March 17, 2017

Laptop holding Trump Tower floor plans, Hillary Clinton email investigation info stolen from Secret Service agent

A laptop computer containing floor plans for Trump Tower, information about the Hillary Clinton email investigation and other national security information was stolen from a Secret Service agent’s vehicle in Brooklyn, police sources told the Daily News.Authorities have been frantically searching for the laptop since it was stolen Thursday morning.

Some items stolen along with the laptop — including coins and a black bag with the Secret Service insignia on it — were later recovered.

But the laptop, along with other documents described as “sensitive,” were still being sought.

The thief stepped out of a car, possibly an Uber, on a street in Bath Beach and stole the laptop from the agent’s vehicle, which was parked in the driveway of her home.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/laptop-trump-tower-floor-plans-stolen-secret-service-article-1.3001078

 

31 Somali refugees killed in helicopter attack off Yemen coast

[Editor’s Note: The number has grown higher with some 42 dead, 80 survivors rescued. The boat was filled with women and children.]

Boat carrying refugees was travelling to Sudan when it was hit by airstrike from Apache helicopter, coastguard says

While the identity of the helicopter was not immediately clear, Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition in the war in Yemen, has US-built Apache A-64 Longbow attack helicopters.

The kingdom’s Al-Madinah class frigates, one of which was damaged in an attack by a Houthi militia in January, is also capable of carrying a single helicopter. Other naval forces operating in the area are also equipped with helicopters, including the US military.

The International Organization for Migration’s spokesman, Joel Millman, told a UN news briefing in Geneva that he was unable to confirm news reports indicating that an Apache helicopter strike was responsible for the attack.

He said: “Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/17/somali-refugees-killed-helicopter-attack-off-yemen-coast

Israeli fighter jets fired upon during Syria mission in clash with pro-Assad forces

Israeli fighter jets targeting sites inside Syria came under anti-aircraft missile fire but returned unharmed, says military

Two Israeli Air Force F-16I jet fighters
Two Israeli Air Force F-16I jet fighters. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

Israeli and pro-Assad forces have had their most serious clash since the beginning of the civil war in Syria after Israeli military jets on an operation over Syria were targeted by anti-aircraft missiles.

Israeli said none of the aircraft was hit, but one of the missiles was intercepted north of Jerusalem by an Israeli missile defence system.

The first indications of the exchange of fire came in the middle of the night with air raid sirens in the Israeli-occupied Jordan valley and reports of an explosion, which was later confirmed as the sound of one of the missiles being brought down by Israeli air defences.

In its own account of the incident the Syrian army said that four Israeli jets had entered Syrian airspace, and that one had been shot down and a second hit, a claim denied in the Israeli military statement.

Lebanese media and websites affiliated with Hezbollah, said the strike had killed Badie Hamya, a veteran of the Shia militant group, who was described as a “mujahedin leader”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/17/israeli-fighter-jets-fired-upon-missiles-syria-mission-assad

IAF ‘Arrow’ battery intercepts Syrian missile, in first reported use of the system

Syria fires three anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli jets; one knocked down by defense system, reportedly over Jordan; other two land in Israel, cause no damage

Israel shot down an incoming Syrian anti-aircraft missile with the Arrow defense battery early Friday morning, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system.
At approximately 2:30 a.m., Israeli “aircrafts targeted several targets in Syria,” the Israel Defense Forces said, prompting a Syrian attempt to down the Israeli jets.

According to Arab media, the target of the IAF strikes was a Hezbollah weapons convoy.

“Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles,” the army said in a statement.

The anti-aircraft missiles were fired from eastern Syria by Bashar Assad’s military, traveling over Jordan and toward the Jerusalem area. They were apparently SA-5 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

The Arrow is primarily designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere, intercepting the weapons and their conventional, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads close to their launch sites.

Surface-to-air missiles are designed to detonate at high altitudes to bring down aircraft or other missiles, and so do not pose much of a threat to people on the ground other than the possibility of being directly hit by falling shrapnel or the remains of the missile.

Therefore, it was not immediately clear why the IDF used the Arrow against a SAM, possibly indicating a misidentification of the type of weapon being fired from Syria.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/iaf-arrow-battery-intercepts-syrian-missile-in-first-reported-use-of-the-system/

UN chief’s spokesman: He ‘cannot accept’ officials publishing reports without consultation

Head of UN body resigns as her group’s anti-Israel report is withdrawn

Rima Khalaf cites pressure to remove document accusing Jewish state of apartheid; Israeli envoy says her departure was ‘long overdue’

The head of a Lebanon-based United Nations agency that promotes development in Arab countries resigned Friday, after the body she led was ordered by the UN secretary-general to remove from its website a controversial report that charged Israel has established an “apartheid regime” guilty of “racial domination” over the Palestinians.

Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian who served as executive secretary of the Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), announced her resignation at a hastily arranged press conference in the Lebanese capital.

She said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s insistence that the document be removed from the agency’s website led her to quit.

“The secretary general asked me yesterday morning to withdraw (the report). I asked him to rethink his decision, he insisted, so I submitted my resignation from the UN,” Khalaf said.

Turkish daily depicts Merkel as ‘Frau Hitler’ on front page

Turkey furious over refusal in Germany, the Netherlands to allow rallies in support of expansion of President Erdogan’s powers

A Turkish pro-government newspaper depicts Chancellor Angela Merkel on its front page in Nazi uniform with a Hitler-style mustache on March 17, 2017

A Turkish pro-government newspaper depicts Chancellor Angela Merkel on its front page in Nazi uniform with a Hitler-style mustache on March 17, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish pro-government newspaper on Friday depicted Chancellor Angela Merkel on its front page in Nazi uniform with a Hitler-style mustache, labeling the German leader “Mrs. Hitler” amid a bitter war of words between Ankara and Berlin.

Right-wing tabloid-style daily Gunes (“Sun”) printed the picture along with the words in German: “#Frau Hitler” and called her an “ugly aunt.”

The mocked-up image took up most of the front page of the daily, with a Nazi swastika on Merkel’s “uniform” and another swastika next to her head while she is shown holding a gun.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/turkish-daily-depicts-merkel-as-frau-hitler-on-front-page/

Sirens Blare As Japan, Fearing North Korea, Holds First Missile Drill

OGA:  Sirens blared and loudspeakers broadcast warnings in Japan’s first civilian missile evacuation drill on Friday, conducted in a fishing town by officials wary about the threat of North Korean missiles.

The exercise comes more than a week after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan’s northwest coast, with one rocket landing about 200 km (124 miles)from the town of Oga.

Friday’s drill played out a scenario in which North Korea had fired a ballistic missile on the Japanese islands.

“The missile is seen to have landed within a 20-km (12-mile) boundary west of the Oga peninsula,” a speaker blared during the evacuation. “The government is currently examining the damage.”

Residents of the largely rural peninsula jutting into the ocean about 450 km (280 miles) north of the capital, Tokyo, made their way to a designated evacuation centre equipped with emergency kits and protective gear.

http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/sirens-blare-as-japan-fearing-north-korea-holds-first-missile-drill-1670596

Russian spy ship steers clear of U.S. waters while passing near Kings Bay, Mayport

Government officials insist a Russian spy ship steered clear of U.S. waters Wednesday as it moved north in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Georgia’s Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, according to the Department of Defense.

“The ship has not entered U.S. territorial waters,” said Maj. Jamie Davis, a spokesman for the Department of Defense. “We respect freedom of navigation exercised by all nations beyond the territorial sea of a coastal state consistent with international law.”

Davis said the Vishnya-class intelligence ship Viktor Leonov was about 20 miles south of Kings Bay on Wednesday. He said the same ship was spotted off the coast of Connecticut last month, and it has travelled up the Atlantic Coast before in 2014 and 2015.

http://jacksonville.com/news/military/2017-03-16/russian-spy-ship-steers-clear-us-waters-while-passing-near-kings-bay

Delegation of French MPs visit Russia, wanting stronger ties

A delegation of French MPs starts the second day of its two-day visit to Russia on Friday. They are from the ‘French-Russian Dialogue association’ — a group of French MPs who are friendly to Russia and who have visited the country several times over the past few years. They have also visited Crimea in the past and several of them have stated that Russia had the right to annex Crimea in 2014.

This group of MPs is known for thinking that the West is too harsh on Russia, and that France could benefit from restoring ties. Many of them feel that France has common interests with Russia – notably in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

“Russia is not an enemy in Europe; it should be a partner,” says Jacques Myard, a politician in France’s right-wing party Les Republicans, who is not part of the current delegation, but is widely considered to be relatively pro-Russian.

Myard acknowledges that “we have differences with Russia”, he highlights that “in combatting the Islamic State, we have good relations with Russia”, because “you cannot avoid that we have a common enemy”.

http://en.rfi.fr/europe/20170316-delegation-french-mps-visit-russia-wanting-stronger-ties

It’s time for the US to quit enabling Iran in Syria

If the Trump administration is serious about taking on Iran in the Middle East it must transform its strategy in Syria for fighting the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS).  Our current strategy will only continue to strengthen Tehran’s grip on the region.

The US needs a new approach that gives it the independence and leverage it needs to begin pushing back successfully.

It won’t be easy. The strategy the administration inherited from President  Obama sees Iran as a partner in the fight.  The U.S. has therefore done nothing to contain the dramatic and alarming Iranian expansion of military power in Syria.

Yet the expansion was avoidable.

Tehran had used Syria as a base for Lebanese Hezbollah, HAMAS, and its own subversive activities for decades at no cost.  The 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad was a blow to its position.  Therefore Iran rushed to support Assad, sending in special Qods Force operatives, then advisors from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

As the revolt against Assad deepened, Tehran added thousands of fighters from Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraq’s Shi’a militias. Conventional combat forces of the IRGC joined in when a Russian air campaign in support of Assad started in late 2015.

Today, Iran commands tens of thousands more fighters in Syria than it did before the Arab Spring uprising.  It has established its own military headquarters and embedded troops and advisors so deeply in the Assad regime that it cannot survive without them.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/03/16/its-time-for-us-to-quit-enabling-iran-in-syria.html

Iran, Pakistan to hold joint naval drills in east of Hormuz Strait

The Pakistani flotilla comprising Navy ships Tippu Sultan and PNS Jurrat and a chopper on Wednesday left the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas for the east of the Hormuz Strait where the drills will be held, Tasnim quoted Commander of Iran’s First Naval Zone Admiral Hossein Azad as saying.

He added that Iranian Navy’s Jamaran Destroyer besides a missile-launching frigate and a helicopter will join the Pakistani fleet.

The commander noted that some 800 personnel of the Iranian and Pakistani navies will participate in the drills.

The Pakistani flotilla berthed at Bandar Abbas on Sunday and was officially received by the Iranian Navy’s officers, Tasnim reported.

Speaking at the welcoming ceremony, Admiral Azad said the visit was in line with efforts to boost security cooperation between Tehran and Islamabad.

https://www.geo.tv/latest/134531-Iran-Pakistan-to-hold-joint-naval-drills-in-east-of-Hormuz-Strait

U.S. Denies Striking Syrian Mosque After Dozens Reported Killed

Image: Rescuers who were trapped under the debris

The organization said it didn’t know who launched the attack.

Some human rights activists and monitors alleged that the United States hit the mosque. But a senior U.S. military official told NBC News that while there was a mosque about 50 feet from the U.S. target, the United States has photographic evidence that the mosque was not hit and was still standing.

The official wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the mosque may have been struck or blown up later by someone else.

Al-Jinnah is located in one of the main rebel-held parts of Syria, the northwest that includes Idlib province and the western parts of Aleppo province, and its population has been swollen by refugees, U.N. agencies have said.

Rebels in northwest Syria fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad also include groups supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

The conflicting reports come one day after at least 25 people were killed in a suicide bombing at the main court complex in Syria’s capital, Damascus, on the sixth anniversary of the start of the uprising against Assad.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-denies-striking-syrian-mosque-after-dozens-reported-killed-n734696

Iraq, U.S. offer differing accounts of progress in Mosul

March 16, 2017 (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Alex Manne/Army)

MOSUL, Iraq — Iraqi and U.S. commanders offered conflicting accounts Thursday of progress in western Mosul, where U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have been battling the Islamic State group for nearly a month as they try to retake the remainder of the city.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, the American commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, said the troops had recaptured “a little over a third” of neighborhoods west of the Tigris River, while Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, said they had retaken up to 60 percent, with fighting still underway. Iraq declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January.

Iraqi officials have overstated gains in the past, declaring areas liberated from ISIS militants only to see the resumption of fighting or militant attacks. The extremists have targeted eastern Mosul with bombings and other attacks on several occasions in recent weeks.

Front-line commanders meanwhile said progress has been slow over the past week, with troops advancing just a few hundred meters (yards) in the face of ISIS car bomb attacks.

Turkey is about to take another step toward dictatorship

  March 16 at 4:11 PM

Seyla Benhabib is a professor of political science and philosophy at Yale University.

On April 16, Turkish voters — some 58 million of them — will take part in a constitutional referendum proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Though the referendum will have all the appearances of democratic legitimacy, the reality could not be more different. At issue is a sweeping program of constitutional changes that, if passed, will establish a new form of autocracy with Erdogan at its top. Parliament gave its approval to the referendum this year, albeit by the narrowest of majorities, with only nine more votes than were needed for the required two-thirds majority. That result came only after a long and intensive campaign of government-sponsored intimidation. (The leaders of one of the main opposition parties, which appeals to a mainly Kurdish constituency, are still in jail.)

Now Turkish voters find themselves confronting an even broader system of state-orchestrated pressure and coercion as they prepare to go to the polls. If the referendum passes, the effect will be to transform a multiparty, parliamentary democracy into an authoritarian presidential regime in the model of Kazakhstan or Russia. It is no exaggeration to say that the vigorous if flawed parliamentary Turkish republic founded in 1923 by Kemal Ataturk — one that long granted me and millions of other citizens wide-ranging rights and freedoms — will be no more.

If the referendum passes, the office of prime minister will be abolished. The number of representatives in a newly powerless National Assembly will increase from 550 to 600 (a cynical bit of democratic window-dressing). In a stark break with the republican principles of the past, which dictated that the head of state should remain politically neutral, the president will be permitted to retain direct ties to a political party — in Erdogan’s case, the ruling Justice and Development Party, which first brought him to power in 2003. The referendum plan will give the president the power to appoint and remove ministers and exert even greater control over the judiciary than he does now.

NUCLEAR TURKEY? Imam close to Erdogan calls for weapons NOW amid tensions with EU

TURKEY should ignore rules set by ‘the West’ and build its own NUCLEAR WEAPONS – an Imam close to president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has advised – as the fallout between Brussels and Ankara deepens.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been told he should invest in nuclear weapons
The worrying advice has been called weeks ahead of a Turkish referendum aimed at giving more power to President Erdogan – and in the midst of a keeping fallout between Ankara and EU leaders.Hayrettin Karaman, the Turkish AK Party’s go-to religious leader, attacked ‘the West’ in a letter which insisted Erdogan should immediately invest in weapons of mass destruction.In the online post the imam accused Christian countries in the West of egotism and racism – stating the bad attitude towards Turkey has been “accelerated”.

President Erdogan is in the midst of a deep fall out with European nations including Germany and the Netherlands after both countries banned rallies and kicked out his ministers who had sworn to campaign for his referendum.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/780240/TURKEY-Imam-Erdogan-nuclear-weapons-NOW-EU-tension-Germany-Netherlands

Bulgaria accuses Turkey of election meddling, recalls ambassador

Sofia hauled in Turkey’s envoy after he openly backed the new pro-Turkish Dost party, which is running in the Bulgarian election on March 26. 

Bulgaria on Thursday recalled its ambassador to Turkey for consultations, days after accusing Ankara of meddling in upcoming snap elections.

The foreign ministry did not provide any further details around the move, a traditional sign of diplomatic anger.

Last week, Sofia hauled in Turkey’s envoy after he openly backed the new pro-Turkish Dost party, which is running in the Bulgarian election on March 26, in a campaign video.

It also slammed Ankara for encouraging the 60,000 or so Bulgarian citizens living in Turkey to vote for Dost, calling the move “direct interference in Bulgarian domestic affairs”.

For its part, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has accused Bulgaria of hindering ethic Turkish Bulgarians from voting, according to the Anadolu Agency.

Last year, changes to the Bulgarian Election Code imposed restrictions on voting rules. Critics argue that the reforms will deny millions of citizens abroad the right to vote.

Bulgaria has limited the number of ballot boxes in Turkey for this year’s election to 35, a move Turkey sees as limiting the political rights of minorities in the country.

Full tech transfer could derail Indo-Russian fifth-gen fighter program

March 16, 2017 (Photo Credit: Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI — The Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighter aircraft under joint development and production by the two countries has taken a hit, with Russia showing reluctance to fully transfer the aircraft technology, particularly stealth capabilities, despite repeated reminders, according to a top Indian Air Force official.
After the preliminary agreement on the particulars of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) program in 2010, and with both sides having paid $295 million each, the final agreement that enables India to release more than $4 billion, is pending.
The Air Force has worked out its requirements for the FGFA, but the crucial “work sharing and technology sharing draft has yet to be finalized,” the IAF official said.
“The project is likely to get delayed further unless the issue of transfer of technology is finalized,” offered Daljit Singh, a defense analyst and retired Indian Air Force air marshal. India should insist on technology transfer in specified fields, he added, as “full technology transfer may not be feasible.”

Russia’s United Shipbuilding, Goa Shipyard In Pact To Build Frigates

Our Bureau

India’s Union defence ministry has officially approved Goa Shipyard Limted’s (GSL) partnership with Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corp to develop two guided-missile stealth frigates for the Indian Navy.

“The Naval HQ has written to the Russian authorities seeking technical and cost details for building guided-missile stealth frigates. Thereafter, GSL will start discussions. The private sector may have the capacity, but it is yet to prove its capability,” an official was quoted as saying by Times of India today.

The defence ministry was forced to turn to GSL and the two private sector shipyards as the major public sector shipyards were tied up executing current orders.

Russian delegations have already visited the Vasco-based shipyard and cleared its facilities for construction of the frigates, which will be equipped with sensors and weapons, including the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.

During a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the 2016 Brics Summit, the two countries signed a deal to purchase four guided-missile stealth frigates from Russia.

Under the agreement, two of the frigates will come from Russia, while the other two will be constructed in India, official said.

http://www.defenseworld.net/news/18743/Russia_s_United_Shipbuilding__Goa_Shipyard_In_Pact_To_Build_Frigates#.WMvW4JArJD8

Germany’s Merkel to make rare Russia visit for Putin talks

Germany’s Angela Merkel will visit Moscow for talks on May 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, for the first bilateral visit since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014.

There is no immediate prospect that Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis will be lifted, but Merkel’s visit sends a signal that Germany, the European Union’s foremost power, is willing to engage with the Kremlin.

The agenda of Merkel’s visit has yet to be made public, but talks are likely to focus on Ukraine, EU sanctions, trade ties and German concerns that Russia may try to meddle in a parliamentary election in September.

Germany is also president of the G20 group of leading nations this year and Merkel will need to meet with key members ahead of an upcoming summit.

“Give my best wishes to the federal chancellor,” Putin told Horst Seehofer, Bavaria’s prime minister, who was in Moscow for talks on Thursday. “We are waiting for her to visit on May 2.” Seehofer confirmed Merkel was planning to visit that day.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-germany-visit-idUSKBN16N24S

Here’s what the Pentagon plans to do with its ‘historic’ budget increase

US President Donald Trump’s budget proposal is in, and it calls for a “historic” $54 billion increase in defense spending, and an additional $30 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations spending this year.

“This is a hard power budget, it is not a soft power budget,” Mick Mulvaney told reporters at a Wednesday briefing. “And that was done intentionally. That’s what our allies can expect. That’s what our adversaries can expect.”

So what does Trump want to spend the additional $84 billion on?

The Army wants $8.3 billion, which includes $871 million for increasing readiness, $1.3 billion for “enhanced and more realistic training,” $2.8 billion to restore and modernize equipment in aviation, armor, drones, and air and missile defense systems, and another $1.2 billion for US combat commanders to fight ISIS.

Additionally, more than $2 billion will go to addressing shortfalls, infrastructure readiness, and ammunition.

http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-defense-budget-2017-3

SWIFT Messaging System Cuts Off Remaining North Korean Banks

They are “no longer compliant with SWIFT’s membership criteria.”

SWIFT, the inter-bank messaging network which is the backbone of international finance, said it planned to cut off the remaining North Korean banks still connected to its system, as concerns about the country’s nuclear program and missile tests grow.

SWIFT said the four remaining banks on the network would be disconnected for failing to meet its operating criteria.

The bank-owned co-operative declined to specify what the banks’ shortcomings were or if it had received representations from any governments.

Experts said the decision to cut off banks which were not subject to European Union sanctions was unusual and a possible sign of diplomatic pressure on SWIFT.

Belgium-based SWIFT has previously refused to cut off Burmese, Russian or Syrian banks which were subject to sanctions by other countries, such as the United States, citing a policy of remaining politically neutral.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/swift-bank-north-korea_us_58caf2d7e4b0ec9d29da2859

Japan launches new spy satellite to keep eye on North Korea

Japan launched a new spy satellite Friday, the country’s space agency said, as the region grows increasingly uneasy over North Korea’s quickening missile and nuclear programs.

The Radar 5 unit was carried into space on Japan’s mainstay H-IIA rocket from a launch site in the country’s southwest.

It is meant to replace an existing satellite that is approaching the end of its mission.

Japan began putting spy satellites into orbit in 2003 after North Korea fired a midrange ballistic missile over the Japanese mainland and into the Western Pacific in 1998.

The threat has steadily accelerated and just last week Pyongyang fired four ballistic missiles, with three landing in waters provocatively close to Japan.

Tokyo currently maintains three optical satellites for daytime surveillance and three radar satellites for nighttime monitoring. Two of those are backups.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/03/17/national/japan-launches-new-spy-satellite-keep-eye-north-korea/#.WMvaP5ArJD8

 

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