Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

German leaders to reevaluate Hans-Georg Maassen — 67 percent of Germans have lost faith in Merkel’s coalition

September 23, 2018

The outrage that followed the apparent promotion of Hans-Georg Maassen has forced Angela Merkel’s government into renewed talks. In the fallout, some 67 percent of Germans have lost faith in the chancellor’s coalition.

    
Hans-Georg Maassen and Horst Seehofer standing in front of a blue wall

Amid unrelenting criticism, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenuous governing coalition will meet on Sunday to renegotiate the fate of former domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen. Merkel is set to meet with CSU leader Horst Seehofer and Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles for another shot at a compromise.

Maassen came under fire last week for questioning the validity of a video that showed a far-right mob chasing foreigners in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, and for his links to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Amid calls for his resignation, Merkel’s coalition removed Maassen from his post, but relocated him to a higher level job with higher pay.

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The move drew outrage across the political spectrum. A weekend survey by pollster Emnid for German weekly Bild am Sonntag showed that in the aftermath, some 67 percent of Germans no longer believe the three coalition leaders can work together. Nonetheless, a majority of the public is against the break up of the government and new elections, which effectively puts greater pressure on coalition leaders to make things work.

Read more: Opinion: Keep your nerve, Germany!

SPD under pressure

Strong objections to Maassen’s apparent promotion pushed the SPD’s Nahles to insist on the new round of negotiations. “The government will not collapse over the Maassen case,” Nahles told Bild am Sonntag, in a bid to reassure an anxious public. Merkel signaled on Friday she was open to the new talks.

Read more: Angela Merkel’s fate may rest on SPD solidarity

CSU’s Seehofer, for his part, has rejected the notion that Maassen holds right-wing extremist positions and insisted he should stay in his new post.

The interior minister added there would be “many phone calls over the weekend” and there would only be a meeting on Sunday if he deems the SPD’s demands legitimate enough to find a suitable solution.

Forty-three percent of Germans surveyed answered that Seehofer had lost credibility in their eyes.

jcg/jlw (dpa, Reuters)

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New U.S.-Led Coalition to Track Illicit Fuel Shipments to North Korea

September 14, 2018

Surveillance efforts until now have been a hodgepodge of intelligence-sharing, U.S. officials said

The USS Blue Ridge, here visiting Shanghai in 2016, will host more than 50 personnel from allied countries as part of the expanded surveillance effort.
The USS Blue Ridge, here visiting Shanghai in 2016, will host more than 50 personnel from allied countries as part of the expanded surveillance effort. PHOTO: CHEN FEI/ZUMA PRESS
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WASHINGTON—The U.S. is putting together a multinational coalition to significantly expand surveillance operations seeking ships smuggling fuel to North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions, American military officials said.

The coalition is the first international effort to monitor the ship traffic in the year since the Trump administration launched its “maximum-pressure” sanctions campaign, aimed at strong-arming North Korea into abandoning its nuclear and missile programs. Surveillance efforts until now have been a hodgepodge of intelligence-sharing, U.S. officials said.

More than 50 personnel from allied countries will be hosted aboard the USS Blue Ridge, an American command ship stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. Special quarters, called the Enforcement Coordination Center, have been created on the ship for the operations.

The coalition will include the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada—the U.S.’s partners in the Five-Eyes intelligence alliance—as well as Japan and South Korea. France is also contributing a small number of personnel, officials said.

Coalition countries are also contributing warships and military surveillance aircraft to better spot illicit shipments.

The expanded surveillance will allow for more “bridge-to-bridge” communications between allied ships and suspected smuggling ships—known jokingly inside the military as having “scarlet letters” for their alleged misdeeds. Sanctions violators will no longer be able to plead ignorance, another military official said: “‘I didn’t know’ is no longer an excuse.”

Ships confirmed to be smuggling goods to North Korea are blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council, denying them access to ports of any U.N.-member country.

While most sanctions-busting surveillance focuses on Pyongyang’s revenue-generating exports of coalweapons and labor and its illicit cyber activities, imports of refined petroleum are among Washington’s biggest North Korea worries. A critical lubricant for the North Korean economy, they also drive its military.

The Security Council, led by the U.S., late last year capped annual imports at 500,000 barrels. But North Korea exceeded the cap within the first five months of 2018, according to U.S. intelligence.

The sanctions evasion was aided by Russian and Chinese ships that transferred black-market fuel into North Korean vessels on the high seas to avoid detection, according to U.S. intelligence. Between January and May, two dozen North Korean ships made 89 deliveries of refined petroleum into North Korean ports, according to U.S. intelligence provided to the U.N. and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The deliveries were from high-seas transfers, most from either Russian or Chinese ships, U.S. officials said.

The route of the North Korean ship Chon Myong 1 from Vladivostok to Nampo port, North Korea, shown on an Eikon ship-tracking screen last year. The ship delivered up to 190,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea’s Wonsan port in May, two months after being sanctioned by the U.N.
The route of the North Korean ship Chon Myong 1 from Vladivostok to Nampo port, North Korea, shown on an Eikon ship-tracking screen last year. The ship delivered up to 190,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea’s Wonsan port in May, two months after being sanctioned by the U.N. PHOTO: THOMAS WHITE/REUTERS

Some of those deliveries may have carried volumes allowed under the U.N. sanctions. But many of the ships, according to the Journal’s review of U.S. intelligence and public information, loaded their fuel on the high seas in violation of international bans, had been blacklisted by the Security Council before the deliveries were made, and would be violating the sanctions by carrying volumes that put North Korea over its quota.

The North Korean ship Chon Myong 1, for example, delivered up to 190,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea’s Wonsan port in May, two months after being sanctioned by the U.N. The blacklisted Nam San 8 delivered up to 218,000 barrels of fuel into the Nampo port in May. That vessel was later caught by Japan’s Ministry of Defense conducting a midnight fuel transfer in the East China Sea in July 31.

The new coalition isn’t necessarily a precursor to more aggressive interdictions, such as boarding suspected ships or forcing vessels into allied ports, officials said. Some critics have lobbied for more-assertive enforcement as denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled.

Sharing intelligence data will be a challenge, given that the countries’ goals align on North Korea but may differ widely otherwise. Japan and South Korea, for example, share a mutual distrust, and the U.S. has sometimes struggled to get the two to coordinate. And South Korea is subject to the competing tugs of the U.S., which stations thousands of troops there, and China, whose economic might holds sway.

To help coordinate sensitive intelligence sharing, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the undersecretary of defense for intelligence created a new agreement—the Pacific Security Monitoring Exchange—to define what can and can’t be shared with each of the coalition countries, officials said.

Another challenge is that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has relatively little experience maintaining multilateral relationships, unlike U.S. Central Command, which has hosted coalitions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and in other conflicts.

“Those challenges exist inherently in all multinational exercises and events,” said one military official. “The good thing is that you can work on those challenges and you can learn from them. There are always obstacles to overcome.”

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com and Ian Talley at ian.talley@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-u-s-led-coalition-to-track-illicit-fuel-shipments-to-north-korea-1536922923

Scarred by Previous Wars, Israeli Army’s Ground Forces Struggle to Keep Up

September 1, 2018

The army vowed to address the limitations exposed in Lebanon and Gaza, but is it ready for a ground maneuver deep in enemy territory? ■ Why Nasrallah, an avid Haaretz reader, is worried

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A paratrooper brigade training, last year.
A paratrooper brigade training, last year. Eliyahu Hershkowitz

On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the members of the IDF General Staff gathered for an evening of “team-building” in the Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv. The General Staff forum, headed by then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, heard to a lecture by Prof. Yoram Yovell titled “Between Body and Soul.”

Later that night, after the generals had all gone home, the IDF received the first report, still vague, about an incident in the West Bank. The picture became clear only the next morning. Three youths, yeshiva students in Gush Etzion, were hitchhiking and were picked up by a car driven by Palestinians masquerading as Israelis. The youths, whose bodies were found weeks later west of Hebron, were murdered by the kidnappers, members of a Hamas cell from Hebron.

>>Will Israel be forced to invade and reoccupy Gaza? | Opinion ■ Photos of 300 fighters in elite pre-state Israeli militia were found, and nobody can identify them ■ Israel’s defense chief takes flak for Gaza talks, but there’s still one area where he holds sway | Analysis

The IDF ended the summer of 2014 with scars to both its flesh and spirit, says one of the participants at the General Staff get-together that evening. “From the minute dozens of those released in the Gilad Shalit deal in the West Bank were rearrested, we were already on the slippery slope.” The worsening tensions with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, mostly concerning the tunnel the group dug near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, led to the blow-up – Operation Protective Edge – which began in the second week of July and ended this week, four years ago.

Protective Edge exposed the limitations of the army’s capabilities on the ground. This was the last link, for now, in the not very illustrious chain that began with the Second Lebanon War in 2006, if not earlier. After the failure and disappointment in Lebanon, the IDF announced widespread steps to fix the problems. The units returned to training much more seriously and reservists received new equipment.

But the change wasn’t deep enough after the war in Lebanon: The ground forces remained way down at the bottom of the list of the IDF’s priorities, while the political leadership remained doubtful about its ability to conduct maneuvers on the ground deep inside enemy lines during a war.

This was quite clear during the three operations the IDF has conducted since then in the Gaza Strip. During Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009, only a symbolic ground action was carried out, whose main goal was to prove to the enemy (and the Israeli public) that the army had rehabilitated itself from the trauma of the Second Lebanon War. In the next operation, Pillar of Defense in 2012, large numbers of reserve forces were called up but Israel tried to achieve a cease-fire after only a week of aerial attacks. And in Protective Edge, the IDF’s mission was limited to dealing with the attack tunnels, at a distance of no more than 1.5 kilometers inside the Gaza Strip.

Four years since the end of the last military operation, the doubts remain. What is the real state of the ground forces units? Is there a chance to close the gap between their effectiveness and that of the Air Force, intelligence branch and the technological units? And do the repeated public statements made by the army’s top brass about the necessity of ground maneuvers deep inside enemy territory during wartime have any value?

This debate has become much more important and loaded recently, given the coincidental timing of a number of unrelated events: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s term is ending in a few months and the race is on to choose his successor; the harsh criticism leveled by the outgoing IDF ombudsman on the ground forces’ lack of readiness for war; and the ambitious and resource-filled plan “IDF 2030,” whose main principles were presented this month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Are Netanyahu and Eisenkot on same wavelength?

When Eisenkot entered the chief of staff’s office back in February 2015, he found the ground forces in rather bad shape. As someone who had been the deputy chief of staff under Gantz during Protective Edge, it seems he was not surprised. The criticism that only a few individuals in the General Staff dared to express at the end of the fighting in Gaza became almost a consensus a few months later:

Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018.
Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018. Amir Cohen/Reuters

During Protective Edge, the IDF failed in suppressing the rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip; the Air Force did not have enough precise intelligence about Hamas targets; the level of preparedness of the various units to carry out their missions, and first and foremost dealing with the tunnels, whose importance increased during the fighting, was too low; and the use of the forces on the ground during the fighting suffered from a lack of creativity.

In a document distributed throughout the military a month after his appointment, in preparation for the composing of the multi-year Gideon plan for the IDF, the new chief of staff wrote: “A deep change is needed in the IDF to carry out its missions.” Eisenkot asserted that the problems in the IDF did not end with questions about the leadership and values, but reflected a much deeper professional crisis within the ground forces. He found an army that had gotten fat in the all the wrong places in the decade after the Second Lebanon War. A large army that was not focused on its principle missions and had not undergone the necessary structural changes.

Gideon included a number of unprecedented changes. Eisenkot’s multi-year plan was not just a long shopping list of inflated requirements. It identified central discrepancies and tried to deal with them, with Eisenkot personally overseeing from up close the pace of implementation of his instructions.

The plan’s focus for the ground forces was on missions needed for a decisive victory on the ground. The updated version of the document on the IDF’s strategy, which was released in April this year, stated: “The operation of the forces will combine the physical and softer capabilities in all dimensions of the war, including: Rapid and lethal maneuvering to the objectives viewed by the enemy as valuable, multi-dimensional fire … and actions in the dimension of information, such as cyber [warfare] and awareness.”

The document differentiates between two approaches to operating the forces: The decisive victory approach and the approach of prevention and influence. As for decisive victory, the document states that during fighting according to this approach: “The military force will be used for attack whose goal is to move the war into the enemy’s territory as quickly as possible.” The IDF will prepare for attack in one or more regions, based on an “immediate and simultaneous integrated strike” that will include a “maneuvering endeavor with crushing capability – survivable, quick, lethal and flexible” alongside “wide-scale precise fire based on high-quality intelligence.”

Eisenkot’s unusual decision to release the document to the public, the first of its kind ever published, reflected an attempt to hold a public dialogue with the government and security cabinet. According to MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), the chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Security Preparedness and Maintenance, Eisenkot is “basically telling them: In 2006 and in 2014, the political and military leadership were completely paralyzed as a result of the fears of the expected casualties in a ground maneuver. The result was that the operation lasted until in the end it was decided on a limited maneuver, which was conducted in an incorrect manner and achieved nothing. Eisenkot’s public message is: I am preparing the ground forces for a quick and lethal maneuver and you will have to decide whether to use it within a short time after war breaks out.”

But the report produced by Shelah’s subcommittee, which was released in September 2017, hinted at disparities between Eisenkot’s vision and its full implementation. The report states that Eisenkot has laid down the correct directions but equipping and building the forces is proceeding at too slow a pace. It seems the subcommittee was referring in part to the scope of the procurement plans for active defense, such as the Trophy armored protection system for tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the large gap between the regular army’s capabilities and that of some of the reserve brigades.

This criticism is all the more acute in light of the debate over future defense budgets. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented a request last year for a budgetary supplement of about 13 billion shekels ($3.6 billion), based on changes in the challenges facing the IDF – including the Iranian presence in Syria and the improved accuracy of the missiles in Hezbollah’s hands – along with the Defense Ministry’s new interpretations of previous agreements reached with the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu, in a meeting of the security cabinet held two weeks ago, went even further. The strategic threats require setting the defense budget as a fixed percentage of the GDP, he said. Considering the optimistic economic growth rates he forecasts, about 3 percent a year, Netanyahu wants to add tens of billions of shekels to the defense budget over the next decade. He listed a number of main areas where he thinks money is needed, including precision weaponry, missile and rocket interception systems, both defensive and offensive cyber-warfare tools, completing the construction of the country’s border fences and improving protection for the home front. None of the areas presented by Netanyahu as candidates for increased spending as part of the strategic plan directly concern the ground forces, and large sums were included for implementing these capabilities in the multi-year Gideon plan.

Shelah says that Netanyahu “views the IDF as a boxer in a 15-round fight: Heavy, strong and well protected. This does not correspond with the principle of shortening the period of the fighting, which appears in the IDF’s strategy document. [Netanyahu] did not present a security doctrine, only a shopping list that does not come together in real capabilities. The large amount of money that will be spent on it will prevent the closing of the gaps remaining in the ground forces’ capabilities, and will turn what has already been invested into a white elephant. This is how we may well find ourselves without the ability for decisive victory, not in one way and not in any other way.”

The Gideon plan was designed for a specific direction and even though it was never fully implemented, it aspired to rehabilitate the ground forces. In his recent statements, it seems Netanyahu has made a U-turn: A battle of fire from far away, a great deal more than just maneuvering on the ground. Netanyahu’s ideas are not synchronized with what the General Staff has presented, not in the goals of the war and not in the view of how the military is used: stand-off attacks from a distance as opposed to contact up close.

“Lacking a decision, our view on the question of what we want to achieve in the war and how to do so, we may well invest many billions without them becoming a critical mass that will create a concrete achievement. Netanyahu is talking about tens of billions [of shekels] but every shekel we spend now without deciding first what we want, will be wasted,” warns Shelah.

Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.
Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.Jack Guez/AFP Photo

Artificial Intelligence Is Now a Pentagon Priority. Will Silicon Valley Help?

August 27, 2018

In a May memo to President Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis implored him to create a national strategy for artificial intelligence.

Mr. Mattis argued that the United States was not keeping pace with the ambitious plans of China and other countries. With a final flourish, he quoted a recent magazine article by Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state, and called for a presidential commission capable of “inspiring a whole of country effort that will ensure the U.S. is a leader not just in matters of defense but in the broader ‘transformation of the human condition.’” Mr. Mattis included a copy of Mr. Kissinger’s article with his four-paragraph note.

Mr. Mattis’s memo, which has not been reported before and was viewed by The New York Times, reflected a growing sense of urgency among defense officials about artificial intelligence. The consultants and planners who try to forecast threats think A.I. could be the next technological game changer in warfare.

The Chinese government has raised the stakes with its own national strategy. Academic and commercial organizations in China have been open about working closely with the military on A.I. projects. They call it “military-civil fusion.”

By Cade Metz
The New York Times

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, has argued to President Trump that the United States is not keeping pace with the ambitious plans of China and other countries when it comes to artificial intelligence. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

It is not clear what impact, if any, Mr. Mattis’s memo had. Though the White House announced in May — about three weeks before he sent his note — that it would establish a panel of government officials to study A.I. issues, critics say the administration still has not done enough to set federal policy. Officials with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which would most likely take a leadership role in setting an agenda for A.I., said that A.I. is a national research and development priority and that it is part of the president’s national security and defense strategies.

Nonetheless, the Pentagon appears to be pushing ahead on its own, looking for ways to strengthen its ties with A.I. researchers, particularly in Silicon Valley, where there is considerable wariness about working with the military and intelligence agencies.

In late June, the Pentagon announced the creation of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC. Defense officials have not said how many people will be dedicated to the new program or where it will be based when it starts next month. It could have several offices around the country.

The Defense Department wants to shift $75 million of its annual budget into the new office and a total of $1.7 billion over five years, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not allowed to speak about it publicly.

Known as “the Jake,” the center is billed as a way of facilitating dozens of A.I. projects across the Defense Department. This includes Project Maven, an effort to build technology to identify people and things in video captured by drones that has come to symbolize the ideological gap between the government and Silicon Valley.

Around the time Mr. Mattis wrote his memo to Mr. Trump, thousands of Google employees were protesting their company’s involvement in Project Maven. After the protests became public, Google withdrew from the project.

The protests might have been a surprise to Pentagon officials, since big tech companies have been defense contractors for as long as there has been a Silicon Valley. And there is some irony in any industry reluctance to work with the military on A.I., given that research competitions sponsored by an arm of the Defense Department, called Darpa, jump-started work on the technology that goes into the autonomous vehicles many tech companies are now trying to commercialize.

But in the eyes of some researchers, creating robotic vehicles and developing robotic weapons are very different. And they fear that autonomous weapons pose an unusual threat to humans.

“This is a unique moment, with so much activism coming out of Silicon Valley,” said Elsa Kania, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that explores policy related to national security and defense. “Some of it is informed by the political situation, but it also reflects deep concern over the militarization of these technologies as well as their application to surveillance.”

The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, officials hope, will help close that gap.

“One of our greatest national strengths is the innovation and talent found in our private sector and academic institutions, enabled by free and open society,” Brendan McCord, a former Navy submarine officer and an A.I. start-up veteran who will lead the center, said during a public meeting in Silicon Valley last month. “The JAIC will help evolve our partnerships with industry, academia, allies.”

The center, he added, will work with “traditional and nontraditional innovators alike,” meaning longtime government contractors like Lockheed Martin as well as newer Silicon Valley companies. The Pentagon has worked with more than 20 companies on Project Maven so far, but it hopes to expand this work and overcome the reluctance among workers.

This summer, a Pentagon researcher worked alongside a small but influential Silicon Valley artificial intelligence lab, Fast.ai, on a public effort to build technology capable of accelerating the development of A.I. systems.

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Kremlin Sources Go Quiet, Leaving C.I.A. in the Dark About Putin’s Plans for Midterms

August 24, 2018

In 2016, American intelligence agencies delivered urgent and explicit warnings about Russia’s intentions to try to tip the American presidential election — and a detailed assessment of the operation afterward — thanks in large part to informants close to President Vladimir V. Putin and in the Kremlin who provided crucial details.

But two years later, the vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent, leaving the C.I.A. and other spy agencies in the dark about precisely what Mr. Putin’s intentions are for November’s midterm elections, according to American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The officials do not believe the sources have been compromised or killed. Instead, they have concluded they have gone to ground amid more aggressive counterintelligence by Moscow, including efforts to kill spies, like the poisoning in March in Britain of a former Russian intelligence officer that utilized a rare Russian-made nerve agent.

Current and former officials also said the expulsion of American intelligence officers from Moscow has hurt collection efforts. And officials also raised the possibility that the outing of an F.B.I. informant under scrutiny by the House intelligence committee — an examination encouraged by President Trump — has had a chilling effect on intelligence collection.

By  Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg
The New York Times
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Vital C.I.A. informants in or close to the Kremlin have largely gone silent ahead of November’s midterm elections, American officials said. Credit Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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Technology companies and political campaigns in recent weeks have detected a plethora of political interference efforts originating overseas, including hacks of Republican think tanks and fake liberal grass-roots organizations created on Facebook. Senior intelligence officials, including Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, have warned that Russians are intent on subverting American democratic institutions.

But American intelligence agencies have not been able to say precisely what are Mr. Putin’s intentions: He could be trying to tilt the midterm elections, simply sow chaos or generally undermine trust in the democratic process.

The officials, seeking to protect methods of collection from Russia, would not provide details about lost sources, but acknowledged the degradation in the information collected from Russia. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal classified information. A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment.

To determine what the Russian government is up to, the United States employs multiple forms of intelligence, including intercepted communications and penetrated computer networks.

The United States continues to intercept Russian communication, and the flow of that intelligence remains strong, said current and former officials. And Russian informants could still meet their C.I.A. handlers outside Russia, further from Moscow’s counterintelligence apparatus.

But people inside or close to the Kremlin remain critical to divining whether there is a strategy behind seemingly scattershot efforts to undermine American institutions.

Spies and informants overseas also give American intelligence agencies early warning about influence campaigns, interference operations or other attempts to compromise the United States. That information, in turn, can improve the ability of domestic agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I., to quickly identify and attempt to stop those efforts.

Because clandestine meetings can take months to set up and complete, a lengthy lag can pass before the C.I.A. realizes a key source has gone silent, according to former officials. It is rare for the agency to discover immediately that informants have eroded or are running scared. Only after several missed meetings might C.I.A. officers and analysts conclude that a source has decided it is too dangerous to pass information.

In 2016, American intelligence officials began to realize the scope of Russia’s efforts when they gathered intelligence suggesting that Moscow wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help sow chaos. John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified before the House Intelligence Committee in May 2017 about a tense period a year earlier when he came to believe that Mr. Putin was trying to steer the outcome toward a victory for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Brennan described the broad outlines of the intelligence in his congressional testimony, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials. “I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive,” Mr. Brennan told lawmakers.

This year, Mr. Coats issued a series of warnings saying the Russian government, and Mr. Putin in particular, is intent on undermining American democratic systems.

At an appearance this month at the White House, Mr. Coats said intelligence agencies “continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try and weaken and divide the United States.” He added that those efforts “cover issues relevant to the elections.”

But officials said there has been no concrete intelligence pointing to Mr. Putin ordering his own intelligence units to wade into the election to push for a certain outcome, beyond a broad chaos campaign to undermine faith in American democracy. Intelligence agencies do not believe Mr. Putin has changed his strategy; instead, officials believe they simply do not have the same level of access to information from the Kremlin’s inner circle.

Intelligence collection appears to have suffered after Russia expelled officials from American diplomatic outposts there in retaliation for the United States removing 60 Russian officials this year, said John Sipher, a 28-year veteran of the C.I.A. who served in Moscow in the 1990s and later ran the agency’s Russia program.

The C.I.A.’s Moscow presence, according to former officers, was always small, at least in light of the importance of the target, the difficulty of spycraft and the amount of counterintelligence the Russians dedicated to thwarting American spies.

“The Russians kicked out a whole bunch of our people,” Mr. Sipher said. “Our station in Moscow is probably really small now and they are under incredible surveillance.”

Mr. Putin has also said he is intent on killing so-called traitors, comments he made just ahead of the high-profile assassination attempt of the former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei V. Skripal.

“The Russians are very focused and upset,” Mr. Sipher said. “They have shown they are willing to kill sources.”

Informants close to Putin are very rare, according to current and former officials. The United States, in recent years, has had only a few, and at times been reliant on only one or two for the most important insights on Mr. Putin, according to former officials. If those people go silent for their own protection, it can make it very hard for the agency to look inside Moscow.

The United States still should have a clear view of Mr. Putin’s strategies and intention to interfere in Democratic elections, said Michael Carpenter, a Russia expert and former Obama administration official. He pointed to fake social media accounts created as part of Russian intelligence operations that have drummed up support for white nationalists and the Black Lives Matter movement, and have supported far right, far left and pro-Russian candidates in the United States and in Europe.

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, issued warnings in recent weeks that Russia is intent on undermining American democratic systems. Credit Erin Schaff for The New York Times

“Clearly Russia is playing both sides of controversial issues precisely to sow chaos. But that said it is not just chaos, there are certain candidates Russia prefers to see in office,” said Mr. Carpenter, now at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. “The Russians are trying to support anti-establishment and pro-Russian candidates, not just in the U.S. but everywhere.”

Still, there is little doubt about the crucial nature of informants, said Seth G. Jones, who leads the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research organization.

“It is essential to have sources coming from inside the government. It was during the Cold War and it is today,” Mr. Jones said. “There are multiple ways to collect intelligence against your adversary, in this case the Russian government. But sources can provide you things you might not otherwise get, like documents, intelligence assessments.”

Sources can provide photographs of Russian documents and intelligence that are hard to intercept electronically, and that can help the United States figure out what Russia is targeting, not just with its election meddling but with its attempts to infiltrate financial systems, the power grid and other critical infrastructure, Mr. Jones said.

The full reasons the sources have gone silent are not known. But current and former officials also said the exposure of sources inside the United States has also complicated matters.

This year, the identity of an F.B.I. informant, Stefan Halper, became public after House lawmakers sought information on him and the White House allowed the information to be shared. Mr. Halper, an American academic based in Britain, had been sent to talk to Trump campaign advisers who were under F.B.I. scrutiny for their ties to Russia.

Current American officials said there is no direct evidence that the exposure of Mr. Halper has been cited by overseas informants as a source of concern.

But the officials said that some allies have cited the exposure of the informant and other intelligence leaks in curbing some of the intelligence they share. And former spies believe that, long-term, the exposure will hurt overseas collection.

“Publicizing sources is really bad for the business,” Mr. Sipher said. “The only thing we can offer people is that we will do anything in our power to protect them. And anything that wears away at that trust, hurts.”

Follow Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg on Twitter:@julianbarnes and@AllMattNYT.

Adam Goldman contributed reporting.

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/24/us/politics/cia-russia-midterm-elections.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Naval Experts Concerned By China’s Increasing Presence in the Mediterranean

August 24, 2018

The workshop held at the University of Haifa studied and assessed the issues concerning the future and character of maritime warfare in the region as well as various strategic developments.

BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
 AUGUST 23, 2018 15:28
Israel navy

Israeli navy patrol vessels take part in a drill simulating the targeting of an infiltrated enemy vessel and the evacuation of a patrol boat, in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Ashdod, southern Israel November 8, 2016.. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

The increasing presence of China in the Mediterranean region as part of the Asian giant’s Belt and Road Initiative should be a cause of concern, experts told The Jerusalem Post this week.

“What concerns us is China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its growing role in Israel’s maritime domain, especially the operating of Haifa port,” Rear Admiral (Ret.) Prof. Shaul Chorev told the Post during a two-day workshop held by the University of Haifa-Hudson Institute Consortium on the Eastern Mediterranean (Hudson Institute and the Haifa Research Center for Maritime Policy and Strategy).

Under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Action Plan released in 2015, China’s “new Silk Road” will connect Beijing with 68 countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe via land routes (the “Belt”) and maritime routes (the “Road”) with the goal of improving trade relationships primarily through infrastructure investments.

According to a report by the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), a leading German think tank, the Chinese workers building the network of infrastructure developments as part of the multi-billion dollar initiative are secured by 3,200 Chinese – many of them veterans of China’s People’s Liberation Army – employed by 20 registered private security companies.

These security companies operate in places like Sudan, Pakistan and Iraq, where the risk of kidnapping or attacks against Chinese workers is high due to political unrest.

In Israel, China has invested in major infrastructure projects including the expansion of Haifa and Ashdod ports, the construction of the Mount Carmel tunnels in Haifa, and the building of the Tel Aviv light rail. Elsewhere in the Middle East, including Turkey, various Gulf emirates and Iran – which is China’s top trading partner – Beijing has similarly been active in building infrastructure projects.

According to Admiral (res.) Gary Roughead, who served as the 29th Chief of Naval Operations and Commander of the United States Fleet Forces Command, the ability to collect information by civilian systems from military systems should be of concern to both Israel and the United States.

“In a world in which so much depends on how information moves, the types of systems we are using and the ability to collect information and intelligence from those systems is of significant concern,” warned Roughhead, who today teaches at the University of Haifa-Hudson Institute Consortium on the Eastern Mediterranean, and is the Robert and Marion Oster Distinguished Military Fellow at the Hoover Institute, an American public policy think tank and research institution located at Stanford University in California.

“It’s not just someone listening in, but what is the technology being used in commercial systems which can bleed into military systems. How vulnerable are they to interference? It’s not something that just Israel and the Port of Haifa should be concerned about. What is being tested on an Israeli warship and how easily can those signals be picked up? What are the mechanisms in place to prevent that?”

The workshop, held at the University of Haifa, assessed the future of maritime warfare in the region as well as various strategic developments. The workshop also examined ways in which Israel and the United States can cooperate in the maritime domain.
According to Douglas Feith, director at the Center for National Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute, some civilian cyber-defense technology used for commercial purposes “are the top of the line that militaries should adapt and use for their own purposes.”

Ties and trade between Israel and China have increased dramatically in the past few years. According to data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, exports to China reached $2.8 billion in the first half of 2018, a 73% increase compared to the previous year.

While visiting Beijing in 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said China accounts for one-third of the investment in Israel’s high-tech sector.

The Belt and Road initiative, Feith added, must be looked at from various perspectives.

“If you are going to look at phenomena like this initiative, you should look at it from all points of view,” he said. “Most militaries use civilian technology, and that’s one reason why the Chinese favor economic activities like expanding ports. These are not only commercial, but commercial with military implications.”

https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Navel-experts-concerned-over-Chinas-increasing-presence-in-Mediterranean-565625

Russian Hackers Appear to Shift Focus to U.S. Power Grid

July 28, 2018

State-sponsored Russian hackers appear far more interested this year in demonstrating that they can disrupt the American electric utility grid than the midterm elections, according to United States intelligence officials and technology company executives.

Despite attempts to infiltrate the online accounts of two Senate Democrats up for re-election, intelligence officials said they have seen little activity by Russian military hackers aimed at either major American political figures or state voter registration systems.

Image result for u.s. electric grid, photos

By comparison, according to intelligence officials and executives of the companies that oversee the world’s computer networks, there is surprisingly far more effort directed at implanting malware in the electrical grid.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings, but their conclusions were confirmed by several executives of technology and technology security firms.

By David Sanger
The New York Times

This week, the Department of Homeland Security reported that over the last year, Russia’s military intelligence agency had infiltrated the control rooms of power plants across the United States. In theory, that could enable it to take control of parts of the grid by remote control.

While the department cited “hundreds of victims” of the attacks, far more than they had previously acknowledged, there is no evidence that the hackers tried to take over the plants, as Russian actors did in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.

In interviews, American intelligence officials said that the department had understated the scope of the threat. So far the White House has said little about the intrusions other than raise the fear of such breaches to maintain old coal plants in case they are needed to recover from a major attack.

On Friday, President Trump was briefed on government efforts to protect the coming midterm elections from what a White House statement described as “malign foreign actors.” It said it was giving cybersecurity support to state and local governments to protect their election systems.

“The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state to other malicious actors,” the statement said.

Read the rest:

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/27/us/politics/russian-hackers-electric-grid-elections-.html

Related:

Small-Scale Attack on U.S. Power Grid Could Cause Nationwide Blackout

http://insider.foxnews.com/2014/03/13/rpt-small-scale-attack-us-power-grid-could-cause-nationwide-blackout

Image result for u.s. electric grid, photos

U.S. officials say Russian government hackers have penetrated energy and nuclear company business networks

U.S. officials say Russian government hackers have penetrated energy and nuclear company business networks

Facebook pledges tough U.S. election security efforts as critical memo talks about “creepy” features, failures

July 25, 2018

Facebook officials on Tuesday said the company is using a range of techniques including artificial intelligence to counter Russian operatives or others who use deceptive tactics and false information to manipulate public opinion.

Image may contain: one or more people and phone

The officials told reporters in a telephone briefing they expected to find such efforts on the social network ahead of the U.S. mid-term elections in November, but declined to disclose whether they have already uncovered any such operations.

Facebook has faced fierce criticism over how it handles political propaganda and misinformation since the 2016 U.S. election, which U.S. intelligence agencies say was influenced by the Russian government, in part through social media.

The controversy has not abated despite Facebook initiatives including a new tool that shows all political advertising that is running on the network and new fact-checking efforts to inform users about obvious falsehoods.

But the company reiterated on Tuesday that it will not take down postings simply because they are false. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last week drew fire for citing Holocaust denials as an example of false statements that would not be removed if they were sincerely voiced.

Tuesday’s briefing, which included Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, and Tessa Lyons, manager of Facebook’s core “news feed,” came just before the publication of an internal staff message from Facebook’s outgoing chief security officer that was sharply critical of many company practices.

The note by Alex Stamos, written in March after he said he was going to leave the company, urged colleagues to heed feedback about “creepy” features, collect less data and “deprioritize short-term growth and revenue” to restore trust. He also urged the company’s leaders to “pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues.”

Image result for Alex Stamos, photos

Stamos posted the note on an internal Facebook site but Reuters confirmed its authenticity. It was first disclosed by Buzzfeed News.

Stamos said the company needed to be more open in how it manages content on its network, which has become a major medium for political activity in many countries around the world. Tuesday’s media briefing was part of the company’s efforts in that direction.

Lyons said the company was making progress in smoothing its process for fact-checkers assigned to label false information. Once an article is labeled false, users are warned before they share it and subsequent distribution drops 80 percent, Lyons said.

Posts from sites that often distribute false information are ranked lower in the calculations that determine what each user sees but are not entirely removed from view.

Gleicher said those seeking to deliberately promote misinformation often use fake accounts to amplify their content or run afoul of community standards, both of which are grounds for removing posts or entire pages.

He said the company would use a type of artificial intelligence known as machine learning as part of its efforts to root out abuses.

Trump-Putin meeting sets a new world order

July 17, 2018

The president has upended the global definitions of friends and foes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 10:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 10:10am

This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Christopher Cadelago on politico.com July 17, 2018.

US President Donald Trump cast his meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a step “towards a brighter future”.

But the global community had a different assessment: the summit in Helsinki signalled the manifestation of a new world order.

As Trump decamped from his weeklong trip to Europe, he was holding up America’s friends as its “foes,” and presenting Russia, the former superpower scorned by his predecessor as a fading regional player, as significant enough to be in competition with the US.

Trump, during a surreal joint news conference following the meeting, showed deference to Putin by repeatedly refusing to criticise the Russian president, noting that his description of him as a “competitor” was meant purely as a compliment.

At another point, Trump stepped in to answer a pointed question directed at Putin, only days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee and his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign to help Trump win the contest.

Trump told reporters that while he has “great confidence” in US intelligence officials, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Mueller’s spokesman declined to comment.

The president’s regard for Putin – who on Monday affirmed his preference for Trump in the 2016 election – contrasted sharply with his increasingly tough talk toward Europe, language that chips away at international order, to still unclear affect.

A similar dynamic played out last month in Singapore, when Trump left flustered allies, including Canada, behind after departing the G7 summit to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whom he called “tough” and “very smart”.

“It’s just really striking,” said Thomas Wright, director of the Centre on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

“I think it shows he’s much more comfortable with strongman adversaries than he is with democratic allies.”

For Trump, who often expresses his views on trade and economics as a zero-sum game, his friendliness toward a country or region can be measured by the degree to which they are seen as an economic threat to the US, experts noted.

A news ticker displays headlines from the meeting of US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on the News Corp building in New York. Photo: Reuters

By that measure, Europe and Canada are far scarier than Russia – despite it being at the centre of years of Republican attacks on Democrats over security issues.

Though Trump has long expressed affection for authoritarian rulers, it’s the degree to which Trump is eroding US relationships with others around the world that is leading some to call for the resignation of his top officials and commanding the focus of spurned foreign leaders.

Trump over the last week lashed out at European leaders, suggesting that Nato nations double the amount of their gross domestic product that they spend on defence; ripped German officials for approving a natural gas pipeline link from Russia; falsely denied criticising British Prime Minister Theresa May behind her back, and answered a CBS interviewer’s question about who he considers to be his biggest foe by naming the European Union.

Trump specifically cited “what they do to us on trade”.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: Xinhua

“Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe,” he added.

“Russia is a foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly a foe.”

In Germany, Trump’s rebuke left such a lashing that the country’s foreign minister said he has no choice but to believe that Europe can no longer count on the president and must begin further turning inward for support.

“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

Added Maas: “Europe must not let itself be divided however sharp the verbal attacks and absurd the tweets may be.”

The backlash in Britain was already setting in when Trump slammed May in The Sun tabloid and spoke glowingly about her political rival.

Thousands protested in the streets under a giant balloon depicting Trump as an orange baby and headlines blasted his break with protocol by walking in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Trump opened Monday blaming American “foolishness and stupidity” and the investigation into Russian election meddling that he dismisses as a “rigged witch hunt,” for historically strained relations with Russia.

Despite earlier listing Russia in his list of adversaries, his Europe trip seemed to give Putin few reasons to be displeased overall.

Putin, for his part, seemed to shape-shift from international outlaw into veteran statesman, calm, cool and collected. Only once did he seem to directly confront the Trump agenda, when he credited the Iran nuclear deal that Trump tore up for allowing the Middle East country to “become the most controlled in the world.”

But experts who lauded the relationship-building goals of the meeting suggest the larger context surrounding it were not conducive to long-term success, including the Russian hacking indictments handed down Friday, last week’s Nato summit, and last month’s G-7. The former is a particularly sensitive subject for Trump because it threatens to undercut his own role in the 2016 victory.

“The whole concept of that came up perhaps a little bit before, but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election which, frankly, they should have been able to win, because the Electoral College is much more advantageous for Democrats, as you know, than it is to Republicans,” Trump said in response to a question meant for Putin about why he should be believed that Russia didn’t interfere.

Christopher Preble, vice-president for defence and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and a proponent of the meeting, said Trump’s answers won’t soon settle the charged subject.

“It amounts to the president of the United States appearing to give more credence to the claims of Vladimir Putin than to the claims of his own intelligence, law enforcement and national security agencies.”

But Preble, considering the awkward timing of the meeting, urged sceptics not to discount possible long-term benefits for the US relationship with Russia, not Europe.

He concluded: “I didn’t expect Donald Trump to say or do anything dramatically different than what he said and did.”

David Herszenhorn contributed to this report.

White House Orders Broader Access to Files About F.B.I. Informant

July 13, 2018

The White House has rebuffed concerns among American intelligence and law enforcement officials and ordered that more lawmakers be given access to classified information about an informant the F.B.I. used in 2016 to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to two American officials with knowledge of the decision.

Both the director of national intelligence and the director of the F.B.I. tried to keep the classified documents tightly restricted, fearing that a broader dissemination of operational reports and other sensitive material could lead to more leaks of detailed information about the role of the confidential F.B.I. informant.

Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, opposed expanding the number of lawmakers who can read the classified files.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Some American officials believe, in fact, the reason the White House made the decision was to provide political ammunition to President Trump’s Republican allies who have argued — without any evidence — that the F.B.I. investigation was opened in July 2016 as an effort to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president.

The F.B.I. files about the informant will now be available to all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, instead of to just a group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump or a lower-level White House official authorized the move.

The controversy over the F.B.I. informant is one skirmish in a searing political battle that was renewed on Thursday during a contentious hearing convened by the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees that heard testimony from Peter Strzok, an F.B.I. agent who once ran the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

PHOTO: Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok waits to testify before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, July 12, 2018 in Washington.

Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok waits to testify before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, July 12, 2018 in Washington. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

During the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. sent an informant to meet with two Trump campaign advisers after the bureau had received information that the two men had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. The informant, Stefan Halper, an American academic who teaches at Cambridge University in England, had meetings with both Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to gain a better understanding of their contacts with Russians.

The New York Times did not originally name Mr. Halper because of a general practice not to name confidential F.B.I. informants to preserve their safety. Mr. Halper’s name has now been widely reported.

A veteran of several Republican administrations, Mr. Halper has been a source of information to the C.I.A. and other American security agencies for several years, according to people familiar with his work for the government.

F.B.I. officials concluded that they had the legal authority to open the investigation into the Trump campaign after they received information that Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that the Russians had compromising information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before WikiLeaks released stolen messages from Democratic officials.

Mr. Trump’s congressional allies reacted angrily to the revelation of Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation, accusing the bureau of “spying” on the Trump campaign. The president himself has called the issue a “scandal” on Twitter.

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” he wrote in May.

“If true — all time biggest political scandal!”

Congressional leaders have received two briefings about Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation. One of the briefings was attended by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and Emmet T. Flood, a White House lawyer handling issues related to the special counsel’s Russia investigation — leading to vocal criticism on Capitol Hill that it was improper for White House officials to attend a classified briefing about an investigation that involves the president.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress, for weeks has demanded that the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees be given access to documents about the informant’s role in the campaign. He has accused the Justice Department of “obstruction” of a congressional investigation.

Democrats have argued that the true aim of the Republicans is to undermine the Russia investigation — which in May 2017 was taken over by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — and that Republicans want access to F.B.I. files to gain information they can use against the inquiry.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials — including Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director — were opposed to expanding the number of lawmakers who can read the classified files, according to people with knowledge of their thinking.

In a letter to Mr. Coats on Thursday, Democratic members of the Gang of Eight protested the release of the documents, saying that it “contravenes your representation to us and our colleagues that this information would not be shared outside that group.”

“We believe your decision could put sources and methods at risk,” they added.

Representatives for the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

During congressional testimony in May, Mr. Wray gave a thinly veiled warning to lawmakers about the dangers of exposing information about confidential sources.

“The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe,” he said.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: More Access, Not Less, To F.B.I. File On Informant.
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