US Public Might Not Be Told About Foreign Efforts to Alter Next Election

Senior U.S. officials say they are already busy buttressing the nation’s defenses against foreign interference for the 2020 presidential election. Only they admit the public may be kept in the dark about attacks and intrusions.

Intelligence and election security officials have warned repeatedly that Russia, among other state and nonstate actors, remains intent on disrupting the upcoming elections and that the Kremlin may even have gone easy on the U.S. during the 2016 midterm elections, seeing the ability to impact the 2020 presidential race as the bigger prize.

At the same time, election and security officials have come under increased scrutiny for failing to reveal the size and scope of Russia’s efforts to hack into voter databases and other critical systems.

In April, special counsel Robert Mueller released his report into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as well as allegations of obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Florida representatives

In May, two U.S. representatives from Florida, Republican Michael Waltz and Democrat Stephanie Murphy, wrote to the FBI and Justice Department, demanding a classified briefing on the extent of Russia’s exploits after the Mueller report indicated Moscow managed to infiltrate critical systems in at least one county during the 2016 presidential election.

“Florida voters have the right to know the extent to which foreign actors may have breached our state’s election security systems, and what the federal government is doing to prevent it from happening again,” Murphy said in a statement.

Senior Trump administration officials, however, cautioned Monday they may decide to keep information like that from the public.

“There are hard choices to be made,” one official told reporters while briefing them on efforts to protect the 2020 election from foreign interference.

“The ultimate question is going to be whether the federal or national interests in doing so — publicly disclosing it — outweigh any counter veiling consideration,” the official added.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials said the ability to disclose information can often be limited by the need to protect the sources and methods that discovered the attacks or intrusions in the first place.

Impact on victims

There are also concerns about the impact on the victims.

“Victims who work with the FBI do so because they trust that we’ll protect and handle their information appropriately,” a senior law enforcement official said. “For example, the majority of technical information that we were able to give election officials during the 2016 time frame was initiated from this type of trusted outreach.”

In cases involving foreign influence campaigns, the decision to make them public can be even more difficult.

“Disclosing a foreign influence operation might do more harm than good because it might draw more attention to an operation that would otherwise go unnoticed,” the senior administration official said.

A senior intelligence official agreed that in some cases, the less said, the better.

“It’s less about highlighting for the public that there might be a problem,” the official said. “We actually want to stop it from happening, whether we do that through cyber channels or diplomatic channels or other operations.”

2020 campaign

With the 2020 presidential campaign getting under way, intelligence agencies, along with the Department of Homeland Security and FBI, have set about briefing the candidates and making them aware of the resources available should their campaign come under attack.

There are also increased efforts to reach out to U.S. state and local officials to make sure they have the information they need to protect their voter databases and election systems from attacks.

Officials said there have even been ongoing discussions with the private sector, both those that provide voting machines and other election infrastructure, as well as with social media companies.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

US Treasury Inspector to Look Into Delay of New Tubman $20 Bill

The U.S. Treasury inspector general says he will look into why the Trump administration decided to scrap plans to put escaped slave turned abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the move last month, saying the change is because of “counterfeiting issues.”

But Democratic Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer said he is not satisfied with Mnuchin’s vague explanation, saying it lacked credibility.

He asked the Treasury’s watchdog to investigate the circumstances “including any involvement by the White House.”

“There are no women, there are no people of color on our paper currency today even though they make up a significant majority of our population,” Schumer said.

The redesigned bill was to have entered circulation next year, but Mnuchin said it will be put off until 2028. It is also unclear whether Tubman will still be on the new bill when it is finally rolled out.

He said the “imagery feature” (who will appear on the bill) will not be a matter until long after he and U.S. President Donald Trump are out of office.

The $20 bill currently features a picture of 19th century U.S. President Andrew Jackson. Jackson owned slaves and forced Native Americans out of their ancestral lands in the southeastern U.S. leading to the deaths of thousands of Indians. 

The move to replace Jackson, preferably with a historically-important woman, was announced during the Obama administration. 

Tubman was chosen from an online poll of Americans.

President Trump is said to be an admirer of Andrew Jackson — not because of Jackson’s racism — but because Trump regards him as a populist and anti-establishment. 

Trump called replacing Jackson with Tubman “pure political correctness” and proposed putting Tubman on the $2 bill, which is rarely printed. 

Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in Maryland as a young woman and returned to the southern U.S. to help other slaves escape and to work as a union government spy during the Civil War.

She was thought to be in her early 90s when she died in 1913.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Brazil’s Bolsonaro to Meet China’s Xi for First Time at G-20

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who criticized China last year for “buying” up his country, will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time on the sidelines of this week’s G-20 meeting in Japan, his office said on Monday.

Bolsonaro, a far-right firebrand, has softened his stance on Brazil’s largest trading partner since taking office in January and will meet with Xi for 40 minutes on Friday morning before the summit of leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies kicks off in Osaka, according to the schedule released by his office.

A representative of China’s embassy in Brazil said the two countries were discussing a bilateral meeting, although the details had yet to be agreed to. Given the packed schedule at the G-20, any bilateral meeting would likely be informal and brief, the diplomat said, speaking on background.

China is by far the largest buyer of Brazilian soybeans and iron ore, and Brazil hopes to upgrade its commodities exports to include products with greater added value.

Bolsonaro expressed concern about Chinese domination during his election campaign. Citing the purchase of electrical assets by Chinese companies, he complained that “China isn’t buying in Brazil, China is buying Brazil.”

But he has dropped his criticisms as the reality of Brazil’s dependence on the Chinese market set in.

His vice president, retired general Hamilton Mourao, visited Beijing in May to resume high-level talks that had stalled under the previous government. Mourao’s visit followed Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina’s mission to China seeking to widen food sales to China.

Mourao met in Beijing with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Chief Executive Ren Zhengfei and later told journalists that Brazil had no plans to follow the United States in barring the Chinese telecom company’s participation when Latin America’s largest country launches its 5G network next year.

Washington has asked countries to reject Huawei technology in the development of new mobile phone networks due to security concerns.

Bolsonaro and Xi are expected to discuss a date for the Brazilian leader’s planned visit to Beijing later this year, before Xi visits Brazil in November for the summit of the BRICS leading emerging economies.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Italian Mafia Don Escapes From Uruguayan Prison

A notorious Italian Mafia boss has escaped from a prison in Uruguay where he was awaiting extradition to Italy. 

Rocco Morabito and three other inmates got out of  the National Institute of Rehabilitation in Montevideo “through the roof,” the Uruguayan interior ministry said Monday.  

The fugitives made their way to a nearby farm and robbed its owner, the ministry statement said. 

A member of the Ndrangheta or Calabrian cartel, Morabito has been one of Italy’s most-wanted fugitives since 1994. He was arrested in Uruguay in 2017 after more than 20 years on the run.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison by an Italian court, Prosecutors say Morabito was instrumental in drug trafficking operations between South America and Milan. 

“It’s disconcerting and serious that a criminal like Rocco Morabito, a boss of Ndrangheta, has  managed to escape from an Uruguay prison while waiting to be extradited to Italy,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Twitter. “I’m making two pledges: shedding full light on the escape, asking for immediate explanations from the Montevideo government, and chasing Morabito, wherever he is, to throw him in prison as he deserves.”

When he was arrested, Morabito had been living a life of luxury under a false Brazilian identity with fake Portuguese passports.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Ethiopia Hunts for Plotter of Failed Coup in Amhara Region

Ethiopian security is hunting for the leader of the failed coup in the northern Amhara region where security is tight, as well as in the capital, Addis Ababa.
An internet shutdown remains in force across the country, following the assassinations of Amhara’s governor and an adviser in the regional capital, Bahir Dar, Saturday. Later in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s military chief was shot dead by his own bodyguard who also killed a visiting retired general.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that Brig. Gen. Asamnew Tsige masterminded the plot. Ethiopian officials said that Asamnew has not yet been arrested.
Ethiopian military have set up checkpoints in the capital and in the Amhara region.
Flags are flying at half-mast Monday which has been declared a day of national mourning following the four killings.



Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Domestic Quarrel Disrupts Boris Johnson’s Britain Leadership Bid

A plate-hurling, screaming quarrel with his latest girlfriend has turned the spotlight fully on where Boris Johnson’s advisers didn’t want it — on his character and chaotic private life, which even his friends have described as “unruly.”

The altercation, recorded by neighbors in south London who phoned the police, has thrown a wrench into Johnson’s smooth-running campaign to succeed Theresa May as Britain’s prime minister, which commentators say is his race to lose.

His bid to win a leadership contest, which is now in its final stages after lawmakers whittled down in knockout ballots the succession choice to two candidates for the party’s 160,000 members to vote on by mail, has been built on avoiding television debates and dodging journalists.

Johnson has refused to answer questions about the screaming match in the apartment of his girlfriend, 31-year-old Carrie Symonds, but calls are mounting on the 55-year-old to address questions about the altercation on Friday.

Johnson ended a 25-year-long marriage, his second divorce, to move in last year with the younger Symonds, but his unruly private life has been marked by serial relationships, children fathered out of wedlock and terminated pregnancies.

The quarrel has allowed his remaining opponent in the leadership race, the country’s current and normally mild-mannered foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, to pile on the pressure and to launch Monday an uncharacteristically personal attack on his rival, accusing him of being a “coward” by trying to avoid public scrutiny and “slink through the back door” of Downing Street.

Johnson, who was finally backed by more than half of Conservative lawmakers to be the new party leader has appeared on only one TV debate and granted a single short broadcast interview and one newspaper interview. Hunt says the public want a “fair and open contest, not one that one side is trying to rig to avoid scrutiny.”

He added: “One of the strengths of our system is that we scrutinize our politicians with more intelligent ferocity than anywhere else in the World. But in this case it just isn’t happening. Nothing could be worse for a new prime minister in these challenging times than to come to power with a fake contest.”

FILE – Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing Street, London, Britain, Nov. 13, 2018.

Hunt’s aides say it is especially important for May’s successor to be scrutinized closely as they will be entering Downing Street not via a general election but through a party vote with their democratic legitimacy questioned because the country as a whole would not have had any say in their selection.

Hunt says he doesn’t want to quiz Johnson, a former two-term London mayor and short-lived foreign minister, about his private life, but about his claim that he can “guarantee” Britain will leave the European Union by October 31, the latest deadline for the country’s exit from the bloc.

But while Hunt is avoiding focusing directly on Johnson’s character, some of his aides are happily fanning the flames and briefing reporters behind the scenes that the frontrunner’s highly colorful private life represents a security risk.  It could leave him vulnerable to leaks about past behavior and even open to blackmail by foreign powers, they charge.

The accusation has infuriated Johnson supporters, who say the explosive argument between Symonds and Johnson was just a normal domestic “tiff” apparently provoked by Johnson spilling red wine on a sofa. They maintain the quarrel was blown out of proportion by neighbors who are politically motivated. The police left without charging anyone.

Nonetheless, the dispute, which is depressing Johnson’s poll numbers, is contributing to a picture of a Conservative party in disarray and fearful that it is facing an existential crisis because of Brexit. It comes as pro-European Union Conservatives have started to plot a strategy to wreck a Johnson-led government, if he seeks to take Britain out of the European bloc without an exit deal approved by Brussels.

Sharp divisions between Brexiters and pro-EU lawmakers wrecked Theresa May’s prime ministership and there are growing signs that it might quickly upend Johnson’s, too, if he wins the leadership race.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside her official residence of 10 Downing Street in London, April 18, 2017.

May’s fate was sealed when the British House of Commons declined three times to approve a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement she negotiated with Brussels — a deal vehemently opposed by a third of her own parliamentary party on the grounds it would keep Britain subservient to EU regulations and rules and prevent it from negotiating trade deals bilaterally with non-EU countries.
Europhiles are also opposed to the deal. Several top Conservatives who want to retain close ties with the EU have warned they could join opposition parties in a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons and bring down a Johnson government.

A former Conservative attorney-general, Dominic Grieve, said: “If the new prime minister announces that he is taking the country on a magical mystery tour towards an October 31 crash-out, I don’t think that prime minister is going to survive very long.”

Even Britain’s current top finance minister, Philip Hammond, has warned the next prime minister “will not survive,” if they seek to leave the EU without a deal. He has declined publicly to rule out that he would vote with opposition parties against Johnson, if he sought a no-deal Brexit.

Britain’s fractious Conservatives are ruling as a minority government, and they rely on the support of a Northern Irish party to give them a working majority of just three in the House of Commons. A handful of Conservative standouts could trigger a chain of events leading to an early election the Conservatives are unlikely to win.

Johnson’s supporters say he remains the favorite of party activists because he has the star quality the party needs to win elections and curb both the populist threat from Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party and combat Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

They also claim he has the political inventiveness to break the Brexit deadlock that has turned traditional British politics upside down and might even have the ability to persuade hardline Brexiters to accept a compromise and something short of their objective to break completely with the EU.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

UN: Hong Kong Should Consult Broadly on Extradition Bill

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging Hong Kong authorities to “consult broadly before passing or amending” an extradition bill or “any other legislation,” as protests in the autonomous territory continue.

Speaking at the opening of a three-week session of Human Right Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Michelle Bachelet also said that she continues to discuss with China issues related to Xinjiang, including allowing “unfettered access” to the western region, and other matters.

U.N. observers and activists say that about one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centers in Xinjiang. The international community has condemned China for setting up such complexes which Beijing describes as “education training centers” helping to eradicate extremism and give people new skills.

Hong Kong protesters blocked access to a Hong Kong government office building for about two hours Monday and plan another demonstration Wednesday to raise awareness among leaders attending the G-20 summit this week in Japan.

Thousands of student protesters dressed in black have been marching in Hong Kong for weeks, demanding the full withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill and the resignation of the territory’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam.

Last week, Lam offered an apology for the political crisis and unrest sparked by the proposed law.

The Hong Kong protests pose the greatest challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took office in 2012. The Chinese government had supported the extradition proposal, and accused protest organizers of colluding with Western governments.

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said President Donald Trump plans to discuss the Hong Kong issue with Xi at the upcoming G-20 summit.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

US Set to Introduce New Iran Sanctions

VOA’s national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

The United States is set to introduce new sanctions against Iran on Monday, seeking to put additional pressure on the country’s economy in order to extract changes in behavior from its government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the new measures “significant,” but declined to give specific details to reporters ahead of the official announcement.

He spoke just before embarking on a trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to continue the Trump administration’s effort to build a coalition of allies to counter Iran.  Pompeo met Monday with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The world should know that we will continue to make sure it’s understood that this effort that we’ve engaged in to deny Iran the resources to foment terror, to build out their nuclear weapon system, to built out their missile program, we are going to deny them the resources they need to do that thereby keeping American interests and American people safe all around the world,” Pompeo said.

Iran has denied working on nuclear weapons and signed an agreement in 2015 with the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany to allay those concerns by limited its nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief.

But U.S.-Iran relations have deteriorated under President Donald Trump’s tenure, particularly since his decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal and put in place new economic sanctions.

Trump objected to the deal as being too weak and not including limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program.

US Iran sanctions

Iran has defended its missile work as legal and necessary for its defense.  And it has sought support from the remaining signatories to the 2015 agreement to provide the economic relief it desires, especially with its key oil program as the U.S. has tightened sanctions in an attempt to cut off Iranian oil exports.

Pompeo said the new sanctions Monday “will be a further effort to ensure that their capacity not only to grow their economy but to evade sanctions becomes more and more difficult, and it will be an important addition to our capacity to enforce sanctions against Iran to ultimately achieve the objective that we’ve laid out.”

Trump said in a series of tweets Saturday about the sanctions that he looks forward to the day when “sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous national again — The sooner the better!”

He also said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that he is “not looking for war” with Iran and is willing to negotiate with its leaders without preconditions.

The comments came after a week of intense actions between the United States and Iran.

Concern about a potential armed confrontation between the two countries has been growing since U.S. officials recently blamed Tehran for mine attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, allegations Tehran denies, and Iran’s downing of of a U.S. drone.

Trump said that late Thursday he had canceled a retaliatory strike against several Iranian targets. But on Thursday, according to U.S. news accounts, Trump also approved U.S. Cyber Command attacks on an Iranian intelligence group’s computer systems used to control missile and rocket launches.  

World powers have called for calm after the incidents.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Trump: ‘Not Looking for War’ With Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is “not looking for war” with Iran and willing to negotiate with its leaders without preconditions, but that under no circumstances can the Islamic Republic be allowed to mass a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Trump told NBC’s Meet the Press show that if the U.S. went to war with Iran, “It’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”

“But,” he added, “I’m not looking to do that.”

The U.S. leader said, “Here it is. Look, you can’t have nuclear weapons. And if you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise, you can live in a shattered economy for a long time.”

Trump’s comments, taped Friday, were aired after he announced Saturday, without providing any details, that he plans to impose “major” new sanctions on Iran on Monday. He said the sanctions would be dropped as soon as the country becomes “a productive and prosperous nation again.”

Iran cannot have Nuclear Weapons! Under the terrible Obama plan, they would have been on their way to Nuclear in a short number of years, and existing verification is not acceptable. We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday. I look forward to the day that…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2019

Two other key U.S. officials, national security adviser John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, issued new warnings to Iran that Trump’s last-minute decision to not militarily retaliate for Tehran’s Thursday shoot-down of an unmanned U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz should not be viewed as a sign of “weakness.”

National security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters about Venezuela, outside the White House, May 1, 2019, in Washington.

“Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness,” Bolton said in Jerusalem ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East,” Bolton said of Iran. “Our military is rebuilt new and ready to go.”

Pence told the CNN television network, “Iran must not take restraint for a lack of resolve. This is a president who hopes for the best for the Iranian people…but we will stand up to their provocations.”

Bolton said existing sanctions against Tehran already are having a sharp effect on the Tehran economy.

“Sanctions are biting,” he said. “Iran can never have nuclear weapons — not against the U.S.A. and not against the world.”

Trump spoke with reporters Saturday at the White House before leaving for the presidential retreat at Camp David outside Washington for a meeting with top administration officials, at one point saying as soon as Tehran agreed to renounce nuclear weapons, “I’m going to be their best friend.”

Trump’s tone was much softer on Saturday after a week of intense actions between the U.S. and Iran.

Concern about a potential armed confrontation between the U.S. and Iran has been growing since U.S. officials recently blamed Tehran for mine attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, allegations Tehran denies, and Iran’s downing of the drone.

On Friday, Trump said that he had canceled late Thursday a retaliatory strike against several Iranian targets.

He tweeted that the United States was “cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” Trump tweeted, saying the action would have been disproportionate.

Pence said the U.S. was “not convinced” the downing of the drone “was authorized at the highest level” of the Iranian government. As Trump weighed how to respond last week, he said the shoot-down might have been launched on orders of a “loose and stupid” Iranian officer.

World powers have called for calm after the incidents.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged for a political resolution of the crisis. “That is what we are working on,” she told Reuters.

On Sunday, Britain’s Middle East minister, Andrew Murrison, will travel to Tehran for talks with Iranian officials.

Britain’s Foreign Office said Murrison would call for “urgent de-escalation in the region.” He will also discuss Iran’s threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal that the United States pulled out of last year.  

James Phillips, a senior researcher at the conservative Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said he believes the immediate risk of a U.S.-Iran conflict has passed.

“It’s probably over as far as the incident goes with the shoot down of the drone. But, I think if there are further provocations, the president will respond in a strong and effective manner,” he said.

Phillips also said he does not expect Tehran to accept U.S. calls for negotiations while Trump continues a “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions on Iran. “I doubt that Tehran will be serious until it sees who wins the next presidential election,” he said.

The U.S. announced this week it was authorizing another 1,000 troops — including a Patriot missile battery and additional manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft to bolster defenses at U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...