All posts by MPolitics

Indictment Undercuts Assange on Source of Hacked Emails

At the beginning of 2017, one of Julian Assange’s biggest media boosters traveled to the WikiLeaks founder’s refuge inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and asked him where he got the leaks that shook up the U.S. presidential election months earlier.

Fox News host Sean Hannity pointed straight to the purloined emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

“Can you say to the American people, unequivocally, that you did not get this information about the DNC, John Podesta’s emails, can you tell the American people 1,000 percent you did not get it from Russia or anybody associated with Russia?”

“Yes,” Assange said. “We can say — we have said repeatedly — over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party.”

12 Russians indicted

The Justice Department’s indictment Friday of 12 Russian military intelligence officers undermines those denials. And if the criminal charges are proved, it would show that WikiLeaks (referred to as “Organization 1” in the indictment) received the material from Guccifer 2.0, a persona directly controlled by Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, also known as GRU, and even gave the Russian hackers advice on how to disseminate it.

Whether Assange knew that those behind Guccifer 2.0 were Russian agents is not addressed in the indictment. But it seems unlikely that Assange, a former hacker who once boasted of having compromised U.S. military networks himself, could have missed the extensive coverage blaming the Kremlin for the DNC hack.

Assange told Hannity he exercised exclusive control over WikiLeaks’ releases.

“There is one person in the world, and I think it’s actually only one, who knows exactly what’s going on with our publications and that’s me,” Assange said.

Timeline

On June 22, 2016, by which point the online publication Motherboard had already debunked Guccifer 2.0’s claim to be a lone Romanian hacker, WikiLeaks sent a typo-ridden message to the persona, saying that releasing the material through WikiLeaks would have “a much higher impact than what you are doing,” the indictment states.

“If you have anything hillary related we want it in the next (two) days pref(er)able because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after,” says a message from July 6, 2016, referring to the upcoming Democratic National Convention and Clinton’s chief party rival, Bernie Sanders.

The exchange appears to point to a desire to undercut Clinton by playing up divisions within the Democratic camp.

“we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting,” the message says.

At that time in the campaign, there were simmering tensions between the supporters of Clinton and Sanders that would come to a head during the convention because of the hacked emails.

WikiLeaks and a lawyer for Assange, Melinda Taylor, did not return messages seeking comment on the indictment or the exchanges with Guccifer 2.0.

Reporter told to butt out

Assange’s eagerness to get his hands on the alleged material from GRU reflected in the indictment — and prevent anyone else from beating WikiLeaks to the punch — is also revealed in leaked messages to journalist Emma Best. She, like several other reporters, also was in communication with Guccifer 2.0.

In copies of Twitter messages obtained by The Associated Press and first reported by BuzzFeed, WikiLeaks demands that Best butt out.

“Please ‘leave’ their convers(a)tion with them and us,” WikiLeaks said on August 13, 2016, arguing that the impact of material would be “very substantially reduced” if Best handled the leak.

Best told BuzzFeed she dropped the matter. About an hour after the conversation ended, Guccifer 2.0 announced on Twitter that it was sending a “major trove” of data and emails to WikiLeaks.

Seth Rich theory put to rest

The indictment also puts to rest a conspiracy theory, carefully nurtured by Assange and his supporters, that slain DNC staffer Seth Rich was at the origin of the leaks.

Rich died in July 2016 in what police in the District of Columbia say was a botched robbery. But the tragedy became fodder for conspiracy theorists who pushed the unfounded allegation that Rich, 27, had been providing information to the hackers and was killed for it.

It was Assange who first floated the idea into the mainstream, bringing up Rich’s case in an interview with Dutch television the following month.

“What are you suggesting?” the startled anchor asked him.

“I’m suggesting that our sources take risks and they become concerned to see things occurring like that,” Assange answered.

The anchor pressed Assange repeatedly, eventually saying: “It’s quite something to suggest a murder. That’s basically what you’re doing.”

Over the next few months, WikiLeaks would continue to amplify the conspiracy theory — all while stopping short of endorsing it outright. During all this time, the indictment alleges, WikiLeaks knew full well that Guccifer 2.0 was its source, cajoling the account’s operators to hand it more data and ordering rival journalists to steer clear.

The conspiracy theory has been a source of deep pain for Rich’s family, who declined to comment on the indictment.

Lisa Lynch, an associate professor of media and communications at Drew University who has written about WikiLeaks, said the indictment highlighted the cynicism of WikiLeaks’ wink-wink support for conspiracy theories.

“We can see very well-intentioned people arguing about whether those documents should be published,” Lynch said of the DNC documents. “But the whole Seth Rich thing is incredibly venal.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Judge Criticizes Plan to Use Shortcuts to Reunite Families

A federal judge, responding to a plan to reunify children separated at the border, said he was having second thoughts about his belief that the Trump administration was acting in good faith to comply with his orders.

The Justice Department on Friday filed a plan to reunify more than 2,500 children age 5 and older by a court-imposed deadline of July 26 using “truncated” procedures to verify parentage and perform background checks, which exclude DNA testing and other steps it took to reunify children younger than 5.

The administration said the abbreviated vetting puts children at significant safety risk but is needed to meet the deadline. Chris Meekins, the deputy assistant Health and Human Services secretary for preparedness and response, filed a declaration that he is fully committed to meeting the deadline. However, he does not believe “the placing of children into such situations is consistent with the mission of HHS or my core values.”

Judge reconsiders ‘good faith’

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw took umbrage at Meekins’ statement, disputing the official’s interpretation of his orders and saying that safe reunification could and will occur by July 26.

“It is clear from Mr. Meekins’s declaration that HHS either does not understand the court’s orders or is acting in defiance of them,” he wrote late Friday. “At a minimum, it appears he is attempting to provide cover to defendants for their own conduct in the practice of family separation, and the lack of foresight and infrastructure necessary to remedy the harms caused by that practice.”

Sabraw, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said Meekins’ statement “calls into question” his comments in court hours earlier that the administration was acting in good faith.

Monitoring progress

Sabraw said in court Friday that the administration had largely complied with orders but, at the same time, he indicated he will be monitoring its actions ahead of the deadline.

The judge said the administration must provide a list of names of parents in immigration custody and their children by Monday and complete background checks for them by Thursday. He scheduled four hearings over the next two weeks for updates, including one Monday.

“The task is laborious, but can be accomplished in the time and manner prescribed,” he wrote in his order.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Twitter Suspends 2 Accounts in Mueller Indictments

Social networking site Twitter Saturday suspended two accounts linked to 12 Russian spies indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On Friday, a federal grand jury charged the 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016 in the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the election to help Republican Donald Trump.

Twitter said Saturday it had suspended the accounts @DCLeaks_ and @Guccifer_2 that were named in the indictment, which alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy involving sophisticated hacking and staged release of documents.

The indictment alleges that from around June 2016 the conspirators released tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents “using fictitious online personas, including ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0.’”

In a statement Saturday, a Twitter spokesman said: “The accounts have been suspended for being connected to a network of accounts previously suspended for operating in violation of our rules.”

Twitter in recent months has purged suspicious user accounts in a bid to prevent the dissemination of fake news and “encourage healthy conversation,” the company said this month.

Friday’s indictment was the first by Mueller that directly charges the Russian government with meddling in the election. The Kremlin denies it interfered.

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Philadelphia on Saturday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the indictments proved that the United States “will not tolerate interference with our democratic processes and that there will be consequences for foreign meddling.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Homeland Security: Russia Targeting Midterms With Social Media

The U.S. homeland security secretary said on Saturday there are no signs that Russia is targeting this year’s midterm elections with the same “scale or scope” it targeted the 2016 presidential election.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke at a convention of state secretaries of state, an event that’s usually a low-key affair highlighting voter registration, balloting devices and election security issues that don’t get much public attention. But coming amid fresh allegations into Russia’s attempts to sway the 2016 election, the sessions on election security have a higher level of urgency and interest.

Nielsen said her agency will help state and local election officials prepare their systems for cyberattacks from Russia or elsewhere. She said U.S. intelligence officials are seeing “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people, though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns.”

Friday indictments, Monday summit

The conference of top state election officials she addressed was sandwiched between Friday’s indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers alleged to have hacked into Democratic party and campaign accounts and Monday’s long-awaited meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has never condemned Russia over meddling in the 2016 election despite the findings of all top U.S. intelligence agencies, and the Kremlin has insisted it didn’t meddle in the U.S. election. In the past, Trump has reiterated Putin’s denials, but this week he said he would bring up the issue when they meet Monday in Finland.

“All I can do is say, ‘Did you?”’ Trump said days ago at a news conference in Brussels. “And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it.”

Taking a stand

Some of the state officials who run elections say it’s important for Trump, a Republican, to take a tougher stance to avoid having the public’s confidence in fair elections undermined.

“I believe as commander in chief he has an obligation to address it and, frankly, put Putin and any other foreign nation that seeks to undermine our democracy on notice that the actions will not be tolerated,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said in an interview this week.

Some of his peers declined to go that far.

“I don’t go around telling the president what to do,” said Jay Ashcroft, the Republican secretary of state in Missouri.

Russians hacked 21 states

Trump portrays the investigation as a partisan attack, but not all Republicans see it that way. This month, the Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee backed the findings of an assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 election and acted in favor of Trump and against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

As part of that effort, Russian hackers targeted at least 21 states ahead of the election and are believed to have breached the voter registration system in at least one, Illinois, investigators say. Without naming the state, Friday’s indictment said the Russian intelligence officers stole information on about 500,000 voters from the website of one board of elections, a breach undetected for three weeks.

There’s no evidence results were altered, but the attempts prompted the federal government and states to re-examine election systems and tighten their cybersecurity.

Federal officials also say it’s possible that malware might have been planted that could tamper with voting or paralyze computer systems in future elections.

The election officials talked about technical details of blocking an incursion.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, told her peers how her state is using its National Guard to help test and shore up cybersecurity for elections. She said it’s important to make it clear to voters that the military is not running elections and does not have access to election data.

“The whole idea of this is to instill confidence in voters and the public that the system is secure,” Wyman said in an interview.

Some state officials also said Homeland Security is becoming more helpful in sharing information.

On Friday, a federal grand jury indicted the 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges they hacked into Democratic campaign networks in 2016 and then stole and released tens of thousands of documents. The indictment says one of the intrusions came that summer, on a vendor whose software is used to verify voter registration information. The indictment references a spoof email it says the Russian agents sent to more than 100 election-managing customers of the vendor to try to get more information.

“The indictments tell us that … no longer can we deny in any shape or form that Russians were involved,” said cybersecurity expert Sam Woolley, of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Border Measures Part of Trump’s Bigger Immigration Crackdown

The separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border caught the attention of the world and prompted mass outrage, but it’s only a small part of the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

The government is working to harden the system on multiple fronts to curb immigration, carving a path around various court rulings to do so. The administration is seeking to lock up families indefinitely, expand detention space, tighten asylum rules and apply more scrutiny to green card applications.

Many of the initiatives received little attention during the chaos over separated families, but they show how determined President Donald Trump is to stop immigrants from coming — both legally and illegally — even in cases where the administration has been stymied by the courts.

Other administrations may have faced similar problems with illegal immigration and tried similar solutions, but all have been unable to stem the flow of migrants streaming through southern border. No other president, however, has campaigned so vociferously on the topic.

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” President Donald Trump declared days before ending the separation of parents from their children. “Not on my watch.”

This week’s headlines were dominated by stories of reunions of immigrant parents and their young children that the Trump administration had to carry out under a court order. The White House said it “worked tirelessly” to complete the reunifications and make sure the children were put back into safe homes.

In the same week, however, the administration made other moves to clamp down on immigrant families, asylum seekers and those seeking green cards.

Sending a message

The administration’s attempts to deter Central American families and children from making the trip north are designed to send the message to immigrants — and Trump’s supporters in an election year — that reaching the United States is going to get harder, and so will getting papers to stay in the country legally.

“All of these things, I think, are part of a bigger ultimate aim, which is to significantly reduce immigration of all kinds to the United States over the longer term, and in the process, the real desire is to change the character of the country,” said Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Clinton administration.

Before departing the White House this week for his European trip, Trump offered his own solution for the government missing a court-mandated deadline to reunite some families: “Don’t come to our country illegally.”

In Europe, the president hasn’t shied away from offering his views on the flow of immigration across the pond. Trump pressed ahead with his complaints that European immigration policies are changing the “fabric of Europe” and destroying European culture. He reiterated a position he articulated in a British tabloid where he said: “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad.”

The Trump administration announced plans in April to prosecute illegal border crossers with the crime of improper entry, and in doing so, jailed some parents caught on the border and placed their children in government custody. The U.S. government was sued and the public was outraged, prompting Trump to halt the separations. 

The chaos over the separations has put the administration in the difficult position of having to release families with ankle-monitoring bracelets into the public — a practice Trump has decried — while at the same time attempting a series of legal maneuvers to argue for tougher enforcement capabilities.

That’s because two court cases in California restrict what the government can do in carrying out hard-line immigration policies. One requires the government to release immigrant children generally after 20 days in detention. The other has banned the separation of families and placed the government under tight deadlines to reunite parents and children.

​Choice for families

In an attempt to comply with both rulings, the White House wants to present families with a choice: Stay together in detention or release the child to a government program for immigrant youth for potential placement with a relative while the parent remains locked up.

It’s unclear whether the administration has enough detention beds to do so, but it’s looking. Homeland Security has formally requested 12,000 beds for family detention, with 2,000 beds to be made available immediately at U.S. military bases. The Defense Department has said it also received a request to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied immigrant children.

Officials are also seeking to send immigrants back to their countries sooner and make it harder for them to seek asylum in a backlogged courts system where it can take years to get a ruling. Trump officials say too many people are claiming they are persecuted when they are not, adding that only 20 percent of asylum claims are granted. 

Asylum officers tasked with screening immigrants stopped at the border were told this week to heed a recent opinion by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that gang and domestic violence should not generally be a reason for asylum — reasons cited by many immigrants fleeing bloodshed in Central America.

The result: Fewer immigrants will pass these initial screenings that enable them to seek asylum before an immigration judge, said Megan Brewer, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles and former asylum officer.

“If they don’t comply, all their decisions are going to be sent back to them,” she said. “The average officer will go with the path of least resistance.”

Immigrants in the country legally also face new hurdles under various policies.

Since taking office, the administration has ended protected status for hundreds of thousands of people from countries recovering from war and natural disasters, slashed the number of refugees allowed into the United States and said it would seek to strip the U.S. citizenship of those suspected of cheating to get it. And applicants for green cards and other immigration benefits are facing longer waits and more detailed questions.

Immigration on the Southwest border has changed over the years. Previously there were far more people coming, with more than five times the number of Border Patrol apprehensions in 2000 than during the most recent fiscal year. More immigrants also came from Mexico than Central America — which made it easier for U.S. authorities to send them back. Far fewer were children or families.

Where’s the crisis?

A number of immigration experts contend the arrival of Central American immigrants on the border is not a crisis — except of the administration’s making.

Immigrant advocates said ankle bracelets and community-based programs can be used to ensure immigrants attend court hearings where a judge will determine whether they’re allowed to stay in the country or should be deported. They said it’s much cheaper and more appropriate, since detention isn’t meant to be punitive but to ensure court attendance.

Rather, they said, resources should be devoted to beefing up the overwhelmed immigration court system to help those genuinely fleeing violence get their cases heard quicker and weed out those who aren’t.

“It is doable but there is nothing flashy about it. There is nothing sound-bytey about it, and this administration does not seem to be interested in serious answers. It wants to project that there is a crisis,” said Meissner. “And there is a crisis which they have created.”

They also questioned whether detention would stop migrants from heading north. Jonathan Hiskey, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said research has shown that efforts to deter immigration might dissuade some job seekers from heading north but not those fleeing violence like gang killings in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Hiskey conducted research during the surge in Central American migration in 2014 and said while many knew it was tougher to make it to the United States, those who were crime victims still planned to try. And the prospect of being detained upon arrival — something the Obama administration tried with family detention centers — wouldn’t stop them.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Trump Talks Re-Election, His Brexit Chat with Queen

U.S. President Donald Trump said he intends to run for re-election in 2020 because “everybody wants me to” and there are no Democratic candidates who could defeat him, the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported.

Asked by British journalist Piers Morgan in an interview Friday whether he was going to run in 2020, Trump was quoted by the Mail on Sunday as saying: “Well I fully intend to. It seems like everybody wants me to.”

Trump said he did not see any Democrat who could beat him: “I don’t see anybody. I know them all and I don’t see anybody.”

Conversation with the queen

Before leaving Britain for a summit in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump breached British royal protocol by publicly disclosing the details of a conversation he had with Queen Elizabeth about the complexities of Brexit.

When asked if he discussed Brexit with the monarch when they met for tea at Windsor Castle on Friday, Trump said:

“I did. She said it’s a very — and she’s right — it’s a very complex problem, I think nobody had any idea how complex that was going to be. … Everyone thought it was going to be ‘Oh it’s simple, we join or don’t join, or let’s see what happens.’”

Speaking of the 92-year-old queen, Trump was quoted as saying: “She is an incredible woman, she is so sharp, she is so beautiful, when I say beautiful — inside and out. That is a beautiful woman.”

Asked if Trump felt the queen had liked him, he said: “Well I don’t want to speak for her, but I can tell you I liked her. So usually that helps. But I liked her a lot.

“Just very elegant. And very beautiful. It was really something special,” Trump said of the meeting. “She is so sharp, so wise, so beautiful. Up close, you see she’s so beautiful. She’s a very special person.”

Trump-Putin summit

During an uproarious trip to Europe, Trump has harangued members of the NATO military alliance, scolded Germany for its dependence on Russian energy, and shocked Britain by publicly criticizing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy.

Trump later apologized to May for the furor over his withering public critique, blaming “fake news” and promising instead a bilateral trade agreement with Britain after it leaves the European Union in March 2019.

Of his upcoming meeting with Putin on Monday, Trump was more guarded.

“I think we could probably get along very well. Somebody said are you friends or enemies? I said well it’s too early to say,” Trump was quoted as saying by the Mail on Sunday.

“Right now I say we’re competitors but for the United States, and frankly the UK and other places, to get along with Russia and China and all of these other places… that’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Criminal Gangs in Guatemala Drive Many to Flee

Guatemalan Yeni González is one of the few mothers able to see their children after they were separated earlier this year under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy when they tried to cross the southern U.S. border illegally. VOA’s Celia Mendoza reported last week when González traveled to New York to see her children at the Cayuga Care Center, where they remain until reunification can be arranged. In this third installment, Mendoza goes to the Guatemalan village where Yeni González used to live and spoke with her relatives about why the mother of three decided to embark on such a dangerous journey.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Criminal Gangs in Guatemala Drive Many to Flee

Guatemalan Yeni González is one of the few mothers able to see their children after they were separated earlier this year under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy when they tried to cross the southern U.S. border illegally. VOA’s Celia Mendoza reported last week when González traveled to New York to see her children at the Cayuga Care Center, where they remain until reunification can be arranged. In this third installment, Mendoza goes to the Guatemalan village where Yeni González used to live and spoke with her relatives about why the mother of three decided to embark on such a dangerous journey.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

12 Russians Accused of Hacking Democrats in 2016 Campaign

The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election took another serious turn Friday when the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for conspiring to interfere in the elections. The charges come just days before President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and on the same day that Trump once again dismissed the Russia probe as a “witch hunt.” VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

12 Russians Accused of Hacking Democrats in 2016 Campaign

The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election took another serious turn Friday when the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for conspiring to interfere in the elections. The charges come just days before President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and on the same day that Trump once again dismissed the Russia probe as a “witch hunt.” VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!