Kremlin: Britain could ask to interrogate poisoning suspects
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Friday, September 14
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is ready to consider a request by British investigators to come and interrogate the two men accused of poisoning a former spy, the Kremlin said Friday.
Britain charged Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov last week with trying to kill double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok. The Skripals survived the March 4 attack in Salisbury, but a local resident later died after apparently having contact with the poison.
Petrov and Boshirov appeared Thursday on the state-funded RT channel, saying they visited Salisbury as tourists and had nothing to do with the poisoning. They denied the British claim that they were Russian military intelligence officers, saying they work in the nutritional supplements business.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Friday that Russian authorities will consider Britain’s request to interrogate them if it comes. He added that Britain has stonewalled repeated Russian offers to conduct a joint inquiry.
“There is a mechanism of legal assistance regulated by bilateral documents and international law,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “If we receive a formal request from London, it will certainly be considered by the Russian side in strict conformity with the law.”
He added that “from the very beginning, Russia has emphasized its desire to cooperate to clarify the circumstances of what happened in Salisbury and track down the culprits,” but “the British side has strongly rejected such cooperation.”
Britain has said the attack received approval “at a senior level of the Russian state,” an accusation Moscow has fiercely denied.
“Russia’s position has remained unchanged and clear — we consider it unacceptable to link the Russian leadership or the Russian state to what happened in Salisbury,” Peskov said.
Britain identified the Russian suspects last week and released security-camera photos of them in Salisbury on March 3 and 4.
The surprise TV appearance by Petrov and Boshirov came a day after Putin said Russian authorities know the identities of the two men but insisted that they were civilians and there is “nothing criminal” about them.
The men told RT they traveled to Salisbury on March 3 to see its famed cathedral but were turned back by slush and snow, then returned the next day when the weather was better and spent two hours exploring the “beautiful” city.
The pair were caught on camera at Salisbury rail station on March 4, and minutes later another camera spotted them walking in the direction of Skripal’s house — the opposite direction from the cathedral.
The men, who appeared to be about 40, claimed they did not know who Skripal was or where he lived.
James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, on Thursday derided their claims as “lies and blatant fabrications.”
Peskov said he hasn’t yet had time to watch their interview and said he didn’t know if Putin saw it. He wouldn’t elaborate on how long it took the Russian authorities to find the two men, and said that the Kremlin had nothing to do with arranging their interview.
U.S. support for the bombing of Yemen to continue, for now
by Kevin Martin
On September 12, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially certified Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “…are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.” This is required to allow U.S. planes to continue refueling jets for the Saudi/UAE coalition, without which it could not keep dropping bombs on targets in Yemen. Secretary of Defense James Mattis concurred with Pompeo, though congressional legislation required only Pompeo’s say-so.
Anyone who follows international news could be excused for accidentally spitting out their morning coffee at Pompeo’s statement. Among many attacks on civilian targets in Yemen, last month’s bombingof a school bus in a market district, which killed 51 people including 40 children, was among the most horrific, so much so that even Saudi Arabia admitted it was “unjustified.” Of course, the Saudi regime should not be allowed to merely get away with investigating itself (indeed, Human Rights Watch released a 90 page report which is highly critical of the Saudi-UAE coalition’s investigations into its attacks, particularly on civilians).
That bombing, which shocked the conscience of the global community, was only the latest massacre of civilians in Yemen. In 2016, Saudi attacks on a market and funeral hall killed 252 people. In response, the Obama Administration halted the sale of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, citing human rights concerns, but then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson overturned the ban in March, 2017.
The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is considered the world’s worst at this moment, with well over 10,000 people having been killed (an estimated 20 percent are children) and 15 million of the total Yemeni population of 23 million considered “food insecure,” according to the United Nations. Add in the planet’s worst outbreak of cholera in some time, affecting over a million people, and one gets a picture of the dire situation since the civil war began in 2015.
The United States is the number one weapons dealer in the world, and Saudi Arabia is our biggest customer, having purchased more than $100 billion in armaments since 2010. The bombs in all three attacks cited above were built by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturerand the largest U.S. government contractor of any kind, with net sales of more than $13 billion in just the second quarter of this year. It’s not hyperbole to state Lockheed makes a killing, in more ways than one.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate attempted to intervene to stop U.S. in-air refueling of Saudi jets and other logistical, intelligence and targeting support. The bipartisan measure, led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) failed on a procedural vote, 55 to 44. Similar proposals also fell short in the House of Representatives, but peace- and human rights-minded House leaders, led by Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and others will soon try againto stop U.S. support for the slaughter, thinking the school bus bombing may have shocked some hearts and may change some minds.
Concerned individuals should contact their House member and demand they support this common sense effort to cease U.S. participation in this tragedy, without which the Saudi-led coalition could not continue and would likely be forced to negotiate more seriously with the Houthi-backed government. Unfortunately, this conflict is depicted as part of a regional Sunni-Shia supremacy struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which supports the Houthis, but the people of Yemen need the nightmare to end, regardless of geostrategic politics.
Another, more long-term action people of conscience can undertake is to ensure one’s investments or other financial instruments do not benefit Lockheed Martin and other weapons contractors profiting from endless wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. Code Pink, Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee and dozens of organizations support the Divest from the War Machinecampaign, where one can find out more about how to divest individual or organizational holdings from the arms merchants. Another good resource, focused on divestment from nuclear weapons manufacturers, which in general are also the largest weapons makers overall, is Don’t Bank on the Bomb.
Divestment is an important long term strategy, and a strong moral statement. However, Congress can act now, and must.
Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace ActionEducation Fund, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.
Opinion: Protecting Commuter Rail From New Security Threats
By David Norcross
Protecting critical infrastructure is a national security imperative.
We have denied state-backed companies from the Middle East from buying our ports, including in Newark, N.J. We have taken actions against companies from China and Russia that are run by former members of their military, as they tried to embed themselves in our domestic telecoms and software security industries. Yet we have been severely lacking in our efforts thus far to secure our commuter rail systems, which are equally important to our critical infrastructure.
You can’t underestimate the importance of commuter rail to the United States. On any given day, more than 15 million Americans ride a passenger rail vehicle on their way to work, traveling between cities or for pleasure. It’s the lifeblood of many major cities, which are out-sized engines to our country’s growth — benefiting workers, businesses and the economy.
The United States has begun upgrading old commuter rail systems and trains with next generation technology, which is both smarter and more connected. While this will surely increase efficiency and safety of commuter rail, it also presents new potential challenges in protecting the integrity of the system from the threats of the digital age — intentional disruption of day-to-day operations, spying and/or deliberate acts of terrorism.
Given this, you would think that commuter rail would get the same attention and treatment as our port, telecom and technology infrastructure — with smart investments, a watchful eye on suppliers and a strong consideration of security. This is not the case, and it should be worrying for everyone.
In the last few years, four of America’s largest cities — Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia — procured new trains for their commuter rail systems. And all of them awarded a Chinese state-owned company with an opaque ownership structure to supply the rail cars. The company, CRRC, has never delivered on a project of this scale in the United States but underbid the nearest competitor by 25 percent to 50 percent — which is easy to do if you have the financial backing of the Chinese government and a desire to embed your products, which have a lifecycle of 30 to 40 years, into the U.S. rail system.
This should give everybody pause. It’s understandable that transit authorities are focused on financial costs with taxpayer dollars at stake and budgets tight.
However, little to no scrutiny was given to the security risks in choosing a supplier that is owned by the government of a nation that has a well-known history of hacking and digital spying / espionage against Western targets, has been steadily investing in critical infrastructure in other countries to increase its geopolitical leverage, and is increasingly flexing its muscles and asserting itself against the United States.
By producing our smart and more connected rail cars, this allows CRRC and its government backers intimate knowledge of all the ins, outs and backdoors of not just the trains but also the entire commuter rail system. We would also be dependent on them to support this infrastructure during the entire lifecycle. The potential national security costs could be huge if their state backers decide to go rogue.
This is not a far-fetched scenario. Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, recently commented, “I think China … in many ways represents the broadest, most challenging, most significant threat we face as a country. … Theirs is a long-term game that’s focused on just about every industry, every quarter of society in many ways.”
No wonder certain members of Congress, citing the potential threats from China and its moves to establish its position in the U.S. rail industry, are putting forward legislation to thwart certain countries from investing and being important players in our critical infrastructure.
For example, as states consider future rail projects, it would be wise for the decision-makers in the state to give this issue the serious consideration it deserves. Our commuter rail system is vital to our people, businesses and economy — and we need to take all precautions to ensure it is secure, especially as it enters the digital age, like we do for other key areas of our critical infrastructure.
Picking a supplier that does not present the possibility of ulterior motives is an obvious and important start.
ABOUT THE WRITER
David A. Norcross previously ran for U.S. Senate in 1976 and served as chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Bag the Impeachment Talk
By James Huffman
In a recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal, Tom Steyer argues that to save their party Republicans should impeach Trump. Steyer is the founder of Need to Impeach now claiming nearly 6 million adherents nationwide. Though Need to Impeach was launched just six months ago and now lists nine reasons Trump should be impeached, Steyer and the many other Democrats advocating impeachment have been at it from before Trump was sworn into office. And that is why their campaign should worry Republicans and Democrats alike.
Impeachment is a serious business. Removing a constitutionally elected president from office by impeachment is not just an alternative to defeating an incumbent president at the polls. Or at least it has not been over the first 230 years of our republic. Not that the idea hasn’t been pursued as recently as the Clinton administration. But so far no president has been removed from office by impeachment, let alone over purely policy or partisan disagreements, or simple disgust.
The Constitution allows removal of the president by impeachment for the commission of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” While books have been written on the meaning of the latter phrase, the impeachment process prescribed in the Constitution effectively leaves the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors to Congress. So a president can be impeached on any grounds a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate can agree to, with virtually no risk of judicial intervention.
But high crimes and misdemeanors did have reasonably precise meaning to the founding generation, and it did not include resentment over the winning of an election by a boorish, ill-mannered tweeter. Democrats in Congress or the Mueller investigation may yet come up with convincing evidence of truly impeachable offenses, but the fact that they have been searching since the beginning of Trump’s presidency undercuts their claimed reliance on constitutional principle.
Partisan appeal to impeachment is not surprising in the angry partisanship of our national politics. But that no congressional Republican (not even Trump critic John McCain in his waning hours) has embraced Steyer’s argument that only impeachment will save the Republican Party, is testimony to the still partisan nature of the impeachment campaign.
As during the Nixon administration, Republicans in Congress will act if they see their personal political futures at risk, and even a few will act on principle. But so far the case for impeachment is just hopeful allegations founded in rank partisanship.
If there is a threat to our constitutional democracy, it is not the Trump administration. The Constitution provides ample constraints on the president, even if some of those restraints have been eroded over the past several decades. Rather a threat to our or any constitutional democracy is the use of extra-constitutional means to remove a constitutionally elected president.
It will be noted, no doubt, that this president lost the popular vote and is therefore not the people’s choice. But winning the popular vote is not the constitutionally prescribed method for the election of U.S. presidents.
Democrats and Steyer would better serve our constitutional republic by abandoning their partisan impeachment campaign and focusing their energies on the constitutionally prescribed method of electing a president and other public officials who will advance their agenda. And while they are at it, they could set an example for Republicans by electing candidates who will place the good of the nation above partisan victory.
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Huffman is dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Why the Russians might hack the Boy Scouts next
September 13, 2018
Professor of Computer Science, Law and Diplomacy and Cybersecurity, Tufts University
Susan Landau receives funding from Google and the Hewlett Foundation. She is a member of the National Academies Cyber Resilience Forum, is an area editor for the Journal of Cybersecurity, and serves on the Advisory Council of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Tufts University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
In the two years since Russia made headlines for targeting an American political organization – the Democratic National Committee – and undermining Hillary Clinton’s race for the presidency, Russian information warfare tactics have come a long way. That includes using more subtle means of hiding their traces. Recently, Microsoft announced that it had detected Russians targeting conservative think tanks.
The Russians are not just aiming to influence political activities in the U.S. Rather, it’s extremely likely that they will soon target American civic society. They’re the local sports teams, charities, Kiwanis and Lions clubs, churches and even community groups like the Boy Scouts. Those are the groups that knit together a community and a society, providing connections that keep legitimate disagreement from exploding into acrimony and sharp divisions.
It may be hard to imagine Russia going after the Boy Scouts. But consider how Russia is seeking to sow social disconnection and mistrust in Europe. The Kremlin uses disinformation campaigns and other disruptive tools to “sow discord among European Union member states [and] destabilize European polities,” according to a 2016 Atlantic Council report. For instance, a deliberately false news story planted by the Russian government claiming that an Arab migrant had raped a Russian-German teenager exacerbated tensions over Germany’s immigration policies.
Russia is trying to create similar social tension in the U.S. – because an America that is tearing itself apart will be unable to contest Russia internationally.
Russian attacks on civil society
Russian efforts go well beyond interference in the 2016 presidential election. The State Department has documented Russian efforts “focus[ed] on exploiting internal discord in an effort to break centrist consensus on the importance of core institutions.”
Russian-operated accounts have masqueraded as Americans, setting up demonstrations about hot-button issues, including rallies protesting racism and a demonstration against a planned Islamic center in Houston.
Most recently, Russian attackers set up fake websites for the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute, two conservative think tanks seeking to counter Russian export of corrupt practices to the West. The sites were designed to collect login credentials that could be used to publish false, misleading or damaging information that appeared to come from official sources.
A similar technique appears to have been used against Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, in which text messages purporting to be from inside his campaign offered to transport undocumented voters to the polls. The texts were from the campaign – but from a first-time “volunteer” who had signed up under a fake identity. O’Rourke’s campaign quickly disavowed the texts, but the bad taste they created won’t fade as fast. There’s no indication this specific incident was Russian-made, but the example illustrates the type of activity they use to create discord.
The role of social media
Social media gives Russians – and any other adversaries – a perfect tool to foment civic disruption. First, attackers can claim to be in, or from, the U.S., deceiving other users about aspects of their identities. In addition, social media has been designed to be addictive; pulling people toward more extreme views helps keep them hooked. As people are exposed to these views, and their social community shifts, they may find their views changing as well.
In Germany, for instance, a town whose residents used Facebook a lot started out embracing refugees: “So many locals volunteered to help” that the refugee integration center was almost overwhelmed. But then came a rise in hate crimes against the newcomers – while towns whose people used Facebook less saw smaller increases in violence.
What about the Boy Scouts?
In the U.S., the Boy Scouts could be a tempting target for Russians seeking to inflame social discord. Over the past 50 years, the organization has been embroiled in various controversies over social values. The organization has internally – and publicly – debated allowing women to serve in leadership roles, whether to let gay men and boys join and lead scout troops, whether transgender boys could join and, most recently, including girls in Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups.
All of those changes, raising legitimate questions about equality and humanity, involved heated discussions in the scouting community and the wider society. Now imagine that an outside group – one whose only goal was discord – jumped in to deliberately inflame the debate.
Protecting society as a whole
The Russians are coming for American society. They’ve attacked national organizations; it’s only a matter of time until they go after the less protected local groups.
People need better ways to resist the attacks. Technical protections can help. Individuals can improve their cybersecurity, opting for stronger login requirements. Internet companies can develop tools that quickly identify fake accounts and better vet clients to prevent promotions of phony content. But technology can only do so much. Defense is social, not technical.
The Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden – have had great success combating the Russian efforts. Their defenses include knowing their enemy better, education systems that emphasize critical thinking and new efforts to teach ways to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources and actively counter the Russian efforts.
The U.S. is starting from a different, more divided, place, and its solutions must compensate for the inherent differences of the country’s big melting pot. Given the Russian efforts at disinformation and sowing mistrust, it’s time for Americans to change their behavior.
I suggest taking sharp political disagreements offline. That may sound like a step back to the 1990s, but there’s little choice. Social media is great for sharing photos of friends and family. But for anything controversial, including political discussions and civic issues, the technology creates an unequal playing field, making extremism and outrage easier than reason and calm. With adversaries attacking in force, Americans should be responding strongly to protect themselves. What’s at stake is the very society we share.