly escalated into a massive spreading.”

In a matter of hours, over 57,000 attacks have been detected worldwide, the company said.

57,000 detections of (aka aka ) by Avast today. More details in blog post: https://blog.avast.com/ransomware-that-infected-telefonica-and-hns-hospitals-is-spreading-aggressively-with-over-50000-attacks-so-far-today 

Photo published for Ransomware that infected Telefonica and HNS hospitals is spreading aggressively, with over 50,000...

Ransomware that infected Telefonica and HNS hospitals is spreading aggressively, with over 50,000…

Avast reports on WanaCrypt0r 2.0 ransomware that infected NHS and Telefonica.

blog.avast.com

Seventy-four countries around the globe have been affected, with the number of victims still growing, according to the Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, the Kaspersky Lab.

So far, we have recorded more than 45,000 attacks of the ransomware in 74 countries around the world. Number still growing fast.

The ransomware, known as WanaCrypt0r 2.0, or WannaCry, is believed to have infected National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK and Spain’s biggest national telecommunications firm, Telefonica.

Britain and Spain are among the first nations who have officially recognized the attack. In Spain, apart from the telecommunications giant, Telefonica, a large number of other companies has been infected with the malicious software, Reuters reported.

The virus is said to attack computers on an internal network, as is the case with Telefonica, without affecting clients.

Attackers are allegedly demanding for 300Ƀ which equals £415k & give a deadline of May 19: https://on.rt.com/8bgz 

Computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry have been infected with the malware, the ministry said Friday evening.

Some 1,000 Windows-operated PCs were affected, which is less than one percent of the total number of such computers in the ministry, spokeswoman Irina Volk said in a statement.

The virus has been localized and steps are being taken to eliminate it.

The servers of the ministry have not been affected, Volk added, saying it’s operated by different systems for Russia-developed data processing machines.

Several” computers of Russia’s Emergency Ministry had also been targeted, its representative told TASS, adding, that “all of the attempted attacks had been blocked, and none of the computers were infected with the virus.”

Russian telecom giant, Megafon has also been affected.

The very virus that is spreading worldwide and demanding $300 to be dealt with has been found on a large number of our computers in the second half of the day today,” Megafon’s spokesperson Pyotr Lidov told RT.

Вот что появилось на экранах всех рабочих компьютеров Мегафон Ритейл @eldarmurtazin

The internal network had been affected, he said, adding that in terms of the company’s customer services, the work of the support team had been temporarily hindered, “as operators use computers” to provide their services.

The company immediately took appropriate measures, the spokesperson said, adding that the incident didn’t affect subscribers’ devices or Megafon signal capabilities in any way.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said the cyberattack on UK hospitals is part of a wider international attack.

In Sweden, the mayor of Timra said “around 70 computers have had a dangerous code installed,” Reuters reported.

According to Avast, the ransomware has also targeted Ukraine and Taiwan.

The virus is apparently the upgraded version of the ransomware that first appeared in February. Believed to be affecting only Windows operated computers, it changes the affected file extension names to “.WNCRY.”

It then drops ransom notes to a user in a text file, demanding $300 worth of bitcoins to be paid to unlock the infected files within a certain period of time.

While the victim’s wallpaper is being changed, affected users also see a countdown timer to remind them of the limited time they have to pay the ransom. If they fail to pay, their data will be deleted, cybercriminals warn.

According to the New York Times, citing security experts, the ransomware exploits a “vulnerability that was discovered and developed by the National Security Agency (NSA).” The hacking tool was leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, the report said, adding, that it has been distributing the stolen NSA hacking tools online since last year.

In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.

Trump Shifts Rationale for Firing Comey, Calling Him a ‘Showboat’

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Trump on Comey: ‘He’s a Showboat’

President Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that the F.B.I. was in turmoil, and that he was going to fire its director, James B. Comey, regardless of any recommendation.

By NBC NEWS. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

WASHINGTON — President Trump offered a new version of his decision to fire James B. Comey, saying on Thursday that he would have dismissed the F.B.I. director regardless of whether the attorney general and his deputy recommended it.

It was just the latest in a series of statements, some of them contradictory, to whiplash Washington over 48 hours that began with Mr. Comey’s firing on Tuesday evening. And it was unusually harsh: Mr. Trump castigated Mr. Comey as “a showboat” and “a grandstander,” suggesting that his issues with the F.B.I. director went beyond any previously stated concerns.

Mr. Trump said on Thursday that he had not relied solely on the advice from the Justice Department’s top two leaders in making his decision. And, for the first time, he explicitly referenced the F.B.I.’s investigation into his administration’s ties to Russia in defending Mr. Comey’s firing.

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Mr. Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

Earlier, the White House had said that Mr. Trump acted only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, came to him and recommended that Mr. Comey be dismissed because of his handling of last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. In his Tuesday letter terminating Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump said he had “accepted their recommendation.” And Vice President Mike Pence, talking to reporters, echoed his boss.

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But by the next day, that story had begun to unravel.

Mr. Rosenstein and Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, spoke by telephone on Wednesday to review details that precipitated the firing, seeking to agree on a version of events that could be released to the public.

GRAPHIC

The Events That Led Up to Comey’s Firing, and How the White House’s Story Changed

White House officials initially said President Trump acted based on the recommendation of Justice Department officials, but Mr. Trump later said he would have fired the F.B.I. director regardless.

OPEN GRAPHIC

That conversation led to a new timeline that the White House shared with reporters hours later. It said that Mr. Trump had in recent weeks been “strongly inclined to remove” Mr. Comey, but that he had made his final decision only after receiving written recommendations on Tuesday from Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Sessions.

And then on Thursday, the president himself brushed away that narrative, reversing his own aides’ version of events.

In fact, the president asserted, he had decided to fire Mr. Comey well before he received the advice from the Justice Department officials. He said he was frustrated by Mr. Comey’s public testimony regarding the F.B.I. investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign and its possible contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers.

“I was going to fire Comey — my decision,” Mr. Trump told NBC. “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”

The president’s comments appeared aimed at reassuring Mr. Rosenstein, who was reportedly upset at the White House’s original narrative that seemed to suggest he had instigated Mr. Comey’s firing. The White House has cited Mr. Rosenstein’s reputation as a straight shooter in justifying Mr. Trump’s move.

But the president’s story line left the White House struggling to explain his motivation for firing his F.B.I. director a day after calling the Russia investigation nothing more than a “taxpayer funded charade” that should end.

Photo

The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, above, was reportedly upset at the White House’s initial narrative around the firing of James. B. Comey. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

Critics said the credibility of the White House had been badly damaged and renewed calls for a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, independent of the administration.

The White House’s explanation was challenged on Thursday in other ways as well. The president’s spokeswoman said on Wednesday that Mr. Comey was fired in part because he had lost the support of rank-and-file F.B.I. employees. But on Thursday, Andrew G. McCabe, the new acting director of the agency, told the Senate that Mr. Comey enjoyed “broad support within the F.B.I. and still does to this day.”

And while the White House said on Wednesday that the Russia inquiry was only a small part of the bureau’s activities, Mr. McCabe called it “a highly significant investigation.”

Throughout the rapidly shifting 48 hours, Mr. Rosenstein appeared to be caught in the middle.

Confirmed just last month, he made a trip to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a previously unannounced meeting with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In a brief hallway conversation with a reporter, Mr. Rosenstein denied reports that he had threatened to quit.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has agreed to invite Mr. Rosenstein to brief the entire Senate next week, said the minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

In his Wednesday deliberations, Mr. Rosenstein made clear that the timeline needed to be accurate, and that he did not want to “massage” the version of events. His discussions included Mr. McGahn, Mr. Sessions and other senior administration officials, according to a person familiar with the conversation who was not authorized to discuss it. It concluded with a four-sentence statement that was released by the White House on Wednesday evening.

That statement noted that Mr. Trump had met with both Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Sessions on Monday to discuss reasons to remove Mr. Comey. It said that Mr. Rosenstein had submitted his written recommendation to Mr. Sessions on Tuesday, who sent his own recommendation to Mr. Trump soon afterward.

Mr. Rosenstein’s memo, while highly critical of Mr. Comey’s actions over the past year, stopped short of explicitly recommending his ouster. “Although the president has the power to remove an F.B.I. director,” he wrote, “the decision should not be taken lightly.”

In the NBC interview, Mr. Trump elaborated on his claim that Mr. Comey had told him on three occasions that the president himself was not under investigation. The F.B.I. has been looking into whether associates of Mr. Trump and his campaign coordinated with Russia as Moscow orchestrated an effort to intervene in the American election and tilt the election to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump said Mr. Comey had reassured him first at a private dinner, and then during two phone conversations. He acknowledged that he had directly asked if he was being investigated.

“I said, ‘If it’s possible, would you let me know if I’m under investigation?’” Mr. Trump said. “He said, ‘You are not under investigation.’”

The admission raised questions on Thursday among reporters, who asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, whether it was inappropriate for the president to ask the F.B.I. director whether he was under investigation. “No, I don’t believe it is,” Ms. Sanders said.

Photo

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary, briefed reporters on Thursday.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

The president said Mr. Comey requested the dinner early in his administration to ask to keep his job. That would be an unusual — and perhaps unnecessary — step for an F.B.I. director, who by law is appointed for a 10-year term. Mr. Comey was four years into his term when Mr. Trump was inaugurated.

“He wanted to stay on as the F.B.I. head,” Mr. Trump said. “I said: ‘I’ll consider. We’ll see what happens.’ But we had a very nice dinner and at that time, he told me I wasn’t under investigation, which I knew anyway.”

In explaining his decision to fire Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump said that “the F.B.I. has been in turmoil” since last year, an apparent reference to the controversy over how the Clinton investigation was managed, and “it hasn’t recovered from that.”

Mr. Trump also insisted, as he has before, that there was “no collusion between my campaign and Russia.”

The interview underscored what has been a continuing challenge for the Trump administration to provide the public with accurate information about the president’s actions and motivations.

On Tuesday evening, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in an interview on Fox Business Network that it was Mr. Rosenstein who had “made a determination” about Mr. Comey and the president had followed it. At the time, Mr. Spicer was merely dutifully relaying the White House’s position.

Mr. Pence did the same in his comments to reporters the next day. And at the daily White House briefing on Wednesday, Ms. Sanders was asked whether the advice from Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Sessions was only a pretext for a decision the president had already made. “No,” she said.

On Thursday, after the president’s NBC interview, she changed gears.

“I hadn’t had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president,” she said. “I’d had several conversations with him, but I didn’t ask that question directly — ‘had you already made that decision.’ I went off of the information that I had when I answered your question.”

But she stuck by her contention that Mr. Comey had lost the faith of his employees — even though the agency’s acting director had contradicted it. “I’ve certainly heard from a large number of individuals, and that’s just myself,” Ms. Sanders said, “and I don’t even know that many people in the F.B.I.”

Correction: May 11, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated the middle initial for the deputy attorney general. He is Rod J. Rosenstein, not Rod S. Rosenstein.

Continue reading the main story

Russia ‘full-scope cyber actor’ that will remain ‘major threat’ to US ‒ intel director

Russia 'full-scope cyber actor' that will remain 'major threat' to US ‒ intel director
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has accused Russia of being a “full-scope cyber actor” that will remain a “major threat” to the US government. The DNI made the comments during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats.

Coats was joined by several other heads of the intelligence community: CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Robert Cardillo.

The panel discussed worldwide threats to the US, ranging from cybersecurity dangers by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran to international crises involving North Korea and terrorism.

“I understand that many people tuned in today are hopeful we’ll focus solely on the Russian investigation of their involvement in our elections. Let me disappoint everybody up front,” Chair Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said in his opening statement. “While the committee certainly views Russian intervention in our elections as a significant threat, the purpose of today’s hearing is to review and highlight to the extent possible the ranges of threats that we face as a nation.”

Despite Burr’s intentions, much of the focus, especially from Democrats, was dominated by discussions of alleged Russian cyber penetration into the US and French presidential elections, as well as the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. McCabe took the place of former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired on Tuesday.

Russia is ‘greatest threat of any nation on Earth’ – FBI director https://on.rt.com/8apd 

‘Russian interference’

Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Virginia) immediately began focusing on Russia, Comey’s firing and the FBI probe. He asked if the intel community’s late January assessment accurately characterized Russian interference in the 2016 election, to which the entire panel answered yes.

He also asked about the alleged Russian hacking in the French presidential election. On Tuesday, Rogers informed a different Senate committee that the US notified French officials that it had found evidence of Russian hacking. Warner wanted to know what the US is doing to prevent future Russian interference.

In his written testimony, Coats discussed how Russian interference has advanced.

“Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture,” which “was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election,” and that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the… data thefts and disclosures,” he wrote.

It has also spread elsewhere, including Montenegro and Ukraine, Coats told the senators, especially with its manipulation of social media. Russia is a “great threat to democratic process,” he said, accusing Moscow of seeking to “maintain control over Kiev and frustrating European integration” in 2017.

Pompeo also cited the importance of social media as a tool for Russian cyber interference, saying it presents a continuing threat.

“There’s nothing new, only the cost has been lowered,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in other countries’ elections and internal politics. Several members of the intelligence community have admitted that the alleged Russian interference in the US would have been about changing minds, but didn’t change physical votes.

Other cyber threats

Echoing Rogers’ testimony on cybersecurity in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the panel discussed other countries ‒ specifically China, Iran and North Korea ‒ that are involved in cyber warfare and hacking.

“Our adversaries are becoming bolder, more capable and more adept at using cyberspace to threaten our interests and shape real-world outcomes,” said Coats. “And the number of adversaries grows as nation states, terrorist groups, criminal organizations and others continue to develop cyber capabilities.”

China is targeting both the US government and American companies, Coats said, but noted that the attacks have decreased since Washington and Beijing reached a “common understanding”on cyber spying in 2015. Tehran is making use of its high-tech capabilities, Coats said, outlining a 2013 Iranian hacking incident and a 2014 data-deletion attack. North Korea “previously conducted cyber-attacks against US commercial entities,” he said in his written testimony, citing the 2014 Sony hack, and “remains capable of launching disruptive or destructive cyber attacks to support its political objectives” against both the US and its allies.

Although Rogers noted on Monday that US Cyber Command, which he also heads, is “still trying to find a way forward” on creating a cybersecurity plan, Pompeo praised the Trump administration’s headway in the area.

“This administration has reentered the battlespace in places the previous administration was absent,” the CIA director said.

Coats, however, sided with Rogers, telling Senator John Lankford (R-Oklahoma): “All of us would agree we need a cyber doctrine.”

North Korea

Amid rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, Coats described North Korea as a “very significant, potentially existential” threat to the US, while Pompeo told Sen. Angus King (I-Maine): “We haven’t seen anything that would make any of us feel any better about this threat.”

However, the CIA director told Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), “the Chinese have made efforts they have not made before” using trade, including restricting coal, but noted that Beijing can do more to pressure Pyongyang on its nuclear program. Coats agreed with that assessment, telling Feinstein that “interaction with the Chinese of late, we think, can play a significant role in terms of how we deal with this.”

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula https://on.rt.com/8b75 

Photo published for China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

Beijing has tested a new missile close to the Korean peninsula amid heightened tensions in the region, after North Korea, South Korea, and the US recently conducted military drills in the area.

rt.com

On the reclusive country’s increased testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, Stewart of the DIA warned that, although North Korea hasn’t yet carried out a complete test of ICBM with a nuclear device, “they’re going to put those two together at some point.”

The panel declined to answer many of the senators’ questions on North Korea, preferring instead to reserve their responses for a second, closed hearing on Thursday afternoon.

War on Terror

Afghanistan, where the US “war on terrorism” began shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is a major concern, Stewart told Burr. “Unless we change something, such as inserting US forces or NATO forces, that changes the balance of forces on the ground… the situation will continue to deteriorate” and all the gains of the past several years will be lost.

militants developing own social media platform, ‘its own part of the internet to run its agenda’ https://on.rt.com/8amo 

Referencing Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Coats said the terrorist group “will continue to be a threat to the US,” as it “maintains the intent and capability to direct, enable, assist, and inspire transnational attacks.”

“This threat will persist with many attacks happening with little or no warning,” he said.

Russia’s Gazprom starts building TurkStream gas pipeline under Black Sea

Russia’s Gazprom has begun construction on the TurkStream gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey. Feeder lines are planned to also supply EU markets.

Ostsee Pipelineverlegeschiff Solitaire von Allseas (picture-alliance/dpa/Allseas)

Russian gas giant Gazprom said Sunday it had started construction of a gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey that also aims to provide gas to the European Union.

Gazprom said its Swiss partner Allseas Group’s vessel Audacia had started laying pipes on the Russian shore of the Black Sea.

“By late 2019, our Turkish and European consumers will have a new, reliable source of Russian gas imports,” Alexey Miller, Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward the TurkStream project in 2014 after plans to build a gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, known as South Stream, collapsed under EU pressure during the Ukraine crisis.

The project was later put on ice after Turkey shot down a Russian jet along the Syrian border, triggering a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The plan was revived after the two sides reconciled their some of their differences in October last year.

Russland Gasförderung (Getty Images/AFP/O. Maltseva)A Nord Stream pipeline operator in northwestern Russia

From southern Russia to northwestern Turkey

TurkStream will run from near Anapa in southern Russia under the Black Sea to northwestern Turkey. A planned feeder line to Greece would then bring gas onwards to southern and southeastern Europe.  Two lines each with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters (1.1 trillion cubic feet) will be built.

For Russia, which is already Turkey’s largest gas provider, the pipeline would allow it to reduce dependence on Ukraine and Eastern Europe for transporting gas while helping to further seal its dominance over European gas markets.

Turkey aims to become a regional oil and gas hub for energy from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean in order to ensure domestic energy security and cement the country’s geostrategic importance.

Infografik Karte Gazprom Turkish Stream englisch

 

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