MI5 chief says ‘diverse’ Islamist threat to UK growing at ‘previously unseen scale & pace’

By ethan / October 17, 2017

Britain’s top domestic intelligence officer has warned that Britain is under unprecedented threat from Islamist terrorists, and says that 20 plots have been foiled in the past four years, while future successful attacks are inevitable.

“That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before,” Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, said during a rare public speech to journalists in London. “It’s at the highest tempo I have seen in my 34-year career. Today there is more terrorist activity, coming at us more quickly, and it can be harder to detect.”

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Floral tributes lie in Parliament Square following the attack in Westminster, central London, Britain March 27, 2017. © Stefan Wermuth

Parker said that 500 live operations are currently monitoring 3,000 potential suspects, out of 20,000 people “connected to terrorism,” which represents “a dramatic upshift in the threat,” as the agency is already having to expand by a quarter to 5,000 staff to cope with a “diverse” set of dangers, united “only by a toxic ideology.”

“The threat is more diverse than I’ve ever known. Plots developed here in the UK, but plots directed from overseas as well. Plots online. Complex scheming and also crude stabbings; lengthy planning but also spontaneous attacks. Extremists of all ages, gender and backgrounds, united only by the toxic ideology of violent victory that drives them,” said Parker, who has headed MI5 since 2013.

Thirty-six people have been killed across the UK in four separate jihadist attacks in 2017, including a suicide bombing in Manchester in May said was not and two deadly vehicular attacks in London, and Parker said that it was impossible for the agency to monitor every threat, or prevent every incident, noting that the Salman Abedi, the man who killed 22 people with a homemade nail bomb, was not even on any extended terror list.

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International director of campaign group Cage, Muhammad Rabbani © Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

“I think we have to be careful that we don’t find ourselves being held to some sort of perfect standard of 100 percent because that just isn’t achievable,” Parker told the audience, adding that his operatives have to make life or death decisions “based on fragments of intelligence, pinpricks of light against a dark and shifting canvas.”

Parker warned that as many as 850 homegrown Islamist recruits were due to return from the Middle East, but cautioned that the most practical danger came from the ease with which trained and amateur “extremists can exploit safe spaces online can make threats harder to detect and give us a smaller window to intervene.”

The MI5 chief said that the did not want to be seen as “King Canute trying to hold back the tide of developing technology” but said that Facebook, Google, Amazon and other internet giants had an “ethical responsibility” in combating terrorism.

“No company wants to provide terrorists with explosive precursors. Social media platforms don’t want to host bomb making videos. And communications providers don’t want to provide the means of terrorist planning, beyond the sight of MI5,” said Parker.

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Pentagon fears hackers could crash the stock market

By ethan / October 17, 2017

The US Department of Defense is concerned that hackers could take down the US financial system and is working with Wall Street traders to figure out a way to protect against the threat.

The Pentagon’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is consulting with dozens of traders and quantitative hedge fund managers to understand the extent of the damage hackers could cause to the US financial system, the Wall Street Journal reports.

DARPA has spent the last year and a half consulting with executives from a range of financial companies in what has been described as an early-stage pilot project to identity market vulnerabilities.

The project is unclassified and DARPA confirmed its details to the WSJ. It’s called the Financial Markets Vulnerabilities Project.

“We started thinking a couple years ago what it would be like if a malicious actor wanted to cause havoc on our financial markets,” DARPA program manager Wade Shen told the newspaper.

In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) admitted hackers accessed its corporate disclosure database in 2016 and may have made a profit from the insider information it stole. The SEC had patched the vulnerability in 2016, but only became aware of the trading in August.

The informal sessions involve brainstorming scenarios where hackers try to bring down the market, participants said.

Some of the possibilities include hackers taking down a payroll system, manipulating trading algorithms and flooding the market with fake orders to sell stock, which could lead to a market crash. Credit card companies and payment processors have been identified as potential targets.

DARPA hopes to create a simulated version of US markets, which it can use to test potential scenarios, Shen said.

The group even examined the possibility that hackers could use “fake news” to create negative stories about companies, and thus make investors nervous.

Consumer credit reporting agency Equifax Inc. suffered a massive security breach in July, when hackers stole the data of more than 143 million customers.

The Hong Kong stock exchange was targeted by hackers in 2011. Hong Kong’s bourse was forced to suspend trading after its website was hacked, which stopped investors from accessing information about companies.

New York’s Nasdaq was also also attacked in 2011, but hackers didn’t access the part of its system that deals with trades.

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Hawaii judge blocks Trump’s travel ban

By ethan / October 17, 2017

A federal judge in Hawaii has granted a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban, saying it was violating immigration law.

Trump’s executive order, issued on September 24, indefinitely restricted travel to the US for citizens from eight countries: Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad.

The order “likely” violated a US law which prohibits nationality-based discrimination with respect to the issuance of immigrant visas, said US District Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii.

The same judge also challenged Trump’s first two travel bans, which targeted six Muslim-majority countries. Watson previously ruled that the orders discriminated against Muslims in light of Trump’s campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

However, Trump’s September order includes two countries – North Korea and Venezuela – that are not majority Muslim, weakening the plaintiffs’ argument that the ban is discriminatory.

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US Supreme Court, Washington © Yuri Gripas

Watson nonetheless cited discrimination in the new order as well. The judge also challenged the “national security” reasoning behind Trump’s travel restrictions, pointing to its “internal incoherencies” which “markedly undermine” the rationale.

“For example, the President finds that Iraq fails the “baseline” security assessment but then omits Iraq from the ban for policy reasons,” Watson wrote.

“Similarly, after failing to meet the information-sharing baseline, Venezuela also received a pass, other than with respect to certain Venezuelan government officials. On the other end, despite meeting the information-sharing baseline that Venezuela failed, Somalia and its nationals were rewarded by being included in the ban,” the judge continued.

“National security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power,” Watson’s restraining order read.

Trump’s new order was scheduled to take effect tomorrow.

The Supreme Court had temporarily reinstated the main parts of Trump’s previous executive orders after they were challenged by a number of lower courts. However, it carved out an exemption for foreign nationals from the countries on the list who have “bona fide” relationships in the United States.

After the new travel ban was issued, the nation’s highest court canceled oral arguments pertaining to the previous executive orders. The justices directed the parties involved to update their arguments in light of the new order.

The Trump administration is expected to challenge the Hawaii judge’s latest block, on which the Supreme Court will have the final say.

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Russian Olympic Committee spends 1bln rubles on team’s preparations for Pyeongchang Games

By ethan / October 17, 2017

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has spent over one billion rubles ($ 17.5 million) to prepare the national team for the upcoming Winter Olympics, which will be staged in South Korea in February.

The Committee’s First Deputy President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said on Tuesday that the team’s preparation for the Winter Olympics is in full swing, although the ROC is facing difficulties that traditionally accompany the warm up for the world’s biggest sporting events.

“We have spent about one billion rubles during a four-year course to prepare the national squads for the Winter Olympics. The ROC has complied with all the undertaken commitments, we will help our national federations to deliver decent performance in Pyeongchang next winter,” Pozdnyakov said, TASS reported.

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 Grigory Rodchenkov © Viktor Chernov / Global Look Press

The Russian delegation is expected to visit the host city of the Winter Games, Pyeongchang, to make organizational arrangements at the end of December.

Russia’s participation in this winter’s global sports spectacle is still threatened by an ongoing doping investigation, headed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has yet to conclude.

Two weeks ago, the IOC re-analyzed 254 samples taken from Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as part of the investigation into the country’s alleged doping violations.

The IOC Disciplinary Commission, which is leading the inquiry into an alleged cover-up of positive doping results in Sochi, has yet to publish the results of the re-tested probes, but is expected to finish its work by the end of the year.

In July 2016, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren published his report on Russia’s allegedly state-coordinated doping.

The findings contained in the report were instrumental in imposing a ban on Russia’s Olympic athletes and its entire Paralympics team ahead of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

Last week, the head of the US Olympic Committee (USOC), Scott Blackmun, urged his international counterparts to take immediate action on Russian doping allegations in advance of the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.

In his speech, addressed to the USOC Assembly, Blackmun regretted that no punishment had been incurred so far in respect of multiple doping violations at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which were mentioned in the McLaren Report.

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“I believe the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is pursuing the findings of the McLaren Report, both in earnest and in good faith, and I believe the IOC when they say there will be consequences for the bad actors,” Blackmun said.

“But at some point, justice delayed is justice denied, and we are fast approaching that point,” he added.

This is not the first bid to discipline Russia for alleged doping breaches. A month ago, the leading international anti-doping agencies issued a joint statement, in which they called on the IOC to ban Russia from participating in the 2018 Winter Games.

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“We have serious doubts that the 2018 Games will be clean due to the incomplete investigation of massive evidence of individual doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and given the inadequate testing evidence of Russian athletes over the past four years,” they said.

“A country’s sport leaders and organizations should not be given credentials to the Olympics when they intentionally violate the rules and rob clean athletes.”

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Foreign takeovers: Does Britain think Chinese companies threaten its national security?

By ethan / October 17, 2017

British companies could receive added protection from foreign takeovers under new government proposals – just months after Theresa May cast doubt on a nuclear-power-station deal with China. The proposals have been presented as being “in the interests of national security.”

May suspended progress on a nuclear-power plant being built in Somerset, in which the Chinese had a central role. China General Nuclear (CGN) agreed to take a 33-percent stake in £18-billion ($ 23.8-billion) Hinkley Point C project, alongside French firm EDF.

However, progress on the project was paused by May in one of her early acts as Prime Minister in order to allow closer examination of the details.

CGN was “delighted” that Theresa May eventually agreed to the partnership, but the new proposals seem to indicate that something got her spooked.

Now, any “key” company facing a foreign takeover will be able to seek government protection.

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Chinese and British flags © Suzanne Plunkett

Business Secretary Greg Clark said the new rules will allow state intervention in the case of businesses that involve “the advanced technology sector,” and companies that “design or manufacture military and dual-use products.”

Although Clark did not mention China by name, the country’s growing pre-eminence in those sectors is widely recognized.

“It is right that every so often the Government reviews its mergers regime to close loopholes where they arise and this is what these proposals do in the area of national security,” Clark said, ahead of a consultation on the plans.

“No part of the economy is off-limits to foreign investment and the UK will continue to be a vociferous advocate for free trade and a magnet for global talent.”

Present rules mean intervention at government level can only take place with mergers involving companies with a UK turnover of more than £70 million ($ 92 million), or where the share of UK supply increases to 25 percent or more.

This rule would be removed under new plans.

The Government has claimed that plans would “close loopholes” and allow for “greater scrutiny of foreign investment in a changing market.”

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© Aly Song

The changes unveiled by Clark on Tuesday would allow ministers to scrutinize investment in businesses with a UK turnover of more than £1 million ($ 1.3 million).

Other proposals in the pipeline would allow ministers to examine transactions that could raise national security concerns. These would include business deals that could potentially increase the risk of espionage.

Stealing secrets for the Chinese is a major worry in the US after a number of high-profile cases.

Recently, a US Navy officer was charged with espionage. Lt. Commander Edward Lin, a US-naturalized man of Taiwanese origin, was originally suspected of leaking secrets involving the US’ secretive, Hawaii-based Special Projects Patrol Squadron to the Chinese or Taiwanese.

The officer allegedly leaked information to an FBI informant over the P-8A program.

Questions have been raised over his contact with Poseidon spy planes and its top-secret technology. This technology could soon be guarding Britain’s northern flank and nuclear-submarine fleet from foreign incursion after a £2 billion ($ 2.6 billion) order from the US.

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No czar for you: Trump’s drug control pick abdicates after opioid scandal

By ethan / October 17, 2017

President Trump’s nominee to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Tom Marino, has withdrawn his name from consideration following whistleblower claims that he pushed a law that protects opioid drug distributors.

“Rep. Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!” President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, two days after CBS’ 60 Minutes program featured several former employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration saying that the legislation that Marino (R-Pennsylvania) championed last year made it all but “impossible” for the government to go after unscrupulous distributors of addictive opioid pills.

The Justice Department, under which the DEA operates, said Tuesday it will review the law’s impact on the government’s enforcement powers.

The bill, called Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, was signed into law by president Obama last year, after it was passed by both chambers of Congress. Critics say it effectively stripped the DEA of its authority to investigate suspicious transactions as the government is now required to meet a higher standard before taking enforcement actions.

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© 007 David Parry / Global Look Press

In the CBS program, former head of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control Joe Rannazzisi also suggested that Marino put pressure on the DEA to get rid of him last year, after Rannazzisi accused Marino and the bill’s co-sponsor Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) of protecting distributors he was investigating.

Marino and Blackburn wrote the DOJ inspector general, demanding that Rannazzisi be investigated for trying to “intimidate the United States Congress.” Soon after, Rannazzisi was stripped of his responsibilities. He went from supervising 600 people to supervising none – so he resigned, Rannazzisi told CBS.

Last month, Trump nominated Marino to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In August, the president said the opioid epidemic was a “national emergency,” after his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis reported that the US faces the death toll equal to “September 11th every three weeks” as opioid abuse claims the lives of up to 142 Americans every day.

But Trump has yet to formally declare the emergency status, which would then unlock additional resources to fight the epidemic.

“We are going to be doing that next week… It’s a very important step. And to get to that step, a lot of work has to be done, and it’s time-consuming work,” Trump said at a news conference Monday.

Former DEA officials featured in the CBS program also alleged that their bosses at the agency during the Obama administration ‘shut off’ investigations into large distributors of addictive opioid pills, even when there was ample evidence of suspicious dealings. The drug industry used their money and influence to pressure top lawyers at the DEA, Rannazzisi said.

The ex-employees said one of the reasons for the roadblocks was the “revolving door” between the DEA and the drug industry, as a number of the administration’s top lawyers landed lobbying jobs for the pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors upon leaving the government, including the former DEA attorney who wrote the legislation for which Marino is now in hot water.

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Sharapova crashes out at 1st round of Kremlin Cup in Moscow

By ethan / October 17, 2017

Five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova has been knocked out in the first round of the Kremlin Cup in front of a home crowd, losing to Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova 6-7 4-6.

Russian Sharapova hammered in seven aces during the game but committed three double faults and capitalized on just one of three break points in her tournament opener that lasted one hour and 55 minutes.

“I wouldn’t have come if the tournament was not staged in Moscow,” Sharapova said after the match, adding that she wanted to finish the tennis season on home soil where she is widely supported by her fans.

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Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates after winning the match against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus © Reuters

It was her first appearance at the Kremlin Cup since 2007.
In her previous meeting with Rybarikova in 2015, Sharapova outplayed her Slovakian counterpart in the quarterfinal of the hard-court event in Acapulco, Mexico.

Sharapova’s unexpected loss comes just two days after her triumph at the Tianjin Open in China where, in a nail-biting two-set thriller, the former world number one defeated 19-year-old Belarusian Arina Sobolenko 7-5, 7-6 to clinch her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban.

A 15-month break has dropped Sharapova down the world rankings and now the player is trying to restore her previously held lofty position in tennis. She has already climbed to world number 57 following last week’s victory in China.

Sharapova returned to the court in April following a Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) ruling that reduced her initial two-year ban to 15 months.

She did not take part in this year’s Roland Garros, as her request to get a wild card for the clay-court tournament was ignored by the French Open organizers.

Sharapova was forced to skip Wimbledon due to a thigh injury and came back on court in August after US Open officials granted her direct entry into the season’s final Grand Slam event.

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Iraq plans to build new refinery in seized Kirkuk – oil ministry

By ethan / October 17, 2017

Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi has announced plans to construct a new refinery in the oil-producing region of Kirkuk, which has become the scene of open conflict between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

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Iraqi army members advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017 © Reuters

The Iraqi government also plans to increase oil production from the region to more than a million barrels per day with a foreign oil company to be contracted to implement the plan, according to the minister.

Al-Luaibi said all the oil fields in the province are back under government control.

The minister warned Kurdish authorities against blocking the Kirkuk oil export pipeline, saying they would face legal action.

On Monday, Iraqi troops forced their way into the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk with many locals fleeing the battle zone.

The economically important region drove a wedge between Baghdad and the KRG after an independence referendum held by Iraqi Kurds on September 25. Kirkuk was included in the vote, despite competing claims to the disputed area.

Rising tension in the region has kept global crude prices moving upward. West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery was up 0.06 percent to $ 51.93 per barrel at 1:00pm GMT on Tuesday. Brent crude for December gained 0.5 percent to $ 58.09.

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Boris says Labour MPs speaking to RT is a ‘scandal’ … despite his dad appearing only last month

By ethan / October 17, 2017

While Boris Johnson claims it is a “scandal” that Labour MPs are willing to appear on RT, the Tory foreign secretary seems unaware his own father came on the channel just last month. In fact, a lot of Johnson’s Tory colleagues have.

Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Johnson claimed RT’s news output is “propaganda” and admonished those who have appeared.

“If you study the output of Russia Today, and if you consider the state of the press in Russia at present, it is a scandal that members of the party opposite are continuing to validate and legitimate that kind of propaganda by going on those programs,” Johnson said.

“I’m assured by my ministerial team none of them do so.”

His own father did, though.

Last month, Johnson’s father Stanley Johnson spoke to RT’s Going Underground about his anti-Brexit book, Kompromat, and discussed whether any of the characters were based on his son.

Host Afshin Rattansi and Johnson senior joked about the similarities between a character in his book, Harry Stokes – a bubbly blonde-haired former mayor of London who was “wowing the crowds wherever he went” who becomes foreign secretary – and his son.

Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, responded to Johnson’s remarks.

“It would have been astonishing, had it not been so banal: Boris Johnson is exercising his freedom of speech by bullying his fellow politicians for exercising theirs by speaking on RT,” she said.

A number of Tories have appeared on RT, including Mike Freer, now an assistant government whip, Welsh MP David Davies, who chairs the Welsh affairs select committee, and Nigel Evans, MP for the Ribble Valley.

Backbenchers Crispin Blunt, Sir David Amess, Daniel Kawczynski, and Philip Davies have also appeared.

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Felony cop killings up 61% in 2016 – FBI report

By ethan / October 17, 2017

A total of 118 police officers died in the line of duty in 2016, reports the FBI. Of these, 52 were accidental deaths and 66 were felony homicides – 62 of which were as a result of gunshot wounds. Of those incidents 51 of the officers were wearing body armor at the time.

The number of US police officers feloniously killed on the job in 2016 is up 61 percent year-on-year, according to the FBI’s annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report released Monday. This is the second highest number of felony killings of police officers since 2011, when 72 officers died.

“Every law enforcement officer goes to work knowing that today might be his or her last,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Monday.

“But last year, we saw a staggering 61 percent increase in the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty because of a felony, and on average, more than 150 officers were assaulted in the line of duty every single day. These numbers are as shocking as they are unacceptable.”

“Moreover, 57,180 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults – this is a 14 percent rise from the 50,212 officer that were victims of line-of-duty assaults in 2015,” Sessions added, citing statistics published in the report.

The most common form of felony homicide involved police officers being ambushed after responding to 911 calls. Accidental deaths rose from a total of 45 in 2015 to 52 in 2016 and most related to vehicular accidents.

The average age of the cops killed feloniously was 40 years old, with an average of 13 years experience in law enforcement. Those who died in accidents averaged 11 years experience with a mean age of 38.

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