Posts Tagged ‘CIA’

Obama Administration Reportedly Shielded Hezbollah From DEA and CIA to Save Iran Nuclear Deal

December 18, 2017

Covert operation named ‘Project Cassandra’ was aimed to halt Hezbollah’s massive drug and weapons trafficking network but according to a Politico report the White House got in the way

Haaretz Dec 18, 2017 1:11 PM

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Former U.S. President Barack Obama gives speech in Paris on December 2, 2017.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama gives speech in Paris on December 2, 2017. Thibault Camus/AP

The Barack Obama administration thwarted a covert operation against the Iran-backed terror organization Hezbollah in order to avoid hurting what was then a delicate emerging nuclear agreement with Iran, Politico reported on Monday.

According to the extensive report, the White House directly prevented actions by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to battle Hezbollah drugs and weapons trafficking operations.

Lebanon-based Hezbollah is officially designated by the U.S. State Department as terrorist group.

The operation against Hezbollah, dubbed “Project Cassandra,” began in 2008 after the DEA received ample evidence of Hezbollah’s evolution from a military and political organization in the Middle East into a full-fledged international crime organization that smuggles ammunitions and drugs -among other illegal activities.

The Politico report says the agency operatives tracked Hezbollah’s criminal activity for eight years, witnessing the terror group laundering money and smuggling cocaine through regular shipments. Evidence attested to the fact that Hezbollah insiders as well as the group’s supporters in Iran were in on the covert, criminal actions.

But the Oval Office during Obama’s tenure allegedly posed multiple hurdles along the DEA’s path to fighting Hezbollah, with the Department of Treasury and the Department of Justice both preventing the program’s managers from taking action and withholding approval for requests.

Politico reported that federal agents involved in “Project Cassandra” told the publication that they wanted to put a Hezbollah operative on trial but were refused by the administration. The suspect, nicknamed “Ghost,” is known by the DEA to be one of the biggest cocaine smugglers in the world. “This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” David Asher, who helped found the program and oversaw it as a Defense Department finance analyst, told Politico. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down,” he charged.

The DEA was not the only entity the White House held back from acting against the terror group. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was also forced to take more measured steps, an ex-CIA official told Politico.

The White House demanded that the CIA refrain from taking actions against the group, the unnamed official said. He explained that during an early stage in the negotiations of the nuclear accord, the Iranians complained to the U.S. and asked that it lessen the pressure it was applying on Hezbollah. The official said that the Obama administration agreed to it,  because it “really, really, really wanted the deal.”

As a result, the former senior CIA officer said, the agency was “making concessions that had never been made before, which is outrageous to anyone in the agency.” Orders from Washington were especially aggravating to CIA officers in the field who he asserted knew that Hezbollah “was still doing assassinations and other terrorist activities.”

He added that this was a directive by the administration that was meant to “show good faith toward the Iranians in terms of reaching an agreement.”

Nonetheless, some of the interviewees in the report did not agree with the harsh claims against the Obama administration.

A former senior member of the national security establishment who participated in talks with Iran cast doubts on the charge that cases that were managed as part of the “Cassandra Project” were closed for political reasons. According to him, there were other reasons that seem more logical, such as a substantial lack of evidence or the administration’s concern of interfering with intelligence activities.

“What if the CIA or the Mossad had an intelligence operation ongoing inside Hezbollah and they were trying to pursue someone against whom we had impeccable [intelligence] collection and the DEA is not going to know that?” the official said.

“The world,” he went on to say, “is a lot more complicated than viewed through the narrow lens of drug trafficking. So you’re not going to let CIA rule the roost, but you’re also certainly not going to let DEA do it either. Your approach to anything as complicated as Hezbollah is going to have to involve the interagency [process], because the State Department has a piece of the pie, the intelligence community does, Treasury does, DOD does.”

The Iran nuclear deal, which reportedly was the main reason behind the Obama’s administration wariness in regards to cracking down on Tehran’s ally Hezbollah, is known also at the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It was signed on July 14, 2015, between Iran, China, France, Russia, the UK, Germany, the European Union and the U.S.

Hezbollah and Iran are known to be close proxies, with Iran providing the terror group with ammunition, military training and funding. Ex-President Barack Obama was an avid supporter of the deal, and lauded it as the only means to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Haaretz
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Trump’s New National Security Doctrine: Israel Is Not the Cause of the Middle East’s Problems

December 18, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with reporters on the White House lawn, December 16, 2017.

In new outline of national security strategy, Trump doctrine to declare that ‘states have increasingly found common interests with in Israel’ in confronting threats such as Iran and radical jihadist terrorist organizations

The Associated Press Dec 18, 2017 3:01 PM (In Jerusalem)

Prioritizing national sovereignty over alliances, U.S. President Donald Trump is poised to outline a new national security strategy that envisions nations in a perpetual state of competition, reverses Obama-era warnings on climate change, and de-emphasizes multinational agreements that have dominated the United States’ foreign policy since the Cold War.

The Republican president, who ran on a platform of “America First,” will detail his plan Monday, one that if fully implemented could sharply alter the United States’ relationships with the rest of the world. The plan, according to senior administration officials who offered a preview Sunday, is to focus on four main themes: protecting the homeland and way of life; promoting American prosperity; demonstrating peace through strength; and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world.

Trump’s doctrine holds that nation states are in perpetual competition and that the U.S. must fight on all fronts to protect and defend its sovereignty from friend and foe alike. While the administration often says that “America First” does not mean “America Alone,” the national security strategy to be presented by Trump will make clear that the United States will stand up for itself even if that means acting unilaterally or alienating others on issues like trade, climate change and immigration, according to people familiar with the strategy.

The last such strategy document, prepared by then-President Barack Obama in 2015, declared climate change an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.” A senior official said the Trump plan removes that determination — following the administration’s threat to pull out of the Paris climate accord — but will mention the importance of environmental stewardship.

 

Despite the risk of potential isolation presented by Trump’s strategy, its fundamentals are not a surprise. The Associated Press last week reviewed excerpts of a late draft of the roughly 70-page document and spoke to two people familiar with it. The draft emphasizes that U.S. economic security is national security and that economic security must be ensured with military might. And they said it would stress the U.S. is interested only in relationships with other countries, including alliances like NATO, that are fair and reciprocal.

Trump, according to the senior officials, is also expected to discuss threats he’ll deem as “rogue regimes,” like North Korea, and “revisionist powers,” like Russia and China, who aim to change the status quo, such as Moscow and its actions with Ukraine and Georgia, and Beijing in the South China Sea. Trump is also planning to renew his call for the member states in the United Nations and NATO to spend more on defense, saying that the United States will insist on its alliances being fair and reciprocal.

The senior officials said the document refers to China as a “strategic competitor,” rather than the stronger accusation of “economic aggression” previewed last week by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Despite international challenges, the document cites emerging opportunities to advance American interests in the Middle East. “Some of our partners are working together to reject radical ideologies and key leaders are calling for a rejection of Islamist extremism and violence,” it says. “Encouraging political stability and sustainable prosperity would contribute to dampening the conditions that fuel sectarian grievances.”

The strategy document asserts that “for generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region. Today, the threats from radical jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats.”

The president is also set to make the case that U.S. economic security is national security and that economic security must be ensured with military might.

The criticism of Russia will come as a break from recent warm words between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaders have spoken twice in four days, with Trump calling Putin to thank him for kind words about the U.S. stock market and Putin reaching out to Trump to thank the CIA for help in stopping a terror plot in St. Petersburg.

The strategy document will not make explicit reference to Russian attempts to meddle in the U.S. political system, but an official said it would highlight the importance of ensuring the resilience of U.S. democratic institutions.

The early draft of the strategy reviewed by the AP lamented that America had put itself at a disadvantage by entering into multinational agreements, such as those aimed at combating climate change, and introducing domestic policies to implement them.

The senior officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan before the president’s remarks.

The Associated Press

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read more: https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.829692

Photo at the top: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with reporters on the White House lawn, December 16, 2017. Susan Walsh / AP

National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

December 18, 2017

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In a speech Monday, Trump will present plan that follows his “America First views.
By  — December 18 at 5:00 AM
The Washington Post

A new U.S. national security strategy plan presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States, Trump administration officials said Sunday.

President Trump will present the strategy, a kind of mission statement that guides policymaking, in a speech Monday. Its broad outlines follow his “America First” doctrine of national sovereignty and putting a priority on the economic implications of global engagement. Officials said its main tenets are already in practice.

For example, the congressionally mandated document says that under Trump, national security decision-making will take greater account of economic factors and homeland security, administration officials said. Three officials described the document to reporters on the condition of anonymity ahead of its release.

“This strategy advances what I would call a principled realism,” one official said. “In some ways, the global balance of power has shifted in unfavorable manners to American interests. This new strategy presents a plan of how America can regain momentum to reverse many of these trends.”

Both China and Russia have sought to “change the status quo” in ways that the United States opposes and that could challenge U.S. interests, another official said. She cited Chinese military expansion and island-building in the South China Sea and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The document does not expressly “overturn” the strategies of former president Barack Obama or his predecessors, but it frames Trump’s priorities differently, the third official said. Trump’s most significant foreign policy and national security decisions mostly have been cast as reversals of Obama policies, including on Iran and climate change, and a heavy focus on North Korea after what he calls the failed policies of the past.

Trump’s new strategy document has four main organizing principles, one official said: protecting the American homeland, protecting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing U.S. influence.

The focus on China’s changing role and ambition recognizes that the country is both a competitor and a sometime partner, the officials said. That is a familiar theme from past administrations, but the Trump officials said the new document focuses on the trade and economic consequences for the United States from Chinese cybertheft and other issues.

As a candidate, Trump accused China of “raping” the United States economically and stealing jobs. As president, he has developed and trumpeted a warm relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he credits with helping to apply pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Trump also has publicly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him “very smart,” and has sought a better relationship with Russia after years of worsening ties under Obama. He has been openly skeptical of U.S. intelligence findings that Russia mounted a systematic effort to undermine the 2016 presidential election. But Trump has not reversed congressional sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, as Putin hoped he would.

Putin and Trump spoke by telephone Sunday, and, according to both sides, Putin thanked the U.S. leader for a tip from the CIA that thwarted a terrorist attack being planned in St. Petersburg. The call was unusual, as the sharing of intelligence is rarely discussed in public. It was also the leaders’ second call within four days.

“Based on the information the United States provided, Russian authorities were able to capture the terrorists just prior to an attack that could have killed large numbers of people,” the White House said in its readout of the call. “Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/national-security-strategy-plan-paints-china-russia-as-us-competitors/2017/12/17/0229f95c-e366-11e7-a65d-1ac0fd7f097e_story.html?utm_term=.3390340f74c4

Trump Putin call: CIA helped stop Russia terror attack — Is Putin Playing Trump to Destroy Tillerson?

December 18, 2017

BBC News

Kazan Cathedral or Kazanskiy Kafedralniy Sobor, St. Petersburg (file photo)Image copyrightGETTY CREATIVE STOCK
Image captionThe alleged plot targeted St Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral

Information provided by the CIA helped Russian security services foil an attack on St Petersburg’s Kazan cathedral, US and Russian leaders say.

President Vladimir Putin phoned Donald Trump to thank him for the information, the White House and Kremlin confirmed.

The attack was allegedly planned to take place on Saturday, Russia says.

A White House statement said “terrorists” were captured prior to an attack “that could have killed large numbers of people”.

Russia’s FSB security service said in a statement on Friday that it had detained seven members of a cell of Islamic State supporters and seized a significant amount of explosives, weapons and extremist literature.

The cell was planning to carry out a suicide attack at a religious institution and kill citizens on Saturday, the FSB statement said (in Russian).

The group was preparing explosions targeting the cathedral and other public places in Russia’s second city, the Kremlin statement said on Sunday.

Mr Putin told Mr Trump that Russia’s special services would hand over information on terror threats to their US counterparts, it added.

Mr Putin had asked the US president to pass on his thanks to the CIA director and the operatives involved, both countries said.

US intelligence agencies, including the CIA, believe that Russia tried to sway last year’s US presidential election in favour of Mr Trump – claims rejected by the Republican.

A special counsel is investigating whether anyone from the Trump campaign colluded.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and US President Donald J. Trump (L) talk at a summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, (11 November 2017)
The two leaders most recently met at a summit in Vietnam last month. EPA photo

While Mr Trump categorically denies colluding with Russia, he has talked about the importance of working together “constructively”.

Sunday’s conversation between the two presidents marks the second time the two men have spoken in a week.

On Thursday they discussed North Korea and Mr Trump thanked Mr Putin “for acknowledging America’s strong economic performance” in his annual press conference, according to the White House.

The White House said that the two leaders agreed in Sunday’s phone call that the co-operation was “an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together”.

An explosion on St Petersburg’s metro system in April killed at least 13 people and is thought to be linked to jihadists.

Returning militants from Syria pose a real threat to Russia, the head of the FSB was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Security services had already prevented 18 terrorist attacks in 2017, Alexander Bortnikov said in comments reported by Itar-Tass news agency.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42386258

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemingly contradicts President Trump, says Russia ‘interfered’ in U.S. election

December 13, 2017

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The relationship between President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has soured in recent months.  (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Embattled Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to contradict President Trump on Monday, telling dozens of U.S. diplomats that Russia deliberately interfered in American “democratic processes.”Tillerson, who is reportedly expected to leave his White House post amid growing tensions with the President, made the admission during a town hall-style meeting with career diplomats at the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Monday morning.

Tillerson told the diplomats that Trump has “many, many times” expressed that the U.S. and Russia “just can’t afford” to not have a productive relationship, according to a transcript released by the State Department. But, Tillerson continued, “today that’s not the case, and we all know why.”

“Russia chose through hybrid warfare to interfere with democratic processes here, and they’ve done so in other countries as well,” Tillerson, 65, said, referencing the Kremlin’s annexation of the Crimea in Ukraine.

The Secretary’s comments were first reported by the Daily Beast.

The White House did not respond to questions about Tillerson’s comments.

Contrary to Tillerson, Trump has never unambiguously stated that Russia purposely meddled in the 2016 election in an effort to elect him, as has been unanimously ascertained by the U.S. intelligence community. Trump is much more likely to describe reports of Russian election hacking as “fake news” disseminated to undermine his presidency.

During the town hall, Tillerson conceded that he hopes the U.S. can work together with Russia to solve the humanitarian crisis in Syria. But, he added, “We’re not aligned every day.”

Most Americans think Roy Moore should be booted if he wins Senate

Tillerson also softened Trump’s typically harsh stance on the Iran nuclear agreement during the town hall meeting.

"Russia chose through hybrid warfare to interfere with democratic processes here," Tillerson told the career diplomats.

“Russia chose through hybrid warfare to interfere with democratic processes here,” Tillerson told the career diplomats.

 (JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/REUTERS)

“We have concerns about whether that agreement’s going to deliver on its objective but for the time being, we’re in agreement,” Tillerson said of the Obama-era proposal, which offered sanctions relief in exchange for a promise that Iran would refrain from developing nuclear weapons.

In October, Trump decertified the agreement, which he has called “the dumbest & most dangerous” deal made in the “history of our country.”

Rumors have it that Trump is looking to boot Tillerson and replace him with CIA director Mike Pompeo.

The President’s relationship with the former Exxon Mobil executive began to sour after a report this fall quoted Tillerson as having called Trump a “moron.”

While Tillerson contradicted Trump on some points, he spent a large share of the Monday speech praising the President as “bold” and “successful.”

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/tillerson-contradicts-trump-russia-interfered-election-article-1.3694204

Chinese Foreign Ministry denies claims that intelligence services used LinkedIn to gather information

December 11, 2017

 Image result for logo for LinkedIn shown in California,, picture

The logo for LinkedIn shown in California, US. PHOTO: REUTERS

Speaking at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday (Dec 11), Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the accusations were baseless.

“We hope the relevant German organisations, particularly government departments, can speak and act more responsibly, and not do things that are not beneficial to the development of bilateral relations,” he said.

Germany’s intelligence service had earlier published the details of social network profiles which it says were fronts faked by Chinese intelligence to gather personal information about German officials and politicians.

The BfV domestic intelligence service took the unusual step of naming individual profiles it says were fake and fake organisations to warn public officials about the risk of leaking valuable personal information via social media.

“Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way,” including seeking data on users’ habits, hobbies and political interests, they said.

Nine months of research had found that more than 10,000 German citizens had been contacted on the LinkedIn professional networking site by fake profiles disguised as headhunters, consultants, think-tankers or scholars, the BfV said.

“There could be a large number of target individuals and fake profiles that have not yet been identified,” they added.

Among the faked profiles whose details were published were that of “Rachel Li”, identified as a “headhunter” at “RiseHR”, and an “Alex Li”, a “Project Manager at Center for Sino-Europe Development Studies”.

Many of the profile pictures show stylish and visually appealing young men and women. The picture of “Laeticia Chen”, a manager at the “China Center of International Politics and Economy” was nicked from an online fashion catalogue, an official said.

A Reuters review of the profiles showed that some were connected to senior diplomats and politicians from several European countries. There was no way to establish whether contacts had taken place beyond the initial social media “add”.

The warning reflects growing concern in European and western intelligence circles at Chinese covert activities in their countries and follows warnings from the US Central Intelligence Agency over attempts by the economic giant’s security services to recruit US citizens as agents.

The BfV invited concerned users to contact them if they encountered social media profiles that seemed suspect.

US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it — “Taliban fighters are living in comfort outside of their country with plenty of drug money.”

December 5, 2017

RT — Formerly Russia Today

US urges Pakistan to ‘redouble’ counter-terrorism efforts – or let CIA do it

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis urges more efforts on counter-terrorism from Pakistan’s government leaders, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir, December 4, 2017. U.S. DoD photo

Washington has urged Islamabad to “redouble” its efforts in fighting terrorists. And while Pakistan insists that “no safe heavens” exist in the Central Asian country, the CIA over the weekend vowed to fight terrorism with or without Islamabad.

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On Monday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis arrived in Pakistan, seeking to convince Islamabad to get onboard with the Trump administration’s “Afghanistan strategy.” In a speech in August, President Donald Trump slammed Pakistan for “sheltering terrorists” and threatened to reduce the aid to the country if it continues to “harbor criminals and terrorists.” While Islamabad has repeatedly rejected such accusations, on Monday Mattis once again called on Pakistan to do more to fight jihadists.

“The Secretary reiterated that Pakistan must redouble its efforts to confront militants and terrorists operating within the country,” the Pentagon said in a statement after Mattis met with a number of Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defense Minister Khuram Dastgir.

 

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis recognizing Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terrorism, emphasized the vital role that can play in working with the and others to facilitate a peace process in .


Mattis is the second senior US official, after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to have visited the country in recent months as the US revamps its counter-terrorism strategy in the region. Pakistan enjoys certain privileges as one of 16 nations that Washington introduced to a “Non-NATO Major Allies” club. As a member of this group, Pakistan receives billions of dollars in aid and access to US military technology. Pakistan may, however, potentially lose such privileges if it diverges from the US course.

READ MORE: US wants Pakistan military force in Afghanistan but won’t pay the cost – former intelligence chief

On Monday, the government in Islamabad reiterated that it does not protect or harbor extremists, less than a week after the Pentagon accused the country of doing almost nothing to fight the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network.

“The prime minister reiterated that there are no safe havens in Pakistan and the entire nation was committed to its resolve on eradicating terrorism once and for all in all its forms and manifestations,” the Pakistani government said in a statement.

Prime Minister Abbasi also noted that no other country “benefits more” from stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan. He stressed that both the US and Pakistan have “common stakes in securing peace and security in Afghanistan for the long term stability of the broader region.”

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa told Mattis that the Pakistani military and security forces “have eliminated safe havens from Pakistan’s soil,” but added that the Pakistanis are “prepared to look into the possibility of miscreants exploiting Pakistan’s hospitality to the Afghan refugees to the detriment of our Afghan brothers.”

Statements made by Pakistani officials contradict the assessment voiced by the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, who last week accused the Taliban fighters of “living in comfort outside of the country with plenty of drug money.”

Gen. John Nicholson told reporters Tuesday that the US has not seen Pakistan implement any changes, despite being pressured by Trump to do so.

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“We are hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing the Durand Line,” Nicholson said. “The offensive operations against sanctuaries would be in other areas that we’ve identified with the Pakistani leadership on a number of occasions.”

READ MORE: No troop pullout, threats to Pakistan in Trump speech on new Afghanistan strategy (VIDEO)

Reassurance voiced by the Pakistani officials comes just days after Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) explained that the US “will do everything it can to ensure they don’t exist anymore.”

“In the absence of the Pakistanis achieving that, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that that safe haven no longer exists,” Pompeo said, according to the Voice of America.

https://www.rt.com/usa/411940-pakistan-redouble-terrorism-fight/

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CIA chief Pompeo says he warned Iran’s Soleimani over Iran’s “threatening behavior”

December 3, 2017

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (Reuters) – U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said on Saturday he sent a letter to Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani and Iranian leaders expressing concern regarding Iran’s increasingly threatening behavior in Iraq.

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FILE PHOTO: CIA Director Mike Pompeo arrives the FDD National Security Summit in Washington, U.S., October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Speaking during a panel at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in Southern California, Pompeo said he sent the letter after the senior Iranian military commander had indicated that forces under his control might attack U.S. forces in Iraq. He did not specify the date.

“What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control,” Pompeo told the panel.

“We wanted to make sure he and the leadership in Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.”

Major General Qassem Soleimani

Soleimani, who is the commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, refused to open the letter, according to Pompeo, who took over the CIA in January.

Iranian media earlier quoted Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying an unnamed CIA contact had tried to give a letter to Soleimani when he was in the Syrian town of Albu Kamal in November during the fighting against Islamic State.

“I will not take your letter nor read it and I have nothing to say to these people,” Golpayegani quoted Soleimani as saying, according to the semi-official news agency Fars.

Reuters reported in October that Soleimani had repeatedly warned Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq to withdraw from the oil city of Kirkuk or face an onslaught by Iraqi forces and allied Iranian-backed fighters, and had traveled to Iraq’s Kurdistan region to meet Kurdish leaders.

The presence of Soleimani on the frontlines highlights Tehran’s heavy sway over policy in Iraq, and comes as Shi‘ite Iran seeks to win a proxy war in the Middle East with its regional rival and U.S. ally, Sunni Saudi Arabia.

A U.S.-led coalition has been fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and is often in proximity to Iran-allied militia fighting Isis there.

“You need to only look to the past few weeks and the efforts of the Iranians to exert influence now in Northern Iraq in addition to other places in Iraq to see that Iranian efforts to be the hegemonic power throughout the Middle East continues to increase,” Pompeo said.

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General Soleimani (left) and Iran’s Fireign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

The CIA chief said Saudi Arabia had grown more willing to share intelligence with other Middle Eastern nations regarding Iran and Islamist extremism.

The Israeli government said last month that Israel had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran, a first disclosure by a senior official from either country of long-rumored secret dealings.

“We’ve seen them work with the Israelis to push back against terrorism throughout the Middle East, to the extent we can continue to develop those relationships and work alongside them – the Gulf states and broader Middle East will likely be more secure,” said Pompeo.

Writing by Michelle Price in WASHINGTON, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mary Milliken and Michael Perry

Thousands stage rallies for and against Philippines’ Duterte’s ‘revolutionary government’

December 1, 2017
Thousands of supporters and critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte staged rallies on Thursday for and against his threat to declare a “revolutionary government”, which has fuelled fears of a looming dictatorship.
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Source: 

AFP – SBS

Duterte warned last month he is prepared to establish a “revolutionary government” to fend off alleged efforts to oust him. He railed against the press, European lawmakers and other critics of his drug war, which has left thousands dead and led rights groups to warn of a crime against humanity.

Duterte, who has courted Beijing while loosening his nation’s alliance with Washington, also alleged the US Central Intelligence Agency was part of a plot to destabilise him, and warned he would jail all of his opponents as well as the communist leaders.

Duterte’s critics fear the 72-year-old, who has repeatedly threatened to impose martial law, is intent on dragging the country back into dictatorship and allow himself more freedom in prosecuting his drug war.

Under his centrepiece anti-drug campaign, police have said they have killed almost 4,000 “drug personalities” but human rights activists charge that thousands more have been killed by vigilantes and rogue policemen.

On Thursday Pro-Duterte and anti-Duterte protesters, each rally numbering more than 2,000, gathered in front of the presidential palace in Manila with riot police separating them.

Both groups were largely garbed in red – the traditional Filipino colour for revolutionary movements.

The Duterte supporters waved banners saying ‘We support revolutionary government’, while the other side carried signs saying ‘Fight the Duterte dictatorship’.

The pro-Duterte crowd was allowed to stage their rally in peace, but riot police used fire hoses to drive back the anti-Duterte protesters as they tried to move closer to the palace.

The rallies were staged on a holiday honouring the 154th birth anniversary of Filipino revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio, with the Philippine leader’s critics burning a giant effigy of him while chanting “Down with Duterte!”

Duterte was elected last year largely on an incendiary law-and-order platform in which he promised to eradicate illegal drugs in society by killing 100,000 people.

He has repeatedly expressed impatience with the country’s current laws and constitution, saying they impede progress and do not allow him to fully crack down on crime and corruption.

While surveys show he retains wide popularity, opposition to Duterte has been growing in the face of increasing charges of human rights abuses being carried out under his rule.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/11/30/thousands-stage-rallies-and-against-philippines-dutertes-revolutionary-government

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'REVGOV'. Pro-Duterte demonstrators gather in Mendiola, Manila on November 30, 2017 calling for the establishment of a revolutionary government. All photos by Angie de Silva/Rappler

IN PHOTOS: Mendiola turns red for Duterte’s revolutionary government

President Rodrigo Duterte’s supporters come mostly clad in uniform red shirts, carrying professionally-designed banners, and supplied with food by vans bearing Duterte’s Kitchen logos

Published 10:30 PM, November 30, 2017
Updated 11:13 AM, December 01, 2017

MANILA, Philippines – Mendiola turned red on Bonifacio Day, November 30, as demonstrators surrounded the iconic peace arch to “demand” President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a revolutionary government to address the country’s ills.

The President’s supporters started arriving as early as 9 am for a program that would begin at 4 pm yet. They said they were part of a pro-Duterte coalition called Network Revolution. They came mostly clad in uniform red shirts, carrying professionally-designed tarpaulins and banners, and supplied with food by vans bearing “Duterte’s Kitchen” logos.

In their waiting time, they practiced their chants, but a midday downpour forced them to take cover and halt their warm-up. When the sky cleared, they continued calling for the revocation of the 1987 Constitution. In their rally proper later, they “granted” Duterte sole powers to write new Constitution.

By police estimates, the crowd stood at 1,000 at around 9:30 am, and peaked at 5,000 by around 6 pm. (READ: Can Duterte declare a revolutionary gov’t? Here’s what you need to know)

Here are photos from the rally, taken by Angie de Silva for Rappler:

 Rappler.com

White House Plans Tillerson Ouster From State Dept., to Be Replaced by Pompeo, Within Weeks

November 30, 2017

WASHINGTON — The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, perhaps within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday.

Mr. Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Mr. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump has given final approval to the plan, but he has been said to have soured on Mr. Tillerson and in general is ready to make a change at the State Department. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, developed the transition plan and has discussed it with other officials.

Under his plan, the shake-up of the national security team would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward. But for all of his public combativeness, Mr. Trump is notoriously reluctant to fire people, and it was not known if Mr. Tillerson had agreed to step down by then. Public disclosure of Mr. Kelly’s transition plan may be meant as a signal to the secretary that it is time to go.

At the same time, there was some concern in the White House about the appearance of a rush to the exits given that other senior officials may also leave in the early part of the new year. White House officials were debating whether it would be better to spread out any departures or just get them over with all at once.

The ouster of Mr. Tillerson would end a turbulent reign at the State Department for the former Exxon Mobil chief executive, who has been largely marginalized over the last year. Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Mr. Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Mr. Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea.

Mr. Tillerson’s departure has been widely anticipated for months, but associates have said he was intent on finishing out the year to retain whatever dignity he could. Even so, an end-of-year exit would make his time in office the shortest of any secretary of state whose tenure was not ended by a change in presidents in nearly 120 years.

While some administration officials initially expected him to be replaced by Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Pompeo has become the White House favorite.

Mr. Pompeo, a former three-term member of Congress, has impressed Mr. Trump during daily intelligence briefings and become a trusted policy adviser even on issues far beyond the C.I.A.’s normal mandate, like health care. But he has been criticized by intelligence officers for being too political in his job.

Mr. Cotton has been perhaps Mr. Trump’s most important supporter in the Senate on national security and immigration and a valued outside adviser. Officials cautioned that there was still a debate about whether Mr. Cotton was more valuable to the president in the Senate than in taking over the spy agency in Langley, Va., but he is the consensus choice at the moment.

Under Arkansas state law, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, would appoint a replacement who could serve until the 2018 election. That could put another seat in play during a midterm election when Republicans, with 52 of 100 seats in the Senate, cannot afford to take too many chances. If Mr. Cotton stayed in the Senate, his seat would not be up for election again until 2020.

Asked about a possible move, Caroline Rabbitt Tabler, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cotton, said, “Senator Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”

Mr. Tillerson’s appointment was something of an experiment from the start. Never before had a president named a secretary of state with no prior experience in government, politics or the military. Mr. Trump, who himself had no government or military experience before this year, bet that Mr. Tillerson would be able to translate his formidable skills in the corporate world to international diplomacy after 41 years at Exxon Mobil.

 

But Mr. Tillerson has often been on a different page than Mr. Trump, and he has spent much of his time reorganizing the State Department, slashing its budget and pushing out more than 2,000 career diplomats. Even on that he ran into serious troubles. Just this week, the counselor he brought in to execute his plan quit after just three months.

A sign of his fading fortunes in the White House has been the changing views of Mr. Kelly. Once a defender of Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Kelly is described by colleagues as now having mixed opinions, seeing him as a wounded figure who may no longer be able to be as effective as the president needs his secretary to be.