Posts Tagged ‘CIA’

Arabian Game Of Thrones Heats Up

October 17, 2018

The reported torture, murder, and dismemberment of Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate-general in Istanbul reminded the world that an intense power play is now taking place within the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula and between them.

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

In November 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the arrest and detention at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton Hotel of over 200 members of the Saudi royal family, including eleven rival princes, as well as government ministers and influential businessmen. That came after an October 2017 meeting in Riyadh between MBS and Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, conclave that lasted well into the early morning hours. At the meeting, Kushner is said to have turned over to MBS a list of the names of the Crown Prince’s opponents: leading figures of the Saudi royal house, government, and major businesses.

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The list may have also contained the name “Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi.”

The list of Saudi names was, reportedly, compiled by Kushner from top secret special code word documents he had specifically requested from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency. The documents were specifically requested by Kushner, not because he was an expert in communications intercepts, but because he likely had a control officer who told him what files to obtain. The Kushner family have longstanding ties to the Israeli Likud Party, as well as the Mossad intelligence service. The Mossad enjoys a close working relationship with the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, which is now firmly committed to MBS after a previous purge of its upper ranks following MBS’s rise to the heir apparent position in the House of Saud.

Those on the list handed over to MBS by Kushner were all subjects of NSA and CIA communications intercepts of phone calls, video conferences, and emails.Kushner is said to have had a phone conversation with MBS a day before Khashoggi was murdered.

Reports from U.S. intelligence sources report that the NSA had intercepted high-level communications between the Saudi government in Riyadh and the Saudi consulate-general in Istanbul indicating thatthere was a plot afoot to either kidnap Khashoggi and fly him back to Riyadh or murder him on the spot.Kidnapping and detention is definitely part of MBS’s playbook as seen with his kidnapping and detention in Riyadh on November 3, 2017 of arriving Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. No sooner had Hariri’s plane touched down in Riyadh, was his cell phone confiscated by the Saudis and he was detained. Hariri was forced to resign in a forced statement read by him on a Saudi television network. MBS was hoping to replace Hariri with his older estranged brother, Bahaa Hariri, someone that MBS had in his pocket.

MBS had bragged to close advisers that he also had Jared Kushner “in his pocket.” Lebanese President Michel Aoun demanded Hariri’s immediate release by the Saudi regime and his return to Beirut. Just as Riyadh denied it had murdered Khashoggi, it refused to admit that it was holding Hariri against his will. MBS ordered Hariri flown to Abu Dhabi to meet with MBS’s on-and-off-again ally, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the heir apparent to the presidency of the United Arab EmiratesAt the age of 57, MBZ is not as brash as the young and impetuous MBS. This has been witnessed by MBZ’s willingness to work with Jordanian King Abdullah II to seek an accommodation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. MBS is reportedly furious with MBZ and Abdullah, the latter a member of the Hashemite family, who were ejected from their rule over Mecca and Medina by the British and Sauds, following World War I. Ever since the Hashemites’ loss of the Hejaz region of Arabia to the radical Wahhabist Sauds, there has been bad blood between Riyadh and Amman.

MBS is also upset over MBZ’s support for rival claimants to power in South Yemen. MBS is supporting the rump Yemeni government, much of it in exile in Saudi Arabia, against the Iranian-supported Houthi government ruling from Sana’a in north Yemen in a bloody and genocidal war being orchestrated by Riyadh, with the support of the Trump adminstration and the Israeli regime.

The UAE has been supporting the Southern Transition Council (STC), which strives for South Yemen’s reversion to an independent state, a status it enjoyed before a forced merger with north Yemen in 1990. Caught in the middle are forces loyal to Sheikh Abdullah bin Issa al Aafrar, the Sultan of the Mahra State, which was disestablished when South Yemen achieved independence in 1967. The Mahra Sultan, who is living in the neighboring Sultanate of Oman, under Sultan Qabus bin Said’s protection, is also in the gun sights of MBS, who does not want any competition for Saudi control of all of Yemen.

Oman is reportedly backing the Al-Mahra and Socotra People’s General Council, which is composed of the Mahra Sultan and Mahri tribal elders. This rival governing authority wants to be free of any control by the Saudi, Emirati, Houthi, and the pro-Saudi Yemen government. Through the offices of Oman’s mission to the United Nations, the General Council has been in direct contact with the UN Security Council. The STC also includes members of the tribes and royal families of other former states of the British colonial era Federation of Arab Emirates of the South and Protectorate of South Arabia. These include the Kathiri State, Sultanate of Lahej, the Qu’aiti State of Hadhramaut, and the Emirates of Dhala and Beihan.

MBS is known to be angling to select the successor to Qabus, who has no children and has been a thorn in Riyadh’s side. Under Qabus, Oman has been friendly to Iran and the Assad government in Syria, as well as Qatar, where the 36-year old Emir, Tamim bin Hamad, has infuriated MBS by maintaining relations with Iran. In 2013, Tamim’s father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, formally abdicated the throne in favor of his son. However, it is well known that Hamad still pulls the strings in Doha. In 1995, Hamad deposed his father, Khalifa BIN Hamad al Thani, who was undergoing medical treatment in Geneva. In 1972, Khalifa ousted his cousin, Ahmad, while he was on a hunting trip in Iran. Ahmad settled in Dubai, where he married the daughter of the Emir of Dubai. MBS and MBZ are anxious to prop up a rival to the current Qatari emir from the ranks of potential claimants to the throne in Doha, including two rival al-Thani clan members who the Saudis have claimed have rightful claims to the Qatari throne – Abdulla bin Ali Al Thani and Sultan bin Suhaim Al Thani.

MBS, along with all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, have instituted a punishing economic and diplomatic embargo on Qatar.There is some speculation in the Middle East that MBS is quietly backing to succeed Qabus, Taimur bin Assad, the 37-year old son of Qabus’s cousin, Said Assad bin Tariq. As the deputy prime minister for international cooperation, Said Assad bin Tariq was designated as the official heir to the ailing Qabus.

In this Arabian “Game of Thrones,” MBZ may have his own favorites among other claimants to the sultan’s throne in Muscat.These include Said Assad bin Tariq’s half-brothers, Haitham bin Tariq, currently the culture minister, and Shihab bin Tariq, a former commander of the Omani navy. MBZ is reportedly running a network of spies within the Omani royal court to influence the succession to Qabus. There is another, non-Arabian prince, who could also have a great deal of influence in the Omani royal succession. He is the Prince of Wales, Charles, the future King of England, who has been a longtime friend and confidante of Sultan Qabus.

Oman and Qatar have their own agents of influence within the royal families of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. In July, Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad al-Sharqi, the second-in-line for the throne in Fujairah, the UAE emirate that borders Oman, turned up in Qatar to ask for asylum. He said that MBZ’s government was using extortion to eke out transfers of large sums of cash by Emirati royal families to unknown parties around the world, including those in Ukraine, India, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. The UAE, along with the Saudis, are major financial supporters of jihadist elements around the world. Sheikh Rashid has also provided Qatari intelligence with details of discontent among the emirates of the dictatorial policies of MBZ in Abu Dhabi. The other emirs are also critical of the UAE’s involvement in the genocidal civil war in Yemen, one in which troops from Fujairah, Umm al Quwain, Ajman, Sharjah, and Ras al Khaimah, are used for cannon fodder, while those from the wealthier Abu Dhabi and Dubai avoid frontline combat.

Recently, the Saudis have pressured their puppet king in Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to fire his uncle, Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.Prince Khalifa is the world’s longest-serving prime minister. However, he has apparently irritated MBS with his work to protect the rights of foreign workers, including those from the Philippines and south Asia, in Bahrain and the wider Gulf region.

MBS and Kushner are known to view Iran as the chief threat to peace in the Middle East. MBZ shares in their view of Iran,something that is, apparently, not shared by the emirates of the northern Gulf region, including Fujairah. From their actions, MBS and MBZ are, along with their Israeli and American allies, the major threat to peace in the region. The assassination of a journalist resident in the United States in a third country, Turkey, and the kidnapping and house arrest of a sitting prime minister of another nation is unprecedented behavior in the Middle East. The Saudis are only matched by Israel in their total disregard for international norms of behavior in the Middle Eastern region as they and their cohorts engage in their bloody “Game of Thrones.”


The Origins of Progressive Agony

October 17, 2018

In the wake of Obama, the Democratic party was a shipwreck, to be saved only by Hillary and the Supreme Court . . .

What has transformed the Democratic party into an anguished progressive movement that incorporates the tactics of the street, embraces maenadism, reverts to Sixties carnival barking, and is radicalized by a new young socialist movement? Even party chairman Tom Perez concedes that there are “no moderate Democrats left,” and lately the rantings of Cory Booker, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez confirm that diagnosis.

Obama, the Fallen God

Paradoxically, Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and 2012 and yet helped to erode the old Democratic party in the process. He ended up in opulent retirement while ceding state legislatures, governorships, the House, the Senate, the presidency, and the Supreme Court to conservative Republicans.

Obama had promised leftists — in his prior brief tenure in the Senate he had compiled the most partisan record of his 99 colleagues — that his social-justice methods and agendas would lead to a proverbial “permanent Democratic majority.” Do we remember the February 2009 Newsweek obsequious cover story “We Are All Socialists Now”?

By Victor Davis Hansen
National Review

Protesters gather in front of the doors of the Supreme Court as Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in, October 6, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Pence accuses China of ‘malign’ campaign to undermine U.S., Trump administration

October 5, 2018

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence intensified Washington’s pressure campaign against Beijing on Thursday by accusing China of “malign” efforts to undermine President Donald Trump ahead of next month’s congressional elections and reckless military actions in the South China Sea.

In what was billed as a major policy address, Pence sought to build on Trump’s speech at the United Nations last week in which he accused China of trying to interfere in the vote that will determine whether his Republican Party will keep control of Congress.

Neither Trump nor Pence provided hard evidence of meddling by China, which last week rejected the president’s allegation.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute, October 4, 2018.

Pence’s speech at Washington’s Hudson Institute marked a sharpened U.S. approach toward China going beyond the bitter trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. It highlighted disputes such as cyber attacks, Taiwan, freedom of the seas and human rights.

Pence said China was waging a sophisticated effort to sway the elections against the Republicans in retaliation for Trump’s trade policies. He vowed to continue to expose Beijing’s “malign influence and interference.”

Pence said Beijing, with an eye not only to the congressional elections but also to Trump’s 2020 re-election bid, had “mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies” and was targeting its tariffs to hurt states where Trump has strong support.

“China wants a different American president,” Pence said.

He said that in June, Beijing laid out its strategy in a sensitive “Propaganda and Censorship Notice” which stated that China must “strike accurately and carefully, splitting apart different domestic groups” in the United States.

The allegations, however, have raised questions as to whether Trump and his aides are trying to deflect attention from an investigation of his campaign’s possible ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and also set up China for blame if Republicans do poorly in November’s vote.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement that Pence in his speech had made “unwarranted accusations … and slandered China by claiming that China meddles in U.S. internal affairs and elections.”

China is committed to working with the United States for “non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” she said.


Washington has long cited China as a major culprit in the hacking of U.S. government and corporate databases. But U.S. officials and independent analysts say they have not detected the kind of systematic manipulation of social media and email hacking Russia was accused of in 2016.

Even so, Pence said: “As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the Washington Post this week there was no indication of any foreign effort to disrupt election infrastructure, but added that “we know they (China) have the capability and the will.”

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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

China expert Chris Johnson, a former CIA analyst now at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Pence’s speech appeared aimed in part at building a narrative that a vote for the Democrats would be vote for China.

“Another part of it is trying to distract attention from the real threat, which is Russia,” he said. “There’s nothing in that speech that rises to the level of 2016 Russian active measures.”

Trump has justified his trade policy by accusing China of stealing intellectual property and limiting access to its market. The two countries have imposed increasingly severe tariffs on each other.

Pence said Chinese security agencies had masterminded the “wholesale theft of American technology,” including military blueprints, and warned Washington would continue to take action.

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He urged Google (GOOGL.O) to end development of its “Dragonfly” app that would make it easier to track Internet searches and strengthen Chinese censorship.

Google declined comment, except to reiterate that its China search engine project was “exploratory” and not close to launch.

Bloomberg Businessweek cited 17 unidentified intelligence and company sources as saying that Chinese spies had placed computer chips in equipment used by about 30 firms, as well as multiple U.S. government agencies, which would give Beijing secret access to internal networks. Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Amazon (AMZN.O) denied the report.

Pence also said China had deployed anti-ship and anti-air missiles on artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, despite promises not to militarize them.

He accused Beijing of “reckless harassment” in an incident on Sunday in which a Chinese naval vessel nearly collided with a U.S. destroyer near the Spratly islands.

“We will not be intimidated,” Pence said of the operation, the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.

China said a Chinese warship had been sent to warn the U.S. vessel to leave an area of irrefutable Chinese sovereignty.

Pence accused China of using its economic power to bully smaller countries and said it had threatened the stability of the Taiwan Strait by pressuring three Latin American countries to sever ties with Taipei and recognize Beijing.

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Fighter jet from Taiwan keeps watch on a Chinese bomber

Pence also denounced Beijing’s crackdown on minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Last month, a U.N. rights panel said it had received credible reports that up to one million ethnic Uighurs may be held in extra-legal detention in Xinjiang, which China says faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists.

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Chinese soldiers and Uighur woman in Xinjiang (FILE photo)

U.S. officials have said they are considering targeted sanctions for human rights abuses.

Daniel Russel, Washington’s top diplomat for East Asia until last year, said there was a lot to dislike about China’s behavior. But he said the claim that China was working to defeat Trump at the ballot box “rings hollow” and the approach could be counterproductive.

“Even if you accept all of Pence’s complaints at face value, it’s hard to make the case that the administration’s Cold War-style vilification of China will be effective or beneficial to U.S. interests, since it’s clearly pushing Beijing to intransigence, not compromise.”

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Christopher Bing, Paresh Dave and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott and Grant McCool



The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate Amazon and Apple

October 4, 2018

The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies by compromising America’s technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with government and corporate sources.


In 2015, Inc. began quietly evaluating a startup called Elemental Technologies, a potential acquisition to help with a major expansion of its streaming video service, known today as Amazon Prime Video. Based in Portland, Ore., Elemental made software for compressing massive video files and formatting them for different devices. Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency. Elemental’s national security contracts weren’t the main reason for the proposed acquisition, but they fit nicely with Amazon’s government businesses, such as the highly secure cloud that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was building for the CIA.

To help with due diligence, AWS, which was overseeing the prospective acquisition, hired a third-party company to scrutinize Elemental’s security, according to one person familiar with the process. The first pass uncovered troubling issues, prompting AWS to take a closer look at Elemental’s main product: the expensive servers that customers installed in their networks to handle the video compression. These servers were assembled for Elemental by Super Micro Computer Inc., a San Jose-based company (commonly known as Supermicro) that’s also one of the world’s biggest suppliers of server motherboards, the fiberglass-mounted clusters of chips and capacitors that act as the neurons of data centers large and small. In late spring of 2015, Elemental’s staff boxed up several servers and sent them to Ontario, Canada, for the third-party security company to test, the person says.

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Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.

This attack was something graver than the software-based incidents the world has grown accustomed to seeing. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating, promising the kind of long-term, stealth access that spy agencies are willing to invest millions of dollars and many years to get.

There are two ways for spies to alter the guts of computer equipment. One, known as interdiction, consists of manipulating devices as they’re in transit from manufacturer to customer. This approach is favored by U.S. spy agencies, according to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The other method involves seeding changes from the very beginning.

One country in particular has an advantage executing this kind of attack: China, which by some estimates makes 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its PCs. Still, to actually accomplish a seeding attack would mean developing a deep understanding of a product’s design, manipulating components at the factory, and ensuring that the doctored devices made it through the global logistics chain to the desired location—a feat akin to throwing a stick in the Yangtze River upstream from Shanghai and ensuring that it washes ashore in Seattle. “Having a well-done, nation-state-level hardware implant surface would be like witnessing a unicorn jumping over a rainbow,” says Joe Grand, a hardware hacker and the founder of Grand Idea Studio Inc. “Hardware is just so far off the radar, it’s almost treated like black magic.”

But that’s just what U.S. investigators found: The chips had been inserted during the manufacturing process, two officials say, by operatives from a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. In Supermicro, China’s spies appear to have found a perfect conduit for what U.S. officials now describe as the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies.

One official says investigators found that it eventually affected almost 30 companies, including a major bank, government contractors, and the world’s most valuable company, Apple Inc. Apple was an important Supermicro customer and had planned to order more than 30,000 of its servers in two years for a new global network of data centers. Three senior insiders at Apple say that in the summer of 2015, it, too, found malicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple severed ties with Supermicro the following year, for what it described as unrelated reasons.

In emailed statements, Amazon (which announced its acquisition of Elemental in September 2015), Apple, and Supermicro disputed summaries of Bloomberg Businessweek’s reporting. “It’s untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental,” Amazon wrote. “On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, ‘hardware manipulations’ or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server,” Apple wrote. “We remain unaware of any such investigation,” wrote a spokesman for Supermicro, Perry Hayes. The Chinese government didn’t directly address questions about manipulation of Supermicro servers, issuing a statement that read, in part, “Supply chain safety in cyberspace is an issue of common concern, and China is also a victim.” The FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, representing the CIA and NSA, declined to comment.

Read: Statements from Amazon, Apple, Supermicro and Beijing

The companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who—in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration—detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation. One of those officials and two people inside AWS provided extensive information on how the attack played out at Elemental and Amazon; the official and one of the insiders also described Amazon’s cooperation with the government investigation. In addition to the three Apple insiders, four of the six U.S. officials confirmed that Apple was a victim. In all, 17 people confirmed the manipulation of Supermicro’s hardware and other elements of the attacks. The sources were granted anonymity because of the sensitive, and in some cases classified, nature of the information.

One government official says China’s goal was long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks. No consumer data is known to have been stolen.

The ramifications of the attack continue to play out. The Trump administration has made computer and networking hardware, including motherboards, a focus of its latest round of trade sanctions against China, and White House officials have made it clear they think companies will begin shifting their supply chains to other countries as a result. Such a shift might assuage officials who have been warning for years about the security of the supply chain—even though they’ve never disclosed a major reason for their concerns.

Back in 2006, three engineers in Oregon had a clever idea. Demand for mobile video was about to explode, and they predicted that broadcasters would be desperate to transform programs designed to fit TV screens into the various formats needed for viewing on smartphones, laptops, and other devices. To meet the anticipated demand, the engineers started Elemental Technologies, assembling what one former adviser to the company calls a genius team to write code that would adapt the superfast graphics chips being produced for high-end video-gaming machines. The resulting software dramatically reduced the time it took to process large video files. Elemental then loaded the software onto custom-built servers emblazoned with its leprechaun-green logos.

Elemental servers sold for as much as $100,000 each, at profit margins of as high as 70 percent, according to a former adviser to the company. Two of Elemental’s biggest early clients were the Mormon church, which used the technology to beam sermons to congregations around the world, and the adult film industry, which did not.

Elemental also started working with American spy agencies. In 2009 the company announced a development partnership with In-Q-Tel Inc., the CIA’s investment arm, a deal that paved the way for Elemental servers to be used in national security missions across the U.S. government. Public documents, including the company’s own promotional materials, show that the servers have been used inside Department of Defense data centers to process drone and surveillance-camera footage, on Navy warships to transmit feeds of airborne missions, and inside government buildings to enable secure videoconferencing. NASA, both houses of Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security have also been customers. This portfolio made Elemental a target for foreign adversaries.

Supermicro had been an obvious choice to build Elemental’s servers. Headquartered north of San Jose’s airport, up a smoggy stretch of Interstate 880, the company was founded by Charles Liang, a Taiwanese engineer who attended graduate school in Texas and then moved west to start Supermicro with his wife in 1993. Silicon Valley was then embracing outsourcing, forging a pathway from Taiwanese, and later Chinese, factories to American consumers, and Liang added a comforting advantage: Supermicro’s motherboards would be engineered mostly in San Jose, close to the company’s biggest clients, even if the products were manufactured overseas.

Today, Supermicro sells more server motherboards than almost anyone else. It also dominates the $1 billion market for boards used in special-purpose computers, from MRI machines to weapons systems. Its motherboards can be found in made-to-order server setups at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers, and web-hosting services, among other places. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, but its motherboards—its core product—are nearly all manufactured by contractors in China.

The company’s pitch to customers hinges on unmatched customization, made possible by hundreds of full-time engineers and a catalog encompassing more than 600 designs. The majority of its workforce in San Jose is Taiwanese or Chinese, and Mandarin is the preferred language, with hanzi filling the whiteboards, according to six former employees. Chinese pastries are delivered every week, and many routine calls are done twice, once for English-only workers and again in Mandarin. The latter are more productive, according to people who’ve been on both. These overseas ties, especially the widespread use of Mandarin, would have made it easier for China to gain an understanding of Supermicro’s operations and potentially to infiltrate the company. (A U.S. official says the government’s probe is still examining whether spies were planted inside Supermicro or other American companies to aid the attack.)

With more than 900 customers in 100 countries by 2015, Supermicro offered inroads to a bountiful collection of sensitive targets. “Think of Supermicro as the Microsoft of the hardware world,” says a former U.S. intelligence official who’s studied Supermicro and its business model. “Attacking Supermicro motherboards is like attacking Windows. It’s like attacking the whole world.”

Well before evidence of the attack surfaced inside the networks of U.S. companies, American intelligence sources were reporting that China’s spies had plans to introduce malicious microchips into the supply chain. The sources weren’t specific, according to a person familiar with the information they provided, and millions of motherboards are shipped into the U.S. annually. But in the first half of 2014, a different person briefed on high-level discussions says, intelligence officials went to the White House with something more concrete: China’s military was preparing to insert the chips into Supermicro motherboards bound for U.S. companies.

The specificity of the information was remarkable, but so were the challenges it posed. Issuing a broad warning to Supermicro’s customers could have crippled the company, a major American hardware maker, and it wasn’t clear from the intelligence whom the operation was targeting or what its ultimate aims were. Plus, without confirmation that anyone had been attacked, the FBI was limited in how it could respond. The White House requested periodic updates as information came in, the person familiar with the discussions says.

Apple made its discovery of suspicious chips inside Supermicro servers around May 2015, after detecting odd network activity and firmware problems, according to a person familiar with the timeline. Two of the senior Apple insiders say the company reported the incident to the FBI but kept details about what it had detected tightly held, even internally. Government investigators were still chasing clues on their own when Amazon made its discovery and gave them access to sabotaged hardware, according to one U.S. official. This created an invaluable opportunity for intelligence agencies and the FBI—by then running a full investigation led by its cyber- and counterintelligence teams—to see what the chips looked like and how they worked.

The chips on Elemental servers were designed to be as inconspicuous as possible, according to one person who saw a detailed report prepared for Amazon by its third-party security contractor, as well as a second person who saw digital photos and X-ray images of the chips incorporated into a later report prepared by Amazon’s security team. Gray or off-white in color, they looked more like signal conditioning couplers, another common motherboard component, than microchips, and so they were unlikely to be detectable without specialized equipment. Depending on the board model, the chips varied slightly in size, suggesting that the attackers had supplied different factories with different batches.

Officials familiar with the investigation say the primary role of implants such as these is to open doors that other attackers can go through. “Hardware attacks are about access,” as one former senior official puts it. In simplified terms, the implants on Supermicro hardware manipulated the core operating instructions that tell the server what to do as data move across a motherboard, two people familiar with the chips’ operation say. This happened at a crucial moment, as small bits of the operating system were being stored in the board’s temporary memory en route to the server’s central processor, the CPU. The implant was placed on the board in a way that allowed it to effectively edit this information queue, injecting its own code or altering the order of the instructions the CPU was meant to follow. Deviously small changes could create disastrous effects.

Since the implants were small, the amount of code they contained was small as well. But they were capable of doing two very important things: telling the device to communicate with one of several anonymous computers elsewhere on the internet that were loaded with more complex code; and preparing the device’s operating system to accept this new code. The illicit chips could do all this because they were connected to the baseboard management controller, a kind of superchip that administrators use to remotely log in to problematic servers, giving them access to the most sensitive code even on machines that have crashed or are turned off.

This system could let the attackers alter how the device functioned, line by line, however they wanted, leaving no one the wiser. To understand the power that would give them, take this hypothetical example: Somewhere in the Linux operating system, which runs in many servers, is code that authorizes a user by verifying a typed password against a stored encrypted one. An implanted chip can alter part of that code so the server won’t check for a password—and presto! A secure machine is open to any and all users. A chip can also steal encryption keys for secure communications, block security updates that would neutralize the attack, and open up new pathways to the internet. Should some anomaly be noticed, it would likely be cast as an unexplained oddity. “The hardware opens whatever door it wants,” says Joe FitzPatrick, founder of Hardware Security Resources LLC, a company that trains cybersecurity professionals in hardware hacking techniques.

U.S. officials had caught China experimenting with hardware tampering before, but they’d never seen anything of this scale and ambition. The security of the global technology supply chain had been compromised, even if consumers and most companies didn’t know it yet. What remained for investigators to learn was how the attackers had so thoroughly infiltrated Supermicro’s production process—and how many doors they’d opened into American targets.

Unlike software-based hacks, hardware manipulation creates a real-world trail. Components leave a wake of shipping manifests and invoices. Boards have serial numbers that trace to specific factories. To track the corrupted chips to their source, U.S. intelligence agencies began following Supermicro’s serpentine supply chain in reverse, a person briefed on evidence gathered during the probe says.

As recently as 2016, according to DigiTimes, a news site specializing in supply chain research, Supermicro had three primary manufacturers constructing its motherboards, two headquartered in Taiwan and one in Shanghai. When such suppliers are choked with big orders, they sometimes parcel out work to subcontractors. In order to get further down the trail, U.S. spy agencies drew on the prodigious tools at their disposal. They sifted through communications intercepts, tapped informants in Taiwan and China, even tracked key individuals through their phones, according to the person briefed on evidence gathered during the probe. Eventually, that person says, they traced the malicious chips to four subcontracting factories that had been building Supermicro motherboards for at least two years.

As the agents monitored interactions among Chinese officials, motherboard manufacturers, and middlemen, they glimpsed how the seeding process worked. In some cases, plant managers were approached by people who claimed to represent Supermicro or who held positions suggesting a connection to the government. The middlemen would request changes to the motherboards’ original designs, initially offering bribes in conjunction with their unusual requests. If that didn’t work, they threatened factory managers with inspections that could shut down their plants. Once arrangements were in place, the middlemen would organize delivery of the chips to the factories.

The investigators concluded that this intricate scheme was the work of a People’s Liberation Army unit specializing in hardware attacks, according to two people briefed on its activities. The existence of this group has never been revealed before, but one official says, “We’ve been tracking these guys for longer than we’d like to admit.” The unit is believed to focus on high-priority targets, including advanced commercial technology and the computers of rival militaries. In past attacks, it targeted the designs for high-performance computer chips and computing systems of large U.S. internet providers.

Provided details of Businessweek’s reporting, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a statement that said “China is a resolute defender of cybersecurity.” The ministry added that in 2011, China proposed international guarantees on hardware security along with other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security body. The statement concluded, “We hope parties make less gratuitous accusations and suspicions but conduct more constructive talk and collaboration so that we can work together in building a peaceful, safe, open, cooperative and orderly cyberspace.”

The Supermicro attack was on another order entirely from earlier episodes attributed to the PLA. It threatened to have reached a dizzying array of end users, with some vital ones in the mix. Apple, for its part, has used Supermicro hardware in its data centers sporadically for years, but the relationship intensified after 2013, when Apple acquired a startup called Topsy Labs, which created superfast technology for indexing and searching vast troves of internet content. By 2014, the startup was put to work building small data centers in or near major global cities. This project, known internally as Ledbelly, was designed to make the search function for Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, faster, according to the three senior Apple insiders.

Documents seen by Businessweek show that in 2014, Apple planned to order more than 6,000 Supermicro servers for installation in 17 locations, including Amsterdam, Chicago, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York, San Jose, Singapore, and Tokyo, plus 4,000 servers for its existing North Carolina and Oregon data centers. Those orders were supposed to double, to 20,000, by 2015. Ledbelly made Apple an important Supermicro customer at the exact same time the PLA was found to be manipulating the vendor’s hardware.

Project delays and early performance problems meant that around 7,000 Supermicro servers were humming in Apple’s network by the time the company’s security team found the added chips. Because Apple didn’t, according to a U.S. official, provide government investigators with access to its facilities or the tampered hardware, the extent of the attack there remained outside their view.

Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts discuss others ‘leaking like mad’ ahead of Russia investigation: Report

September 13, 2018

A newly released series of text messages from former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — the pair involved in an extramarital affair and shared texts critical of President Trump — show that others may have been “leaking like mad” ahead of the federal Russia probe, a new report says.

“Oh, remind me to tell you tomorrow about the times doing a story about the rnc hacks,” Page said to Strzok in a December 2016 conversation, according to Fox News.

“And more than they already did? I told you Quinn told me they pulling out all the stops on some story…,” Strzok said in response, likely referring to Richard Quinn who worked as the chief of the Media and Investigative Publicity Section in the Office of Public Affairs.

“Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad,” Strzok said in a subsequent text. “Scorned and worried, and political, they’re kicking into overdrive.”

[Trump: FBI, DOJ doing ‘nothing’ in response to Strzok text on ‘media leak strategy’]

Although Strzok didn’t specify whom he was referring to when he said “sisters,” retired FBI special agent and former FBI national spokesperson John Iannarelli suggested it was a reference to another intelligence agency or a federal law enforcement agency, according to Fox News.

On that same day the conversation occurred, multiple news outlets reported that U.S. intelligence officials believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had a direct role and authorized Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The report comes after Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., expressed “grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ related to ongoing investigations” in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein this week, reacting to other texts between Strzok and Page were given to Congress.

Meadows is particularly concerned with a text sent on Apr. 10, 2017.

“I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about the media leak strategy with DOJ before you go,” Strzok wrote.

Thar text came a day before the Washington Post reported that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page had been surveilled by the FBI after the agency received a warrant from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a move that has elicited backlash because it partly relied on details included in the unverified and so-called “Trump dossier” that contains damaging information about Trump.

But Strzok’s lawyer Aitan Goelman said the “media leak strategy” was a reference to a DOJ-wide initiative to identify and prevent staff members from disclosing information to the media.

Strzok was a leading official in the FBI’s investigation on Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and was also part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation examining Russian interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Strzok was removed from the Mueller team last year and was fired from the FBI in August following his appearance before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees in July, where he said he did not speak to journalists during his time on the Russia probe.

Page resigned from her post in 2018.



New Strzok-Page texts reveal others were ‘leaking like mad’ in lead up to Trump-Russia probe

September 12, 2018

New text messages between ex-FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page reveal others were “leaking like mad” in the run-up to the Trump-Russia collusion probe, according to new communications between the former lovers obtained exclusively by Fox News.

A lengthy exchange dated Dec. 15, 2016 appears to reveal a potential leak operation for “political” purposes.

“Oh, remind me to tell you tomorrow about the times doing a story about the rnc hacks,” Page texted Strzok.

“And more than they already did? I told you Quinn told me they pulling out all the stops on some story…” Strzok replied.

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Ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page and fired FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok exchanged anti-Trump text messages.  (AP)

A source told Fox News “Quinn” could be referring to Richard Quinn, who served as the chief of the Media and Investigative Publicity Section in the Office of Public Affairs. Quinn could not be reached for comment.

Strzok again replied: “Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried, and political, they’re kicking into overdrive.”

In one passage, Strzok apparently misreads a reference to “rnc” as “mc,” and then, realizing his error, blames “old man eyes.”

It is unclear at this point to whom Strzok was referring when he used the term “sisters.”

‘Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried, and political, they’re kicking into overdrive.’

– Peter Strzok to Lisa Page

Retired FBI special agent and former FBI national spokesman John Iannarelli told Fox News it could be a reference to another government agency.

“Sisters is an odd phrase to use,” Iannarelli told Fox News Wednesday. “It could be any intelligence agency or any other federal law enforcement agency. The FBI works with all of them because, post 9/11, it’s all about cooperation and sharing.”

There are 17 agencies in the Intelligence Community, including the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, and the FBI.

The “leaking like mad” text came on the same day that several news outlets reported that U.S. intelligence officials said they were convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved, and approved Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Days before, The New York Times published an article titled “Russian Hackers Acted to Aid Trump in Election, U.S. Says,” citing “senior administration officials.”

A story published by The New York Times weeks, on Jan. 10, 2017, suggested that Russian hackers “gained limited access” to the Republican National Committee. Jan. 10, 2017 is also the same day BuzzFeed News published the infamous anti-Trump dossier.

Following the text about “sisters leaking,” Strzok wrote to Page:

“And we need to talk more about putting C reporting in our submission. They’re going to declassify all of it…”

Page replied: “I know. But they’re going to declassify their stuff, how do we withhold…”

“We will get extraordinary questions. What we did what we’re doing. Just want to ensure everyone is good with it and has thought thru all implications,” Strzok wrote. “CD should bring it up with the DD.”

FILE - In this July 12, 2018 file photo, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok is seated to testify before the the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform during a hearing on "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election," on Capitol Hill in Washington. His lawyer said he was fired late Friday by FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok exchanged anti-Trump text messages with his mistress Lisa Page.  (AP)

A source told Fox News that “C” is likely in reference to classified information, whereas “CD” is Cyber Division, and DD could refer to former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

McCabe was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March for making an unauthorized disclosure to the news media, and “lacked candor” under oath on multiple occassions.

It is unclear what “submission” Strzok and Page were referring to.

A source told Fox News that the messages were part of a newly released batch of Strzok-Page communications from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, uncovered as part of his investigation into the start of the FBI’s Russia investigation.

A spokesman for the inspector general declined to comment to Fox News.

Strzok and Page were first brought into the spotlight last December, when it was revealed that Horowitz discovered a series of anti-Trump text messages between the two officials, who were romantically involved.

Strzok and Page both served on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates in the 2016 presidential election. Page served on the special counsel’s team on a short detail, returning back to the FBI’s Office of General Counsel in July 2017.

The discovery of the anti-Trump messages exchanged with Page ultimately got Strzok booted from Mueller’s team and reassigned last year to the FBI’s office of human resources.

Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page leaves following an interview with lawmakers behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page left the FBI in May 2018.  (AP)

In July, Strzok lost his security clearance and was escorted from his FBI office. In August, Strzok was officially fired from the FBI.

Both Strzok and Page testified on Capitol Hill this summer.

IG REFERS FIVE FBI EMPLOYEES FOR INVESTIGATION, AS MORE ANTI-TRUMP MESSAGES REVEALED Horowitz released a 600-page report on the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while conducting official business as secretary of state.

The inspector general report found that some bureau officials “appeared to mix political opinion with discussions about the MYE investigation.” MYE refers to Midyear Exam, which was the FBI’s code word for the Clinton probe.


Horowitz, found no evidence that the political bias found impacted prosecutorial decisions in the Clinton email probe.

Horowitz confirmed in June that he is currently investigating whether Strzok’s anti-Trump bias factored into the launch of the bureau’s Russia investigation.

John Bolton On the International Criminal Court

September 11, 2018

John Bolton gave his first public address Monday since becoming national security adviser, and surprisingly, the topic was not Iran, North Korea, Syria, China, or any other national security hot spot, but the International Criminal Court.

The ICC is certainly not a new obsession for Bolton, who, in the speech hosted by the Federalist Society on Monday in Washington, called his role spearheading the George W. Bush administration’s opposition to the court “one of my proudest achievements” and described the court as a “freewheeling global organization claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent.” The impetus for the current U.S. offensive against the ICC is that its judges are currently considering whether to authorize the prosecutor to investigate alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan, including by the U.S. military and the CIA. The potential scenario of Americans being prosecuted by an international court for crimes committed abroad is exactly the scenario Bolton and other opponents warned about in the court’s early days.


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U.S. national security adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon on Monday in Washington.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Palestinian Authority has also been pushing the court to accelerate a long-running inquiry into alleged Israeli crimes in the Palestinian territories, one factor behind the decision announced Monday to order the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington. (The United States and Israel are not members of the court, but Afghanistan and, more controversially, the Palestinian Authority are, giving the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed there.)

For background, the U.S. has long had a fraught relationship with the ICC. When delegates originally gathered in Rome in the late 1990s to negotiate the formation of the court, many of them wanted it to have universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity across the globe, but the U.S. pushed back, wanting to protect U.S. citizens and troops. The court that was eventually established has jurisdiction over crimes committed only in its member states (or those referred to it by the U.N. Security Council). This is what makes it so difficult today for the court to try abuses in places like Syria and Myanmar, which are not members.

Bill Clinton eventually signed the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, in 2000, but it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate, and President Bush “deactivated” the signature in 2002. That year, Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, prohibiting cooperation with the court. Opponents dubbed it “The Hague Invasion Act” for a clause authorizing the use of force to secure the release of U.S. citizens detained for prosecution by the court.

Although not a member of the court, the United States has at times cooperated with it. To Bolton’s vocal dismay, the Bush administration eventually softened its stance on the ICC, choosing to abstain rather than veto a referral of allegations of war crimes in Darfur, Sudan, to the court. The Obama administration expanded the level of cooperation, offering rewards for suspects wanted by the court and voting to refer the situation in Libya under Muammar Qaddafi to the court. Judging by Monday’s remarks, that level of cooperation is not going to continue under Trump.

The actual policy measures Bolton announced in the speech sound more severe than they are. He vowed that if the court comes after U.S. or Israeli citizens, “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

However, these are more or less the measures already laid out with the 2002 ASPA law. As David Bosco, a professor at Indiana University and the author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics, told me, “It sounded dramatic, but it’s actually not much of a change. I thought it was interesting that he talked only about working within the bounds of existing legislation and didn’t seem to be calling on Congress to take up any additional legislation. I think what he did here was to try to take existing restrictions and frame them as dramatically as possible.”

Most of the speech was a familiar litany of Bolton’s objections to the court, again framed for maximum drama. He ominously warned the audience:

[The ICC] claims “automatic jurisdiction,” meaning that it can prosecute individuals even if their own governments have not recognized, signed, or ratified the treaty. Thus, American soldiers, politicians, civil servants, private citizens, and even all of you sitting in the room today, are purportedly subject to the court’s prosecution should a party to the Rome Statute or the Chief Prosecutor suspect you of committing a crime within a state or territory that has joined the treaty.

This is technically true. If you, a U.S. citizen, go to another country and become accused of a crime against humanity, and that country’s government decides that, rather than prosecute you itself, it will refer your case to the ICC, then yes, you could find yourself on the docket at the Hague facing judges elected by an international body rather than the U.S. government. Then again, I never got to vote for anyone in the Canadian government, but if I went and robbed a gas station in Calgary, the local authorities could prosecute me without anyone kicking up much of a fuss about national sovereignty.

One way to avoid having U.S. citizens be prosecuted by the court would be for the U.S. not to commit war crimes in other countries, or to investigate and prosecute those who do. The ICC is supposed to be the court of last resort that prosecutes the planet’s most serious crimes only when governments are unable or unwilling to. Bolton argued today that the Afghanistan investigation disproves this notion since “we know that the U.S. judicial system is more vigorous, more fair, and more effective than the ICC.” In other words, it’s simply inconceivable that the U.S. would fail to hold anyone accountable for war crimes, an argument contradicted by a number of cases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bolton may frame his argument as a defense of sovereignty, but it often comes across as a Nixonian case for impunity: If the United States did it, it’s not a war crime.

Bolton argued that the ICC is a weak and ineffective institution that is “hardly a deterrent to dictators and despots determined to commit horrific atrocities.” He has a point. Despite his indictment for crimes in Darfur including genocide, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir remains at largeand able to travel the world. Thanks to the fact that Syria and Iraq are not ICC members—coupled with inaction by the U.N. Security Council—ISIS and Bashar al-Assad are shielded from prosecution for their horrific crimes against humanity. As Bolton noted, “Since its 2002 inception, the court has spent over $1.5 billion while attaining only eight convictions.”

Read the rest:

Pakistan: Pompeo, Qureshi underscore need to ‘reset US-Pak bilateral ties’

September 5, 2018

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Wednesday held the opening round of talks with the visiting United States delegation — led by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo — at the Foreign Office in Islamabad, where the two sides discussed “bilateral, regional and international issues”.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford is accompanying Pompeo on his short visit to Pakistan. Pompeo, following his meeting with the foreign ministry officials, left for the PM House, where he is currently holding talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A meeting with Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is also expected.

Pompeo, Qureshi hold talks

According to the Foreign Office, “discussions on bilateral, regional and international issues” took place in the meeting that lasted for about 40 minutes.

“FM Qureshi underscores the need to reset bilateral ties on basis of mutual trust and respect,” FO spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal stated on Twitter, adding: “Safeguarding Pakistan’s national interests will remain supreme priority.”

Pompeo and Gen Dunford had arrived in Islamabad just before 1pm.

The secretary of state’s plane had landed at the Nur Khan Airbase where he was received by foreign ministry’s Director General (Americas) Dr Zafar Iqbal and American diplomats.

He headed for the US embassy in a motorcade of about 20 white Toyota Land Cruisers and a police escort.

‘Resetting bilateral relations’

Earlier, while talking to media representatives on board his Pakistan-bound flight, Pompeo had said he was visiting Pakistan to reset bilateral relations.

“First stop Pakistan; a new leader there. I wanted to get out there at the beginning of his [Khan’s] time in an effort to reset the relationship between the two countries,” he said in his opening statement.

“We have worked closely with the Pakistanis in my role as CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] director. Our teams have been working together for a long time. There are lots of challenges between our two nations for sure, but we’re hopeful that with the new leadership, we can find common ground and begin to work on some of our shared problems together,” he added.

Top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson (L), and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are seen on an airplane travelling to Pakistan. — DawnNewsTV
Top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson (L), and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are seen on an airplane travelling to Pakistan. — DawnNewsTV

Pompeo said the new Pakistani government has expressed good-faith intention to improve bilateral ties.

He said he was going to Islamabad with the US military chief Gen Joseph Dunford to have discussions with Pakistani authorities.

“We’ll also meet with General Bajwa, who we both know, who I’ve met with a number of times, as well as my counterpart, Foreign Minister [Shah Mehmood] Qureshi,” he said.

“So we’ll have three opportunities to walk through the complexity that is this relationship and hopefully begin to make some progress so that we can get back to a set of common understandings,” said Pompeo while referring to a possible meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“So, that’s really the very straightforward objective. I think it’s important to meet the new prime minister, Prime Minister Khan, early on in his time in office,” he said.

A journalist reminded the Secretary of State that his trip comes right after the announcement that the US was cutting $300 million in military aid to Pakistan.

“What do you think of that as a start-off point for this new relationship that you’re trying to build?” Pompeo was asked.

“Look, this wasn’t news to the Pakistanis. It made a lot of headlines over the last few days … but they were told this past summer that they weren’t likely to get that money,” Pompeo recalled.

“And the rationale for them not getting the money is very clear. It’s that we haven’t seen the progress that we need to see from them.”

‘Turn the page’

Pompeo said the very reason for this trip was to try and articulate what the US expectation was, what Pakistan could do and the things that they expect the US to do. “And see if we can’t find a path forward together,” he added.

The secretary noted that most of the developments affecting Pak-US relations took place long before Khan was in power. “I’m hoping we can turn the page and begin to make progress. But there are real expectations,” he said.

“We need Pakistan to seriously engage to help us get to the reconciliation we need in Afghanistan.”

Pompeo pointed out that both the outgoing and incoming commanders of US forces in Afghanistan had said that this was not possible without Pakistan’s assistance.

He acknowledged that Pakistan too had important interests, including security interests, in Afghanistan to “make sure they get the issues at their border right, and we need their help”.

He said he was hopeful he could convince the new Pakistani government to provide that assistance because in a recent conversation with him, Prime Minister Khan had acknowledged that peace in Afghanistan was a priority for him as well.

“I think he said they’re the number one or number two advocate for reconciliation in Afghanistan. I said I think we’re number three – all of us wanting that. So we have a shared goal there. I hope we can find a way to achieve it together,” Pompeo said.

He said the US was providing different sets of resources to Pakistan when it made sense for the United States to do so because the partnership was in a place that both countries were coordinating their actions.

“If that arises again, I am confident we will present to the President [Trump] the rationale for that, and then something like that might make sense,” he added.

Asked why it made sense to suspend the assistance now, Pompeo said: “We certainly haven’t seen the progress that we would hope to have seen… certainly not progress that would be sufficient for us to have advocated for turning back on that financial support.”

Responding to another question about whether he will raise the issue of Dr Shakeel Afridi during his trip to Pakistan, Pompeo said: “I have a long history of raising the case of Dr Afridi as the CIA director. I’ll leave it at that.”

Pompeo confirmed that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was with him on the plane and that he was going to join the State Department team to assist him with the reconciliation effort. “So, he will come on and be the State Department’s lead person in the reconciliation talks,” he said.

Ambassador Khalilzad, he said, would work with the State Department “to be full-time focused on developing the opportunities to get the Afghans and Taliban to come to a reconciliation. That will be his singular mission statement.”

Additional information from news agencies.



These are the real scandals plaguing our country

August 29, 2018

Not so long ago, editors and reporters dreaded the dog days of August because news took a vacation. Now the news never stops.

The challenge today is to make sense of the gusher of apocalyptic-sounding eruptions, claims and predictions. Here’s my view of what’s happening to our country.

America is being scandalized by four enormous events that are happening simultaneously. By scandalized, I mean that people are shocked and outraged at what they regard as breaches of acceptable behavior or morality.

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That wouldn’t be a problem if the vast majority were scandalized by the same things. That’s not the America we have. The vicious polarization stems from the fact that the country is split almost exactly in half over what people are outraged about.

The first scandalizing event is Donald Trump — his candidacy, his election and his presidency. And, on some days to some people, his existence.

By Michael Goodwin

They have a point — up to a point. Trump is unlike any president in history, taking the Oval Office after a notorious business career and personal life. And it’s not as if he folded into the mold once he got elected, though his policies are more conventional that his personality.

Hardly a day goes by when he does not say or do or tweet something that breaks new ground, and not always for the better. His feud with Sen. John McCain should have ended graciously with McCain’s passing.

Still, Trump won the election fairly and the economy is booming, yet too many Americans can’t accept those truths. Their attempts to bring him down define the three other scandalizing events.

First is the conduct of the mainstream media, which has abandoned all standards of fairness and continues to embarrass itself with overt bias against the president.

For the latest example, look at how CNN is supporting one of its anti-Trump stories even though its source, lawyer Lanny Davis, says he gave the network wrong information. So the world knows the story is wrong, but CNN won’t admit it.

Image result for lanny davis

Instead of making Trump look good, CNN would rather make itself look bad and confirm Trump’s assertion that it promotes fake news. How crazy is that?

Another scandalizing event is the behavior of some federal agencies. The Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA took liberties that were morally offensive, and possibly illegal, because they didn’t want Trump to be president. Some individuals, like former top FBI agent Peter Strzok, were dumb enough to put it in writing — on government computers!

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Although Strzok and leaders of the FBI were fired or demoted based on misconduct, the current director, Christopher Wray, continues to act as if the events of 2016 and 2017 are mere reputational dents.

That, in turn, outrages Trump supporters and others, with the result that among half the country, the FBI remains untrustworthy. Wray either doesn’t get it or doesn’t care.

The fourth scandalizing event is the reaction of Democrats to Trump.

Led by Hillary Clinton, the party has thrashed about like wounded animals caught in a steel trap. The grief does not seem limited to three, five, seven or 10 stages. It’s endless.

Dems’ answers to his presidency can be divided into two: political assassination and political suicide.

The assassination group is putting all its chips on special counsel Robert Mueller. Their hope, their dream, their fantasy — their everything — is that Mueller will find collusion, obstruction or anything that will lead to impeachment and removal.

But with no evidence so far, many are betting that Stormy Daniels is the path to Trump’s destruction. Not likely, but it’s a free country.

Political suicide is the path other Dems are taking, as shown by their embrace of any shiny new thing, including socialism.

The leftward lurch got a jolt last June, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former bartender, defeated incumbent Joe Crowley in a primary for a House seat in Queens.

Image result for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, photos

In a flash, Ocasio-Cortez was the darling of the party, and some insiders declared she was its future. The movement toward things that not even Bernie Sanders endorsed surged when she called for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement police, known as ICE.

Briefly, the idea felt unstoppable until cooler heads realized that 1, abolishing the agency would lead to border chaos and 2, border chaos would lead to a GOP rout in the midterms.

Besides, Ocasio-Cortez turned out to know next to nothing about many things. Her claim that unemployment was low “because everyone has two jobs” was a gift to comedians and Republicans.

So where to from here? In Sunday’s column, I predicted the coming months will be nasty but hoped that “people of good will on both sides remember that, in the end, we’re all still Americans.”

Some readers called me a Pollyanna, with Carole Campolo’s letter the most poignant. She writes: “We have always been taught, and many of us believed until now, that our frustrations with government can be adjudicated at the ballot box. This Mueller investigation and the actions by the deep state and media prove that to be a lie.

“With a nullification of our vote, some of ‘we the people’ know we have lost not only our voice, but our constitutional rights and probably our country.”

Hate shapes abbas

Once again, a great line from the late Israeli statesman Abba Eban is relevant. The Palestinians, he said years ago, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

So it is with Mahmoud Abbas, who reportedly reacted to a possible cease-fire deal in Gaza between Israel and Hamas by warning, “over my dead body.”

Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, and keeps demanding that Hamas cede Gaza to him as well. But their decade-long feud is almost as bitter as their differences with Israel, so Hamas turned to Egypt to broker a tentative pact with Israel.

Abbas’ reaction is unfortunately typical. The supposedly moderate successor to Yasser Arafat, Abbas is in the 13th year of a four-year elected term, with nothing to show for it.

Bitter and increasingly given to anti-Semitic outbursts, he seems determined to make sure that if he can’t make peace with Israel, nobody will.

Sadly, he may get his wish.

Andy & Cyn debate for ‘Lady’s favor

Wednesday night’s televised debate between Gov. Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon is her last big chance to reshape the Democratic primary, but the candidates are also competing for the endorsement of The New York Times.

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Backing from the Gray Lady would give Nixon credibility among liberal readers and allow her to have a shot in the Sept. 13 vote.

For Cuomo, a Times endorsement and re-election would give him hope that national Dems would see him as a valid 2020 candidate for president.

If Nixon performs well, I believe she will get the paper’s support. If she bombs, the Times will hold its nose and back Cuomo.


US delegation met Assad’s security chief in Damascus in June, official says

August 29, 2018

A U.S. delegation including security and intelligence officials visited Damascus in June and met Syria’s security chief, an official in the regional alliance backing President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar reported that the U.S. delegation had held a four-hour meeting with security chief Ali Mamlouk near Damascus international airport.

Asked about the reports, two senior U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was an “ongoing dialogue with members of the Assad regime” about driving Islamic Statefrom SyriaDamascus’ stockpile and use of chemical weapons, including chlorine, and the fate of journalist Austin Tice, who officials believe Damascus or its allies are holding.

The Syrian government could not be reached for comment.

© Handout/Al-Watan newspaper/AFP | A handout picture from Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper shows the Syrian security chief, General Ali Mamlouk, in Damascus in July 2015. A Lebanese newspaper reported that a US delegation met with the spy chief in June 2018.

Al-Akhbar reported that the U.S. officials had demanded the withdrawal of Iranian forces from southern Syria and data on “terrorist groups”, including foreign fighters, and had also requested a role in the oil business in eastern Syria.

Mamlouk said Damascus would not cooperate with Washington on security issues until they had normalised ties and he also demanded a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, al-Akhbar reported.

The regional source told Reuters that most details in the al-Akhbar report were correct.

U.S. officials have visited Damascus only rarely since 2011, when Washington started to back protests against Assad and later some of the armed rebels seeking to oust him.

Last year U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a CIA-run military aid programme to the insurgents to be shut down.

In November, a senior regional official close to Damascus said a senior U.S. official had met Mamlouk in the Syrian capital.

With military backing from Russia and Iran, Assad has recovered control of swathes of lost Syrian territory over the last two years and appears militarily unassailable.

U.S. forces have been fighting in Syria as part of the coalition against Islamic State, helping Kurdish-led militias to capture Raqqa and other parts of northern and eastern Syria.