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U.S. Spy Chiefs Dispute Trump Before Briefing Him on Hacking

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  • U.S. Spy Chiefs Dispute Trump Before Briefing Him on Hacking

A day before U.S. intelligence agencies take their case on hacking during the 2016 campaign directly to Donald Trump, spy chiefs publicly rebuffed the president-elect’s criticism of their work and reiterated that Russia’s most senior officials authorized the e-mail theft and disclosures.

“There is a difference between skepticism and disparagement,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday when asked about Trump’s repeated questioning of the intelligence agencies’ conclusions and reliability. “Public trust and confidence in the intelligence community is crucial.”

Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey are scheduled to brief Trump Friday on the hacking and leaks of e-mails from Democratic officials and organizations backing his campaign rival Hillary Clinton. They’ll face a skeptical interrogator in the president-elect, who has said “hacking is a very hard thing to prove” and that intelligence agencies have been wrong before.

But Clapper told the Senate panel that the intelligence agencies’ confidence in their findings is now “very high” and they are “even more resolute” in their findings about Russian involvement than when they first weighed in on the issue publicly on Oct. 7. Yet Clapper also emphasized that Russian hacking didn’t change the vote count that made Trump president.

He testified alongside Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre and Admiral Michael Rogers, who leads both the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command.

The hearing — called by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona — highlighted a divide between Trump and some of his party’s most influential foreign policy hawks in Congress. Trump has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, while McCain and other lawmakers have said Russia, which has repeatedly denied the hacking accusations, should be punished with stiffer sanctions.

Rocks, Not Pebbles

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said “Putin is up to no good” and “it is time now not to throw pebbles, but rocks.” Addressing Trump’s barbs against the intelligence community, Graham said: “Mr. President-elect, when you listen to these people you can be skeptical, but understand they’re the best among us and they’re trying to protect us.”

Clapper said it “would be a good thing” if the U.S. and Russia could find areas where the countries’ interests could “converge,” as has happened in the past, “but there’s a threshold of behavior that’s unacceptable.”

In a series of tweets starting Jan. 3, Trump called an alleged delay in his briefing on the Russian hacks “very strange” and went on to quote an interview with fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who said on a Fox News opinion show this week that “a 14-year-old” could be responsible for computer breaches of Democratic Party offices last year. “Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Trump added in his posts.

Clapper and Rogers both said Assange had put U.S. lives in danger by publishing classified material on WikiLeaks in the past and shouldn’t be a credible source on the hacking issue. The intelligence community doesn’t have a “whole lot of respect for him,” Clapper said. When questioned if Trump’s comments are hurting morale among intelligence officers, Clapper said, “I hardly think it helps.”

Trump pushed back ahead of the hearing, saying on Twitter that “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people…to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!”

Obama’s Advice

President Barack Obama said in a television interview Thursday that “it’s going to be important to make sure the president and the intelligence communities are both working on the best possible information.”

“My hope is that when the president-elect receives his own briefings and is able to examine the intelligence as his team has put together and they see how professional and effective these agencies are, that some of those current tensions will be reduced,” Obama told WMAQ-TV in Chicago.

Ultimately, even if Trump doesn’t trust the intelligence agencies’ judgment on Russia, he will need their help to understand other foreign policy issues and cybersecurity threats, including from China, Iran and North Korea, Beau Woods, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative in Washington, said in interview.

‘Unhelpful’

“The conclusion of the intelligence community was that they like skepticism — they’re in the business of being skeptics themselves,” Woods said. “However, to out-of-hand dismiss or disparage the intelligence that comes out of their processes, it’s unhelpful for finding the truth.”

At the start of the hearing, McCain, the committee’s chairman, called Russia’s hacking an “unprecedented attack” on U.S. democracy. He said “every American should be alarmed” by Russia’s attack.

In prepared remarks, the intelligence officials said Moscow “poses a major threat” to U.S. government, military, diplomatic, commercial and critical infrastructure networks. They also said Russia has developed a “highly advanced offensive cyber program.”

“Looking forward, Russian cyber operations will likely target the United States to gather intelligence, support Russian decision-making, conduct influence operations to support Russian military and political objectives, and prepare the cyber environment for future contingencies,” their statement said.

Public Disclosure

Clapper told the Senate panel that intelligence officials plan to brief Congress behind closed doors and release an unclassified version of their review to the public early next week. Although there are some sensitive sources and methods, he said he intends to “push the envelope as much as I can,” he said.

“The public should know as much as possible,” said Clapper, who described himself as “apolitical.” “We’ll be as forthcoming as we can.”

The White House already has the intelligence review, which Obama ordered be completed before he leaves office, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.

“Men and women of the U.S. intelligence community are patriots. They’re experts. They’re dedicated to getting the facts right,” Earnest said.

After the hearing, Trump again took to Twitter, suggesting that the intelligence community’s report had been politicized after NBC News on Thursday night reported that it detailed attacks not only against the DNC, but the White House, State Department and Joint Chiefs of Staff.”Who gave them this report and why? Politics!” Trump tweeted.

Trump went on to claim the DNC would “not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia.” The tweet appeared to be a reference to a BuzzFeed story that revealed the FBI had relied on analysis by CrowdStrike, a third-party cyber security company.The FBI Thursday night confirmed that DNC officials rebuffed requests for direct access to the servers, forcing agents to rely on the third-party source.

‘Aggressive’ Posture

In recent years, the intelligence officials said in their statement, the Kremlin has assumed a more “aggressive cyber posture,” targeting government organizations, critical infrastructure, think tanks, universities, political organizations and corporations, often using phishing campaigns that give attackers access to computer networks. In some cases, Russian intelligence actors have “masqueraded as third parties” with false online identities to confuse the source of the hacking, they said.

The intelligence community and Cyber Command continue “hardening” internal U.S. government systems, the officials said. Still, as of late 2016, more than 30 nations are developing offensive cyber attack capabilities, the officials said in the statement. Terrorist groups are also using the internet to collect intelligence and incite action, such as Islamic State continuing to “seek opportunities to target and release sensitive information” about U.S. citizens.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Kenya Sends 400 Officers to Haiti to Help Quell Gang Turmoil, Says Ruto

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Kenyan President William Ruto has announced the deployment of 400 police officers to Haiti, marking a significant step in international efforts to combat the escalating gang violence in the Caribbean nation.

The officers were sent off from the National Police College in Nairobi, where Ruto expressed his confidence in their mission to restore peace and stability in Haiti.

In a statement released on Monday, the Kenyan presidency detailed the mission, emphasizing its importance in the history of global solidarity.

“This mission is one of the most urgent, important, and historic in the history of global solidarity,” Ruto said. “It is a mission to affirm the universal values of the community of nations, a mission to take a stand for humanity.”

The deployment is part of a broader international effort supported by the United Nations Security Council to assist Haiti’s beleaguered security forces.

Haiti has been grappling with severe gang violence, particularly in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and across large parts of the countryside.

The gangs have paralyzed the local economy through kidnappings, extortion, and turf wars.

The United States has also shown support for the deployment, viewing it as a crucial reinforcement for Haiti’s security forces.

The U.S. hopes that the additional personnel will help restore stability without overshadowing existing police efforts.

Initially delayed by a Kenyan court decision, the deployment has now gained momentum. Ruto assured that the government remains committed to the welfare of the deployed officers, announcing an increase in police salaries and improved welfare measures starting next month.

“This is a pivotal moment for our police force, and I have full confidence in their ability to make a significant impact in Haiti,” Ruto stated. “Their dedication and professionalism will shine through in this critical mission.”

The deployment comes at a time of domestic unrest in Kenya, where police recently clashed with protesters opposing President Ruto’s proposed Finance Bill 2024.

The bill aims to raise $2.4 billion through new taxes on various goods, including sanitary pads and bread, sparking widespread opposition.

Despite the domestic challenges, Ruto emphasized the importance of the international mission. “Our commitment to global peace and security remains unwavering, even as we address pressing issues at home,” he said.

The Kenyan officers’ mission in Haiti is expected to provide much-needed support in restoring law and order, reflecting Kenya’s commitment to international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts.

As they embark on this historic journey, the eyes of the world will be on them, hoping for a swift and lasting peace in Haiti.

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Russia and North Korea Revive Military Pact, Heightening Tensions with US

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have revived a Cold War-era military pact.

The agreement, signed on Wednesday during Putin’s first visit to North Korea in 24 years, commits the two nations to provide immediate military assistance to each other if either is attacked.

This development is likely to exacerbate tensions with the United States and its allies.

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Treaty, as the pact is officially named, represents the most powerful treaty signed between the two countries, according to Kim.

“This treaty elevates our ties to an alliance,” he declared during the signing ceremony. The deal stipulates that if either nation is invaded by an armed force, the other will provide military and other assistance “with all the means at its disposal,” in line with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and the laws of both nations.

Putin’s visit to Pyongyang and the signing of the pact come on the heels of Kim’s trip to Russia in September, an event that has already resulted in a notable increase in arms transfers between the two countries, as confirmed by satellite imagery.

Despite the mounting evidence, both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied any such exchanges.

The renewed military alliance marks a significant escalation in the strategic partnership between Russia and North Korea, which had been relatively dormant since the end of the Cold War.

Analysts suggest that this move is a clear message of defiance to Western powers, particularly the United States, which has been involved in ongoing disputes with both nations over various geopolitical issues.

“The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Treaty is for defensive purposes,” Kim stated, but experts warn that the alliance increases the risks for the US and its partners in responding to provocations from Moscow and Pyongyang. The treaty not only includes mutual defense commitments but also outlines plans to enhance cooperation in trade and investment, further solidifying the bilateral relationship.

Russian officials emphasized that the pact is a natural progression of the countries’ shared interests.

“This treaty is a testament to the deepening strategic and military cooperation between Russia and North Korea,” said Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister. “It is essential for maintaining regional stability and countering external threats.”

The US and its allies have expressed grave concerns over the implications of this agreement. “This treaty significantly alters the security landscape in East Asia,” stated a senior US State Department official. “It underscores the need for vigilance and reinforces the importance of our alliances in the region.”

Military analysts are closely watching the developments, noting that the alliance could embolden both nations to take more aggressive stances on the international stage.

“With this treaty, North Korea gains a powerful ally, while Russia secures a foothold in East Asia,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It is a strategic maneuver that complicates the geopolitical calculus for the US and its partners.”

The reactivation of the military pact also comes at a time when Russia is deeply involved in the conflict in Ukraine, where it faces significant opposition from Western nations.

North Korea’s unreserved support for Putin’s actions in Ukraine, as articulated by Kim, further aligns the two nations against common adversaries.

As the international community grapples with the potential ramifications of this treaty, it is clear that the renewed alliance between Russia and North Korea represents a formidable challenge to the current global order.

The coming months will likely see increased diplomatic activity as nations reassess their strategies in light of this development.

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Cyril Ramaphosa Begins New Term Under Coalition Government

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Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in for another term as South Africa’s president on Wednesday, the beginning of a new era under a coalition government.

The ceremony held at the Nelson Mandela Amphitheater in the Union Buildings saw Ramaphosa take the oath of office before Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The event was attended by prominent dignitaries, including Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, Democratic Republic of Congo leader Felix Tshisekedi, and Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, and was marked by a 21-gun salute and an air force flyover.

Ramaphosa’s reappointment comes three weeks after elections saw his party, the African National Congress (ANC), lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since the end of apartheid.

The ANC secured just over 40% of the vote on May 29, with millions of former supporters either backing a splinter party led by ex-leader Jacob Zuma or abstaining due to dissatisfaction over high levels of poverty, unemployment, and crime.

In his inauguration address, Ramaphosa emphasized the resilience of South African democracy and the need for unity.

“The resilience of our democracy has once more been tested, and the people have spoken loudly that they choose peace and democracy over conflict,” he said. “The voters of South Africa did not give any single political party the full mandate to govern our country alone. They have directed us to work together to address their plight and realize their aspirations.”

The ANC’s unprecedented electoral outcome necessitated a power-sharing agreement with long-time rivals. The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and four other parties have agreed to join a government of national unity, supporting Ramaphosa’s leadership in exchange for cabinet and parliamentary positions.

This coalition is expected to prioritize economic growth, investment attraction, structural reforms, and sustainable management of state finances.

The rand strengthened to a level stronger than 18 per dollar for the first time in over ten months, and Johannesburg’s benchmark equity index reached a record high on Wednesday.

Market optimism is driven by the inclusion of business-friendly parties in the government, anticipated to bolster Ramaphosa’s reform agenda aimed at addressing power shortages, logistical challenges, and other economic impediments.

Despite criticism in his previous term for his consultative approach, which opponents labeled as indecisive, Ramaphosa reaffirmed his commitment to inclusive governance.

“Those who would like a president that is dictatorial, who is adventurous, who is reckless, will not find that in me,” he stated last month. “In me they will find a president who wants to consult. All these processes have often been seen as, ‘he is weak, he is not decisive.’ I am decisive, but I want to take people along with.”

The new coalition government faces significant challenges, including negotiating policy differences and accommodating politically powerful figures within the ANC and its partners.

The DA has already expressed concerns over the ANC’s uncosted national health insurance plan and its foreign policy stance.

Susan Booysen, director of research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, noted the complexities ahead. “South Africa is really moving into this with minimal on-the-ground preparation and justification,” she said. “The devil is going to be in the exact detail. Once cabinet is announced, some basic agreement will have to be reached on policy positions and on what the red-line issues will be.”

As Ramaphosa begins his new term, the nation watches closely, hopeful that this coalition government can navigate the intricate landscape of South African politics and bring about the much-needed reforms and stability.

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