Trump Administration Calls on Russia to Leave Crimea

The Trump administration has called on Russia to remove forces from Crimea, a peninsula in southeastern Ukraine, that was annexed by Russia in 2014. The statement was made yesterday by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“Russia, through its 2014 invasion of Ukraine and its attempted annexation of Crimea, sought to undermine a bedrock international principle shared by democratic states: that no country can change the borders of another by force,” his statement read.

“In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored.”

Russia annexed the peninsula after a pro-Russian government was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014 in favor of a pro-Western one. The region has military significance for Russia as the Crimean port of Sevastopol allows the Russian navy access to the Mediterranean Sea.

Pompeo called on Russia to end what he called its occupation of the peninsula.

“The United States calls on Russia to respect the principles to which it has long claimed to adhere and to end its occupation of Crimea. As democratic states seek to build a free, just, and prosperous world, we must uphold our commitment to the international principle of sovereign equality and respect the territorial integrity of other states. Through its actions, Russia has acted in a manner unworthy of a great nation and has chosen to isolate itself from the international community,” Pompeo’s statement read.

Russia held a referendum in 2014 ostensibly to let Crimeans show their favor toward becoming a part of Russia. Although the peninsula is home to a large ethnic Russian population – 58% of Crimeans are Russians – the integrity of the referendum was called into question by the West. Some 95.5% of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia according to the results.

The issue of Ukraine made headlines last week in the wake of the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin revealed after the summit that he offered to hold referendums in additional regions in Ukraine on the question of secession. Two eastern Ukrainian regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, held referendums in May 2014 and declared independence from Ukraine. The referendums were recognized by Russia but were not recognized by Ukraine, the U.S. or the European Union.

President Putin said Mr. Trump asked him not to make the offer public so that he may consider it. The White House did not have any comment.

Late last week, the Pentagon announced it had granted Ukraine $200 million in security funds. The payment brought the total amount of aid paid to the country since 2014 to more than $1 billion.

The funds are to be used for additional training, equipment and advisory efforts that will bolster the capacity of Ukraine’s security forces. Specifically, the funds will provide defensive equipment and operational needs which will enhance Ukraine’s secure communications, military mobility, night vision and military medical treatment.

The Ukrainian government recently adopted the Law on National Security, which provides a framework aligning Ukraine’s nation security infrastructure with Euro-Atlantic principles. The adoption constitutes a major step toward NATO ascension.

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Continue Reading

President Trump Considers Revoking Security Clearances from Former Officials

President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of up to half a dozen former national security officials, it was revealed this week.

The list of former officials includes: former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden.

Ongoing commentary about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia affair and continued criticism of President Trump have been cited as reasons for the stripping of the clearances.

“They’ve politicized, and in some cases, monetized their public service…making baseless accusations of an improper relationship with Russia is inappropriate,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a press briefing on Monday.

“When you have the highest level of security clearance, when you’re the person that holds the nation’s deepest, most sacred secrets at your hands and you go out and you make false accusations against the President of the United States, he says that’s something to be concerned with.”

“We’re exploring what those options are and what that looks like,” she added.

Sanders said that no timetable for a decision exists but that the White House would announce it publicly if or when a decision is made.

The decision to consider the revocations seems to have been prodded by Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul has been a strong Trump ally in recent weeks, and was the sole defender of the President’s performance at a recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

“Yes, the vast majority of the foreign policy community, the bipartisan consensus said you shouldn’t meet with Putin. They also said he shouldn’t meet with Kim and this is an extraordinary thing about President Trump that should be lauded and not belittled is that he is willing to meet with adversaries to try to prevent us from having World War 3,” Paul said in the wake of the summit.

“Today I will meet with the President and I will ask him to revoke John Brennan’s security clearance!” Paul wrote prior to a meeting with the President at the White House.

“Just got out of WH meeting with @realDonaldTrump. I restated to him what I have said in public: John Brennan and others [sic] partisans should have their security clearances revoked,” he would tweet afterward.

Brennan has been a harsh critic of the President’s, calling his behavior at last week’s summit “nothing short of treasonous.” The President was seen by many as drawing a moral equivalence between Putin and the U.S. intelligence community when he took Putin’s word for it that Russia did not interfere in the presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community has vehemently asserted the contrary.

Former national security officials regularly maintain their clearances even after leaving government. Part of the reason is the ability to confer with their successors about ongoing issues and situations. According to former officials however, they rarely use those clearances to regularly attend briefings.

“I dont [sic] go back for classified briefings (although they occasionally ask me in to offer a view on something). Won’t have any impact on what I say or write,” wrote Gen. Michael Hayden in response to the White House’s announcement.

Officials also say that James Comey and Andrew McCabe no longer have security clearances.

The President has the authority to strip clearances from former officials, but some officials are concerned about the precedent revoking clearances from those seen as political rivals would send.

“I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do. And that’s about all I’ll say about it,” James Clapper told CNN.

“There is a formal process for doing this. But, you know, legally the President has that prerogative and he can suspend and revoke clearances as he sees fit. If he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think that’s a terrible precedent and it’s a really sad commentary and it’s an abuse of the system,” he would add.

Photo by Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons

Continue Reading

Pentagon Sends Ukraine $200 Million in Security Funds

The Department of Defense has granted the government of Ukraine $200 million in security funds. The payment brings the total amount of aid paid to the eastern European nation since 2014 to more than $1 billion.

The funds are to be used for additional training, equipment and advisory efforts that will bolster the capacity of Ukraine’s security forces. Specifically, the funds will provide defensive equipment and operational needs which will enhance Ukraine’s secure communications, military mobility, night vision and military medical treatment.

The Ukrainian government recently adopted the Law on National Security, which provides a framework aligning Ukraine’s nation security infrastructure with Euro-Atlantic principles. The move constitutes a major step toward NATO ascension.

Ukraine has traditionally been pro-Russian, but in 2014 a popular uprising toppled a government that was closely aligned with Moscow and replaced it with one that was more pro-West. Russia responded by invading the country and annexing an eastern portion of Ukraine.

The international community condemned the move while the Russian government, citing popular votes, maintains the will of the people was being carried out.

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for a summit earlier this week in Helsinki, Finland. The subject of Ukraine was discussed according to both leaders. President Putin subsequently revealed that he offered to hold referendums in additional regions in Ukraine on the question of secession from the country.

Two eastern Ukrainian regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, held referendums in May 2014 and declared independence from Ukraine. The referendums were recognized by Russia but were not recognized by Ukraine, the U.S. or the European Union.

President Putin said President Trump asked him not to make the offer public so that he may consider it. The White House has not commented.

Photo by International Crisis Group

Continue Reading

Trump Walks Back Comments on Russian Meddling

President Trump sought to clarify remarks he made during a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday during a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House yesterday.

“So I’ll begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies. Always have…Let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there,” the President said before a meeting with Republican members of Congress.

“I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcript. Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?’ So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized that there is need for some clarification.”

“It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So just to repeat it, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative.”

“So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”

President Trump was asked on Monday whether he believes Russia meddled in the 2016 election and whether he raised the issue with Mr. Putin during their meeting. He responded by appearing to say that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia that did the meddling.

“But I have — I have confidence in both parties,” the President said. “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he added.

That apparent equivocation and the President’s seeming willingness to take President Putin’s word over the word of the U.S. intelligence community prompted sharp rebukes from lawmakers on Capitol, many of them Republicans.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia…” he added.

“I’ve said a number of times and I say it again, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs,” said Sen. Ben Sasse.

“I am confident former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, Ambassador Nikki Haley, FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others will be able to communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success,” said South Carolina Republican Congressman and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Trey Gowdy.

The White House continued to defend the President’s walk-back of the comments today. “The president saw a need to clarify the position,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said during today’s press briefing.

“He saw how his comments were being interpreted, he looked at the transcript and clarified those comments.” President Trump “had misspoken and wanted to clarify what he said,” she added.

The President struck a defiant tone this morning on Twitter despite clarifying the comments yesterday however, implying he will be criticized no matter the actions he takes.

“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!” he wrote.

Photo by The White House

Continue Reading

Trump Performance at Press Conference with Putin Draws Harsh Criticism

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki, Finland, yesterday for the first ever summit between the two leaders. The men discussed a variety of issues including nuclear proliferation, energy and the Syrian Civil War.

“I have just concluded a meeting with President Putin on a wide range of critical issues for both of our countries. We had direct, open, deeply productive dialogue. It went very well,” Mr. Trump said at the press conference that followed the meetings.

“Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia affords the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. As President, I will always put what is best for America and what is best for the American people,” he added.

President Putin touched on many areas where he believed cooperation with the United States could and should improve, such as economic issues, global terrorism & transnational crime and the Iranian nuclear deal. No specific steps or commitments were announced in the wake of the summit however.

What dominated the press conference and the commentary after the summit was the President’s responses to questions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

It is the widely held view of the U.S. intelligence community that Russian actors interfered in the presidential election, did so at the behest of the highest levels of the Russian government and with the intent of helping President Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

An investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller into the affair has been going on for over a year.

President Trump said he raised the issue with Vladimir Putin during their meetings. The two men met privately for about 90 minutes with only a translator present before expanding the meeting to include a larger number of senior aides.

“With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.”

“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be…But I have — I have confidence in both parties….What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone — just gone. I think, in Russia, they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.”

“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” the President added.

It was the seeming equivocation and the President’s willingness to take President Putin’s word over the word of the U.S. intelligence community that prompted sharp rebukes from lawmakers on Capitol, many of them Republicans.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy,” he added.

“I’ve said a number of times and I say it again, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs,” said Sen. Ben Sasse.

“I am confident former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, Ambassador Nikki Haley, FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others will be able to communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success,” said South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy. Gowdy is also Chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

“It’s certainly not helpful for the President to express doubt about the conclusions of his own team,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “He has assembled a first-rate intelligence team handled by Dan Coats and I would hope that he would take their analysis over the predictable denials of President Putin.”

“Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections. This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” wrote Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Twitter.

“The bar was so low for this press conference,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “All Trump needed to do was offer some mild pushback against the election interference, say something about the need for Russia to withdraw from eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and he couldn’t do any of that.”

“America is a whole lot weaker than we were going into this today,” he added.

The President was defiant in the face of the criticism however, claiming the meeting with Vladimir Putin was just as successful as the meetings he had with NATO leaders just days prior.

“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!” the President wrote on Twitter.

Photo by The White House

Continue Reading

U.S. Justice Department Indicts 12 Russian Military Officers for Election Interference

The U.S. Department of Justice has indicted twelve Russians for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The charges were announced by Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein Friday in Washington, D.C.

The twelve individuals identified in the indictment were all officers in Russian security services. They worked for the Russian military intelligence services, the Main Intelligence Directorate known as the GRU.

The defendants worked for two units within the GRU: one worked to steal information while the other worked to disseminate it.

Starting in at least March 2016, the conspirators hacked email accounts belonging to both volunteers and employees of the Hillary Clinton presidential election.

Beginning in June 2016, they released tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents. They did so by using fictitious online profiles, including “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0,” according to the Justice Department.

In addition to releasing documents directly to the public, they also shared the documents with another entity, identified in the indictment only as “Organization1,” that had previously posted documents stolen from U.S. individuals and the U.S. government.

To hide their connection to the Russian government the conspirators used false identities. To further those identities, they used a network of computers located around the world, including the United States and paid for the network by using cryptocurrency.

Rosenstein also alleges that the conspirators corresponded with several Americans via the internet, but stopped short of saying whether there was deliberate cooperation on the part of the Americans.

“There is no allegation in the indictment that the Americans knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers,” Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein briefed President Trump on the charges earlier in the week, he said. The indictment was announced from the Justice Department at the exact moment the President was meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in England.

The President addressed the charges the following day on Twitter.

“The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?” he wrote.

The charges contained in the indictment offer the clearest link to the Russian government of interference efforts into the U.S. election. The investigation has become a partisan flashpoint in Washington D.C. with Republicans accusing the probe of being politically motivated and Democrats accusing Republicans of protecting President Trump at the expense of the national defense.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into those efforts has been going on for more than a year.

Rosenstein sought to tamp down any political reaction to the indictments during his announcement. “In my remarks, I have not identified the victims. When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans. Our response must not depend on who was victimized,” Rosenstein said.

“The blame for election interference belongs to the criminals who committed election interference. We need to work together to hold the perpetrators accountable, and keep moving forward to preserve our values, protect against future interference, and defend America,” he added.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin tomorrow in Helsinki, Finland, for the first ever-summit between the two leaders. He was asked today whether he would ask Putin to extradite the twelve named conspirators to the U.S.

“Well I might. I hadn’t thought of that. But I certainly, I’ll be asking about it. But again, this was during the Obama administration. They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration,” the President responded.

Photo by U.S. Department of Justice

Continue Reading

Britain Reportedly Identifies Suspects in Skripal Poisoning

British authorities claim to have identified suspects in the poisoning case of an ex-Russian intelligence officer and his daughter. The suspects are reportedly in Russia.

Sixty-six-year-old former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found slumped, unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London on March 4.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted in Russia of spying for the British in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the nations and had been living in Salisbury ever since. His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.

The victims were said to be suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.” The agent authorities believe was used in the attack is Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s. It is believed the nerve agent was smeared on the door handle of the Skripal home in Salisbury.

Yulia was released from the hospital on April 10. A third victim, British Detective Nick Bailey who fell ill after visiting the Skripal home at the outset of the investigation, has also since been released. Sergey is said to be recovering more slowly than Yulia although his overall prognosis has improved. Doctors say he will be discharged “in due course.”

The U.K. government accuses Russia of perpetrating the attack. The Kremlin has denied any involvement and calls the England’s accusations a “provocation.”

“Persons of interest” as English authorities call them have been identified by counter-terrorism agencies. It’s as of yet unclear who these suspects are but there are reports that flight-passenger lists have offered clues to U.K. authorities.

The incident has caused relations between Russia and Great Britain to reach their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Last month England expelled twenty-three Russian diplomats and froze Russian assets in the country. Russia responded in-kind by expelling twenty-three British diplomats and closing the British Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Photo: Yulia Skripal via Facebook

Continue Reading

Putin: World Chaos if Syria is Struck Again

In a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that further interference by the U.S. and its allies would lead to chaos in world affairs. The two also agreed that the western strikes damaged chances of reaching a resolution in the seven-year Syrian Civil War, likely meaning U.S. troops will remain there for the foreseeable future.

“Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the U.N. Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” the Kremlin statement said.

The news comes days after the United States, France and Great Britain launched 105 missiles at Syria with the goal of crippling the country’s chemical weapons capabilities. The strikes were in response to an alleged chemical weapon attack by President Bashar Al- Assad on his own people. The chemical weapons attack left dozens of civilians dead and countless more injured, prompting he United States’ response.

Nicki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday morning to announce that the U.S. would be imposing economic sanctions that would target companies that deal with equipment similar to the equipment used in President Assad’s chemical weapon attack.

In responding to questions about whether the ultimate goal of missile strikes was to topple the Assad regime, the White House said, “The U.S. mission has not changed – the president has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible.”

“We are determined to completely crush ISIS and create the conditions that will prevent its return,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. “In addition we expect our regional allies and partners to take greater responsibility both militarily and financially for securing the region.”

Evgeny Serebrennikov, deputy head of the defense committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said of the threat of sanctions by the United States that Russia was prepared for them and that in the end they would do more damage to the U.S and Europe.

The leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, also criticized the Western Attacks. “The American (military) knows well that going towards a wide confrontation and a big operation against the regime and the army and the allied forces in Syria could not end, and any such confrontation would inflame the entire region,” he said.

Officials from the OPCW, a worldwide chemical weapons watchdog, meet with Syrian Deputy Foreign Prime Minister, Faisal Mekdad over the weekend. Russia openly condemned Western countries for not waiting for the results of the OPCW’s investigation before launching an attack.

The United States, France and Great Britain circulated a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council that would create an independent inquiry into the responsibility for the Douma chemical weapons attack. The resolution would allow for the United Nations to use OPCW findings for evidence of whether chemical weapons were used. It is not known when the measure will be voted on.

Photo by the Kremlin

Continue Reading

U.S., Allies Bomb Assad

The U.S. announced missile strikes against the Bashar Assad regime in Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians last week. The strikes began last night at 9 p.m. EST and last for an about an hour.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford briefed the press from the Pentagon after the strikes had concluded at about 10 p.m. EST. Three facilities were targeted, according to Dunford – two storage facilities west of the city of Homs and a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area.

That target was a center for research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology, according to U.S. officials.

French and British forces joined the planning and execution of the attack according to Mattis, and Mattis and Dunford were joined last night at the briefing by the French attaché Brigadier General Montague and the British Attache Air Vice Marshal Gavin Parker. Neither of them addressed the media nor took questions.

General Dunford stressed the targets were chosen to minimize civilian casualties, which is why the strikes were conducted in the middle of the night local Syrian time. The second goal of the strikes was to set back Syrian chemical weapons program.

“Important infrastructure was destroyed, which will result in a setback for the Syrian regime. They will lose years of research and development data, specialized equipment and expensive chemical weapons precursors,” Dunford said.

“The strike was not only a strong message to the regime that their actions were inexcusable, but it also inflicted maximum damage, without unnecessary risk to innocent civilians,” he added.

The international community was quick to condemn an attack on innocent civilians in the city of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria, on Saturday, April 7th. Ghouta is a suburban area of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Douma was the last rebel-held town in the area. The deaths are suspected to have been caused by chemical weapons used the Bashar Assad regime.

Dozens of Syrians began streaming into local hospitals and clinics complaining of burning eyes after the attack, as well as breathing problems. Antigovernment forces began circulating videos of victims who had died from apparent suffocation, many with white foam coming from their mouths and nostrils.

The Syrian American Medical Society is reporting that some 500 people have been treated for symptoms of exposure to some kind of chemical agent. SAMS is also reporting that seventy people have died as a result of the attack over the weekend, including forty-three whose symptoms are consistent with a chemical weapons attack.

The Assad regime denies using any chemical weapons and accuses rebels of conducting a false-flag operation meant to illicit international reaction. Syria’s strongest allies, Russia and Iran also denied Syria’s involvement.

“The spread of bogus stories about the use of chlorine and other poisonous substances by government forces continues,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The aim of such deceitful speculation, lacking any kind of grounding, is to shield terrorists and to attempt to justify possible external uses of force.”

The allegations that the Assad regime is behind the attack “is not compatible with reality,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said.

President Trump, within days of the attack directed Secretary of Defense Mattis to draw up plans for a strike that would degrade Assad’s chemical-weapons-use capability and deter him from using such weapons again.

“President Trump directed the U.S. military to conduct operations in consonance with our allies to destroy the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons research development and production capability,” Mattis said.

“Together we have sent a clear message to Assad and his murderous lieutenants that they should not perpetrate another chemical weapons attack for which they will be held accountable,” he added.

Photo by US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

Continue Reading

Vladimir Putin Responds to Facebook Shutting Down 270 Russian Accounts Involved in Scandal

Social media giant Facebook has announced the deletion of more than 270 accounts reportedly operated by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian disinformation operation. All in all, 138 pages, seventy-five accounts and sixty-five Instagram accounts to tide the IRA were removed.

“The IRA has repeatedly used complex networks of inauthentic accounts to deceive and manipulate people who use Facebook, including before, during and after the 2016 US presidential elections. It’s why we don’t want them on Facebook,” Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos wrote in a blog post this week.

According to Facebook, the 138 Facebook pages had more than 1 million followers and the 65 Instagram accounts had about 493,000 followers. Ninety-five percent of all suspended accounts and pages targeted native Russian speakers.

The IRA has reportedly spent $167,000 on advertisements across the social media platforms since 2015. According to Facebook, an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. were exposed to advertisements purchased by the IRA – half of them after the November 2016 election. Facebook says most of the content focused on “divisive social and political messages.”

”Most of our actions against the [IRA] to date have been to prevent them from interfering in foreign elections. This update is about taking down their pages targeting people living in Russia,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in another post. “This Russian agency has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe, and Russia — and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere in the world.”

The news comes after it was revealed in a New York times article last month that Cambridge Analytica acquired the personal information of over 50 million users and failed to delete it as was requested. That number was revealed to be closer to 87 million users earlier this week.

“Most of our actions against the [Internet Research Agency] to date have been to prevent them from interfering in foreign elections,” Zuckerburg wrote in a status update on his Facebook account. “This update is about taking down their pages targeting people living in Russia. This Russian agency has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe, and Russia — and we don’t want them on Facebook anywhere in the world,” he added.

The Russian government harshly criticized the move. “Yes it is,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked by a reporter about Facebook’s decision to close the accounts associated with the Russian troll farm. “We are of course following this and we regret it,” he added.

Zuckerburg has already committed to testify later this month in front of The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill. The Senate Judiciary Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee have also expressed interest in talking to the Facebook founder about what happened during the 2016 election.

Photo by DimitroSevastopol via Pixabay
Continue Reading