TPM World News

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A “brilliant victory” and “thrilling” success, North Korea’s grinning leader crowed of his country’s first test of a long-range ballistic missile. The “final phase” in a confrontation with America, Kim Jong Un called it. Part of a coming stream of “‘gift packages’ to the Yankees” in the form of more weapons tests.

You can feel the self-satisfied, self-aggrandizing bliss as North Korean state media revels in what it clearly sees as a historic moment — and a golden chance to boost the dictator and his military.

In some respects, the accomplishment this week is as big a deal as the breathless descriptions. But, as ever with North Korea, there are some important reasons to be skeptical.

People in the North Korean countryside still go without food. It’s still a third-world economy, with massive corruption and rampant human rights abuses. It is hated, feared, mocked and sanctioned by its neighbors. And several years of development and tests still lie ahead before its intercontinental ballistic missile — the North calls the nascent version it test-fired on Tuesday the Hwasong-14 — will actually work.

Yet despite all of this, after decades of single-minded determination, a tiny, impoverished country stands on the threshold of completing a long-coveted goal that only the United States, Russia and a handful of others have accomplished: building nuclear-armed ICBMs.

A look at North Korea’s delighted propaganda, and what it might mean:

___

“GIFT PACKAGES”

THE PROPAGANDA: “Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un,” with a “broad smile on his face,” urged his scientists to continue to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees as ever so that they would not feel weary.”

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN: Pyongyang, with this part boast, part threat, is likely promising more missile and nuclear tests.

It’s a show of defiance, sure — such tests are banned by the U.N. — but it also reveals something important, and less flattering, about the North: More tests signal weakness.

Before it can actually back up its bluster, it needs repeated tests to build a single ICBM that can reach North America, let alone an arsenal of them.

Same goes for nuclear bombs.

Some analysts believe North Korea can arm its short-range missiles with nuclear warheads already. But there’s more doubt about whether Pyongyang can build a warhead that can fit on a long-range missile.

Each new test puts the North closer to its goal. But it also signals that it is not there yet.

___

“BRILLIANT VICTORY”

THE PROPAGANDA: North Korea said that it had scored a “brilliant victory” and “great success” by launching an ICBM that can carry a “large-sized” nuclear warhead. Kim praised his scientists for “thrillingly succeeding at one try in even the test-launch of Hwasong-14 capable of striking the U.S. mainland this time.” The weapon’s guidance, stability, structural and “active-flight stages” systems were all “confirmed.”

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN: The North did succeed, in a way, by getting the missile to fly in a highly lofted arc and splash down in the Sea of Japan. Washington, Seoul and Tokyo all confirmed this as the North’s best effort to date.

It’s also true that if not stopped, North Korea appears only a matter of years away from building a working ICBM.

But there are big reasons to doubt North Korea’s claim of complete success “at one try.”

These include whether the North has mastered the technology for a re-entry vehicle crucial for returning a warhead to the atmosphere from space so it can hit its intended target. And whether North Korea can build a warhead small enough to fit on a long-range missile.

___

“FINAL PHASE”

THE PROPAGANDA: Kim “stressed that the protracted showdown with the U.S. imperialists has reached its final phase, and it is the time for the (North) to demonstrate its mettle to the U.S.”

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN: This sounds like a threat, and North Korea has, without doubt, been demonstrating its mettle for years, ignoring repeated U.S. warnings not to test nukes and missiles and threatening to strike targets in the United States.

Such propaganda helps domestically by boosting Kim Jong Un as a titan bestriding the world stage. It also causes fear in America, South Korea and Japan.

“Final phase” may also be a way of trying to keep North Korea’s elites from getting complacent as the nuclear standoff nears 30 years.

There’s a glimmer of truth in the phrase, too.

If the goal has always been a nuclear-armed ICBM, then the first smooth test of a nascent version of that weapon could indeed mark a “final phase” of sorts.

What’s less certain is whether this phase will end with violence, some sort of negotiated nuclear freeze of simply more years of frustration and North Korean weapons progress.

Read More →

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed Wednesday his nation will “demonstrate its mettle to the U.S.” and never put its weapons programs up for negotiations, a day after successfully testing its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

The hard line suggests that North Korea will conduct more weapons tests until it perfects nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking anywhere in the United States. Analysts say Kim’s government believes nuclear weapons are key to its own survival and could be used to wrest concessions from the United States.

Tuesday’s ICBM launch, confirmed by U.S. and South Korean officials, was a milestone in North Korea’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear-armed missiles. But the North isn’t there yet, and many analysts say it needs more tests to perfect such an arsenal.

Worry spread in Washington and at the United Nations, where the United States, Japan and South Korea requested an emergency U.N. Security Council session on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. response would include “stronger measures to hold the DPRK accountable,” using the acronym for the nation’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In a show of force, U.S. and South Korean troops fired “deep strike” precision missiles off South Korea’s east coast on Wednesday. South Korea’s military later released previously shot video showing the test-firing of sophisticated South Korean missiles and a computer-generated image depicting a North Korean flag in flames with the backdrop of a major building in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

North Korean state media on Wednesday described leader Kim as “feasting his eyes” on the ICBM, which was said to be capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, before its launch. “With a broad smile on his face,” Kim urged his scientists to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees,” it said, an apparent reference to continuing the stream of nuclear and missile tests Kim has ordered since taking power in late 2011.

North Korea was also pleased that its test came as Americans celebrated Independence Day. State media said Kim told “scientists and technicians that the U.S. would be displeased to witness the DPRK’s strategic option” on its Independence Day.

Kim also said North Korea “would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations in any case nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.

The missile launch was a direct rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump’s earlier declaration on Twitter that such a test “won’t happen!” and to South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, who was pushing to improve strained ties with the North.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it was unable to verify whether North Korea has mastered re-entry technology for an ICBM. It said North Korea may now conduct a nuclear test with “boosted explosive power” to show off a warhead to be mounted on a missile.

The U.N. Security Council could impose additional sanctions on North Korea, but it’s not clear they would stop it from pursuing its nuclear and missile programs since the country is already under multiple rounds of U.N. sanctions for its previous weapon tests.

“An attempt to curb Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile ambitions has clearly failed. I think North Korea won’t stop its nuclear drive until it feels that it has reached the level that it wants to reach,” said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University. “I don’t know when North Korea can reach that level. But I would say it’s imminent.”

There is a consensus among many analysts that Kim’s government won’t give up its nuclear program because it believes it guarantee its survival from outside threats. But once it possesses functioning ICBMs, it would also have a stronger bargaining position and might propose talks with the United States on reducing those threats, possibly in exchange for freezing but not dismantling some of its nuclear or missile activities, the analysts say.

North Korea might seek a downsizing or suspension of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that it views as rehearsals for an invasion, or the signing of a peace treaty officially ending the 1950-53 Korean War that could be used as pretext for demanding the withdrawal of the 28,500 American troops currently in South Korea. The war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula technically still in a state of war.

“If the U.S. doesn’t accept talks, North Korea might stage provocations or take other dangerous actions to draw the U.S. into negotiations,” said analyst Park Hyeong-jung at South Korea’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

If the United States were to hold talks with a North Korea capable of attacking the entire U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons, those negotiations would be like “arms reduction talks,” Lim said.

North Korea already has a reliable arsenal of shorter-range missiles and is thought to have a small number of atomic bombs. Some outside civilian experts believe the North has the technology to mount warheads on shorter-range Rodong and Scud missiles that can strike South Korea and Japan, two key U.S. allies where about 80,000 American troops are stationed. But it’s unclear if it has mastered the technology needed to build an atomic bomb that can fit on a long-range missile.

Regional disarmament talks on North Korea’s nuclear program have been stalled since 2009.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron vowed Monday to lift a state of emergency that has been in place since 2015, but also to harden permanent security measures to fight Islamic extremism and other threats.

Laying out his political, security and diplomatic priorities at an extraordinary joint session of parliament at the chateau of Versailles, Macron said his government “will work to prevent any new attack, and we will work to fight (the assailants) without pity, without regrets, without weakness.”

At the same time, he insisted on the need to “guarantee full respect for individual liberties” amid concerns that new measures would allow police too many powers.

Macron vowed to maintain France’s military interventions against extremists abroad, especially in Africa’s Sahel region and in Iraq and Syria. He also insisted on the importance of maintaining “the path of negotiation, of dialogue” for long-term solutions.

In his bid to strengthen the European Union following Britain’s vote to leave, he announced Europe-wide public conferences later this year in an effort to reinvigorate the bloc.

He said he understood why many Europeans see the EU as bureaucratic, distant and uncaring.

“I firmly believe in Europe, but I don’t find this skepticism unjustified,” he said.

He added that European countries should work more closely to help political refugees while fighting migrant-smuggling and strengthening borders against illegal migration.

Macron has pledged to fulfill his campaign promise to bring about deep changes in France, notably through labor reform and a series of measures to put more transparency and ethics into politics.

He said French voters no longer accept the conflicts of interest and corruption scandals that “used to seem almost normal” in the country’s political landscape.

He notably vowed to end the special court, mostly composed of lawmakers, that judges government members for crimes committed while in charge. They will be judged by regular judges, with a procedure to deter poiticians from using courts to attack rivals.

Implicitly addressing the French media, he called for an end to “this continuous search for scandal, the permanent violation of the presumption of innocence, the manhunt where sometimes reputations are destroyed.”

Macron said he wants to speed up lawmaking to better adapt the process to a rapidly changing society. He proposed that some “simple” bills be voted on in parliament’s commissions instead of in plenary sessions.

Macron also wants to reduce the number of seats in parliament — which now stand at 925 — by one third.

He promised to gather both houses of parliament in Versailles every year, to be accountable.

“The reforms and deep changes I have promised will be implemented,” he said.

Critics who fear Macron is trying to amass too much power organized protests over Monday’s event.

Lawmakers from the far-left party of Jean-Luc Melenchon and communists decided not to attend the speech in protest against what they call a “presidential monarchy”.

After his new centrist party dominated parliamentary elections and split the opposition, political rivals are comparing Macron to Napoleon, or the Roman king of the gods, Jupiter.

They are especially angry that he wants to strip worker protections through a decree-like procedure, allowing little parliamentary debate.

Critics have complained about the cost of the Versailles event, and accused Macron of convening it for reasons of self-interest instead of national need. The last such joint parliament session was in the wake of November 2015 Islamic extremist attacks, the deadliest violence to hit France in half a century.

Macron also appeared to be upstaging his prime minister, who is scheduled to give his first big parliament speech Tuesday, where he will face his first confidence vote.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been charged with allegedly misusing European Parliament funds relating to the payment of parliamentary aides.

The prosecutor’s office said Le Pen was handed preliminary charges on Friday of breach of trust and complicity in breach of trust concerning two of her aides when she served at the European Parliament. She was elected to the French parliament this month so gave up her seat in the European Parliament.

One of the aides in question, Catherine Griset, a top aide at Le Pen’s National Front party, was herself charged in February in the case.

Read More →

BERLIN (AP) — German lawmakers approved a bill on Friday aimed at cracking down on hate speech on social networks, which critics say could have drastic consequences for free speech online.

The measure approved is designed to enforce the country’s existing limits on speech, including the long-standing ban on Holocaust denial. Among other things, it would fine social networking sites up to 50 million euros ($56 million) if they persistently fail to remove illegal content within a week, including defamatory “fake news.”

“Freedom of speech ends where the criminal law begins,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who was the driving force behind the bill.

Maas said official figures showed the number of hate crimes in Germany increased by over 300 percent in the last two years.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have become a battleground for angry debates about Germany’s recent influx of more than 1 million refugees, with authorities struggling to keep up with the flood of criminal complaints.

Maas claimed that 14 months of discussion with major social media companies had made no significant progress. Last week, lawmakers from his Social Democratic Party and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Union bloc agreed a number of amendments to give companies more time to check whether posts that are flagged to them are illegal, delegate the vetting process to a third party and ensure that users whose comments are removed can appeal the decision.

But human rights experts and the companies affected warn that the law risks privatizing the process of censorship and could have a chilling effect on free speech.

“This law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem,” Facebook said in a statement.

“We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform,” the company said, noting that it is hiring 3,000 additional staff on top of 4,500 already working to review posts.

Aside from the hefty fine for companies, the law also provides for fines of up to 5 million euros for the person each company designates to deal with the complaints procedure if it doesn’t meet requirements.

Social networks also have to publish a report every six months detailing how many complaints they received and how they dealt with them.

Among those cheering the law was Germany’s main Jewish organization, which called it a “strong instrument against hate speech in social networks.”

Germany has long had a law criminalizing Holocaust denial — a response to the country’s Nazi-era history of allowing racist ideas to become genocidal policy.

“Jews are exposed to anti-Semitic hatred in social networks on a daily basis,” the Central Council of Jews said. “Since all voluntary agreements with platform operators produced almost no result, this law is the logical consequence to effectively limit hate speech.”

The nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has frequently been accused of whipping up sentiments against immigrants and minorities, said it is considering challenging the law in Germany’s highest court.

Read More →

BERLIN (AP) — German lawmakers voted Friday to legalize same-sex marriage after a short but emotional debate, bringing the country in line with many of its Western peers. Though Chancellor Angela Merkel voted against the measure, she paved the way for its passage by freeing other members of her party to vote their “conscience.”

Lawmakers voted 393 for legalizing “marriage for everybody” and 226 against, with four abstentions.

Merkel said Monday that lawmakers could take up the issue as a “question of conscience,” allowing members of her conservative coalition, which has been against same-sex marriage, to individually vote for it.

That prompted her center-left rivals to quickly call for a snap vote on the issue, adding it to the agenda Friday on parliament’s last regular session before Sept. 24 elections.

While some in Merkel’s conservative bloc spoke against the measure, Berlin Christian Democrat Jan-Marco Luczak urged his fellow party members to vote for same-sex marriage.

“It would be absurd to try and protect marriage by preventing people to marry,” he told lawmakers.

Many applauded Merkel’s comments that opened the way for the vote, but Social Democrat lawmaker Johannes Kahrs noted in the debate that the chancellor had been a longtime opponent of gay marriage.

“Many thanks for nothing,” he said bluntly.

Germany has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships since 2001, but has not granted them full marital rights, which include the possibility to jointly adopt children.

The new law won’t take effect for several months because it still needs to pass the upper house of Parliament and be approved by the president, though those are formalities. It is also expected to face legal challenges.

Merkel told reporters after the vote that her vote against the measure was based upon her reading of the country’s law concerning marriage and that she did think gay couples should be able to adopt.

Germany’s basic law is vague, saying only that “marriage and the family shall enjoy the protection of the state,” but Merkel said that for her “marriage as defined by the law is the marriage of a man and a woman.”

She added, however, that she stood by her contention that the interpretation was a “question of conscience” and urged all views to be respected.

“It was a long, intensive, and for many also emotional discussion, that goes for me personally too, and I’m hopeful not only that there will be respect for either side’s opinions, but that it will also bring about more peace and cohesion in society,” she said.

All of Merkel’s potential coalition partners after the September election, including the center-left Social Democrats of her challenger, Martin Schulz, have been calling for same-sex marriage to be legalized.

It is not clear whether Merkel thought her Monday comments would prompt such a quick vote, but many analysts have suggested that by opening the door to gay marriage the chancellor removed yet another issue that might have helped her opponents in their campaigns against her.

In nearly 12 years as chancellor, Merkel has moved her party to the center and away from conservative orthodoxy, speeding up Germany’s exit from nuclear power and ending military conscription among other moves.

Read More →

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Cardinal George Pell, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, took a leave of absence as the Vatican’s financial czar on Thursday to fight multiple criminal charges in his native Australia that allege he committed sexual assault years ago.

Pell appeared before reporters in the Vatican press office to forcefully deny the accusations, denounce what he called a “relentless character assassination” in the media and announce he would return to Australia to clear his name.

“I repeat that I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” Pell said.

The Vatican said the leave takes effect immediately and that Pell will not participate in any public liturgical event while it is in place. Pell said he intends to eventually return to Rome to resume his work as prefect of the Vatican’s economy ministry.

Pell, 76, is the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal, and the developments pose a major and immediate new obstacle for Francis as he works to reform the Vatican.

Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton announced the charges Thursday, saying police had summonsed Pell to appear in court to face multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses,” meaning offenses that generally occurred some time ago. Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations against the cardinal.

Pell was ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Holy See had learned with “regret” of the charges and that the work of Pell’s office would continue in his absence, albeit only its “ordinary” affairs.

In a statement he read to reporters while sitting beside Pell, Burke said the Vatican respected Australia’s justice system but recalled that the cardinal had “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable” acts of sexual abuse against minors.

He noted that Pell had cooperated with Australia’s Royal Commission investigation into sex abuse and that as a bishop in Australia, he worked to protect children and compensate victims.

“The Holy Father, who has appreciated Cardinal Pell’s honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration,” Burke added.

The charges were announced on a major Catholic feast day, when many of the world’s cardinals were already in Rome for a ceremony Wednesday to elevate five new cardinals. As Pell spoke to reporters, preparations were underway in St. Peter’s Square for a huge Mass that Pell had been expected to jointly celebrate, but he stood down after the charges were announced.

For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney. But more recently, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal. It is unclear what allegations the charges announced Thursday relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said previously that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

Patton told reporters in Melbourne that none of the allegations against Pell has been tested in any court, adding: “Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process.”

The charges are a new and serious blow to Pope Francis, who has already suffered several credibility setbacks in his promised “zero tolerance” policy about sex abuse.

They will also further complicate Francis’ financial reform efforts at the Vatican, which were already strained by Pell’s repeated clashes with the Italian-dominated bureaucracy. Just last week, one of Pell’s top allies, the Vatican’s auditor general, resigned without explanation two years into a five-year term, immediately raising questions about whether the reform effort was doomed.

In his statement, Burke said Pell’s economy secretariat would continue working in his absence until other provisions are decided.

A prolonged absence, however, would require Francis to make other provisions, since it is unclear if the office could, for example, issue the Holy See’s annual financial statement without Pell’s imprimateur.

Pell’s actions as archbishop came under intense scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse — the nation’s highest form of inquiry — has found shocking levels of abuse in Australia’s Catholic Church, revealing earlier this year that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children over the past several decades.

Last year, Pell acknowledged during his testimony to the commission that the Catholic Church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. And he vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his Australian hometown of Ballarat.

But he nevertheless became something of a scapegoat in Australia for all that went wrong with the Catholic Church in its mishandling of the sex abuse scandal. His flight to Rome to head Francis’ reform effort had been viewed by many of his critics as an attempt to avoid justice.

The Australian public has been riveted by the investigation, and news of his charges sparked a media frenzy. Both the police announcement and Pell’s statement from the Vatican were carried live across the country.

Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican. But in a statement from the Sydney Archdiocese, Pell said he would return to Australia “as soon as possible,” following advice and approval by his doctors. Last year, Pell declined to return to Australia to testify for the third time before the Royal Commission, saying he was too ill to fly. He instead testified via video conference from Rome.

The Blue Knot Foundation, an Australian support group for adult survivors of childhood abuse, said the decision to charge Pell sent a powerful message to both abuse survivors and society as a whole.

“It upholds that no one is above the law, no matter how high their office, qualifications, or standing,” the group’s head of research, Pam Stavropoulos, said in a statement.

But actually proving the charges may be difficult. The prosecution must prove that the sex offenses occurred beyond a reasonable doubt, which can be difficult when so much time has passed, said Lisa Flynn, national manager of Shine Lawyers’ abuse law practice in Australia.

The charges put the pope in a thorny position. In 2014, Francis won cautious praise from victims’ advocacy groups when he created a commission of outside experts to advise him and the broader church about “best practices” to fight abuse and protect children.

But the commission has since lost much of its credibility after its two members who were survivors of abuse left. Francis also scrapped the commission’s signature proposal — a tribunal section to hear cases of bishops who covered up for abuse — after Vatican officials objected.

In addition, Francis drew heated criticism for his 2015 appointment of a Chilean bishop accused by victims of helping cover up for Chile’s most notorious pedophile. The pope was later caught on videotape labeling the parishioners who opposed the nomination “leftists” and “stupid.”

Asked last year about the accusations against Pell, Francis said he would wait for Australian justice to take its course before speaking or casting judgment himself.

It remained unclear if Pell would face a church trial stemming from the accusations. The Vatican has clear-cut guidelines about initiating a canonical investigation if there is a semblance of truth to sex abuse accusations against a cleric. In the case of a cardinal, it would fall to Francis himself to judge. Penalties for a guilty verdict in a church trial include defrocking.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — The data-scrambling software epidemic that paralyzed computers globally is under control in Ukraine, where it likely originated, officials said Wednesday, as companies and governments around the world counted the cost of a crisis that is disrupting ports, hospitals and factories.

In a statement published Wednesday, the Ukrainian Cabinet said that “all strategic assets, including those involved in protecting state security, are working normally.”

The same couldn’t be said for India’s largest container port, where one of the terminals was idled by the malicious software, which goes by a variety of names including ExPetr.

M.K. Sirkar, a manager at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai, said that no containers could be loaded or unloaded at the terminal operated by shipper A.P. Moller-Maersk on Wednesday.

In a statement, Moller-Maersk acknowledged that its APM Terminals had been “impacted in a number of ports” and that an undisclosed number of systems were shut down “to contain the issue.” The company declined to provide further detail or make an official available for an interview.

At the very least, thousands of computers worldwide have been struck by the malware, according to preliminary accounts published by cybersecurity firms, although most of the damage remains hidden away in corporate offices. Some names have trickled into the public domain as the disruption becomes obvious.

In Pennsylvania, lab and diagnostic services were closed at the satellite offices of Pennsylvania’s Heritage Valley Health System, for example. In Tasmania, an Australian official said a Cadbury chocolate factory had stopped production after computers there crashed.

Other organizations affected include U.S. drugmaker Merck, food and drinks company Mondelez International, global law firm DLA Piper, London-based advertising group WPP.

As IT security workers turned their eye toward cleaning up the mess, others wondered at the attackers’ motives. Ransomware — which scrambles a computer’s data until a payment is made — has grown explosively over the past couple of years, powered in part by the growing popularity of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. But some believed that this latest ransomware outbreak was less aimed at gathering money than at sending a message to Ukraine and its allies.

That hunch was buttressed by the way the malware appears to have been seeded using a rogue update to a piece of Ukrainian accounting software and the timing — coming the same day as the assassination of a senior Ukrainian military intelligence officer in the nation’s capital and a day before a national holiday celebrating a new constitution signed after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Suspicions were further heightened by the re-emergence of the mysterious Shadow Brokers group of hackers, whose dramatic leak of powerful NSA tools helped power Tuesday’s outbreak, as it did a previous ransomware explosion last month that was dubbed “WannaCry.”

In a post published Wednesday, The Shadow Brokers made new threats, announced a new money-making scheme and made references to what happened Tuesday.

“Another global cyber attack is fitting end for first month of theshadowbrokers dump service,” the group said, referring to a subscription service which purportedly offers hackers early access to even more of the NSA’s digital break-in tools.

“There is much theshadowbrokers can be saying about this but what is point and having not already being said?”

Few take Shadow Brokers’ threats or their ostentatious demands for cash at face value, but the timing of their re-emergence dropped another hint at the spy games possibly playing out behind the scenes.

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — Hackers have caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices. Russia’s Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.

“We are talking about a cyberattack,” said Anders Rosendahl, a spokesman for the Copenhagen-based group. “It has affected all branches of our business, at home and abroad.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko on Tuesday posted a picture of a darkened computer screen to Twitter, saying that the computer system at the government’s headquarters has been shut down.

There’s very little information about who might be behind the disruption, but technology experts who examined screenshots circulating on social media said it bears the hallmarks of ransomware, the name given to programs that hold data hostage by scrambling it until a payment is made.

The world is still recovering from a previous outbreak of ransomware, called WannaCry or WannaCrypt, which spread rapidly using digital break-in tools originally created by the U.S. National Security Agency and recently leaked to the web.

Read More →

MUKALLA, Yemen (AP) — Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years.

The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.

“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” said chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.”

In a statement to the AP, the UAE’s government denied the allegations.

“There are no secret detention centers and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.”

Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.

None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses. Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year

At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the “grill,” and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only yards away. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

“We could hear the screams,” said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan airport. “The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber.” He was flogged with wires, part of the frequent beatings inflicted by guards against all the detainees. He also said he was inside a metal shipping container when the guards lit a fire underneath to fill it with smoke.

Like other ex-detainees, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested again. The AP interviewed him in person in Yemen after his release from detention.

The AP interviewed 10 former prisoners, as well as a dozen officials in the Yemeni government, military and security services and nearly 20 relatives of detainees. The chief of Riyan prison, who is well known among families and lawyers as Emirati, did not reply to requests for comment.

Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, said the abuses “show that the US hasn’t learned the lesson that cooperating with forces that are torturing detainees and ripping families apart is not an effective way to fight extremist groups.” Human Rights Watch issued a report Thursday documenting torture and forced disappearances at the UAE-run prisons and calling on the Emirates to protect detainees’ rights.

Amnesty International called for a U.N.-led investigation “into the UAE’s and other parties’ role in setting up this horrific network of torture” and into allegations the U.S. interrogated detainees or received information possibly obtained from torture. “It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has praised the UAE as “Little Sparta” for its outsized role in fighting against al-Qaida.

U.S. forces send questions to the Emirati forces holding the detainees, which then send files and videos with answers, said Yemeni Brig. Gen. Farag Salem al-Bahsani, commander of the Mukalla-based 2nd Military District, which American officials confirmed to the AP. He also said the United States handed authorities a list of most wanted men, including many who were later arrested.

Al-Bahsani denied detainees were handed over to the Americans and said reports of torture are “exaggerated.”

The network of prisons echoes the secret detention facilities set up by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama disbanded the so-called “black sites.” The UAE network in war-torn Yemen was set up during the Obama administration and continues operating to this day.

“The UAE was one of the countries involved in the CIA’s torture and rendition program,” said Goodman, the NYU law professor. “These reports are hauntingly familiar and potentially devastating in their legal and policy implications.”

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition meant to help Yemen’s government fight Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who overran the north of the country. At the same time, the coalition is helping the U.S. target al-Qaida’s local branch, one of the most dangerous in the world, as well as Islamic State militants.

A small contingent of American forces routinely moves in and out of Yemen, the Pentagon says, operating largely along the southern coast. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has escalated drone strikes in the country to more than 80 so far this year, up from around 21 in 2016, the U.S. military said. At least two commando raids were ordered against al-Qaida, including one in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with at least 25 civilians.

A U.S. role in questioning detainees in Yemen has not been previously acknowledged.

A Yemeni officer who said he was deployed for a time on a ship off the coast said he saw at least two detainees brought to the vessel for questioning. The detainees were taken below deck, where he was told American “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations. He did not have access to the lower decks. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation for discussing the operations.

Senior U.S. defense officials flatly denied the military conducts any interrogations of Yemenis on any ships.

“We have no comment on these specific claims,” said Jonathan Liu, a CIA spokesman, adding that any allegations of abuse are taken seriously.

The Yemeni officer did not specify if the ‘Americans on ships’ were U.S. military or intelligence personnel, private contractors, or some other group.

Two senior Yemen officials, one in Hadi’s Interior Ministry and another in the 1st Military District, based in Hadramawt province where Mukalla is located, also said Americans were conducting interrogations at sea, as did a former senior security official in Hadramawt. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the U.S. role.

The AP learned the names of five suspects held at black sites who were said to have been interrogated by Americans. The Yemeni official on the ship identified one of the detainees brought there. Four others were identified by former detainees who said they were told directly by the men themselves that they were questioned by Americans.

One detainee, who was not questioned by U.S. personnel, said he was subject to constant beatings by his Yemeni handlers but was interrogated only once.

“I would die and go to hell rather than go back to this prison,” he said. “They wouldn’t treat animals this way. If it was bin Laden, they wouldn’t do this.”

Read More →

LiveWire