Spies Like Us. Civil War Inside China’s Communist Party. Political Morons!

IN A NUTSHELL: MUST READ
 

China Communist Party’s Central Committee Expected To Expel A Dozen Members: When it meets in Beijing on Wednesday, the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee is expected to dismiss nearly a dozen members brought down by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crusade. Xi’s first term saw the downfall of more Central Committee members than any of his predecessors. In total, 17 full Central Committee members and another 17 alternate members have been expelled since Xi started his term in 2012. The closed-door gathering will be the last meeting of the Central Committee before its five-year term ends at the all-important national party congress, which starts on October 18. The congress will select a new Central Committee, which will in turn approve the Politburo and its Standing Committee for Xi’s second term in office.

(Israeli) Spy vs. (Russian) Spy vs. (American) Spy: In a story worthy of the imagination of a John le Carré or Robert Ludlum, Israeli spies hacked into Russian spies who were hacking into computers around the world searching for American secrets. The Russians were using their own antivirus software as a sort of Google search tool for sensitive information. The software is  made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, and is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen US government agencies. The Israeli intelligence officials who hacked into Kaspersky’s own network two years ago warned the US about the breach, but a decision was only made last month to remove Kaspersky software from US government computers. The Russian operation is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer that also had installed Kaspersky’s antivirus software.

The extent of the role played by Israeli intelligence has just came to light. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Israeli spies had also found in Kaspersky’s network hacking tools that could only have come from the US National Security Agency (NSA). Israel informed the NSA that it had uncovered solid evidence that Russian government hackers were using Kaspersky’s access to aggressively scan for American government classified programs, and were sending findings back to Russian intelligence agencies. The NSA bans its analysts from using Kaspersky antivirus at the agency, in large part because the agency has exploited antivirus software for its own foreign hacking operations and knows the same technique is used by its adversaries. “Antivirus is the ultimate back door,” said a former NSA operator and co-founder of Area 1 Security.

Germany’s cyber agency, the Federal Office for Information Security, said on Wednesday it had no evidence at this time to back media reports that Russian hackers used Kaspersky Lab antivirus software to spy on US authorities, and there were no plans to warn Germans against the use of Kaspersky products.

 
 
 
NUTS AND BOLTS: SHOULD READ
 

Kenya’s Election Re-Do: On Wednesday, Kenya’s electoral commission said that it would go ahead with a repeat of the August presidential election, even though one of the main candidates, opposition leader Raila Odinga, has said he is withdrawing from the race because he does not believe the new poll will be free and fair. The new vote, scheduled for October 26, will be open to all eight candidates who ran in the initial election. But with the Odinga’s withdrawal, incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta is likely to win easily against the other candidates, none of whom performed well in the earlier election.

The new election was ordered by the Supreme Court last month after it nullified the August election. In its ruling, the court found that senior poll officials had not followed electoral procedures properly to ensure a credible vote. It was the first time in an African election that a court cancelled the election of an incumbent president.

For weeks since the court ruling, Odinga has demanded that senior poll officials be replaced and prosecuted. He has also called for the replacement of the companies in charge of printing ballot papers and providing the devices needed for the electronic transmission of results–all areas that the court found to have been flawed in the August poll.

President Trump Expected To Decertify The Iran Deal: In a telephone call Tuesday Great Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May tried her best to convince President Trump that the Iran deal, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) put together by former president Obama, was working. Under the deal Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear program for 15 years in exchange for lifting most Western economic sanctions. Britain and the United States are two of eight signatories, along with Iran, China, France, Russia, Germany and the European Union.

Trump has criticized the pact as an “embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever negotiated,” and he has signaled he will probably decertify Iran’s compliance by October 15. In Europe, however,  the agreement is viewed as a rare triumph of international diplomacy in the Middle East, and  countries are scrambling to put together a package of measures they hope will keep the deal on track if Trump pulls the US out. Sadly, without strong US support, senior officials in Berlin, Paris and London say it may only be a matter of time before the pact unravels, with grave consequences for Middle East security, nonproliferation efforts and transatlantic ties.

If the president goes through with undermining the Iran deal,  US congressional leaders would have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Trump also wants to designate Iran’s most powerful security force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as a terrorist organization. The IRGC has a vast economic empire in Iran, and blacklisting it could make it more difficult for Iranian businesses to access the global financial system. US sanctions on the IRGC could affect conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran and Washington both support warring parties that oppose the Islamic State militant group ISIS.

 
 
 
KEEPING OUR EYE ON
 

UN States That Myanmar Army Operations Are Aimed At Preventing the Return of the Rohingya: The Myanmar military has brutally driven out half a million Muslim Rohingya from northern Rakhine state, torching their homes, crops, and villages to prevent them from returning. The head of the Asia and Pacific region of the UN human rights office fears that if the stateless Rohingya refugees return from Bangladesh they may be interned: “If villages have been completely destroyed and livelihood possibilities have been destroyed, what we fear is that they may be incarcerated or detained in camps.” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein stated: “Credible information indicates that the Myanmar security forces purposely destroyed the property of the Rohingyas, scorched their dwellings and entire villages in northern Rakhine State, not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes.”

President Trump Tweets a Threat To NBC News: President Trump was so upset at an NBCNews story Wednesday morning that he tweeted the station’s “license” should be “challenged.” The story explained the reason Secretary of State Tillerson was said to have called the president a “moron.”

And here’s the rest of the story: On July 20 Trump attended a lengthy briefing review at the Pentagon of worldwide US forces and operations. Present at the session were the president, vice-president, a number of cabinet officials, national security and other advisors, and generals.   Part of the meeting involved discussion of a chart showing the history of the US and Russia’s nuclear stockpiles, from peaks in the late 1960s to much reduced capabilities today. According to three officials in the room, Trump commented that he wanted current stockpiles increased to 1960s levels, what would have amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in America’s nuclear arsenal. The comments were shocking, prompting officials to explain to the president the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup. Soon after the meeting broke up, officials who remained behind Tillerson say that Trump is a “moron.”

Shortly after the NBC news story appeared Wednesday morning the president tweeted two messages objecting to the report as fake news and threatening to use the power of the federal  government to retaliate. Later that day Trump said to reporters who had arrived in the Oval Office to cover his meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada that “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it.” By “people” the president is apparently referring to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which  is an independent agency of the United States government created by statute in 1934 to regulate interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.  Trump doubled down on his threat Wednesday evening in a tweet and said: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

National broadcasting networks like NBC do not hold federal licenses, but their individual television stations do. NBC has more than 200 stations and the vast majority of their broadcast content is non-news. There is no mechanism for separating the news from other programming. In the event the network was broadcasting “fake news” as Trump contends, the FCC can only revoke a broadcast license for content that either violates the law, or falls short of certain technical standards.

 
 
 
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