Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Syria conflict: UN suspends peace talks in Geneva - BBC News | The Pentagon’s Top Threat? Russia - The New York Times Editorial | Report: Record Number of Exonerations in US in 2015 | In a first, judge grants retrial solely on FBI hair ‘match’ - The Washington Post | Shadowy Companies, Big Bucks: Election Mystery Money Returns - ABC News | Kurdish Independence, Islamic State: Kurdish Leader Demands Non-Binding Referendum On Independence From Iraq | The Ayatollah’s Drug Dealers - WSJ | DNA traces found of U.S. Marines killed in helicopter crash off Hawaii - Reuters | Putin's Out-of-Control Creature in Chechnya | Obama sits in back seat of Russia’s “shock and awe” drive in Syria


Latest News


Committee Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) questions witnesses during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled ‘Whistleblower Retaliation at the FBI: Improving Protections and Oversight’ on March 4, 2015. The hearing follows a Government Accountability Office report which disclosed that whistleblower protections at the FBI are weaker than other government agencies and that current procedures could discourage whistleblowing. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
How FBI blocks whistleblower fighting dismissal; new bill could help others - The Washington Post


A helicopter view of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., is seen on Jan. 28. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
National Security Agency plans major reorganization - The Washington Post:
The National Security Agency, the largest electronic spy agency in the world, is undertaking a major reorganization, merging its offensive and defensive organizations in the hope of making them more adept at facing the digital threats of the 21st century, according to current and former officials.In place of the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates — the organizations that historically have spied on foreign targets and defended classified networks against spying, respectively — the NSA is creating a Directorate of Operations that combines the operational elements of each.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at a map of his country in his residence of Novo-Ogaryevo outside Moscow


Main News

Report: Record Number of Exonerations in US in 2015
Report finds record number of US exonerations in 2015 - WTOP
Report finds record number of US exonerations in 2015
A record number of people convicted of crimes were exonerated last year - The Washington Post
The staggering number of wrongful convictions in America - The Washington Post
How FBI blocks whistleblower fighting dismissal; new bill could help others - The Washington Post
In a first, judge grants retrial solely on FBI hair ‘match’ - The Washington Post
Shadowy Companies, Big Bucks: Election Mystery Money Returns - ABC News
Jimmy Carter: US politics corrupted by money – audio | US news | The Guardian
Jimmy Carter calls US campaign finance ruling 'legalised bribery' | US news | The Guardian
National Security Agency plans major reorganization - The Washington Post
NSA merging anti-hacker team that fixes security holes with one that uses them | US news | The Guardian
Audit uncovers flaws in U.S.'s 'EINSTEIN' cybersecurity program - SC Magazine
Kurdish Independence, Islamic State: Kurdish Leader Demands Non-Binding Referendum On Independence From Iraq (BREAKING) : News : Headlines & Global News
As Syria burns, Turkey’s Kurdish problem is getting worse - The Washington Post
The Ayatollah’s Drug Dealers - WSJ
The Ayatollah’s Drug Dealers - Google Search
hezbollah - Google Search

Reviews

News Roundup and Notes: February 3, 2016 | Just Security

US

Gallup: Red states now outnumber blue states
Facebook Is Changing How Your News Feed Works - ABC News

Security

The Pentagon’s Top Threat? Russia - The New York Times Editorial
Remarks by Secretary Carter on the Budget at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. > U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > Transcript View
U.S. & NATO Deterrence of Russia: Money and Resolve
If Russia Started a War in the Baltics, NATO Would Lose — Quickly | Foreign Policy
Poland Salutes Plan to Boost NATO Presence in Eastern Europe - ABC News
Montenegro to Force Troops to Join NATO Operations :: Balkan Insight
DNA traces found of U.S. Marines killed in helicopter crash off Hawaii | Reuters
Korea: The North Uses Biological Weapons Against The South
Fulltime Europe Border Controls Could Cost France Billions - The New York Times
Overnight Cybersecurity: Last-minute deal lets US-EU data flow | TheHill
Sexually Transmitted Zika Virus Case In US
Zika could inject fear back into sex - The Washington Post
The Past, Present, and Future of the Zika Virus - The Atlantic
Zika virus infection 'through sex' reported in US - BBC News
Are we alone in this universe? CIA documents reveal the truth - The Express Tribune
Libyan Failure: Why US Spies Losing to Their European, Russian Counterparts

Russia and FUSSR

10 maps that explain Russia's strategy - Business Insider
Putting Russia on the Map: Stratfor CEO's Analysis Makes Sudden Conclusion
After four months, Russia’s campaign in Syria is proving successful for Moscow - The Washington Post
Leadership: Russia Downsizes And Updates Its Playbook
Poroshenko: Russia trying to drive wedge between European states | News | DW.COM | 03.02.2016
Ukraine's Poroshenko sees increased risk of open war with Russia | Reuters
TASS: World - Ukrainian parliament fails to ratify agreement on opening NATO office in Ukraine
Railing Against Graft, a Georgian Leads Calls for a Cleanup in Ukraine - The New York Times
Ukrainian official resigns, says reform efforts blocked - The Washington Post
The Daily Vertical: Lies, Damn Lies, And Kremlin Statements
Putin's Out-of-Control Creature in Chechnya
Касьянов подал заявление в ФСБ на Кадырова: Политика: Россия: Lenta.ru
Новым начальником ГРУ назначен генерал Игорь Коробов : Вооруженные силы: Силовые структуры: Lenta.ru
Ъ-Газета - Вот Тула прилетела
Ъ-Газета - Чем известен Алексей Дюмин
Ъ-Газета - "Владимир Груздев подскажет, на какие вопросы обратить внимание в первую очередь"
Pussy Riot’s New Video Targets Corruption in Putin’s Russia | TIME

Middle East and Asia

Obama sits in back seat of Russia’s “shock and awe” drive in Syria
U.N. scrambles to sustain Syria talks; Russia vows to crush 'terrorists' | Reuters
Lavrov: Russian Airstrikes in Syria Will Continue Until Terrorists Defeated
Government offensive on Aleppo threatens Syria peace talks - The Washington Post
Syria conflict: Aleppo offensive threatens peace talks - BBC News
Syrian army, with Russian air support, attacks southern town of Athman
The Latest: Syrian opposition says aid delivery not enough - The Washington Post
Iraq building security wall around Baghdad: military commander | Reuters
Three Palestinians shot dead after carrying out attack in Jerusalem: police | Reuters
Palestinian Gunmen Wound 2 Israeli Officers and Are Killed - ABC News
Russian parliament's speaker arrives in Israel for official visit
Another Hamas tunnel collapses in Gaza; at least 3 killed
Procurement: Building Defenses Against The Tunnels Of Doom
Ambassador: US to Continue South China Sea Flights, Sail-bys

Accidents

One killed by blast that forced Somali emergency landing -officials
Man 'Sucked Out Of Plane' After Explosion 

_____________________________________________________


The Ayatollah’s Drug Dealers - WSJ

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U.S. law enforcement officials on Monday announced the arrests of several alleged leaders of a global drug-trafficking and money-laundering network with ties to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The arrests are a reminder of the interconnections between organized crime and organized terror, and of Tehran’s links to both.
The arrests are part of a joint operation between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and several European agencies that targeted Hezbollah’s Business Affairs Component. “Members of the BAC have established business relationships with South American drug cartels,” the DEA said in a statement. The cartels supply Western drug markets with cocaine, and BAC launders the proceeds and relays them to the Middle East.
Hezbollah uses its cut of the action to supplement the estimated $200 million it receives annually from Iran. Some of the money goes to the “social services” the group provides its captive Shiite constituents throughout Lebanon. It also funds a sophisticated military apparatus that is heavily engaged in fighting for the Assad regime in Syria. Israel estimates that Hezbollah has at least 100,000 rockets and guided missiles that can reach nearly any target in the Jewish state.
Hezbollah also continues to be a major perpetrator of international terrorism, despite occasional efforts to cast itself as a normal political party and defensive Lebanese force. In 2012 it carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in Bulgaria, India and Thailand. Cypriot police in May discovered five tons of explosives in a safe house and arrested a Lebanese man whom Israeli officials believe is a Hezbollah operative.
Hezbollah will have fewer financial worries once it gets its share of the $100 billion payday that last year’s nuclear deal awarded the regime in Tehran. Lest anyone doubt the nature of that regime, look no further than what Monday’s arrests reveal about its choice of friends.
_________________________________________

A record number of people convicted of crimes were exonerated last year - WP

A record number of people convicted of crimes were exonerated last year

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There were 149 people exonerated in the United States last year after being wrongly convicted of crimes, a tally that included dozens convicted of murder and an uptick in people who had pleaded guilty or falsely confessed, according to a new report.
More than a third of the people exonerated were convicted of murder, says a report released Wednesday by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Northwestern University School of Law. A copy of this report was reviewed by The Post before publication.
All of the people exonerated last year were exonerated in more than half of the states in the country and, before being cleared, had served an average of more than 14 years in prison. Five of the people who were exonerated had been sentenced to death.
The number of people exonerated in 2015 broke a record the organization announced earlier, when it reported that 125 people were exonerated of crimes.
All told, the National Registry says it has logged 1,733 exonerations in the country since 1989. While exonerations involving DNA may grab more attention, they accounted for a little less than a fifth of last year’s exonerations and about a quarter of all the exonerations the registry has logged.
The growing frequency with which people have been exonerated of crimes comes amid a push toreform the country’s criminal justice system, an effort that spans political parties and follows years of harsh sentencing and explosive growth in the country’s incarcerated populations. It also means that each exoneration is less of a news event, the authors of the report noted.
“Not long ago, any exoneration we heard about was major news,” the report stated. “Now it’s a familiar story. We average nearly three exonerations a week, and most get little attention.”
The report attributes this surge, in part, to more prosecutors working to revisit convictions. (In one noteworthy case from 2014, a Texas man was exonerated through testing he didn’t realize was taking place.) In addition, the report says there are also more exonerations in cases involving false confessions or guilty pleas than there used to be.
In four of 10 exonerations last year, the people had pleaded guilty, largely in cases involving charges of drug possession. About a third of all exonerations last year involved these drug possession cases.
A remarkable number of these cases occurred in just one place: Harris County, Tex., home to Houston. More than a quarter of all exonerations last year involved people in Harris County who had pleaded guilty to drug possession, only to be cleared last year.
The registry’s report described how the Harris County District Attorney’s office had investigated cases after noticing a number of people who pleaded guilty to possessing illegal drugs, only for a crime lab — sometimes months or years later — to reveal that the materials these people had were not drugs after all. Some of the people who wound up pleading guilty likely agreed to plea bargains to avoid long prison terms, the report noted. (Quite a few thing can get mistaken for drugs, it turns out.)
In some cases last year, former inmates who had been exonerated before last year received compensation in 2015. Ricky Jackson, who spent nearly four decades behind bars in Ohio, wasawarded more than $1 million by a judge. Two half-brothers in North Carolina had been released in 2014, but they could only be compensated last year after Gov. Pat McCroy (R) completed a lengthy review process and formally pardoned them.
Related:
This story, first published at 12:01 a.m., has been updated after the report’s release to link to it.
Mark Berman covers national news for The Washington Post and anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and stories from around the country.
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How FBI blocks whistleblower fighting dismissal; new bill could help others

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Sometimes Uncle Sam’s rules and regulations just don’t make sense.
Take the case of Darin Jones, a former FBI employee who said he was fired after making whistleblower disclosures about a $234,000 awards ceremony, improper procurement spending and a conflict of interest involving a former assistant director and computer help desk contract among other complaints.
“I was wrongfully terminated from my GS-15 Supervisory Contract Specialist in retaliation for whistleblowing on August 24, 2012, the last day of my one year probationary period,” Jones said.
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This story isn’t about whether his allegations are right or wrong, but how the FBI and the Justice Department treats employees who, in good faith, make allegations about waste, fraud and abuse.
Jones’s appeal of his dismissal was rejected because he took his allegations to the wrong place. He went to his supervisors, which is reasonable in a rational world. But the FBI has a list of appropriate places for staffers to take allegations, like the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility. Jones’s boss wasn’t on the list.
It’s kind of like the FBI refusing to investigate a child’s kidnapping because the parents first called the local police.
In too many cases, FBI whistleblowers are treated like the wrongdoers the FBI hunts, instead of the concerned citizens the FBI needs. Unlike most other federal employees, FBI staffers who fight adverse personnel actions are subjected to what can be an interminable in-house process, with no outside appeal allowed.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R- Iowa) and Ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) have introduced legislation to change that. Their FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act would expand the group of people who can receive disclosures from whistleblowers to include their supervisors. The bill’s summary says the measure also would replace “the lengthy and opaque adjudication process” in the Justice Department’s Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, where Jones’s appeal resides, with administrative law judges, who could come from outside the FBI. Unlike now, under the bill FBI employees potentially could appeal decisions to the court system.
“It’s no secret that FBI whistleblowers often face harsh consequences for simply trying to address failures or misconduct at work,” Grassley said. “Inconsistent and confusing disclosure rules and perpetual delays in retaliation investigations have left well-intentioned whistleblowers without adequate protections from reprisal.”
That’s where Jones is. His appeal process is approaching 3.5 years with no end in sight. That might seem like a long time to average folks, but it’s not an unusual amount of time for the FBI.  The Justice Department took up to four years to close nearly one-quarter of the whistleblower retaliation complaints reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.
His case is “a perfect example of what’s wrong with the FBI whistleblower regulations and the fact that we need legislation so that FBI [workforce] is protected just like every other whistleblower in the executive branch of government,” Grassley said during an interview.
“They’ve shown us for a long period of time, not only that they don’t like whistleblowers and they punish whistleblowers, but they also showed us they really don’t want anything on paper on how whistleblowers should be protected.”
Just as Justice has not engaged with Grassley’s office on the legislation, the department ignored a request to comment on this story. FBI Director James B. Comey, however, has endorsed the possibility of better whistleblower protections for his staff, at least in theory.
“I think it’s very, very important that we create the safe zones that all of our people need to raise concerns that they might have,” he told Grassley during a December hearing. “That’s potentially a huge range of things. So I want to be thoughtful about what we’re considering whistleblowing as we do this. But I’m open to try and improve the way we approach it.”
Whatever the legislation does, whatever the FBI might do, it is too late to prevent the suffering Jones has already endured, an experience he calls “unbearable.” He hasn’t been able to find work and relies on his wife’s teacher’s salary to support their family.
“It’s very challenging, very difficult, very painful and very stressful,” Jones said. “It’s been that way from the day of my wrongful termination to the present day.”
In addition to job-hunt rejections, even former colleagues are distant, situations he attributes to being fired.
What is “very sad,” he added, is “whistleblowers become radioactive.”
Read more:
Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.
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In a first, judge grants retrial solely on FBI hair ‘match’

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A Massachusetts man imprisoned 30 years for rape has been granted a retrial, marking the first conviction in the country overturned solely because of recent FBI admissions that its evidence experts for decades overstated forensic hair links to crimes.
Previous exonerations based on flawed hair evidence — including several in the District — included new DNA results or came in appeals launched before the FBI and Justice Department confirmed in April that FBI lab reports and testimony incriminating hundreds “exceeded the limits of science.”
The decision by the Massachusetts state judge had been awaited as a bellwether for how state and legal authorities respond to the errors, made by almost every examiner in an elite microscopic hair analysis unit in nearly all trial testimony before 2000, when DNA testing of hair had become routine.
The judge’s ruling also comes as a White House-appointed commission, Justice Department and FBI are debating how to strengthen forensic science standards, including how results are reported by law enforcement.
The federal review of convictions including FBI hair matches began in 2012 and has uncovered errors in more than 1,300 cases, including many in which defendants pleaded guilty.
Flaws have been identified in 33 of 35 death row cases, including 14 cases in which the defendant was executed or died in prison. Defenders and prosecutors are being notified to determine whether there is other evidence of guilt or grounds for appeal.
One notice went in 2014 to George Perrot, 48, a Springfield, Mass., man who was 17 when he accused of rape during a burglary and later convicted by a jury that heard now-recanted FBI testimony matching Perrot to hair found on a bedsheet.
In a 79-page opinion filed Jan. 26, Hampden County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane found that the FBI acknowledgment of errors on its own constituted newly discovered evidence regarding evolving science and granted Perrot a retrial.
“Justice may not have been done’” in Perrot’s conviction for the Nov. 30, 1985, rape of a 78-year-old woman in Springfield, Kane wrote, because of errors “not authoritatively recognized and addressed” earlier.
Had “any” of that hair evidence been offered today, the judge wrote, “it would have been excluded.”
Some legal observers called the ruling a milestone in how courts tackle questions about final convictions involving later-disputed or debunked forensic practices.
“This decision, although it does not represent precedent elsewhere, can be a very persuasive analysis to other trial judges facing similar questions,” said Kirsten Mayer, a partner with the Ropes & Gray law firm in Boston that represented Perrot pro bono.
In 2009, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences commissioned by Congress reported that although forensic examiners have long claimed to be able to match pattern evidence — such as hair samples, shoe and tire treads, bitemarks or marks on fired bullets — to a source with “absolute” or “scientific certainty,” only DNA analysis had been validated through statistical research.
Courts have continued to admit the other types of forensic evidence citing precedent, however, and rarely reopen related convictions in the absence of new DNA results.
That has posed a challenge to appeals of older cases in which biological evidence often is lost, destroyed or degraded.
The National Commission on Forensic Science this month is weighing whether to call on U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to direct federal prosecutors, law enforcement agents and forensic scientists to abandon such assertions of “scientific certainty” in forensic testimony in the future, saying “these terms have no scientific meaning and may mislead” judges and juries — as happened previously with hair testimony.
The Innocence Project and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers — two outside legal groups assisting the FBI review — said Perrot’s was the first retrial granted and that it would help speed greater scrutiny of flawed techniques. They praised the FBI for acknowledging a “duty to correct” scientific errors and said they hoped state labs whose examiners were trained by the FBI would join that effort.
Texas, North Carolina and Massachusetts are reviewing their hair-examiner cases.
NACDL President E.G. “Gerry” Morris said the group “looks forward” to other courts recognizing the FBI concessions as new evidence.
M. Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project, praised Kane for holding an evidentiary hearing and basing the decision on current science “rather than a reflexive reliance on precedent.”
In a statement, the FBI said the purpose of its ongoing review “is to ensure that FBI Laboratory examiner testimony regarding microscopic hair comparison analysis . . . met accepted scientific standards,” adding: “In cases in which those standards were not met, remedial action may be taken.”
The issues raised by Perrot’s case are controversial within the FBI lab and across law enforcement because of concerns by some practitioners that strict testimony limits may do more harm than good by unduly weakening valuable techniques.
In September, during arguments in Perrot’s case, local prosecutors called an FBI Laboratory chief scientist, Marc A. LeBeau, who testified the FBI review is identifying only “potential errors” that might have been offset elsewhere in agents’ testimony.
That month, FBI Laboratory Director Christopher Todd Doss wrote the Senate Judiciary Committee that “statements have been designated as ‘errors’ regardless of whether or not they were later clarified or corrected with context.”
The following day, Sept. 15, a senior Justice Department official assured senators that federal authorities were not attempting to walk back or undermine concessions of flawed testimony. The government “will not dispute that the erroneous statements should be treated as false evidence,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik wrote the Senate committee.
Federal authorities began their investigation after The Washington Post reported in 2012 that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people since at least the 1970s, typically for murder, rape and other violent crimes.
Perrot was among the first to ask for new trial without DNA evidence in a contested proceeding. Prosecutors raised procedural objections and argued there was other evidence of guilt, although in his ruling, the Massachusetts judge noted the defense had also countered there may have been police misconduct.
Perrot, 17 at the time with multiple burglary arrests, was identified in a purse-snatching in December 1985. After lengthy interrogation, Perrot confessed to burglarizing the homes of two elderly women but denied attacking one who said she also had been raped.
The victim, since deceased, testified that although she was not wearing her eyeglasses the bearded Perrot could not have been her clean-shaven attacker. But at trial, an FBI examiner testified that a bedsheet hair matched Perrot’s, and said that it would be “extremely rare” for the examiner to be unable to distinguish hair samples from different people.
The Hampden District Attorney’s Office said it was weighing whether to challenge the judge’s decision or retry Perrot and oppose his attorneys’ request to have him released. A bail hearing is set for Feb. 8. James F. Leydon, a spokesman for District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni, noted that state appeals courts have previously upheld the conviction, and added that the judge did not overturn convictions for a burglary to which Perrot confessed or to a previous robbery of an elderly couple.
Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy award nominee.
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National Security Agency plans major reorganization

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A helicopter view of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., is seen on Jan. 28. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
The National Security Agency, the largest electronic spy agency in the world, is undertaking a major reorganization, merging its offensive and defensive organizations in the hope of making them more adept at facing the digital threats of the 21st century, according to current and former officials.
In place of the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates — the organizations that historically have spied on foreign targets and defended classified networks against spying, respectively — the NSA is creating a Directorate of Operations that combines the operational elements of each.
“This traditional approach we have where we created these two cylinders of excellence and then built walls of granite between them really is not the way for us to do business,” said NSA Director Michael S. Rogers, hinting at the reorganization — dubbed NSA21 — that is expected to be publicly rolled out this week.
“We’ve got to be flat,” he told an audience at the Atlantic Council last month. “We’ve got to be agile.”
Some lawmakers who have been briefed on the broad parameters consider restructuring a smart thing to do because an increasing amount of intelligence and threat activity is coursing through global computer networks.
“When it comes to cyber in particular, the line between collection capabilities and our own vulnerabilities — between the acquisition of signals intelligence and the assurance of our own information — is virtually nonexistent,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “What is a vulnerability to be patched at home is often a potential collection opportunity abroad and vice versa.”
But there have been rumblings of discontent within the NSA, which is based at Fort Meade, Md., as some fear a loss of influence or stature.
Some advocates for the comparatively small Information Assurance Directorate, which has about 3,000 people, fear that its ability to work with industry on cybersecurity issues will be undermined if it is viewed as part of the much larger “sigint” collection arm, which has about eight times as many personnel. The latter spies on overseas targets by hacking into computer networks, collecting satellite signals and capturing radio waves.
“The NSA21 initiative will ensure the National Security Agency continues to be the preeminent signals intelligence and information assurance organization in the world,” said Jonathan Freed, director of strategic communications at the NSA. “These core missions are critical as we position NSA to face complex and evolving threats to the nation. Out of respect for our workforce, we cannot comment on any details or speculation before the plan is announced.”
Director’s charge
The change comes about a year after the CIA did its own revamping, ending divisions that have been in place for decades and creating new centers that team analysts with operators. The NSA’s new Directorate of Operations also will place analysts with operators.
In a speech in December, Rogers characterized the change as “among the most comprehensive” at the NSA since the late 1990s. He began the effort about a year ago, giving a team of employees from across the agency what he called the “director’s charge.” Among the major questions they were asked were: How can the agency better innovate? And how “do we inculcate collaboration and integration” in operations?
For instance, said one former U.S. official familiar with the plan, both information assurance and foreign intelligence gathering rely on similar processes for data analysis and depend on each other. “But the challenge is they are very much two different cultures,” the official said. “Unless you’ve worked on both sides of the house, you don’t inherently trust each other.”
The Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) seeks to build relationships with private-sector companies and help find vulnerabilities in software — most of which officials say wind up being disclosed. It issues software guidance and tests the security of systems to help strengthen their defenses.
But the other side of the NSA house, which looks for vulnerabilities that can be exploited to hack a foreign network, is much more secretive.
“You have this kind of clash between the closed environment of the sigint mission and the need of the information-assurance team to be out there in the public and be seen as part of the solution,” said a second former official. “I think that’s going to be a hard trick to pull off.” Both former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details of the plan are not yet public.
Richard George, a former technical director for the IAD, said he saw how techniques that the defense side developed have helped the offensive operations and vice versa. “It’s got to be really useful to have those groups closer together where they’ll be sharing ideas and techniques more frequently,” said George, now a senior adviser on cyber issues at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
Combining defense, offense
Former NSA director Michael V. Hayden undertook one of the agency’s other major reorganizations, creating the Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID) in 2000 by merging two directorates — of operations and technology. He said he opted not to fold in the IAD. “From the outside perspective,” he said, “I needed an organization that was, and was seen to be, committed to defense.”
At the time, he added, the IAD needed to be strengthened and adapted to the cyber age. “Keeping it separate allowed me more direct visibility into that,” he said. “That said, as the cyber mission matured, the operational and technological aspects of the SID and IAD missions merged more and more.”
By 2005, as cyberthreats were growing, Hayden decided to create a new organization that would enable the agency to leverage the intelligence it was getting from spying on overseas networks to help it defend against intrusions into the government’s classified networks. The NSA Threat Operations Center was an experiment in combining offense and defense. “It was wildly successful,” the first former official said.
NTOC dispelled the myth, the official said, that one person cannot operate under two sets of legal authorities — offensive and defensive. “I can actually sit at my desk and one minute be using sigint data and authorities . . . and the next minute I could be using IA data and authorities and my mission is not changing,” the official said. “You need checks and balances. You need to know what authority you’re using at any given time, but it’s possible.”
Still, some congressional aides briefed on the broad outlines of the plan have expressed concern about mixing funding for intelligence activities and that for cybersecurity activities.
One area where the sigint side is ahead of information assurance is in using “big data” analytical tools to manipulate large volumes of information quickly. “What we want to do is take advantage of that knowledge, to apply it as needed to the IA analysis,” the first former official said.
The reorganization plan also includes separate directorates of capabilities and research.
“One of the fundamental tenets you’ll see us outline as we try to position NSA for . . . the environment I think we’re going to see five, 10 years from now is a much more integrated approach to doing business,” Rogers said at the Atlantic Council. “I don’t like these stovepipes of SID and IAD. I love the expertise. And I love when we work together. But I want the integration to be at a much lower level and much more foundational.”
Ellen Nakashima is a national security reporter for The Washington Post. She focuses on issues relating to intelligence, technology and civil liberties.
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As Syria burns, Turkey’s Kurdish problem is getting worse

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Not far from the Turkish border with Syria, another war is raging.
In the heart of the ancient city of Diyarbakir, behind its historic black-stone walls, security forces have been engaged for weeks in clashes with the youth wing of an outlawed Kurdish separatist group. Whole neighborhoods have been sealed off under curfew; tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee.
The mini-rebellion has been echoed elsewhere in Turkey's restive southeast, a region that is home to a majority Kurdish population and that has been in the grips of a low-level civil war since tensions flared last summer. The violence is likely the worst seen in the past two decades.
The Turkish government claims more than 200 policemen and soldiers have been killed since July, while some estimates place the local civilian death toll around that number as well. The Turkish crackdown on the militants — fighters belonging to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK — has led to more than 500 guerrilla deaths.
There's little indication of the hostilities calming. Since a peace process between the two sides fully collapsed last year, separatist-minded Kurds in a number of towns and neighborhoods pushed for de facto autonomy. The predominantly Kurdish border town of Cizre has been a hotbed of unrest and resistance for more than a year now and is now in the midst of an intense Turkish military clampdown.
Rights groups and critics of the Turkish government accuse the state of denying civilians stuck in the siege adequate access to medical care. On Tuesday, the top human rights official at the United Nations also urged Ankara to investigate an incident that occurred last month, which involved the apparent shooting of unarmed civilians, leading to a number of casualties.
Video footage appeared to show a group of civilians moving in front of an armored military vehicle before they "were cut down by a hail of gunfire," said Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
Turkish authorities have previously rejected claims that their security forces were impeding aid to civilians. "They are deliberately not bringing the wounded out," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, referring to the Kurdish militants holed up in parts of Cizre and other towns in Turkey's southeast.
The PKK's insurgency has blown hot and cold since the early 1980s. It has led to some 40,000 deaths in those years. Under the rule of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, some of the causes for Kurdish grievance — including the suppression even of the use of their own language — started to be addressed. But the shadow of the Syrian war has led to a profound unraveling.
As WorldViews noted earlier, the territorial gains made by Syrian Kurdish militias over the past two years had ripple effects across the border. The Turkish government, which has spent decades attempting to subdue Kurdish separatist ambitions, looked on with horror as the PYD, a Syrian Kurdish faction historically linked to the PKK, emerged as a key player in northern Syria. The PYD's role on the front lines of the war against the Islamic State endeared it to the West, including the United States, which gave it aid.
"Ankara’s real fear is that the PYD’s success in Syria will dangerously strengthen the PKK in its fight against Turkey," writes Nicholas Danforth, a Turkey scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "For Washington, by contrast, the PYD’s military success confronting [the Islamic State] in Syria remains the group’s main appeal."
This tension is playing out in the current, fitful round of U.N.-brokered talks over the Syrian conflict in Geneva. Turkey insisted that the PYD not be extended an invitation; the United States, an increasingly grudging ally, acquiesced. Russia, whose military intervention on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad infuriated Turkey, is now also opportunistically cozying up to the Syrian Kurds. It had earlier demanded the PYD be included in the talks.
Ankara casts the PYD as a stooge agent of the Assad regime; the PYD, meanwhile, accuses Turkey of aiding the Islamic State in order to undermine the prospect of an autonomous Kurdish state along its border.
Within Turkey, criticism of the government's actions has led to harsh punishments. Turkish prosecutors are currently seeking life sentences for two prominent journalists who published a story that linked the Turkish government to arms shipments sent to Syrian rebel factions across the border. In a wholly separate case, an academic at a university in Ankara faces seven years jail timefor simply circulating an exam question that involved the writings of the PKK's jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
The escalation of violence and instability in the region has grave consequences for larger crises currently vexing the international community.
"Turkey's domestic peace is not an issue for Turkey alone," Selahattin Demirtas, a leading opposition politician and co-leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party, a leftist, pro-Kurdish party, told reporters in Brussels last week. "It is directly related to the resolution of the Syrian conflict and to the migration problem in Europe."
All the while, resentment and anger is festering on the streets of Diyarbakir and other majority Kurdish cities. The city boasts a huge cemetery for Kurdish youth who have gone off to fight across the border in Syria. A radicalization has set in.
"Many residents of these towns are poor families who were forced to flee the countryside when the conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state was at its peak in the 1990s," writes Abdullah Demirbas, a former mayor of Sur, the old quarter in Diyarbakir that's now the epicenter of clashes. "Those who are digging trenches and declaring 'self-rule' in Sur and other cities and towns of southeastern Turkey today are mostly Kurdish youths in their teens and 20s who were born into that earlier era of violence, poverty and displacement, and grew up in radicalized ghettos."
Demirbas, a controversial figure in his own right, has seen one of his own sons join the PKK.
"Now a new generation will grow up with the trauma of killing, destruction and forced migration," he writes. "Where will they go? What will become of them?"
Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
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The Pentagon’s Top Threat? Russia

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The Pentagon has put Russia at the top of its list of national security threats with its plan to increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and troops on rotating assignment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
In a speech on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter listed a hierarchy of threats to the United States, which included China, North Korea, Iran and finally, the fight against terrorism. But his primary focus was Russia.
While he makes a good case for deterring Russian aggression, his proposal to quadruple military spending in Europe in 2017 to $3.4 billion from $789 million seems excessive and raises questions about whether other immediate threats, like the Islamic State, are getting short shrift.
It is undeniable that Russia has become openly aggressive under President Vladimir Putin, who has violated sovereign borders by annexing Crimea and stoking civil war in Ukraine. A cease-fire in Ukraine was declared last year, but Russian forces still maintain a presence in eastern Ukraine, raising questions about whether Russia might try to extend its reach to the Baltic States.
There are other concerns as well. Russia has built a web of complex missile defenses that increasingly threaten NATO’s military access to airspace in parts of Europe, including one-third of the skies of Poland. Similar Russian missile buildups are underway in Crimea and in Syria, where the Russians have beefed up their air campaign on behalf of the Assad government.
Given the Russian moves, it’s important that the United States and NATO allies reinforce their commitment to the common defense, especially at a time when Europe is under great stress from the flow of Syrians and other refugees and the rise of anti-immigrant right-wing political parties.
Over the past two years, the United States has already increased its military exercises and rotation of forces in Europe. Mr. Carter’s new plan would ensure that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade, roughly 5,000 troops, in the region at all times, including in Hungary, Romania and the Baltic countries. Under a 1997 agreement, NATO and Russia agreed not to permanently station troops or nuclear weapons on each other’s borders. The Americans say the plan would not violate this pledge because the troops will rotate, even though the effect will be a constant presence.
The increased American investment sends a message to Mr. Putin and provides leverage to demand that other NATO countries do more to increase their own defense budgets. But the sheer size of the spending increase seems like a return to the Pentagon’s blank-check ways during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even though the United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined, the Pentagon has been chafing under budget cuts. In fact, the increased money for European defense is supposed to come from a war account that pays for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which allows the administration to get around budget caps.
Deterring Russia is essential. But this initiative seems like a reversion back to what the Pentagon has traditionally done — prepare to fight big wars with ever more costly weapons against adversaries like Russia. Threats from the Islamic State and other terrorist groups are messier and harder to predict. America must be able to confront both, but it is unclear that Mr. Carter’s plan gets the balance right.
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After four months, Russia’s campaign in Syria is proving successful for Moscow

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A civil defence member reacts at a site hit by what activists said were three airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in Idlib province, Syria, on Jan. 12. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
MOSCOW — Four months after launching airstrikes in Syria, the Kremlin is confidentthat Moscow’s largest overseas campaign since the Soviet Union is paying off.
Under the banner of fighting international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has reversed the fortunes of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were rapidly losing ground last year to moderate and Islamist rebel forces in the country’s five-year-old crisis. Government forces are now on the offensive, and on Tuesday, they scored their most significant victory yet, seizing the strategic town of Sheikh Miskeen from rebels who are backed by a U.S.-led coalition.
According to analysts and officials here, the Russian government believes it has won those dividends at a relatively low cost to the country’s budget, with minimal loss of life to its soldiers and with largely supportive public opinion of the war effort.
“The operation is considered here to be quite successful,” said Evgeny Buzhinsky, a retired lieutenant general and senior vice president of the Russian Center for Policy Studies in Moscow. It could probably continue for one year or longer, he said, “but it will depend on the success on the ground.”
Whether the benefits of Russia’s gambit to put soldiers on the ground in Syria will continue long-term remains to be seen. President Obama warned last year that Russia was entering a “quagmire” reminiscent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it is unclear when Moscow could declare victory and whether it has an exit strategy.
But as Assad’s forces push forward and as diplomatic talks got off to a rocky start in Geneva on Friday, there is little pressure right now on the Kremlin to pull back.
“Putin can afford to play geopolitical chess in the Middle East because it does not cost much,” said Konstantin von Eggert, an independent political analyst based in Moscow.
Entering the conflict in Syria has allowed Putin to combat what he sees as a U.S. policy of regime change, show off his military muscle and reassure allies in the region that Moscow is a loyal partner, von Eggert said.
But Russia’s endgame remains unclear, he and others said.
“No one asks what Putin is doing in Ukraine because it’s obvious,” he said. “In the Middle East, not so much.”
There have been some clear costs to Russia’s campaign, including the October bombing of a charter jet filled with Russian vacationers returning from Egypt that left 224 dead. The Sinai Peninsula affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
There was also the downing of a Russian strike fighter by Turkish F-16s that ended with the death of one pilot and another marine killed, probably by U.S.-backed rebels, during a rescue attempt.
Yet those incidents have not prompted the kind of round-the-clock television coverage like the conflict in Ukraine, in which Russia said it had no formal role.
“This is a limited war that doesn’t really have an effect in Russia,” said Maxim Shevchenko, a Russian journalist who has been supportive of the Russian intervention in Syria and traveled after New Year’s to Syria, where he embedded with Hezbollah fighters.
“There is no stream of coffins,” he said. “There is nothing comparable even to Donetsk,” he added, referring to Russian deaths in Ukraine, including some believed to be active servicemen.
Russian officials, including Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, also have batted away accusations that Russian bombers have focused their firepower on more moderate opponents of the Assad regime instead of the Islamic State.
The Russian intervention has upended the Obama administration’s version of a negotiated settlement to the war, including an abdication by Assad. The opposition was hesitant to join talks this week in Geneva because of perceived backtracking from the United States on Assad’s future.
In many ways, Putin’s intervention may be more important as a diplomatic tool than on the battlefield. Analysts in Moscow said that Assad had retaken only about 2 percent of the country’s territory in the four months since the Russian intervention.
“The Russian intervention already accomplished the biggest thing it could, which was ensuring the cohesion and stability of the Syrian regime,” said Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, who was the senior director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council from 2011 to 2012.
Although questions remained about the potential of the Syrian army and its ability to take back land, the intervention has had an outsize influence on negotiations.
“The Washington officials who work on his issue are scarcely oblivious to the impact of Russia’s intervention on the course of the war,” he said. “I think they understand at this point that the options and the ambitions of the opposition at this point are necessarily truncated.”
Alexander Aksenyonok, a veteran Soviet diplomat and former charge d’affaires at the Soviet embassy in Syria, said that he thought Russia’s focus would move toward diplomacy in the coming months.
But the military operation has played an important role, and will continue to do so, he said.
“I think that if this military pressure had not been applied, we would not be seeing the diplomatic activity we are seeing now,” he said. “When I say that Russia has gained more than it has lost, I have this in mind, too.”
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Andrew Roth is a reporter in The Post's Moscow bureau.
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Railing Against Graft, a Georgian Leads Calls for a Cleanup in Ukraine

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KHARKIV, Ukraine — It was supposed to be a routine cabinet meeting for Ukraine’s Western-backed government. The interior minister, Arsen B. Avakov, a banker and businessman, was reading a prepared speech about privatizing state assets.
Finally, Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, who was appointed governor of the Odessa region last summer and has taken on the role of chief corruption fighter here, had heard enough, breaking in and flatly accusing the minister of wrongdoing.
“Blah, blah, blah,” Mr. Avakov responded.
“Blah, blah, blah?” Mr. Saakashvili snapped back. “Nobody ever talked to me that way.”
Ministers and their aides looked awkwardly down at their feet or twirled pens.
Mr. Avakov returned to his speech, but Mr. Saakashvili stopped him again, shouting, “I will prove that you are a thief!”
With that, Mr. Avakov hurled a glass of water at Mr. Saakashvili. “You are a bastard and a circus artist,” he yelled. “Get the hell out of my country!”
Mr. Saakashvili, 48, stared down Mr. Avakov for a few moments, then spat out the word “thief” and strode out of the room.
While the water ended up on the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, not on Mr. Saakashvili, the confrontation that many later compared to an elementary-school fight succeeded in bringing to light a dangerous fault line in Ukraine’s leadership — one that threatens the West’s $40 billion effort to build the country into a bulwark against Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia.
President Petro O. Poroshenko’s appointment of Mr. Saakashvili and a number of foreign technocrats created tension between anticorruption forces and those who want to respect a tacit agreement made with the country’s business elite in exchange for their support against pro-Russian forces.
The tension surfaced again on Tuesday when Ukraine’s minister of economy resigned to protest pressure on his ministry from an oligarchic businessman with ties to Mr. Poroshenko.
In tendering his resignation, the minister, Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian and one of the foreign technocrats appointed to root out corruption, said that an insider businessman, Ihor Kononenko, had lobbied to have his loyalists appointed managers of a government-owned ammonia fertilizer company, to skim off the profits.
“I don’t want to be a smoke screen for obvious corruption or a marionette for those who want to return control in the old style,” he said.
The United States ambassador, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, posted on Twitter in support of the aggrieved minister, calling him one of the country’s “great champions of reform,” as the gap widened between Ukraine’s oligarchs and a Western-backed, reformist wing of the government.
Standing astride that chasm is Mr. Saakashvili, one of the post-Soviet era’s most contentious and best-known politicians in the region, a graduate of Columbia Law School who came to power in his native Georgia after the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003. So impressed were Western politicians that Mr. Saakashvili once joked that walking through Congress he turned more heads than Britney Spears.
At home in Georgia, though, he was a lightning rod for debate, steering a pro-Western course that culminated in a disastrous war with Russia and an electoral defeat. After a self-imposed exile in Brooklyn, he is now reinventing himself in Ukraine.
Anger over corruption was one of the major issues that animated the Maidan protests, leading to the demise of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine. But two years and many proclamations later, the country’s ranking in a standard gauge of government malfeasance, Transparency International’s corruption perception index, has barely budged: Ukraine has moved to No. 130 in 2015, from No. 144 in 2013, in the list.
That is little surprise to most Ukrainians, since the new government of Mr. Poroshenko is padded with people drawn from the same corrupt business circles as the old government.
And now it has fallen to the unlikely person of Mr. Saakashvili, an outsider in Ukraine, to try to break the economic stranglehold of those ultrarich insiders.
“I’m close to them, but I wasn’t part of them,” Mr. Saakashvili said in an interview here last month. “People tend to trust outsiders more than the decades-old insiders. And that was Poroshenko’s motivation when he opened up the system to foreigners.”
In addition to Mr. Saakashvili, the president has appointed Natalie Jaresko, an American-born financial expert, as his minister of finance, and Maria Gaidar, a Russian advocate of overhauls, , as Mr. Saakashvili’s deputy after he was appointed head of Odessa by Mr. Poroshenko.
“People expected with a real revolution comes real change,” Mr. Saakashvili said. “But we had the revolution that basically didn’t produce real change. Now is the time to resolve this.”
Mr. Saakashvili, who was first appointed governor of the Odessa region last summer, before taking up his current anticorruption brief, said he saw his role as unwinding a central compromise of the postrevolution government.
That deal, attributed to a former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, offered the oligarchs a chance to retain their wealth and influence in return for loyalty in the fight against Russia.
In exchange for appointments as governors, the oligarchs agreed to deploy their wealth to finance private militias to fight the separatists. Igor V. Kolomoisky, a gas station and airline tycoon, was appointed governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, where he founded Ukraine’s most powerful private militia, the Dnipro-1 battalion.
Mr. Kolomoisky is now out of office, and Mr. Poroshenko has taken steps to incorporate Dnipro-1 and other private militias into the army.
But with the war now seemingly winding down, Mr. Saakashvili argues, it is also time to strip the oligarchs of their ability to pull revenue out of Ukrainian state companies, long a main source of wealth in Ukraine, lest the public lose faith in the new government.
It is time, Mr. Saakashvili said, to renege on the deal.
“The problem is, they had this agreement with the old elite,” Mr. Saakashvili said, not with ordinary Ukrainians who are as angry as ever about the superwealthy.
Rather than renationalize assets, as Mr. Putin did to to sideline Russia’s oligarchs a decade or so ago, Mr. Saakashvili suggested that Ukraine could elbow the ultrarich from politics by cleaning up state-owned enterprises.
“You can just cleanse them of their oligarch manager, and basically destroy or abolish this joint stock company of oligarchs that is what they see, what they regard, as Ukraine,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Saakashvili has faced some pushback on his plans, and not just from the oligarchs. Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the prime minister who speaks fluent English and portrays himself as a Westernizer, has insisted that the government stand by its agreement with those who backed the fight against Russian separatism, including the interior minister, Mr. Avakov.
Mr. Saakashvili, a shrewd politician with a populist streak, has set about organizing rallies around Ukraine to build a grass-roots, anti-oligarch movement, called Cleaning Up Ukraine. And he started the movement, pointedly, here in Mr. Avakov’s hometown, Kharkiv, in January.
“What I hear from Ukrainians, unfortunately, is it’s never been this bad in Ukraine,” Mr. Saakashvili told the crowd in Kharkiv. “We need to change this government. Who do we need to change it for? For us, for you and for me.”
Mr. Saakashvili spoke of post-Soviet malaise, of kleptocrats and party hacks who steal the people’s money and hope. The crowd soon warmed to his heavily accented Russian. Given the anger at corruption, it seemed to work.
The oligarchs who fed the rotten politics of Ukraine, even now, he said, must go. People chanted and cheered.
Afterward, Mr. Saakashvili waded into the crowd. The poor and elderly pressed about, in their frayed sweaters and cheap overcoats, asking him to lead them out of the mess.
Women sidled up to snap pictures. In the swirl, Mr. Saakashvili smiled and soaked up the attention. “He’s our last chance!” somebody yelled.
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UN envoy announces ‘temporary pause’ to Syria peace talks

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Syria’s High Negotiations Committee, HNC, spokesman Salem al-Mislet kisses pictures of the Syrian victims of the war displayed in front of the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, where Syria peace talks continue. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP) (Associated Press)
By Bassem Mroue and Jamey Keaten | AP February 3 at 2:04 PM
GENEVA — The U.N. envoy for Syria on Wednesday announced a “temporary pause” in peace talks in Geneva just two days after they officially began amid intensified fighting, saying the process will resume later this month.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with opposition leaders, Staffan de Mistura insisted “this is not the end, and it is not the failure of the talks.”
De Mistura said both sides were “interested in having the political process started,” and that he had set a new date of Feb. 25 for the resumption of the talks.
The announcement comes just two days after de Mistura opened the first talks in two years aimed at ending a five-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced an estimated 11 million.
Syrian forces backed by Russian airstrikes have advanced in northern Syria in recent days, leading the opposition to accuse Damascus of negotiating in bad faith.
On Wednesday, the troops blasted their way into two Shiite villages in northern Syria, breaking a long-running rebel siege, Syrian TV reported.
The two villages, Nubl and Zahra, are located in the middle of opposition territory. They have been blockaded by rebel groups for around three years, with the army occasionally airdropping food and other aid.
Their capture would mark a major victory for government forces, which have made significant advances in Aleppo province in the past few days, severing a key supply route linking rebels in Aleppo city to the Turkish border.
Pro-government forces are waging a major offensive north of Aleppo in an attempt to besiege rebel-held neighborhoods. If it succeeds, it will be one of the biggest blows to the insurgents since they captured large parts of the city, Syria’s largest, in the summer of 2012.
De Mistura said both sides had expressed concerns about the talks, with the government wanting to address “procedural issues before talking about (the) humanitarian side.”
But he said “the U.N. cannot allow simply procedural matters to actually become more important than actually the result for the humanitarian situation for the Syrian people, who have been waiting for us to deliver not a conference but something concrete for them.”
He said he would not directly address Thursday’s developments on the ground, but that “military activities and other reasons” had made it impossible to make headway on humanitarian issues like the lifting of sieges on many Syrian cities, towns and villages or the granting of access to “unreachable” parts of the country.
For the opposition, the Aleppo advances cast a long shadow over the talks.
Basma Kodmani, a member of the opposition’s negotiating team, described the offensive as a “horrible development,” saying it sends the message that “there is nothing to negotiate. Just go home.”
Syrian TV said the siege of Nubl and Zahra was broken by the army and Shiite militias known as the Popular Defense Committees. The Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar TV also reported the advance and showed exclusive footage of the fighting on the outskirts of the villages.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group that monitors the conflict through activists on the ground, said the Syrian army was one kilometer (mile) away from the two villages.
Meanwhile, an aid convoy headed to a besieged rebel-held town near Damascus, but Syria’s opposition said that such deliveries are meaningless given the situation in Aleppo.
The convoy heading to Moadamiyeh is the second aid delivery to rebel-held areas near the capital in as many days, a spokesman for the International Committee for the Red Cross said. Pawel Krzysiek told The Associated Press that 12 trucks carrying food, medicine and medical equipment were expected to arrive later in the day.
By late afternoon, Krzysiek said the convoy is “about to enter.” He posted a photograph on his Twitter account showing hundreds of people gathered at a distance waiting for the supplies to reach them.
The humanitarian situation in the town worsened toward the end of last year after the government choked off the last access point. Opposition activists and residents say there are dozens of cases of severe malnutrition in Moadamiyeh.
The Syrian opposition had demanded that aid be allowed into 18 besieged areas throughout the country and that Syrian and Russian forces halt the bombardment of rebel-held areas ahead of the talks, which officially began Monday.
Kodmani called the latest aid delivery a “positive development,” but said “it is way below what we are hoping to see happen.”
De Mistura has shuttled between the government and opposition delegations in Geneva. On Monday, he formally declared the start of what he calls “proximity talks” between the two sides, which would have the two delegations seated in separate rooms.
The talks are aimed at ending a war that has killed 250,000 people, displaced millions and left much of the country in ruins. The last round of talks broke down in 2014.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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UN envoy announces ‘temporary pause’ to Syria peace talks

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Syria’s High Negotiations Committee, HNC, spokesman Salem al-Mislet, right, speaks to the media during a press briefing during Syria peace talks at the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP) (Associated Press)
By Associated Press February 3 at 1:02 PM
GENEVA — The Latest on Syrian peace talks in Geneva (all times local):
7 p.m.
The U.N. envoy for Syria has announced a “temporary pause” in peace talks in Geneva amid intensified fighting, saying the process will resume later this month.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with opposition leaders, Staffan de Mistura insisted “this is not the end, and it is not the failure of the talks.”
De Mistura said both sides were “interested in having the political process started,” and that he had set a new date of Feb. 25 for the resumption of the talks.
The announcement comes just two days after de Mistura opened the first talks in two years aimed at ending a five-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced an estimated 11 million people.
Syrian forces backed by Russian airstrikes have advanced in northern Syria in recent days, leading the opposition to accuse Damascus of negotiating in bad faith.
6 p.m.
Syria’s state news agency SANA says rebels have fired several rockets at residential areas in the southern city of Daraa, killing 10 civilians and wounding 41, most of them women and children.
Daraa is contested, with parts of it held by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and others by members of armed opposition groups trying to overthrow him. The rockets hit government-held areas.
The news agency says that in a separate attack Wednesday, rebels fired several rockets and mortar shells at the Harasta suburb of the capital, Damascus. It says one shell slammed into a high school, wounding three staff members.
___
5:45 p.m.
Syrian state-run TV and Lebanon’s Hezbollah TV say the Syrian army and allied militiamen have broken a long running rebel siege of two Shiite villages in the northern Aleppo province.
The TV says the siege of Nubl and Zahra was broken Wednesday by the army and Shiite militias known as the Popular Defense Committees.
The two villages, located in the middle of opposition territory, have been blockaded by rebel groups for around three years.
Their capture would mark a major victory for government forces, which have made significant advances in the province in the past few days.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group that monitors the conflict, says the Syrian army was one kilometer (mile) away from the two villages.
___
12:45 pm
The chief negotiator of the Syrian opposition says the government’s decision to allow aid into a besieged Damascus suburb was a “step to silence the Syrian people,” implying that the aid delivery was an empty gesture.
Mohammed Alloush told reporters Wednesday that the aid delivery to Moadamiyeh is “a step that we describe as good, but not enough at all.”
He says he is not optimistic regarding the success of U.N. hosted indirect peace talks in Geneva, blaming the “criminal regime” led by Syrian President Bashar Assad and its ally Russia, which he says is “always trying to stand by the side of the criminals.”
He also says the opposition would never take part in a national unity government with the “shabiha,” an Arabic term that means government thugs.
His comments came amid a renewed government offensive against rebels in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.
The opposition had said that it would not participate in the talks without a complete lifting of government sieges on rebel-held areas, and an end to the bombardment of civilians.
11:55 am
A member of the Syrian opposition’s negotiating team in Geneva says the government’s decision to allow aid into a besieged rebel-held suburb of the capital, Damascus, is a small but positive step.
Basma Kodmani, who is in Geneva to take part in U.N.-sponsored indirect negotiations with the government, says the amount of supplies allowed “is way below what we are hoping to see happen.”
It was not clear if the opposition will have any meetings at the United Nations on Wednesday, as government forces launched a new offensive to encircle Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.
Kodmani describes the attack on Aleppo as a “horrible development.” She says the message the government is trying to send to rebels is “there is nothing to negotiate. Just go home.”
“We’re not going home,” she says.
11:15 am
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that Russia sees no reason to stop its airstrikes in Syria.
“The goal of the operation is to defeat the terrorist organizations the Islamic State and Nusra Front. I don’t see any reason why the air campaign should be stopped as long the terrorists are not defeated,” Lavrov said Wednesday in Muskat, Oman, the state news agency Tass reported.
As food and medical aid heads for a besieged, rebel-held suburb of Damascus, Syrian government forces and their allies are pressing forward in a powerful offensive in northern Syria in an apparent bid to encircle the country’s biggest city, where various rebel groups control many neighborhoods.
10:15 am
Damascus-based spokesman for the International Committee for the Red Cross says an aid convoy is on its way to the besieged rebel-held town of Moadamiyeh, southwest of the Syrian capital.
Pawel Krzysiek tells The Associated Press that 12 trucks carrying food, medicine and medical equipment are expected to be distributed to residents of the town on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Krzysiek said 14 trucks of aid were delivered the besieged rebel suburb of al-Tal.
The aid delivery appears to be an attempt toward a goodwill gesture after U.N.-mediated indirect peace talks got off to a rocky start in Geneva this week.
The Syrian opposition has dismissed the deliveries as too small and demanded an end to the bombardment of civilians in order for the Geneva talks to go forward.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Syria Peace Talks Put on Hold, U.N. Envoy Says

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GENEVA—United Nations-backed peace talks to end Syria’s conflict faltered Wednesday as U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura declared a temporary pause, citing inadequate progress addressing the country’s humanitarian situation.
Mr. de Mistura said the talks hadn’t failed and would resume on Feb. 25.
“The U.N. cannot allow procedural matters to become more important than the results for the humanitarian situation of the Syrian people who have been waiting for us to deliver this time not a conference but something concrete for them,” he said outside a Geneva hotel after meeting with opposition leaders. “I’ve therefore taken this decision to take a temporary pause. It is not the end.”
The third round of Geneva talks between Syria’s government and opposition has been beset by weeks of delays and doubt over whether it would even take place.
The opposition delegation demanded the implementation of humanitarian measures under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254 before any discussion of a political transition.
Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also cast doubt on the talks’ progress this week, insisting that they were still in preparatory stages and hadn’t begun.
Mr. de Mistura said he wasn’t frustrated or disappointed by the delay in the talks after less than a week of shuttling back and forth between regime and opposition delegations who have never met face to face.
“You have to be determined but also realistic,” he said. “When you see things going a certain direction...we decide when the conference is producing results or not. If they don’t produce results we need to go deeper, [and] that’s what we’re doing.”
Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. and the delegation’s leader, said earlier Wednesday that the initial phase of the talks was taking longer than expected but that his team would stay “as long as required by the formalities.”
Also Wednesday, a Syrian opposition official said that government aid deliveries into a besieged Damascus suburb the day before were insufficient.
“This is not enough,” said Yahya al-Kodmani, an official with the opposition delegation that is in Geneva this week for a third round of negotiations. “We have 18 besieged areas, and there are hundreds of people that need urgent medical assistance.”
The talks are seeking to map a political transition to end Syria’s nearly five-year-old conflict. U.N. envoy Mr. Mistura has been shuttling between delegations, trying to push for a resolution for a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and left millions homeless.

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The government allowed 14 food trucks into the rebel-held suburb of Al-Tal on Tuesday. A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was sending 12 trucks to the besieged city of Moadamiyeh, also near Damascus, on Wednesday and that 50,000 people were expected to receive aid.
The opposition delegation has called for the implementation of humanitarian provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. Passed in December, it calls for wide access for aid deliveries into besieged areas across Syria, the release of arbitrarily-detained prisoners and a stop to the bombardment of civilian areas.
The current U.N. framework calls for a transitional government in six months, followed by a new constitution and elections within 18 months.
Mr. de Mistura met with the opposition delegation at its hotel Wednesday afternoon following the arrival of Riyad Hijab, the head of the opposition’s representative body the High Negotiations Committee.
Mr. Hijab’s arrival could help address the government’s concerns that the composition of the opposition group isn’t clear and that many of its leaders aren’t in Geneva.
“We don’t know yet who would be our interlocutors, we don’t know yet how many delegations we would face, we don’t know yet the agenda, we don’t have fully the names of the participants,” Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian U.N. ambassador and head of the government delegation, said before the meeting.
Write to Asa Fitch at asa.fitch@wsj.com and Sam Dagher at sam.dagher@wsj.com
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The Ayatollah’s Drug Dealers - WSJ

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U.S. law enforcement officials on Monday announced the arrests of several alleged leaders of a global drug-trafficking and money-laundering network with ties to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The arrests are a reminder of the interconnections between organized crime and organized terror, and of Tehran’s links to both.
The arrests are part of a joint operation between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and several European agencies that targeted Hezbollah’s Business Affairs Component. “Members of the BAC have established business relationships with South American drug cartels,” the DEA said in a statement. The cartels supply Western drug markets with cocaine, and BAC launders the proceeds and relays them to the Middle East.
Hezbollah uses its cut of the action to supplement the estimated $200 million it receives annually from Iran. Some of the money goes to the “social services” the group provides its captive Shiite constituents throughout Lebanon. It also funds a sophisticated military apparatus that is heavily engaged in fighting for the Assad regime in Syria. Israel estimates that Hezbollah has at least 100,000 rockets and guided missiles that can reach nearly any target in the Jewish state.
Hezbollah also continues to be a major perpetrator of international terrorism, despite occasional efforts to cast itself as a normal political party and defensive Lebanese force. In 2012 it carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in Bulgaria, India and Thailand. Cypriot police in May discovered five tons of explosives in a safe house and arrested a Lebanese man whom Israeli officials believe is a Hezbollah operative.
Hezbollah will have fewer financial worries once it gets its share of the $100 billion payday that last year’s nuclear deal awarded the regime in Tehran. Lest anyone doubt the nature of that regime, look no further than what Monday’s arrests reveal about its choice of friends.
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