Homeland Security: Russia Targeted 21 States in 2016, Changed No Votes

Russians hacked or attempted to hack into election systems in 21 states, Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed to a Senate panel Wednesday, but stressed this didn’t affect any election outcomes.

However, federal officials would not disclose which states were victims of hacking attempts, other than Arizona and Illinois, which were revealed last year to have been attacked. State election officials, later testifying to the same panel, wanted more information from the federal government. Also, a top FBI official told the panel Russia has interfered in U.S. elections since the Cold War.

“We determined that internet-connected election-related networks in 21 states were potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors. It is important to note that none of these systems were involved in vote tallying,” Samuel Liles, acting director of the cyber division for the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

This was the latest in a series of Senate hearings regarding the continuing investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. Former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions both testified to the committee this month regarding the Russian probe.

“This vast majority of activity we’ve observed was indicative of simple scanning for vulnerabilities and analogous to someone walking down the street to see if you were home,” Liles said. “A small number of systems were unsuccessfully exploited as though someone rattled the door knob but was unable to get in, so to speak. Finally, a small number of the networks were successfully exploited. They made it through the door.”

During the hearing, the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, doggedly pressed the DHS and FBI and, if they were aware, state officials, to notify the public which states were targeted.

“I think there is a public obligation to disclose, again, not to relitigate 2016 but to make sure that we are prepared to for 2017, where I have state elections in my state this year, and 2018,” Warner said. “There are some in the political process that believe this whole Russian incursion into our elections is a witch hunt and fake news. I could very easily see some local elected official saying this is not a problem, this is not a bother.”

Liles returned to the point that Americans can have faith in the election, despite the cyber intrusions.

“Multiple checks and redundancies in U.S. election infrastructures, including diversity of systems, noninternet-connected voting machines, pre-election testing, and processes for media, campaign, and election officials to check, audit, and validate the results, all of these made it likely that cyber manipulation of the U.S. election system intended to change the outcome of the national election would be detected,” Liles said.

However, Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, contended U.S. election equipment is “vulnerable to sabotage” that “could change votes.”

“We’ve found ways for hackers to sabotage machines and steal votes. These capabilities are certainly within reach for America’s enemies,” Halderman told senators.

He said he and his team spent 10 years researching cyber vulnerabilities of election equipment. The professor said:

Some say that the fact that voting machines aren’t directly connected to the internet makes them secure. But, unfortunately, this is not true. Voting machines are not as distant from the internet as they may seem. Before every election, they need to be programmed with races and candidates. That programming is created on a desktop computer, then transferred to voting machines. If Russia infiltrated these election management computers, it could have spread a vote-stealing attack to a vast number of machines. I don’t know how far Russia got or whether they managed to interfere with equipment on Election Day.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the select committee, noted during the hearing the importance of preventing any manipulation of tallying votes.

“I would think that if you could get into the vote tallying system and you did want to impact the outcome of an election, obviously the vote tallying system is the place to do that,” Blunt said.

Blunt said he doesn’t want the federal government to take over elections, but does hope the DHS should “give advice to state and local election officials to be sure that that vote tallying system is protected at a level above other systems.”

Jeanette Manfra, the acting director of the DHS national protection and programs directorate, insisted vote counting has a greater level of protection.

“What we can assess is that those vote tallying systems, whether it was the machines at a kiosk that a voter uses at a polling station or the systems that are used to tally votes were very difficult to access and particularly to access them remotely and then given the level of observation for vote tallying at every level of the process that adds into that we would have identified issues there, and there were no identified issues,” Manfra said.

Bill Priestap, the FBI’s assistant director of the Counterintelligence Division, said Russia “has for years conducted influence operations targeting our elections.” Though he said it was not equal to the interference in 2016.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., seemed surprised Russia had interfered before and pressed him on details.

“The scale and the aggressiveness of the effort in my opinion made this one different,” Priestap told the senator. “Again, it’s because of the electronic infrastructure the internet, what have you today, that allowed Russia to do things that in the past they weren’t able to do.”

Citing previous intelligence reports, Priestap said Russia’s goal was to attempt to create discord and delegitimize the election. Citing those same reports, he said the interference was intended to harm Democrat Hillary Clinton and help then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Feinstein asked if Russians have ever taken sides in previous efforts. Priestap answered affirmatively, but couldn’t provide an immediate example.

“Yes, ma’am, they have. I’m sorry, I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, but all the way through the Cold War up to our most recent election, in my opinion they have tried to influence all of our elections since then,” Priestap said. “This is a common practice.”

One occurrence came ahead of the 1984 presidential race. A letter to then-Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov, dated May 14, 1983, KGB head Viktor Chebrikov explained that then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was eager to “counter the militaristic policies” of President Ronald Reagan, and to undermine his prospects for re-election in 1984.

The National Association of Secretaries of State oppose the Department of Homeland Security designating election equipment as critical infrastructure, said Connie Lawson, the group’s president-elect and Indiana secretary of state.

“Threat sharing has been touted as a key justification for the designation,” Lawson told the senators. “Yet, nearly six months later, no secretary of state is currently authorized to receive classified threat information from our intelligence agencies. From information gaps to knowledge gaps that aren’t being addressed, this process threatens to erode public confidence in the election process as much any foreign cyber threat.”

The “critical infrastructure” designation puts locally-run elections under the same category as national defense, highways, the power grid, the food and water supply, and communications systems. The federal government can step in to protect these fronts in case of an emergency under the post-9/11 designation.

“It’s also shredding the rights that the states hold to determine their own election procedures, subject to the acts of Congress,” Lawson continued.

She added: “If I have one major request for you today—other than rescinding the critical infrastructure designation for elections—it is to help election officials get access to classified information sharing. We need this information to defend state elections from foreign interference and respond to threats.” (For more from the author of “Homeland Security: Russia Targeted 21 States in 2016, Changed No Votes” please click HERE)

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Why Russia Might Shoot Down American Planes in Syria

On the afternoon of June 18, the world changed. The U.S. Air Force shot down a bomber of the Syrian air force controlled by Bashir Assad. The reason for this action was plain and simple. This bomber attacked American allies in Syria: the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—an alliance of Kurds, Christians, and non-jihadist Arabs. The U.S. did what every good ally should do and tried to stop the attack. First the Americans demanded withdrawal. When no response came, this bomber was shot down in order to stop any senseless killing of SDF forces. In response Russia now threatens to shoot down U.S. jets that happen to enter the Russian sphere of influence over Syria.

This is happening while the SDF is taking the first ring of quarters of Raqqa, the ‘capital’ of ISIS. The liberation of Raqqa started June 6 and is progressing. It is quite obvious that attacking the SDF at the end of the day only helps ISIS.

The U.S. and Russia Fight for Dominance of Post-ISIS Syria

At first sight the downing of this Syrian jet is a very simple situation: The US defends its ally on the ground. If that is true, why then is Russia threatening to shoot down U.S. fighting jets? That is because something else is equally true: All players involved are now starting to look to a new map of post-ISIS Syria. And the U.S. wants to stop Iran from dominating either Syria or Iraq.

Look at the battle map that accompanies this column. (The map has not been updated yet, but there is a change in the area southwest of Raqqa.)

Iran Could Threaten Israel Through Syria

We can see that the Syrian army has (finally) made some serious progress against ISIS. Assad’s goal is probably not to defeat ISIS as such. More likely he wants to capture oilfields try to block the U.S-backed SDF. Assad wants to distract the SDF and keep its forces busy. Why? Because Assad wants his forces to beat them to the strategic site called Deir Ezzor.

The strategic importance of Deir Ezzor has totally been ignored until now. This ISIS stronghold controls the road from Teheran, Iran, across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea and Iran’s enemy, Israel. Iran wants to control this road, so it can funnel weapons to its terrorist allies in Lebanon and the West Bank, which target Israel. The U.S. wants to prevent that, for obvious reasons.

The race to Deir Ezzor has suddenly become a high-stakes game. None of the players is at this point ready to take that area from ISIS. The Assad forces are stretched out and still a long way away. Iranian proxies are on the Iraqi side of the Iraq/Syria border, but this is a relative small force with a lot of other forces around it. The SDF meanwhile is busy in Raqqa and has no spare forces left to march to Deir Ezzor.

How Can We Block Iran?

The big question is what the US can do to block Iran. The answer is actually quite simple. The US has to deepen its commitment to the whole SDF. It must offer weapons to every element in that army. The sad truth is that the US still does not provide the Syriac Military Council (the Christian wing of SDF) any arms or ammo. These brave Christians are fighting ISIS in Raqqa as you read this. But they have to scrape their equipment together and ask others for help. Even the Arab and Kurdish parts of the SDF, which the U.S. does supply, are still under-equipped.

The U.S. still does not tap into the full potential of the SDF. although it is standing ready. For example the Syriac Military Council has more men and women trained than they can arm and this is also true for Kurdish and Arab forces in the SDF. More and better equipment can help to build an army that will act much faster in Raqqa and stand ready much sooner to win the race to Deir Ezzor. That would protect Israel and Iraq from Iran’s terrorist allies. To stabilize northern Syria, the U.S. would be wise to much more humanitarian aid and support rebuilding.

Arm Syria’s Christians

Much is at stake and President Trump can once more make a major difference. This time not only for the peoples in the Federation of Northern Syria but also for Israel.

One thing is clear. We are now definitively looking at a new map of Syria. Turkey is no longer able to block America’s policies. The U.S. has a clear, democratic, religiously tolerant ally: The SDF. America needs to build its ally up. There are now several small US military airbases in northern Syria, built to last rather years than months. The U.S. has realized that the SDF and the Federation of Northern Syria are there to stay. A return to the old, centralized and dictatorial Syria is out of the question. A new decentralized or even divided Syria is in the cards.

Don’t mourn the end of a brutal, centralized Syria. Its demise means that freedom has come to the heart of the Middle East. The task of the U.S. should be to make sure that all religious minorities, including Christians, are treated fairly. (For more from the author of “Why Russia Might Shoot Down American Planes in Syria” please click HERE)

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Death of American Student Held in North Korea Baffles Experts

North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, its carefully scripted propaganda bluster, even its military threats: Far from the scattershot workings of a madman, most of this fits the playbook of a small, proud country well used to stoking tensions to get concessions it would otherwise not receive from surrounding big powers.

What happened to Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died just days after North Korea released him from detention in a coma, is far more difficult to make sense of.

It jars so strikingly with the fates of most past detained Americans that outside observers are left struggling not only with the mystery of what killed Warmbier but also with what his death means for attempts by Washington and its allies to stop North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear-tipped ICBM that can target the U.S. mainland. (Read more from “Death of American Student Held in North Korea Baffles Experts” HERE)

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Ukrainian President Credits US Help in Defense Against Russia

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the United States has been a “co-sponsor of this story of success” in helping his country fight for freedom against Russian aggression, as he sat with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office Tuesday.

Trump and national security adviser H.R. McMaster had a “drop-in” of a White House late morning meeting between Poroshenko and Vice President Mike Pence.

Ahead of the meeting, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against 38 individuals and organizations that U.S. authorities determined had helped Russia in its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

“We’re really fighting for freedom and democracy,” Poroshenko said in front of reporters in the Oval Office after the private meeting, according to the press pool report.

The Ukrainian leader talked about U.S. support for security and defense of his country of 45 million people.

“I’m absolutely confident that today is a story of success and I’m proud to have you, Mr. President, and the United States as the co-sponsor of this story of success,” he said.

Critics have accused Trump of being overly sympathetic with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime and slow to denounce the invasion. Trump has said he wants Russia’s help in combatting the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist group.

Trump spoke broadly during his comments with Poroshenko.

“It’s a great honor to be with President Poroshenko of the Ukraine, a place that we’ve all been very much involved in and we’ve been seeing it and everybody’s been reading about it,” Trump said. “And we’ve had some very, very good discussions. It’s going to continue throughout the day and I think a lot of progress has been made.”

The official White House readout of the meeting said Trump and Poroshenko “discussed support for the peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and President Poroshenko’s reform agenda and anti-corruption efforts.”

Regarding the new sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was more direct.

“These designations will maintain pressure on Russia to work toward a diplomatic solution,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “This administration is committed to a diplomatic process that guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty, and there should be no sanctions relief until Russia meets its obligations under the Minsk agreements.”

In 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula, and working with pro-Russian separatist militias in Ukraine, annexed the region. The conflict began after Kremlin-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was rejected by the public. The conflict has led to more than 10,000 deaths, 23,000 wounded, and 1.8 million displaced.

During the public appearance, Trump also addressed the death of American Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea. Warmbier died Monday shortly after returning home in a coma. Trump seemed to lay some blame on the Obama administration for not resolving the matter sooner.

“It’s a disgrace what happened to Otto. It’s a total disgrace what happened to Otto. It should never, ever be allowed to happen,” Trump said. “And frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the results would have been a lot different. He should have brought home that same day. The results would have been a lot different. What happened to Otto is a disgrace.” (For more from the author of “Ukrainian President Credits US Help in Defense Against Russia” please click HERE)

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Japan Investigates Delay in Reporting US Navy Ship Collision; Other Mysterious Circumstances Abound

By Mari Yamaguchi. Japan’s coast guard is investigating why it took nearly an hour for a deadly collision between a U.S. Navy destroyer and a container ship to be reported.

A coast guard official said Monday they are trying to find out what the crew of the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal was doing before reporting the collision off Japan’s coast to authorities 50 minutes later.

The ACX Crystal collided with the USS Fitzgerald off Japan’s coast, killing seven of the destroyer’s crew of nearly 300. The ships collided early Saturday morning, when the Navy said most of the 300 sailors on board would have been sleeping. Authorities have declined to speculate on a cause while the crash remains under investigation. (Read more from “Japan Investigates Delay in Reporting US Navy Ship Collision” HERE)
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As Japan Investigates, Other Contradictions Emerge

By Zachary Cohen.

[A]fter interviewing the ACX Crystal’s crew, the Japanese coast guard revised its crash time estimate to 1:30 a.m. [But t]he US 7th Fleet is maintaining that the collision occurred at 2:20 a.m. — and both US and Japanese officials have declined to explain why there is a discrepancy regarding timing.

Timing will play a critical role in determining exactly how the collision happened, particularly as the shipping data from Marinetraffic.com appears to indicate that the ACX Crystal made a sharp right turn at close to 1:30 am — the time that the Japanese coast guard said the crash occurred.

On Sunday, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the US 7th Fleet, would not speculate on how the accident occurred, but said there would be multiple investigations into the collision, including one by the Navy’s Judge Advocate General and one by the US Coast Guard.

Other investigations could come from the Japanese and Philippine authorities, because of where the accident took place and the Philippine registration of the container ship. (Read more from Japan Investigates Delay, Other Contradictions Abound, HERE)

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After US Shoots Down Russian-Made Fighter, Russia Threatens to Shoot Down US Jets

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and IVAN NECHEPURENKO. Long-running tensions between the United States and Russia erupted publicly on Monday as Moscow condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane and threatened to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies west of the Euphrates.

The Russians also said they had suspended their use of a hotline that the American and Russian militaries used to avoid collisions of their aircraft in Syrian airspace. . .

The latest escalation comes as competing forces converge on ungoverned swaths of Syria amid the country’s six-year civil war. Syrian forces and Iranian-backed militias that support them are extending their reach east closer to American-backed fighters, including forces that the Pentagon hopes will pursue the militants into the Euphrates River valley after they take the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa. The collision of the disparate forces has, in effect, created a war within a war. (Read more about Russia’s saber-rattling after the US shoots down a Syrian SU-22 HERE).

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Pentagon: US Shoots Down Syrian Fighter Jet for First Time

By Robert Burns. The U.S. military on Sunday shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet that bombed local forces aligned with the Americans in the fight against Islamic State militants, an action that appeared to mark a new escalation of the conflict.

The U.S. had not shot down a Syrian regime aircraft before Sunday’s confrontation, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. While the U.S. has said since it began recruiting, training and advising what it calls moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight IS that it would protect them from potential Syrian government retribution, this was the first time it resorted to engaging in air-to-air combat to make good on that promise.

The U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Iraq said in a written statement that a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 after it dropped bombs near the U.S. partner forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. (Read more from “Pentagon: US Shoots Down Syrian Fighter Jet for First Time” HERE)

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Massive Escalation in Syria: Iran Fires Missiles at ISIS, US Warplane Shoots Down SU-22

Iran Fires Multiple Missiles Into Syria

By Artemis Moshtaghian. Iran’s military said Sunday that it has launched several missiles into eastern Syria, targeting Islamic State fighters in retaliation for the twin attacks that rocked Tehran on June 7.

The strikes are the first time Iran has fired missiles at another country in three decades and represent a major escalation of Iran’s role in the war in Syria.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on its official news website, Sepah News, that several “ground-to-ground, mid-range missiles” were fired from bases in Kermanshah province, western Iran. (Read more from this story, “Iran Fires Multiple Missiles Into Syria”, HERE)

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Navy Fighter Shoots Down Syrian SU-22 After US Says its Allies Were Attacked

By Jeff Schogol. A Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday, giving the U.S. military its first air-to-air kill since 1999.

This is the latest example of tension between the Russian-backed Syrian regime and U.S.-led coalition forces, who are partnering with Arab and Kurdish forces to destroy ISIS.

“The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the U.S. task force in charge of operations in Syria and Iraq announced on Sunday. “The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partner forces from any threat.”

Sunday’s incident came after Syrian aircraft attacked Syrian Democratic Forces earlier in the day, wounding several of the fighters, who are allies of the U.S.-led coalition to destroy ISIS, Combined Joint Task Force -Operation Inherent Resolve announced in a news release. (Read more from this story about the US shooting down the Syrian jet right before Iran fires missiles into the same region, HERE)

Three Sick Responses to the Murder of an Israeli Policewoman

How did the BBC, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority respond to the premeditated, terrorist murder of a 23-year-old Israeli policewoman? The answer is: true to form.

The BBC has a long history of biased, anti-Israel (and even anti-Semitic) reporting, as documented on BBCWatch.org and other sites. The bias is commonly seen in BBC’s headlines.

For example, in 2013, Labour’s Lord Ahmed “was suspended for claiming that Jews were responsible for his imprisonment after driving offences.” How did the BBC report this? “Labour peer Lord Ahmed suspended after ‘Jewish claims.’” What in the world are “Jewish claims”?

As one reader commented, “There were no ‘Jewish claims’ – it was antisemitism.”

Why, then, didn’t the BBC properly identify this as “anti-Semitism”? The word, they explained, is “too long”!

More commonly, BBC headlines mislead the reader in terms of guilt and responsibility. Compare these two headlines, one when a Palestinian is killed by Israeli soldiers and the other when an Israeli is killed Palestinian terrorists. The headlines are: “Israeli attack kills baby girl” vs. “Israeli baby killed by gunfire.”

In the former, Israel is to blame; in the latter, it is just “gunfire” that is to blame. How the gun was fired and who fired it is a mystery.

Other acts of Palestinian terrorism have been reported with headlines like this: “Bomb stokes Mid-East tension.”

Yes, just a generic bomb that somehow went off. Those bombs can be so independent and nasty.

BBC on the Murder of Israeli Policewoman

How, then, did the BBC report the terrorist slaying of this young Israeli policewoman? Brace yourself. It’s as ugly as it gets for a major news outlet like the BBC. The headline read, “Three Palestinians killed after deadly stabbing in Jerusalem.” That is outrageous.

There is no mention of the cold-blooded murder of a young Israeli woman. No mention that the deadly stabbing was a Palestinian terrorist attack. No mention that the three Palestinians killed were the terrorist murderers. And the emphasis, inexcusably, is put on the rightful killing of terrorists armed with an assault rifle and knives.

BBC’s apology was too little too late: “We accept that our original headline did not appropriately reflect the nature of the events and subsequently changed it. Whilst there was no intention to mislead our audiences, we regret any offense caused.”

Yes, just another innocent error.

Hamas Reacts to the Murder

Hamas reminded us that its anti-Israel hatred is as deep as ever, despite recent claims that it had softened its tone. Prime Minister Netanyahu literally threw such claims into the trash can last month.

Like the BBC, Hamas is consistent. In April, Hamas hailed the vehicular ramming attack that killed one Israeli and wounded another. “We bless this heroic ramming attack at the Ofra intersection near Ramallah, which is a response to the continued crimes of the Zionist occupation at the expense of our people,” said Hamas spokesman Abdul-Latif Qanou.

Now, both Hamas and ISIS are claiming responsibility for Friday’s murder. (Heaven forbid that ISIS gets the credit for such a good kill.) A Hamas spokesman described the killers as “three hero martyrs.” Yes, three hero martyrs who attacked Israelis before the Sabbath, wounding one and stabbing the other to death. How heroic.

Palestinian Authority is Outraged … That the Terrorists Were Killed

As for the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s supposed peace partner, they too have proven true to form.

It has often been documented that the PA names children’s schools and city squares after mass-murdering terrorists. And the fact that the PA pays the salaries of imprisoned terrorists is a point of contention now with the Trump administration.

So how did Fatah, the PA’s political faction, respond to Friday’s terrorist attack? It condemned Israel for killing the terrorists, calling it a “war crime”! Here’s the official statement from spokesperson Osama al- Kawasm: Fatah “condemns the war crime carried out by Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem against three Palestinian teens.” (The terrorists were 17, 18, and 19.) Fatah added that “the international community’s silence emboldened Israel to further spill the blood of Palestinians.”

Yes, those evil Israelis did it again. They, and they alone bear the guilt.

And so, as a beautiful young woman named Hadas Malka succumbed to multiple stabbing wounds, the BBC misreported the murder, Hamas praised it, and Fatah condemned Israel for killing the young murderers. Do you see now why I described their responses as “sick”?

In reality, the responses of Hamas and Fatah in particular only provoke further bloodshed, thereby bereaving the families of both Palestinians and Israelis. This is beyond sick. (For more from the author of “Three Sick Responses to the Murder of an Israeli Policewoman” please click HERE)

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How Dissidents Are Responding to Trump’s Change in Cuba Policy

The letter sent by Cuba’s main dissident group to President Donald Trump thanking him for his decision to prohibit U.S. trade with the military, security and intelligence services on the island—their tormentors—serves as a timely rebuke of President Barack Obama’s warm embrace of the Castro regime and those still defending it.

The letter was sent by Berta Soler on behalf of the group she leads, The Ladies in White. These brave, mostly Afro-Cuban women suffer constant harassment, beatings, and incarcerations at the hand of the Castro regime when they attempt to march on the streets of Havana on Sundays.

“These days, Mr. President, when most of the world responds with a deafening silence to the harassment, arbitrary detentions, beatings, house searches, and robberies against peaceful opponents, human rights activists and defenseless women, your words of encouragement are most welcomed,” Soler wrote.

“We will continue to fight for our rights because we recognize it is our duty to free ourselves, but we can’t do it alone. It is also the duty of the freedom loving peoples of the world. The United States must continue to be the first defender of those who lack rights and freedoms in the world,” she added.

Sent Saturday, one day after Trump unveiled in Miami his new restrictions, the letter crystalizes what is at stake. One can believe these women’s intimate understanding of the vicious nature of the Cuban regime, or those who have come out in support of Obama’s policy, who minimize the brutality and economic devastation unleashed upon Cuba by the communist regime.

Perhaps the most acidic critic of the Trump doctrine has been the architect of Obama’s policy, his former deputy Ben Rhodes. In op-eds and tweets since last week, Rhodes has zigzagged between insisting that Trump’s changes won’t matter and warning that they will have a chilling effect on trade.

He has been joined by a cadre of progressive journalists, especially at NPR and MSNBC, whose leading defender of relations with Raul Castro’s Cuba, Andrea Mitchell, reported her show from Havana last week.

Trump was unstinting in his attacks on the Castros’s nearly six decade uninterrupted military dictatorship of Cuba.

“For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination. To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores,” said Trump in Miami.

“The Castro regime has shipped arms to North Korea and fueled chaos in Venezuela. While imprisoning innocents, it has harbored cop-killers, hijackers, and terrorists. It has supported human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation all around the globe. This is the simple truth of the Castro regime,” he added.

“My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it. And we will never, ever be blind to it. We know what’s going on and we remember what happened,” said the president, in a clear reference to his predecessor.

Obama not only unilaterally ended many restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba after he announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that he would undo the adversarial approach toward Castro of his 10 predecessors, Obama went out of his way to extend his hand to those who pummel people like Soler.

He traveled to Havana last May with his entire family, went to a baseball game with the dictator Raul Castro, and even did the wave with him while in the stands. At no time did he make his warmth contingent on Castro promising to ease up on dissidents.

And indeed, human rights groups report that political beatings and arrests (nearly 10,000 in 2016 alone) have increased.

The arguments made by Rhodes, Mitchell et al basically boil down to “sure, Mr. Castro ain’t no Thomas Jefferson, but there are worse people.”

In an op-ed in The Atlantic on Friday, Rhodes laid much of the blame for Cuba’s ruined economy on the U.S. embargo of the past six decades, rather than on the fact that communism has been a failed system everywhere it has been tried.

“Yes, the Cuban government shoulders its share of the blame,” Rhodes allows in passing. “But there are dozens of authoritarian governments; we do not impose embargoes on China or Vietnam, Kazakhstan or Egypt.” He refers to the dissidents once in his piece, damning them by calling them “the dissidents that the United States supports.”

Mitchell made similar comments last week, suggesting at one point that though Castro may not hold elections, world leaders like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte are worse.

These comments and others make clear why Castro gets a pass. Erdogan and Duterte represent threats to democracy in their countries, but both were democratically elected, whether we like it or not, and lead nations that are treaty allies, which makes things tricky.

The Castro brothers have not had elections since they took over in 1959 and lead a virulently anti-American regime, which as Trump said, continue to destabilize our region.

One can only decry that the Obama opening to the Castros has been reversed if one is blind to the brutality of the Castro government and the threat it represents to American interests and Cuban lives. (For more from the author of “How Dissidents Are Responding to Trump’s Change in Cuba Policy” please click HERE)

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Experts: To Stop Global Jihad, Wage War Against Political Islam

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee brought forward a few of the nation’s premier experts on extremist ideologies this week for a hearing on “Ideology and Terror: Understanding the Tools, Tactics, and Techniques of Violent Extremism.”

America continues to wage an all-out effort to battle the forces of global jihadism, but has had little success in preventing the spread of radical Islam. So, what are we missing? Why has the West failed to stop global jihad?

The panel agreed that a new path forward — of combating political Islam (or, “Islamism”) and its state-sponsors — was needed.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a world-renowned expert on Islamic extremism, shared her thoughts on how to fight back against the Islamist epidemic.

Her testimony was based on her recently published monograph: “The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement.” In it, the Somali-born Dutch-American Ali discusses the link between non-violent Islamist movements and active jihadi extremism. Ali stresses that the only way to defeat the radicalism is to wage ideological war against the countries, groups, and individuals that promote political Islam.

“Political Islam is not just a religion as most Western citizens recognize the term ‘religion’ — a faith. It is also a political ideology, a legal order, and in many ways also a military doctrine,” Ali said.

The next witness called upon to deliver his testimony was Dr. John Lenczowski, president of the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C.

Lenczowksi, who served on the Reagan administration’s National Security Council specializing in Soviet affairs, discussed how to defeat the jihadist enemy through ideological warfare. Most importantly, the U.S. needs to define what victory looks like, he stressed.

“The United States has spent trillions of dollars fighting radical Islamist terrorism. We have done so by treating jihadist aggression as principally a military and intelligence problem. Yet, it is a civilizational problem,” Lenczowski said.

“To solve this problem necessitates fighting a war of ideas. The problem is that we have virtually no ideological warriors in this war.”

The Senate panel’s third witness was Asra Q. Nomani, the founder of the Muslim Reform Movement and former Wall Street Journal reporter.

Similar to Ali, the India-born Nomani explained that our enemy threat doctrine starts and ends with political Islam. The tenets of Islamism are pursued not only by groups like al-Qaida and ISIS, but also by “state sponsors of extremism” such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran, Nomani said.

“If you doubt whether Islamism is an extremist ideology, please recognize its central tenet: It seeks to overthrow our democracies to supplant them with Islamic governance and sharia … which, importantly, violates United States law on multiple fronts,” Nomani said.

“Political Islam threatens life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the United States, and globally. It even considers young girls attending an Ariana Grande concert ‘dangerous’ because of the freedoms they are enjoying.”

Click here for the witnesses’ full testimony. (For more from the author of “Experts: To Stop Global Jihad, Wage War Against Political Islam” please click HERE)

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