UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites

U.S. intelligence officials have alleged that the UAE at least orchestrated hacking of Qatari Government websites to post false quotes that were then used to justify major sanctions against Qatar.

Washington Post: UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.

The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.

Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State.

In a statement released in Washington by its ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE said the Post article was “false.”

“The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article,” the statement said. “What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors.”

The US were in a difficult position. They have their main Middle East military base in Qatar.

The conflict has also exposed sharp differences between Trump — who has clearly taken the Saudi and UAE side in a series of tweets and statements — and Tillerson, who has urged compromise and spent most of last week in shuttle diplomacy among the regional capitals that has been unsuccessful so far.

“We don’t expect any near-term resolution,” Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond said Saturday.

The claim of UAE orchestrated hacking probably won’t help achieve a resolution.

‘De-escalation’ agreement in part of Syria

Perhaps not coincidental to the Trump-Putin G20 summit in Hamburg:

Associated Press:  US, Russia reach deal on Syria cease-fire

The United States and Russia have reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, three U.S. officials said Friday as President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The deal marks a new level of involvement for the Trump administration in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war. Although details about the agreement and how it will be implemented weren’t immediately available, the cease-fire is set to take effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the cease-fire publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Jordan and Israel also are part of the agreement, one of the officials said. The two U.S. allies both share a border with the southern part of Syria and have been concerned about violence from Syria’s civil war spilling over the border.

This could be significant,and it could be a breakthrough, but note that that is just in one corner of Syria, the furthest corner from Iran and Turkey and the Kurds.

The deal is separate from an agreement that Russia, Turkey and Iran struck earlier this year to try to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria where violence would be reduced. The U.S., wary of Iran’s involvement, was not a part of that deal. Follow-up talks this week in Astana, Kazakhstan, failed to reach agreement on how to finalize a cease-fire in those zones.

Previous cease-fires in Syria have collapsed or failed to reduce violence for long, and it was unclear whether this deal would be any better.

So it may be a significant cease in hostilities, or it may be a symbolic signal to the G20 summit that is as ineffective as previous attempts top sort out Syria.

Implications for Syria aside, the deal marks the biggest diplomatic achievement for the U.S. and Russia since Trump took office. Trump’s administration has approached the notoriously strained relationship by trying to identify a few limited issues on which the countries could make progress, thereby building trust for a broader repair of ties.

For years, the U.S. and Russia have been backing opposing sides in Syria’s war, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington supporting rebels who have been fighting Assad. Both the U.S. and Russia oppose the Islamic State group in Syria.

Things are very complicated in Syria, and also in the US-Russian relationship.

More US sanctions against Russia

The US Senate has voted in favour of strengthening sanctions against Russia “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyberattacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” said Republicans and Democrats on the committees.

ABC News: Tillerson warns against steps that cut off talks with Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. relationship with Russia is at an all-time low and deteriorating further, yet he cautioned against taking steps that might close off promising avenues of communication between the two former Cold War foes.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson stopped short of registering his opposition to a new package of Russia sanctions the GOP-led Senate is considering in retaliation for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression in other parts of the world, including Syria and Ukraine.

Top lawmakers on two Senate committees — Banking and Foreign Relations — announced the sanctions deal amid the firestorm over Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and investigations into Moscow’s possible collusion with members of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The plan calls for strengthening current sanctions and imposing new ones on corrupt Russian actors, those involved in human rights abuses and those supplying weapons to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The package also would require a congressional review if a president attempts to ease or end current penalties.

Penalties also would be slapped on those responsible for malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government.

A procedural vote on the Russia sanctions is expected Wednesday, and the measure is expected to get strong bipartisan support.

House and Senate committees are investigating Russia’s meddling and potential links to the Trump campaign, with testimony scheduled Tuesday from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting a separate probe.

So both Congress and the Senate are continuing investigations, strengthening sanctions, and making it harder for President Trump to “ease or end current penalties”.

And today (Tuesday US time) Sessions to face tough questions at public Senate hearing, in next round of Russia probe:

The Senate’s Russia probe will hit a new level of intensity Tuesday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions becomes the highest-ranking official to testify – in what Senate Intelligence Committee leaders confirmed will be an open hearing, in the spirit of last week’s dramatic session with James Comey.

The circumstances are different for Sessions’ appearance. While Comey was a witness scorned by President Trump and ready to dish on the leader who fired him, Sessions remains the top law enforcement official in the country, working for Trump’s administration.

But lawmakers – particularly Democrats – are preparing tough questions for Sessions both about Russia’s contact with Trump campaign associates and the circumstances of Comey’s firing.

Also from Fox News:  Mueller’s lawyer build-up raises flags for Trump allies

Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be building out his investigative team with some of the country’s best legal minds, in a development that speaks to the seriousness of the Russia probe but also is raising red flags on the pro-Trump side.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, citing the hires, said “they’re setting up to go after Trump.”

“This is going to be a witch hunt,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Not all Republicans feel that way, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told “Fox & Friends” on Monday that Mueller just “wants to get to the truth.”

But recent hires show Mueller is building a formidable team, poised to either root out wrongdoing or prove the Trump team’s claims that there’s no ‘there there.’

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney fired by Trump along with dozens of other holdover prosecutors earlier this year, tweeted that Dreeben is “1 of the top legal & appellate minds at DOJ in modern times.”

However, Bharara said Dreeben’s “loyalty is to the Constitution alone” and Mueller is looking to find the truth, apply the law “and yield a just result. Charge or no charge.”

It is important for the integrity of the US political system that as much of the truth is discovered as possible, charge or no charge.

Little versus Tillerson

Andrew Little seems to have played to his base with comments about his meeting with US secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

From Newshub:  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives for high-level talks

Andrew Little expressed concern about Trump’s “wacky” behaviour 

Labour leader Andrew Little raised concern about President Donald Trump’s behaviour when he met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier on Tuesday.

“If you value the relationship with the US, as I think New Zealanders do, I think it is right to say you know what – right now you’ve got a President that is kind of doing some weird stuff and this is not right,” Mr Little said.

“I don’t know what the Prime Minister is seeing and hearing from New Zealanders, every New Zealander I talk to expresses concern and sometimes alarm about the conduct of the US President.

I think it is right when the Secretary of State is in town to let the Secretary of State know that that’s how New Zealanders see a country that we regard as a good friend and an important friend.”

Mr Little also raised concern about Mr Trump’s tweets.

“When the United States President speaks, no matter what the medium, no matter what the forum, it’s important,” Mr Little said.

“When it’s kind of pretty wacky, and out there, and repeatedly so after several months I think we are entitled to not only take an interest in it but to express concern about it.”

When asked about Mr Trump’s tweets to Sadiq Khan, Mr Little had seen them and was surprised that the Prime Minister had not.

“I think they were clumsy and ham-fisted, he clearly misunderstood what Sadiq Khan had said. But that unfortunately can be said about many of Donald Trump’s tweets, including his one about covfefe,” Mr Little said.

If Little becomes Prime Minister he may have to learn how to interact with officials from major allies, focussing on things that matter, building relationships no matter who is the president, and perhaps being a bit more circumspect than “it’s kind of pretty wacky, and out there”.

If Little does become leader of New Zealand he will learn that the job is quite different to pandering to a partisan crowd on social media.

Tillerson in New Zealand

There was nothing dramatic about US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand yesterday. There were some protests against him and the US but Tillerson is not Trump, and regardless of who is in power in the US New Zealand has to maintain relations with them..

NZ Herald:  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: US not giving up on NZ, Pacific

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has dismissed New Zealand’s concerns about its future role in the Asia-Pacific and the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, saying it reflected the will of the American people.

Prime Minister Bill English raised New Zealand’s disagreement about the decision to withdraw from the climate change accord in a meeting with Tillerson on Tuesday.

Tillerson was in New Zealand as an add-on to his trip to Australia, meeting with English and Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee at Premier House before jetting out again five hours after he landed.

He is the first senior member of the US Administration to visit New Zealand and US media travelling with him reported people in Wellington gave the one-finger salute at his motorcade in an apparent show of disgust over the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

He said there was no suggestion the US was stepping away from such issues, trying to isolate itself or giving up on the Asia-Pacific, pointing to recent visits to the region by US Vice-President Mike Pence and Defence Secretary Mattis.

“One of the reasons I’m in the region … is to reaffirm to everyone that the United States views this region of the world as extremely important to both our national security interest and our own economic and prosperity interests.

“I think you can expect to see an elevated level of engagement to that you saw over the past eight years.”

NZ Herald:  Top US diplomat reassures English that engagement will increase

Tillerson defended Trump from a New Zealand reporter’s description of him as “unpredictable” in relation to the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and from the Paris Accord on climate change.

But Tillerson did not defend the indefensible: Trump’s tweet criticising London mayor Sadiq Khan for warning citizens there would be extra police on the streets because of the terrorist threat and not to be alarmed.

I think that it was a bit silly asking Tillerson about controlling Trump’s tweeting. But Trump’s very public interactions mist be a headache for the Secretary of State.

It was an illustration of the impossible mission for Trump’s foreign-focused Cabinet members, Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis – for every step forward they make in reassuring friends and allies that the US has not gone gaga, it is two tweets back.

But there was serious business to discuss as well.

English welcomed the Tillerson visit and his reassurances as though he had ridden in on a white charger.

With only five visits to New Zealand in the past 20 years, more often than not Secretaries of State have taken the short-cut home after a visit to Australia.

The fact that Tillerson made the visit to New Zealand so early in his term is evidence of what he said at his press conference – that the US intends to elevate its presence in the region.

NZ Herald:  Fact or fiction: Tillerson on the United States’ ‘unparalleled’ climate change record

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his country’s record on climate change during a whistle-stop visit to Wellington today.

“The United States has an extraordinary record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, possibly unparalleled by anyone else.

“Our greenhouse gas emissions are at levels that were last seen in the 1990s.

“That’s been done with 50 million more energy consumers that we had in the 1990s, with an economy that’s twice as large.”

Fact or fiction?

Environmental Protection Agency records show that US greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 were 3.5 per cent higher than in 1990.

They were 6.7 per cent lower in 2015 than the highest point in the 1990s, in 1999.

The US population actually grew by closer to 76 million people over this period, going from 249 million in 1990 to 325 million in 2017 – an increase of 30.5 per cent. Its GDP nearly doubled from $8.9 trillion to $16.8 trillion.

So Tillerson’s statement that US emissions were now at “1990 levels” despite large demographic and economic growth stacks up.

However, his claim that the US record on reducing emissions is “unparalleled” is not as accurate.

English and Brownlee played things straight and diplomatic with Tillerson, as they must.

 

 

Futile protest against US climate stance

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defence Secretary James Mattis are visiting New Zealand briefly on Tuesday following their visit to Australia.

Stuff: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand next week ‘a big deal’

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Wellington next week, in what’s being called a major show of American interest in the Asia-Pacific region and “big deal” for New Zealand.

Tillerson will meet Prime Minister Bill English and Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee in Wellington on Tuesday.

Brownlee said meetings would be held to discuss “some of the world’s most pressing issues and to further promote our economic ties”.

Observers said regional stability, counter-terrorism, and military commitments in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan would be discussed, as would trade issues including the afflicted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This is the first major visit from the US since Donald Trump became president in January. The meeting will apparently be for about three hours so there isn’t much time to cover a lot of things.

Brownlee was interviewed on The Nation on Saturday and was asked what would be dealt with:

Well, given you’ve got a short window of opportunity, what’s going to be your number one priority for that meeting?

Well, look, a lot of that discussion will be organised over the next couple of days as we head towards that meeting, but we’ll obviously want to canvass trading relations. We’ll reaffirm the various commitments that we have internationally toward the defeat of terrorism. And I’d also expect that, given the current, or most recent, decision from the US, that there will be some discussion about relative positions on climate change. But in the end, it is the trading relationship but also the people-to-people relationship with the United States, including our involvement in the Antarctic, for example, that are pretty important to us.

Okay, well, on that note, the Prime Minister has expressed some concern that Washington might be a little bit distracted by Trump’s unpredictability and that the nature of that president may be distracting them from things like economic stability and trade and economic growth in the region. Are you going to raise that with Rex Tillerson?

I don’t think we’ll be raising the issues of US political stability. That’s something for the US, not for New Zealand, to comment on.

That was a silly question.

Well, Donald Trump said that he was keeping the faith with the people that had elected him when he pulled out of the Paris Accord this week. Was that the right decision – for him to pull the pin on that?

Well, I can’t comment on what was right or wrong for Mr Trump. What I can say is that the door has been left a little bit open about, perhaps, their rejoining. And I think when you consider that the Paris Agreement’s signed up to by 194 countries, 147 countries have ratified that agreement, and then, of course, the G7 most recently reaffirmed their position as far as climate change is concerned.

But the thing is the US pulling out of it—

So I think the door’s not totally closed.

But do you really think he’s going to come back into the fold on this?

Well, I’m not going to comment on that, because I think the situation domestically in the US is something for Mr Trump to deal with.

That’s correct, it is something for the US to deal with, they know we remain in the Paris Accord along with just about all the rest of the world but there’s just about nothing we can say that would impact on Trump’s decisions.

Both Tillerson and Mattis are on record as acknowledging the problems and risks associated with climate change so there’s not much we can say to them about it, and especially there’s unlikely to be anything we can say that would affect anything.

But the Greens want us to do more. James Shaw: PM must confront US with impact of climate decision

The Green Party is calling on the Prime Minister to invite Pacific Island ambassadors to meet with the US Secretary of State next week so they can explain first-hand the consequences of the US decision to withdraw from the Climate Agreement.

The call comes ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand on Tuesday, and following the decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Confronting Tillerson will be futile regarding the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, and it would be likely to be counter productive to building a good relationship with Tillerson, Mattis and the US.

Andrew Little: English must give strong message to US Secretary of State on climate change

Prime Minister Bill English must voice New Zealand’s concerns in the strongest possible terms when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Wellington next week following President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.

“This decision is a huge setback for the international efforts to turn back global warming. After years of negotiation, the Paris Accord marked a more hopeful approach to the whole issue of climate change with 195 nations signing up.

“Bill English must take a strong stand next week and ensure Rex Tillerson knows the damage that’s been caused to the international campaign by the USA’s withdrawal.

“We can’t now let the USA water down the Paris Accord. Mr Tillerson must be reminded that the world can only combat climate change together and that New Zealand stands shoulder-to-shoulder with other nations which have embraced the challenge.

We can’t ‘let’ the US do anything, they make their own decisions and we don’t get a say. We can’t stop the US from choosing to withdraw, that is their decision.

“Bill English must take a strong stand next week and ensure Rex Tillerson knows the damage that’s been caused to the international campaign by the USA’s withdrawal.

I’m sure Tillerson is already well aware of the potential consequences of Trump’s intention to withdraw the US. There’s nothing we can do apart from stress our continued commitment to the Paris Accord. There’s no stand we can take.

Anthony Robins takes Labour’s ‘stand’ thing further in Once upon a time:

Once upon a time this country stood up to America and said no to nuclear weapons. Now we dare not say yes to saving the planet.

There’s hardly anything similar about New Zealand’s popular anti-nuclear stand against the US. The US withdrawal from the Paris Accord is their decision and has virtually nothing to do with New Zealand.

We can disagree with Trump’s climate stance, but there’s little else we can do about their Paris Accord decision.

It is New Zealand’s choice whether to remain in the Paris Accord or not, and there is no indication our position on that will change – and the US doesn’t appear to be doing anything to try to make us change either.

The Nation – bed tax, Tillerson and candidates

A follow up from Labour’s no show on The Nation last week:

On The Nation’s “bias”, I’ve also heard that Labour spindoctors are briefing journalists against Lisa Owen. Esp after previous Twyford iv.

On The Nation this morning:

talks to Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee on next week’s visit by Rex Tillerson, the NZ-US relationship,

Odd talking about this before Tillerson gets here unless it’s trying to promote an agenda.

Brownlee says they want to talk to Tillerson about prospects for the TPP.

On whether he’ll bring up Trump’s unpredictability: “I don’t think we’ll be raising issues of US political stability.”

Brownlee can’t comment on what is right or wrong for Trump over the Paris climate agreement, but reiterated wide support for the agreement still.

Owen tries to get Brownlee to admit to some sympathy for the view that many claims about climate change are made up. Instead he supports the main science and concerns – “”The world’s never seen anything like this before”.

He predicts many businesses in the US will stick with what they’re already doing to reduce carbon emissions.

Is Trump being wilfully ignorant re climate change? “He’s made a promise to US voters and sticking to it.”

Brownlee says discussions with Israel are “ongoing”.

Would Brownlee give up his portfolio to aid coalition negotiations? He says it’s up to the voters. It was

And we’ll meet some of the new faces running for Parliament

Some lucky candidates get selected for free promotion.

A good discussion, Shane Taurima (Maori Party, ex-Labour) going hammer and tongs with Kiri Allan (Labour). Taurima looks capable, Allan struggled to impress.

Nicola Willis came across well and is well informed.

was left in the middle of the crossfire for the first half and struggled to find her feet when finally given a say, but was good when speaking about something up her alley, the right of prisoners to vote.

talks to about his budget, the so-called bed tax and how Akl is going to pay for all that infrastructure

Goff says council’s legal advice indicates they’re on “very firm ground” re bed tax for hotels.

He says the budget has $2 billion on infrastructure, 40% of that on transport. The transport funding shortfall is as big as $7 billion because of higher than predicted population growth. “Lisa Owen suggests there’s a $4b shortfall for Akl transport – Goff says it’s actually $7b! Pressuring Govt to stump up cash”.

Goff says there’ll be an announcement next week on road pricing… he says it’ll be good news in the long term.

Goff actually came across very well generally, he may be better suited to being mayor than an MP, and especially than a party leader.

 

 

Trump, McMaster explain intel leak

A story yesterday from the Washington Post (summary of details from Politifact in The shifting explanations of Trump’s Russia disclosures):

The Washington Post on May 15 reported that Trump had betrayed the confidence of a highly secretive intelligence-sharing arrangement and jeopardized an intelligence source by disclosing details of an unfolding ISIS plot to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a May 10 visit to the White House.

“It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft,” the Post report states, adding that Trump also revealed the ISIS-held city where the source gleaned the intelligence, which was considered “code-word information,” one of the highest classification levels.

According to the Post, following Trump’s meeting with the Russian delegation, senior White House officials “took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.”

That information about the meeting was leaked has not been disputed. This is a serious issue in a very leak prone White House (and agencies).

An early response from national security adviser H.R. McMaster:

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation. At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson statement:

“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism. During that exchange the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”

Later Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell said:

“This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

Washington Post has responded:

While the White House calibrated its early messaging, the Washington Post defended its reporting, accusing the White House of “playing word games” to blunt the impact of its reporting, and saying Trump’s disclosures had the potential to be “reverse-engineered” to figure out sources or methods.

It also noted that no member of the administration had denied that Trump had shared classified information with Russia, the crux of the Post report.

A later statement from McMaster:

“The story that came out tonight as reported is false. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of the state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources.

“I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”

Trump has tweeted:

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety”.

“Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

In a press conference later McMaster re-emphasised he thought that Trump’s conduct was “wholly appropriate” but obviously couldn’t divulge any details of intel revealed to the Russians.

“It was our impression of all of us who were in the meeting that what was shared was wholly appropriate given the purpose of the conversation, and the purpose of what the president was trying to achieve through that meeting.”

Did the president share classified information in the meeting?

“We don’t say what’s classified, what’s not classified.”

The story combined what was leaked with other information, and then insinuated about sources and methods,”.

I want to make clear that the president in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation.

The leak was acknowledged.

I think that national security is put at risk by this leak, and by leaks like this, and you know there are a number of instances where this has occurred.

But his final comment has left the issue up in the air:

There are no sensitivities in terms of me or anyone who’s been with the president on any of these engagements. He shares information in a way that is wholly appropriate.

I should make the statement that the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from, he wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.

So apparently it is wholly appropriate for the president to say whatever he likes, and reveal whatever intelligence he sees fit, without knowing where the information comes from or what the source of the information was.

Countries that supply intelligence to the US may ponder that when considering what information they supply.

Edited interview (thanks Gezza):

Big dicks from North Korea to Iran

While North Korean ‘pre-emptive strike’ rhetoric has ramped up the US has added Iran to it’s nuclear targets.

Reuters: North Korea warns of ‘super-mighty preemptive strike’ as U.S. plans next move

North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was looking at ways to bring pressure to bear on North Korea over its nuclear programme.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, did not mince its words.

“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” it said.

This follows multi-pronged verbal attacks from the US.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a tour of Asian allies, has said repeatedly an “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said during a visit to London the military option must be part of the pressure brought to bear.

Tillerson told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the United States was “reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang.”

And Tillerson has also aimed similar threats at Iran.

NBC News: Tillerson: Iran Left ‘Unchecked’ Could Follow North Korea’s Path

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday the United States will conduct a “comprehensive review” of its policy toward Iran, including the 2016 nuclear deal, which he said had merely delayed Iran’s goal of becoming a nuclear state.

“This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face in North Korea,” Tillerson said. “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran. The evidence is clear Iran’s provocative actions threaten the U.S., the region and the world.”

Tillerson notified Congress on Tuesday that despite finding that Iran was meeting the terms of the deal, the Trump administration was reviewing whether to break from the agreement, saying in part that Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran is closely involved in supporting the Assad government in the Syrian civil war. The US launched a military strike against a Syrian airfield recently.

The US also tried out their biggest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan last week. This didn’t go down well with ex-president Hamid Karzai.

Time: The Former President of Afghanistan Called the Recent U.S. Bombing ‘an Immense Atrocity’

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that the U.S. is using Afghanistan as a weapons testing ground, calling the recent use of the largest-ever non-nuclear bomb “an immense atrocity against the Afghan people.”

Last week, U.S. forces dropped the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb in eastern Nangarhar province, reportedly killing 95 militants. Karzai, in an interview with The Associated Press, objected to the decision, saying that his country “was used very disrespectfully by the U.S. to test its weapons of mass destruction.”

The office of President Ashraf Ghani said following the bomb’s usage that there was “close coordination” between the U.S. military and the Afghan government over the operation, and they were careful to prevent any civilian casualties.

But Karzai harshly criticized the Afghan government for allowing the use of the bomb.

“How could a government of a country allow the use of a weapon of mass destruction on its own territory? Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, how could they allow that? It just unimaginable,” he said.

Since the missile strike and the massive bomb drop the US has launched a war of words on multiple fronts, from Iran to North Korea.

This is a very risky strategy by the Trump regime. The threats and shows of military force may pay off. They could also end very badly if someone’s provocation (from any side) goes too far.

There’s also risks of perception of provocation and unintended consequences, especially if Korea or Iran or Syria or ISIS or Al Qaeda get reported on Fox News insulting the size of Donald Trump’s ego.

The well being of parts of the world, and possibly the whole world, is dependant on the temperaments and self control of a small bunch of bozos, some of whom (on the US side) have no experience with international diplomacy or military strategy.

Big dicks with big weapons are a worry.

Trump appointees baffled and incensed

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reported to be incensed about being out of the loop on Donald Trump’s moves on immigration, and Rex Tillerson, nominated as Secretary of State is reported to be baffled – and that’s before Trump sacked the acting Attorney General Sally Yates for putting a spoke in his immigration policy executive orders.

Yates said in a memo on Monday that she was “not convinced” that Trump’s order was lawful, nor that its defense was consistent with what she described as the department’s obligation to “always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

Yates claims she is ordering the Justice Department not to defend the executive order because it is not “wise or just.” This is quite significant. I am not aware of any instance in which the Justice Department has refused to defend a presumptively lawful executive action on this basis.

SECOND UPDATE: Some have asked what I think AAG Yates should have done, given her views of the EO. My answer is simple: Resign, and then publicly explain her reasons for doing so. If Yates believes that the President’s various comments about a “Muslim ban” undermine her ability to defend (or oversee the defense of) an executive action that OLC concluded (and she does not dispute) is “lawful on its face,” she should have stepped down as Acting Attorney General.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I also recommend Jack Goldsmith’s parsing of Yates’ statement here.

Acting attorney general orders Justice Department attorneys not to defend immigration executive order

There are some questions about the legal basis of the acting Attorney General’s refusal to defend in court Trump’s refugee and immigration ban, but the President sacking the top law official has raised eyebrows dramatically. An essential element of a healthy democracy is to have an Attorney General able to act independently of Presidential influence.

Some are suggestion the US could be heading for a constitutional crisis.

And the AG is not the only high profile sacking on the same day.

Fox News: Trump’s new acting attorney general will enforce immigration order

The White House said late Monday that the country’s new acting attorney general pledged to “defend and enforce” the laws of the country shortly after President Trump fired the former seat holder who refused to enforce his order on immigration.

Trump fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general and an Obama appointee, dramatic fashion after she refused to defend in court his refugee and immigration ban. The Wall Street Journal reported that Yates learned of her firing Monday evening in a hand-delivered note from the White House’s Office of Personnel.

The firing came hours after Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order, saying she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s “obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

In a statement, Trump said Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”

Accusations of ‘betrayal’ have again been suggested as similar to a ‘1984’ world.

He named longtime federal prosecutor Dana J. Boente as Yates’ replacement. Boente served in the Eastern District of Virginia and will remain in the seat while Congress considers the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., which could happen next week.

Sessions could also be a contentious appointment. It is thought that he has been heavily involved in a ‘shock and awe’ approach to executive orders.

A lot of concerns have been expressed about how this is happening.

Trump’s order has faced condemnation from executives at top companies, including Goldman Sachs and Coca-Cola.

It could impact on many businesses through disruption to employees.

At least three top national security officials – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department – have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it.

Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, officials told the Associated Press.

Mattis, who stood next to Trump during Friday’s signing ceremony, is said to be particularly incensed. A senior U.S. official said Mattis, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, was aware of the general concept of Trump’s order but not the details. Tillerson has told the president’s political advisers that he was baffled over not being consulted on the substance of the order.

I wonder how often top officials will be fired for not doing what Trump wants.

It could be that trump is just trying to stamp his power on proceedings, but past experience suggests there is likely to be ongoing chaos and mayhem.

After a chaotic weekend during which some U.S. legal permanent residents were detained at airports, some agencies were moving swiftly to try to clean up after the White House.

When Fox is this critical of Trump’s administration it should sound serious warning bells. It is more than just the left wing over-reacting.