111109 stories

Puerto Rico Economic Development Dept. promotes investment in medical cannabis market – Caribbean Business

1 Share

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy announced Monday that the island was presented to some 14,000 “world leaders” of the medicinal cannabis market as an ideal investment destination. 

The island’s pitch was given during the sixth annual Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, a major industry event, held this year in Las Vegas.

“The medical cannabis industry survived Hurricane María. This puts this industry in a privileged position, and at DDEC [Spanish acronym for the Economic Development & Commerce Department] we believe we had to let the world know. Therefore, through the Puerto Rico Medical Cannabis Association [PRMCA] we backed a commercial mission to present Puerto Rico as an investment destination and an ideal international market for medicinal cannabis,” Laboy said in a written statement.

Puerto Rico Medicinal Cannabis Assoc. working with gov’t to explore hemp’s potential

“This effort also served to demonstrate to the pioneers and connoisseurs of this market, who gathered to discuss the latest trends in the industry, that Puerto Rico is up, strengthened and ready to develop this industry so it represents opportunities for the country’s economic growth, generates jobs and provides alternatives for medical treatment to so many patients who need relief from their chronic conditions,” the official added.

Laboy Rivera said that after Hurricane María, the cannabis market, like other industries, faced challenges to be able to conserve crops and continue distribution, as well as working on an ecosystem that involves manufacturing, cultivation, laboratories, dispensaries and education.

“It is extremely important and necessary to deliver the message that Puerto Rico has taken measures to protect the industry and is doing everything necessary to continue developing it at the highest level of quality and competitiveness,” the secretary said.

He added that, during the event, funds were also raised to subsidize the cost of medicine for patients registered in the Medical Cannabis Program in Puerto Rico and to have new patients join it free of cost.

The effort is supported by celebrities such as Montel Williams, a multiple sclerosis patient and Emmy-winning TV personality who, through his LenitivLabs, established a fundraising alliance with the PRMCA.

Puerto Rico revenue projections from medical cannabis called ‘very optimistic’

“We have the ecosystem ready to continue with the production of medicinal cannabis to supply local demand and forge alliances with international business people, which will result in new investments for Puerto Rico. This industry has many opportunities to continue growing, develop new businesses related to this activity and become a significant source of jobs for the country,” PRMCA President Ingrid Schmidt said.

According to PRMCA estimates, the cannabis industry in Puerto Rico has generated more than $35 million for the economy and more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in its short development period.

According to Health Department reports, there are about 12,000 PRMCA-registered patients, who are being treated for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, arthritis and cancer, among other conditions.

Read the whole story
6 hours ago
Share this story

Countering Russian Information Operations in the Age of Social Media

1 Share

As investigations into attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election continue, more aspects of Russia’s approach to information warfare are coming to light. A steady stream of new disclosures is revealing a complex blend of hacking, public disclosures of private emails, and use of bots, trolls, and targeted advertising on social media designed to interfere in political processes and heighten societal tensions.

Moscow’s hostile actions are driven by the belief that Russia is already in a state of conflict with the West, led by the United States, and that the internet is a domain for waging this conflict. From the earliest stages of the internet’s development, Russia has held a starkly different view from the West of its benefits and its potential. Russia’s national security establishment immediately saw connectivity as a threat and a potential weapon—and eventually as one that could help achieve regime change and deprive a country of its sovereignty—rather than as an enabler of economic development.

The organization of Russia’s information-warfare capabilities, which include cyber operators, media outlets, and false flag entities, is shrouded in secrecy. In the West, generally only the intelligence community has a clear picture of how Russian capabilities are directed. Barring the sudden appearance of a Russian counterpart to Edward Snowden, the only view into Russia’s information toolbox is provided by cybersecurity companies and criminal prosecutions. The picture is further muddied because the Russian government keeps many of its cyberwarfare actors at arm’s length by employing contractors and former criminals through middlemen, giving Moscow a degree of deniability if caught.

Nevertheless, both Western governments and private industry can take steps to mitigate Russian influence operations. Western governments should swiftly and decisively denounce Russian information activities as soon as they are identified, and their counterintelligence agencies should identify quantitative means to measure the effectiveness of Russia’s methods. Social media companies should more aggressively police their platforms for malicious state-sponsored content, and they should work with news organizations to promote verified and fact-checked content on their platforms.


Russia’s long-standing, overall foreign policy objective is to weaken adversaries, particularly countries on its periphery, those in NATO, and the United States, by any means available, and its information warfare targets social cohesion and political systems toward this aim. During the twentieth century, the Soviet Union exploited freedom of expression in the West by planting and spreading fake news stories. In the last decade, the rise of social media has made this task vastly simpler. And at least since 2016, Moscow has also exploited the sophisticated advertising networks used by legitimate companies and political campaigns to precisely target audiences for disinformation.

Russia worked toward this objective during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, when Russian agents combined technical and psychological measures to sway U.S. voters away from Hillary Clinton and toward Donald J. Trump. Hackers obtained documents and selectively released them to embarrass the Clinton campaign, while their carefully targeted social media operations denigrated Clinton and boosted the Trump agenda.

Russia attempted similar campaigns during the French election in May 2017, but a forewarned French government and media meant that the activities met with only limited technical success and had no significant bearing on the election result. French law prohibits candidates from campaigning and the media from quoting candidates or campaign officials within forty-four hours of a presidential vote. That prevented the French media from disclosing the contents of emails leaked from Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in the hours before the vote. French media users also tend to get their news from traditional outlets rather than social media, which further limited the leak’s effectiveness.

It is harder to discern whether or how Russia meddled in the German elections in September 2017. One possible explanation is that after the French experience, Russia chose not to interfere in Germany; another is that Russia did attempt to interfere, but the techniques used were more subtle and are not yet fully understood. (Many of the implements used in the U.S. election are only becoming widely known a year after the event.) But even if Russia’s potential election manipulation is unsuccessful or entirely absent, just its suggestion is enough to cause uncertainty and doubt about the democratic process and hence meet Russia’s objectives.

Russian attempts to sow discord are not confined to elections. Attempts to meddle in U.S. internal affairs have continued since the election. Most recently, Russian internet trolls published divisive messages on social media in response to the controversy over NFL players’ kneeling during the national anthem. According to the research group Alliance for Securing Democracy, more than six hundred Russian-backed accounts promoted hashtags aimed at fueling the debate.

The digital processing of personal data, including browsing history and consumer spending, enables anyone to precisely target selected groups and individuals by geographic location and socioeconomic status. In particular, malicious actors are able to show contradictory messages to different groups of users, categorized by political, ethnic, religious, or demographic characteristics, in order to play on existing tensions within target societies. Information is slowly emerging about the extent to which this method was employed by Russian-linked entities during and after the U.S. presidential election, but its overall effect remains unclear.

Cyber-enabled disinformation can have a measurable objective and effect. One method is for hackers to insert false reports in genuine media outlets. For example, in May 2017, a malicious actor suspected to be from Russia compromised the website of a Qatari state media outlet to attribute to the emir of Qatar remarks praising Iran. This triggered a diplomatic row between Qatar and its neighbors.


The social media ecosystem provides an ideal environment for hostile information campaigns. The more incendiary the information is, the more likely it is to go viral. Many users have lost trust in established news outlets, and they tend to consume information that affirms, rather than informs, their views.

Russia has no need to create new divisions in target societies when it can exploit already-existing fault lines. For example, Russian-backed efforts amplified the controversy about the NFL and the national anthem by promoting the most divisive and extreme voices in the debate. Now, as during the Cold War, the strongest defense against malign Russian influence is to identify the divisions and social ills that provide Russia with leverage. Remedies to these problems are complex and require significant resources and time. However, the Trump administration has shown little interest in confronting Russian cyber operations, and the president himself is actively engaged in the divisive use of social media.

Western states also depend on multinational corporations to constrain information warfare operations. Immediately after the election, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies denied that their services could have been manipulated by disinformation campaigns. More recently, though, they have acknowledged the scope of Russian operations and have been working with third parties to flag fake news, and they have rolled out technological fixes to counter disinformation and provided limited data on the source of advertisement purchases. Critics in the media and Congress have argued that these companies’ responses have been “frankly inadequate on almost every level” and are unlikely to succeed.


Although the Trump administration seems unlikely to pursue action against Russian information operations, there are steps the U.S. Congress and other governments should consider.

Awareness of the challenge of Russian information warfare is the most potent defense against it. Western nations were initially slow to respond to the multifaceted nature of Russia’s developing online capabilities. The focus in the West was almost exclusively on countering technical threats delivered through cyberspace, such as economic crime, espionage, and attacks on critical infrastructure. This approach neglected the additional capabilities that Russia was building up in other areas of information warfare.

More recently in Europe, however, increasing awareness of the threat has enabled society, media, and governments to put appropriate defenses in place. In Germany, public awareness and interest in hostile information operations had been aroused by the “Lisa” case, in which Russia attempted to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment. The media blackout in France helped blunt the effect of Russia’s interference in the presidential election; but Macron’s campaign was also aware of Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome and took countermeasures. Leaders in other Western nations should be open and outspoken about the nature of the challenge, as doing so has been shown to be highly effective in raising public awareness and decreasing potential targets’ susceptibility to information operations.

Another essential step to countering information warfare is for governments targeted by Russian influence operations to develop a metric of damage that acknowledges a range of objectives, including influencing elections. Countries including the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have made little visible effort to quantify the success and effectiveness of Russia’s subversion and disinformation campaigns. This raises the risk that targeted governments could misdirect resources and countermeasures against ineffective threats that could reasonably be simply monitored, while overlooking other threats that could cause actual harm.

Once harmful information operations are identified, targeted states should quickly denounce them, both to minimize their effectiveness and to deter other actors that might want to conduct Russian-style operations. Policymakers should also warn other states tempted to combine cyberattacks with social media manipulation that exposure and response will be much more rapid and effective than they were in the 2016 election.

On computers, antivirus software monitors the integrity of critical systems and processes, assessing whether they have been affected by malicious data introduced from outside. Governments should develop an analogous system of identifying sources of misinformation and mapping how they influence online discourse and public opinion. This would allow them to properly assess any effect of Russian subversion on public debate. While the government agency that would conduct this monitoring would vary among countries, in each case the security and counterintelligence agencies responsible for protecting the security and integrity of state systems would need to provide support. The costs involved in implementing such measures would be a disincentive for any Western government, but they should be weighed against the costs of the loss of political legitimacy, integrity, or, indeed, sovereignty.

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have an important role to play in mitigating the effects of Russian messaging, but their primary objective is generating profits, not defending Western political systems. Attempts to introduce legislation or regulations to restrict online speech, even if they were targeted at Russian disinformation and trolls, could mirror Russian constraints on free expression and could be interpreted as running counter to the values Western societies seek to defend. Nevertheless, tech platforms have an interest in taking firm steps to prevent, for example, the hijacking of profiles of legitimate organizations and individuals for the purpose of disinformation. They also have an interest in cooperating with Western intelligence agencies, as this could provide them with greater understanding of how their systems are abused to systematically deceive their users, as well as of software bugs and other technical vulnerabilities in their products.

To address the specific problem of disinformation, social media companies should continue partnering with journalists and fact-checkers to build trust, even though this is only effective for media-literate users who take the time and effort to assess the legitimacy of sources. The extent that governments can guide such efforts will vary among countries, depending on their constitutional systems and media cultures. In the United States, for instance, the First Amendment greatly limits what the U.S. government can do to vet online media. But where government action is permissible, national media bodies, such as the United Kingdom’s Independent Press Standards Organization and the Office of Communications, should implement proposals for an open review and verification system for online media with the aim of establishing a gold standard for fact-checking and objectivity. Whichever approach countries choose to take, they should recognize that any anti-disinformation system needs protection against the same kind of gaming and abuse as any other open forum to which Russia has access.

To combat the particular challenge of how human psychology is exploited by social media disinformation, governments’ responses should be as interesting as the fake news they are countering. Simple explanations that a particular piece of news is false are not sufficient to engage target audiences. Countermeasures should focus not on fact-checking but on the deceit—emphasizing that people were conned—and, like the original disinformation, should appeal to readers’ emotions rather than their rationality, in order to be effective.

Russian information operations pose a difficult but not insurmountable challenge to targeted governments. But countermeasures should be flexible and adaptable: any success in countering Moscow’s operations will invariably cause the Kremlin to deploy new capabilities. If defenders are not prepared to be alert and agile, they will once more be taken by surprise.

This Cyber Brief is part of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program. The Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional positions on policy issues and has no affiliation with the U.S. government. All views expressed in its publications and on its website are the sole responsibility of the author or authors.

Read the whole story
9 hours ago
Share this story

A Kremlin Defender in Congress Finds Challenges on All Sides - New York Times

1 Share

New York Times

A Kremlin Defender in Congress Finds Challenges on All Sides
New York Times
WASHINGTON — For two decades, Representative Dana Rohrabacher has been of value to the Kremlin, so valuable in recent years that the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source worthy of a Kremlin code name.

Read the whole story
10 hours ago
Share this story

Spy Circles Suggest Kremlin Is Behind Dozens of Fake Trump Sex Tapes

1 Share

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7, 2017. MIKHAIL KLIMENTIEV/AFP/Getty Images

Attempting to get to the bottom of a complex espionage case, untangling multiple strands of secret agentry, is the most challenging exercise in all intelligence work. It taxes the minds of the most gifted counterspies, particularly when the operation extends over years, even decades, and it involves a complex cast of players, some of them Russian.

A half-century ago, when our Intelligence Community was assessing if there were Kremlin moles inside our spy agencies (spoiler: there were), a nasty bureaucratic fight ensued that dragged on for years. The protagonist was James Angleton, the CIA’s top counterspy for two decades, who coined the term “wilderness of mirrors” to describe the impenetrable mystery of certain espionage operations. In typical Angletonian flourish, he borrowed the phrase from a T. S. Eliot poem to capture the enduring mystery of never quite grasping up from down in a case, or knowing who’s really running the show—and looking at it too closely only leads to more confusion.

I’ve previously written about Angleton’s “wilderness of mirrors,” since it remains a fascinating saga still, and I noted how tricky the counterspy game can be:

One of the alluring aspects of counterintelligence is that very complex cases can turn on very small, sometimes minute, pieces of information. And years of getting to the bottom of an operation can be swiftly overturned when one tiny—and possibly very inconvenient—fact comes to light. This is particularly a possibility when what exactly happened in a case proves hard to pin down. As most cases involving the Russians are.

This is relevant today, since between Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the efforts of our Intelligence Community, the secret side of Washington, D.C., is currently engaged in the biggest counterintelligence investigation since the days of VENONA in the early Cold War, when the FBI and NSA unraveled a vast Kremlin spy apparatus in our country, centered in our nation’s capital.

Seventy years later, it’s the same story, except this time the targets include not just senior White House officials—VENONA revealed that Soviet moles had burrowed deep and high into FDR’s four administrations—but the man in the Oval Office himself. Just exactly what President Donald Trump’s relationship to Moscow is constitutes the cornerstone of the inquiry, and that’s a vexing and complex question, because it requires close examination of Trump’s activities at least going back to 1987, when he took a trip to the Soviet Union.

No part of the investigation has gotten more rubber-necking than any kompromat that the Russians may possess on our president. I’m talking, of course, about the alleged “pee-pee tape” that caught the public’s attention when it was posited by the former British spy Christopher Steele in his now-infamous dossier on Donald Trump, which has become a lightning rod for all sorts of speculation, not necessarily informed.

As I’ve written about the Steele dossier, although a great deal of its raw intelligence has turned out to be true, large portions reek of disinformation— including the most salacious bits. As I explained:

The dossier’s “pee-pee tape” claim is viewed with derision by most Western spies who know the Russians. It’s very likely that the Kremlin possesses kompromat on the president—senior intelligence sources from several countries have confirmed to me that unpleasant videos of Trump exist—yet there’s no reason to believe Steele’s particular claim here, without corroborating evidence.

So, Steele’s porn-worthy allegation appears to be untrue, but the idea that our president has acted out in sexually controversial (and perhaps illegal) ways—and that somebody has filmed it—is taken very seriously by intelligence experts. Ever since Trump announced his candidacy for the White House in June 2015, espionage gossip everywhere has bandied about what might exist to corroborate decades of rumors about Trump’s antics.

It’s plausible that such kompromat exists, given our president’s lifestyle. Forty years ago, when he was partying at Manhattan’s Studio 54 at its cocaine-fueled heyday alongside celebrities and hangers-on (including the just-indicted Paul Manafort and the swinging Roger Stone), it was a wild scene of which Trump boasted: “I would watch supermodels getting screwed, well-known supermodels getting screwed, on a bench in the middle of the room. There were seven of them and each one was getting screwed by a different guy.”

Then there are the allegations that the president’s penchant for pretty girls does not always pay attention to the age of consent. One woman who’s claimed that Trump raped her when she was just 13 years old has repeatedly filed suit against the president, only to drop the case each time, most recently last year. That’s connected to the mysterious case of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire hedge-funder and convicted sex offender, whose “friends list” reads like a who’s-who of the male half of America’s rich and powerful.

President Trump is on that list, and rumors have swirled for years about his participation in Epstein’s underage sex escapades. There appear to be connections between Epstein’s debased antics and Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort, now termed “the winter White House.” Hard facts remain elusive, however, and perhaps the media’s lack of ardor for getting to the bottom of this sordid case may have something to do with the fact that Epstein’s pals are a powerful bunch—and Bill Clinton is mixed up in this too.

To sum up, the idea that President Trump has been caught on tape doing something sordid is inherently in the realm of the possible. But has he been? Here’s where things get tricky, fast. I’ve investigated this issue for the past couple years. I’ve talked to dozens of well-placed sources (many of them longtime spy-friends), and I can share with you some basic conclusions.

As many as a dozen intelligence services worldwide, on four continents, are in possession of some sort of “Trump tape” featuring sexual escapades of a controversial nature; in some cases, the women involved appear to be underage. Some of these tapes have been shared with the Mueller investigation.

One Western intelligence agency with a solid professional reputation is in possession of an unpleasant Trump tape that they assess “with high confidence” is bona fide, i.e. exactly what it appears to be. They obtained the tape from a trusted source who plausibly had access to it. Over the decades, Trump has traveled widely—including to Russia more than once—and thereby exposed himself to surreptitious filming in numerous countries.

However, here’s the rub: Many of the “Trump tapes” floating around in spy circles worldwide cannot be verified, while some of them are obvious fakes. The Western spy agency that’s holding a Trump tape they’re pretty sure is real has also been approached two other times with tapes that were less solid—and one of them was transparently fake.

It’s obvious to savvy Western counterspies that someone is spreading fake Trump tapes—not all of them high quality—to muddy the waters. The obvious suspect, of course, is the Kremlin. Since the Russians know all about President Trump’s decades of personal antics, including what kompromat exists on him, they appear to be pushing dubious and unverifiable tapes, some of them obviously fake, to create chaos and confusion.

It’s working, and in the current climate, it seems doubtful that any Trump tape can be verified sufficiently to have a mainstream journalistic outfit report its details. After all, with multiple fakes out there, any bona fide tape would require not just rock-solid technical authentication, but also firming up the exact place and date of the incident, plus confirmation from the girl(s) caught on camera too. That seems like an insurmountably high bar to clear at present.

This, then, is yet another successful Kremlin spy operation, one more grand provocation to mess with our Western heads. Although Vladimir Putin is deeply disappointed with President Trump, who has failed to get sanctions lifted off Russia, much less make Washington and Moscow close partners in anything, keeping an increasingly damaged and ineffectual president in the White House, who’s incapable of accomplishing much except rage-tweeting, suits Moscow’s foreign policy needs just fine.

A half-century ago, the Kremlin dispatched multiple dangles and even a fake KGB defector to Washington to confuse American counterspies and, above all, to protect their real moles in our nation’s capital. It worked like a charm. The resulting confusion birthed Angleton’s vaunted “wilderness of mirrors,” and eventually it drove that brilliant and seasoned counterspy over the edge, never to return.

Now, in a more technologically advanced age, the Russians are playing a nearly identical operational game with fake tapes, websites, trolls and bots. The Kremlin appears to have pulled it off again, and it will take years, probably decades, to get to the bottom of the Trump tapes saga—if anybody ever does. Welcome to the Wilderness of Mirrors, Trump Edition.

John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee. 

Spies Suspect Kremlin Is Pushing Dozens of Fake Trump Sex Tapes
Read the whole story
10 hours ago
Share this story

New York Terror Attack Points to Growing Radicalization of Uzbeks

1 Share

Police officers inspect a truck following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

The brutal attack by an Uzbek man on innocent people walking and riding their bicycles along a park path in New York City highlights an increasing trend for citizens coming from a region of the world most Americans know little about: Central Asia.

Comprised of five mostly Muslim nations with a combined total population of roughly 70 million people, the entire region used to be under the thumb of the Soviet Union. Afghanistan is sometimes included in the regional bloc.

Since independence, those nations’—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan—national development strategies have worked to put the countries on paths to industrialization.

But with that, and globalization, came the introduction of radicalization, too, no thanks in part to several decades of continuing warfare in Afghanistan. That country has been a magnet for Central Asian young men looking to join the Mujahideen in Afghanistan for decades—first against the Soviets, then the Taliban, and for the last 17 years, against the U.S.

In more recent years, young men from Central Asia, a region with a deep history of strongmen and authoritarian rulers have joined jihadist wars across the Middle East and North Africa, and have become recruitment avenue for the Islamic State.

Twenty-nine year-old Sayfullo Saipov, who mercilessly killed eight people and injured 11 more by driving his Home Depot-rented truck in New York, came to the U.S. in 2010 from Uzbekistan, which is the most populous Central Asian nation and has developed a reputation for its citizens becoming radicalized abroad. But there’s an important distinction to be made, says Dr. John Heathershaw, an associate professor at the University of Exeter in England whose research lies in the political and security environments of the authoritarian governments in Central Asia.

“There is an important geographical distinction here,” Heathershaw told the Observer by email on Wednesday. “This is not radicalization in Uzbekistan, but of Uzbeks. There is a pattern this year of persons having left Uzbekistan many years before with little sign or no sign of militancy, and committing terrorist acts in a more permissive (less authoritarian) environment—Russia, Sweden, Turkey, New York City.”

Heathershaw was referring to incidents this year in which an Uzbek man detonated a suicide bomb on a St. Petersburg, Russia train, leaving 15 dead; another drove a truck into a group of pedestrians in Stockholm, Sweden, killing five; and an Uzbek national, Abdulkadir Masharipov, killed 39 revelers at a nightclub in Istanbul; and then Saipov came along on Tuesday.

Saipov had written a note before his attack pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev offered his country’s support to President Donald Trump on Wednesday. In a knee-jerk reaction, Trump earlier on Wednesday called for the permanent end to the visa lottery program that allowed Saipov to come to the U.S., where he worked various jobs in several states before becoming a tractor-trailer driver.

But using Tuesday’s attack to justify any repercussions is folly, argued Heathershaw.

“This should not lead us to jump to the conclusion that liberal states should imitate autocrats,” Heathershaw said. “A better approach is to recognise that this is a transnational phenomenon and we must look at the relationships between push factors in dictatorships and the pull factors which emerge in more open environments. Also, why so many Uzbeks? Their greater number of migrants? Specific recruitment networks within their migrant communities? Their more repressive environment at home? These are the questions, but I don’t think we don’t have the answers yet.”

Heathershaw said there is a large amount of guesswork in detailing the number of Uzbeks who have joined the Islamic State, but he believes roughly 500 have joined group, seeking a brand of militancy that employs terror as a primary negotiating tactic.

That number comes from The Soufan Center, which publishes an annual report on foreign fighters who join the Islamic State and what countries they originate from before joining the jihad.

On Wednesday it was widely reported that Saipov was found by local investigators to be on the radar of federal agencies. Why then, didn’t the feds act earlier? The answer is complicated, but articulated well in the Soufan Center report.

“Given the numbers involved, the real problem for the authorities is in prioritizing tar­gets, and in establishing what sort of approach to take in each case,” the report, written by Richard Barrett and published in October, said. “When a ‘known wolf’, meaning a terrorism suspect, is able to carry out an attack, it is not necessarily because the authorities are paying no attention; it is more likely because they have decided that their attention should be focused elsewhere. Allocating more resources to security is not always the answer; the focus has to be on reducing the threat to manageable levels rather than increasing the capacity of the State to surveil its citizens, a policy that in any case may be more likely to increase terrorism than to reduce it.”

If heavy-handed nation-state responses to security issues is a primary driver of extremism, what can governments do to curb the problem?

As of now, that’s unclear. It’s a tightrope for each country, but here in the U.S. civil freedoms have been slowly dissipating since our own worst-ever attack in New York on 9/11.

Sixteen years later, we’re still trying to figure out how to handle terrorism.

Les Neuhaus is a National and International Politics contributor for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LesNeuhaus

New York Terror Attack Points to Growing Radicalization of Uzbeks
Read the whole story
10 hours ago
Share this story

Trump Looks to Terrorism Enabler Russia to Help ‘Solve’ Insurgency

1 Share

Surrendering Taliban militants stand with their weapons in Herat, Afghanistan. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

In a recent Twitter crusade to coax the “haters and fools” into sharing his affinity for a renewed relationship with the Kremlin, President Donald Trump argued why he thinks it’s a “good thing” to get cozy with Moscow: “I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”

Depends how you define “help.” Russia’s trade with North Korea doubled at the beginning of the year and the administration has recently acknowledged that Russia helps Pyongyang circumvent sanctions.

Russia also aids the homicidal regime of staunch ally Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs and sarin on civilians. Moscow was focusing airstrikes on enemies of the regime while the non-Assadist Syrian Democratic Forces—who were targeted by Russia in September airstrikes, the Pentagon said—have been the ones fighting and defeating ISIS.

Russia invaded and still occupies part of sovereign state Ukraine, so asking for their “help” there is like asking a burglar to manage the home security system.

And asking Russia to help “solve” terrorism is like asking an arsonist to help with wildfire management.

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters last week that Russia is pushing the “false narrative” of ISIS overrunning the country—there are fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters remaining there, a number that keeps falling, says the U.S. military—in order to justify their support for the Taliban. Linked to that false narrative is Moscow’s yarn that the Taliban are somehow useful minions more into quashing terrorist rivals between their on-again, off-again truces than their unambiguous main goal of crushing democratic Afghanistan and fueling global jihad.

Citing sensitive intelligence, Nicholson would not elaborate on the current nature of Russia’s support. An Afghan commander said last month that they’ve seized Russian weapons and equipment, and a House hearing last week revealed the cache from Russia has included machine guns and other medium-weight weapons.

The Taliban, of course, are longtime kin of al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network; Nicholson said in December that the latter poses “the greatest threat to Americans and to our coalition partners and to the Afghans.” The general also said that Russia’s kinship with the Taliban was intended to “undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.”

This administration has followed the Obama-era path of not branding the Taliban as the terrorist group they are, because by encouraging a political settlement they’re encouraging negotiations with a terrorist group. But Taliban attacks have killed several U.S. servicemembers this year and many more Afghans.

In late October, the Taliban vowed to let American hostage Kevin King die of his health problems if they don’t get a prisoner swap. King, a professor at American University in Kabul, was kidnapped by gunmen in August 2016. Somehow, we have yet see an enraged “don’t you dare kill our citizen” presidential tweet aimed at the Taliban.

Russia’s terror connections don’t stop in Central Asia. Through Moscow’s unholy alliance with Assad, Hezbollah have occasionally fought alongside Russian soldiers and have used Russian weapons. Hezbollah commanders told The Daily Beast at the start of the year that Russia was supplying them with laser-guided rockets and anti-tank missiles “with no strings attached”—even if Israel is potentially in the cross-hairs.

And Russia and Iran continue to enjoy their multibillion-dollar arms relationship. So unless you trust Iran—the state sponsor of terrorism whose insidious relationship with al-Qaeda became clearer in Osama bin Laden’s recently released documents—and Hezbollah to “solve” the terror they sow, there’s no reason you should trust their enabler to do the same.

Money and manipulation of global crises for the benefit of the Kremlin will always be more important to that regime than altruism and counterterrorism. If help is what you seek, better look elsewhere while the “haters and fools” continue to be realists.

Bridget Johnson is a senior fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center and D.C. bureau chief for PJ Media.

Russia Doesn’t ‘Solve’ Terrorism—It Helps It
Read the whole story
10 hours ago
Share this story
Next Page of Stories