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NSA contractor Reality Winner accused of leaking file on Russia election hacking

NSA contractor Reality Winner accused of leaking file on Russia election hacking

Three days before Americans voted last November, Reality Winner joked with her sister online that Moscow’s efforts to influence the US presidential election could have an upside for her as a keen weightlifter, according to Guardian.

“When we become the United States of the Russian Federation,” she said on Facebook, “Olympic lifting will be the national sport.”

Seven months later, Winner, 25, called home to Texas on Saturday to let her family know that the Russian hacking saga had ended up landing her in a far more serious situation.

“She said that she had been arrested by the FBI and that she couldn’t really talk about it,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the Guardian in a telephone interview. “I am still in shock.”

Prosecutors allege that last month, Winner, who was working for the defense contractor Pluribus International Corporation, printed an NSA document detailing how Russia had hacked a voting equipment vendor in Florida and was trying to breach local election systems right up until the days before November’s vote.

The Intercept reported on Monday that Russian military intelligence carried out a cyber-attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than a hundred local election officials days before the poll.

The hacking of senior Democrats’ email accounts during the campaign has been well chronicled, but vote-counting was thought to have been unaffected, despite concerted Russian efforts to penetrate it.

Her family rushed to Georgia for Winner’s first court appearance on Monday but remains confused.

Winner-Davis said she was unaware that her daughter had allegedly already admitted, when questioned, to taking the top-secret document. Nor had she heard of the Intercept and she really did not know why Reality would have done it.

“I never thought this would be something she would do,” Winner-Davis said. “I mean, she has expressed to me that she is not a fan of Trump – but she’s not someone who would go and riot or picket.”

Winner’s posts on social media over recent months suggest, however, that she, like many other Americans, had become increasingly agitated over some extraordinary developments in national politics.

She posted disparagingly on Facebook about Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border, about his draconian criminal justice plans, and about his assault on the Environmental Protection Agency. In February, she referred to the president as “piece of shit”.

Winner was born in Texas in December 1991. She was raised in Kingsville, a small city in the south of the state, about 40 miles from Corpus Christi. She has a sister, Brittany, who is studying for a PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University and did not respond to an email.

Reality began working for Pluribus in Augusta, Georgia, in February this year, according to court filings. She previously served in the US air force since January 2013 and held a top-secret security clearance.

Her mother said Reality had been a linguist for the air force. “She speaks the middle eastern languages – Farsi, Dari and Pashto,” said Winner-Davis, who laughed when asked if she had taught them to her daughter. “No, she did it all on her own,” she said.

Winner-Davis said that her daughter had joined the military soon after graduating from H M King high school. As well as being bright academically, she excelled in tennis and athletics. “But she had gotten a little tired of school,” said her mother, and decided against continuing with college.

Winner appeared to be enjoying Augusta, posting photographs to Instagram of good meals she had eaten and videos of herself happily working out. She recently took a trip to Belize. Then her spell in Georgia was abruptly cut short over the weekend.

On Monday evening, her mother struggled to say whether her daughter’s alleged leak would constitute an act of bravery or a painful mistake. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” Winner-Davis said. “I don’t know what the hacking thing all means. Has it made a difference in the election? Who knows.”

Her family knows little except that they are bewildered and concerned about the possible 10-year prison sentence that Winner could receive if convicted. “She’s a beautiful girl,” said her mother. “Everyone who meets her loves her, and she’s kind.”

Elon Musk to Trump: You quit Paris, so I quit you

Elon Musk to Trump: You quit Paris, so I quit you
  • Jun 2, 2017
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“Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” Musk said Thursday on Twitter, shortly after the US president announced from the Rose Garden that he would begin the process of leaving the accord, according to CNN.

Musk had vowed to step down from the advisory councils he sits on if the president pulled out of the pact.

“I’ve done all I can to advise directly to POTUS, through others in WH & via councils, that we remain,” he said Wednesday on Twitter.

Musk was one of 18 business leaders serving on Trump’s chief business advisory council, known as the Strategic and Policy Forum. He was also an adviser on the president’s manufacturing jobs initiative, and has met with Trump to talk about infrastructure spending.

Disney CEO Bob Iger also announced Thursday that he’s resigning from the Strategic and Policy Forum — bumping the number of high-profile CEO departures up to two.

“As a matter of principle, I’ve resigned from the President’s Council over the #ParisAgreement withdrawal,” Iger said on Twitter.

Related: Bob Iger quits Trump advisory team as ‘matter of principle’

Musk, in particular, has been under fire from the start for his willingness to engage with the Trump administration.

In April, a startup investor shelled out $400,000 to run ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post urging Musk to “dump Trump.” It was part of a $1 million bid to persuade the billionaire CEO that he shouldn’t work with Trump, given their sharp ideological differences, especially on climate change.

Until now, Musk had said he thought it was prudent to put his differences with Trump aside so he could have a seat at the table. This isn’t the first time Musk has publicly opposed the Trump administration.

Musk adamantly disagreed with Trump’s decision to sign an executive order in January that temporarily banned travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Despite his concerns, Musk decided to remain on the president’s business councils — even as Uber CEO Travis Kalanick departed amid public pressure.

“Advisory councils simply provide advice, and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the Administration,” Musk said in a statement, posted on Twitter at the time.

Musk’s decision to leave is a bold move from a man who has a lot of skin in the game.

SpaceX has scored a number of lucrative government contracts in recent years. The company is currently fulfilling a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to send supplies to the International Space Station. It also has an $82.7 million contract to send a U.S. Air Force satellite into space in 2018. Last month, it launched a spy satellite for a U.S. intelligence agency.

In fact, SpaceX has an ISS resupply mission scheduled for later this week.

But transitioning the world sustainable energy is the crux of Tesla’s business — and Musk’s personal brand.

When Tesla (TSLA) starting accepting deposits for its Solar Roof in May, Musk reiterated his belief that the world is moving toward that widespread use of green power.

“That’s the vision for the future we think is the only sensible vision for the future — and the one we’re building toward,” he said.

Trump dismays, angers allies by abandoning global climate pact

Trump dismays, angers allies by abandoning global climate pact
  • Jun 2, 2017
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Trump, tapping into the “America First” message he used when he was elected president last year, said the Paris accord would undermine the U.S. economy, cost U.S. jobs, weaken American national sovereignty and put the country at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world, according to Reuters.

“We’re getting out,” Trump said at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden under sunny skies on a warm June day, fulfilling a major election campaign pledge.

“We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us any more. And they won’t be,” Trump said.

“The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and in many cases lax contributions to our critical military alliance,” Trump added.

Republican U.S. congressional leaders backed Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell applauded Trump “for dealing yet another significant blow to the Obama administration’s assault on domestic energy production and jobs.”

Supporters of the accord, including some leading U.S. business figures, called Trump’s move a blow to international efforts to tackle dangers for the planet posed by global warming.

Former Democratic President Barack Obama expressed regret over the pullout from a deal he was instrumental in brokering.

“But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got,” Obama added.

Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, said his administration would begin negotiations either to re-enter the Paris accord or to have a new agreement “on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.” He complained in particular about China’s terms under the agreement.

International leaders reacted with disappointment, even anger.

“The decision made by U.S. President Trump amounts to turning their backs on the wisdom of humanity. I’m very disappointed… I am angry,” Japanese Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto told a news conference on Friday in an unusually frank tone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a rare joint statement the agreement could not be renegotiated and urged their allies to hasten efforts to combat climate change and adapt.

“While the U.S. decision is disheartening, we remain inspired by the growing momentum around the world to combat climate change and transition to clean growth economies,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A summit between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top European Union officials in Brussels on Friday will end with a joint statement – the first ever issued by China and the EU – committing both sides to full implementation of the Paris accord.

China’s state news agency Xinhua published a commentary that described Trump’s move as a “global setback.”

China overtook the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007.

Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

CNN fires Kathy Griffin

CNN fires Kathy Griffin
  • Jun 1, 2017
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CNN’s decision comes one day after photos were released of Griffin that showed the comedian holding up a bloody head resembling that of President Donald Trump.

“CNN has terminated our agreement with Kathy Griffin to appear on our New Year’s Eve program,” the network said in a statement.

Griffin has apologized for the photos, taken by provocative celebrity photographer Tyler Shields.

“I beg for your forgiveness. I went too far,” she said in a video posted to Instagram late Tuesday. “I made a mistake and I was wrong.”

Admitting the images were “too disturbing,” Griffin said she asked Shields to take down the photo.

Griffin has co-hosted CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve program alongside Anderson Cooper since 2007.

The rapport between Cooper and the unpredictable Griffin was a frequent point of discussion on social media during the countdown to the ball drop.

On Tuesday night, a CNN spokesperson called the photos “disgusting and offensive.”

Cooper said he was “appalled by the photo shoot.”

“It is clearly disgusting and completely inappropriate,” he wrote on Twitter.

Shields, who is known for his envelope-pushing images, released the photos on Tuesday morning and swiftly came under fire by people on social media.

Trump said in a Tweet on Wednesday that Griffin “should be ashamed of herself.”

“My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this,” he wrote. “Sick!”

The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, and First Lady Melania Trump also weighed in.

Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Trump’s one-time campaign rival Hillary Clinton, called the photo “vile and wrong.”

“It is never funny to joke about killing a president,” she wrote on Twitter.

In an initial statement, Griffin said she “did not condone ANY violence” by her fans or others.

“I’m merely mocking the Mocker in Chief,” she said in a Tweet of defense. It was later deleted.

Griffin, an outspoken critic of Trump, likely knew the images would draw some negative attention.

In a behind-the-scenes video posted by Shields that has since been removed, Griffin can be heard joking with Shields about moving to Mexico after the images were released.

“We’re not surviving this, okay?” she said in the footage.

In light of the images, Squatty Potty, a line of footstools for toilets, pulled from air a new ad campaign starring Griffin.

Additionally, Route 66 Casino Hotel in New Mexico announced on Facebook it had canceled a performance by Griffin scheduled for July at the resort.

Trump administration approves tougher visa vetting, including social media checks

Trump administration approves tougher visa vetting, including social media checks
  • Jun 1, 2017
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The new questions, part of an effort to tighten vetting of would-be visitors to the United States, was approved on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget despite criticism from a range of education officials and academic groups during a public comment period, according to Reuters.

Critics argued that the new questions would be overly burdensome, lead to long delays in processing and discourage international students and scientists from coming to the United States.

Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years’ worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.

Officials will request the additional information when they determine “that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting,” a State Department official said on Wednesday.

The State Department said earlier the tighter vetting would apply to visa applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.”

President Donald Trump has vowed to increase national security and border protections, proposing to give more money to the military and make Mexico pay to build a wall along the southern U.S. border.

He has tried to implement a temporary travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations that a U.S. appeals court refused to reinstate, calling it discriminatory and setting the stage for a showdown in the Supreme Court.

The Office of Management and Budget granted emergency approval for the new questions for six months, rather than the usual three years.

While the new questions are voluntary, the form says failure to provide the information may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application.

Immigration lawyers and advocates say the request for 15 years of detailed biographical information, as well as the expectation that applicants remember all their social media handles, is likely to catch applicants who make innocent mistakes or do not remember all the information requested.

The new questions grant “arbitrary power” to consular officials to determine who gets a visa with no effective check on their decisions, said Babak Yousefzadeh, a San Francisco-based attorney and president of the Iranian American Bar Association.

“The United States has one of the most stringent visa application processes in the world,” Yousefzadeh said. “The need for tightening the application process further is really unknown and unclear.”

United Airlines operated plane that wasn’t ‘airworthy’ 23 times, FAA says

United Airlines operated plane that wasn't 'airworthy' 23 times, FAA says
  • May 31, 2017
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According to the FAA, United mechanics replaced a Boeing 787’s fuel pump pressure gauge on June 9, 2014, but did not inspect the work until 19 days later, on June 28, 2014, according to ABC News.

During that time, the plane made 23 domestic and international passenger flights — including two that allegedly took place after the FAA notified United of the lapse, the agency alleges.

“We immediately took action after identifying the issue and are working closely with the FAA in their review,” United told ABC News, adding that safety is the airline’s “top priority.”

“Maintaining the highest levels of safety depends on operators closely following all applicable rules and regulations,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “Failing to do so can create unsafe conditions.”

Read also: United Airlines reaches settlement with passenger who was dragged off plane

CNN: Russians discussed potentially ‘derogatory’ information about Trump and associates during campaign

CNN: Russians discussed potentially 'derogatory' information about Trump and associates during campaign
  • May 30, 2017
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According to CNN, one source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump’s inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to US intelligence that Russians believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.”

But the sources, privy to the descriptions of the communications written by US intelligence, cautioned the Russian claims to one another “could have been exaggerated or even made up” as part of a disinformation campaign that the Russians did during the election.

The details of the communication shed new light on information US intelligence received about Russian claims of influence. The contents of the conversations made clear to US officials that Russia was considering ways to influence the election — even if their claims turned out to be false.

None of the sources would say which specific Trump aides were discussed. One of the officials said the intelligence report masked the American names but it was clear the conversations revolved around the Trump campaign team. Another source would not give more specifics, citing the classified nature of the information.

“The Russians could be overstating their belief to influence,” said one of the sources.

As CNN first reported, the US intercepted discussions of Russian officials bragging about cultivating relationships with Trump campaign aides during the campaign, including Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to influence Trump. Following CNN’s report, The New York Times said Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was also discussed.

A White House spokesman told CNN: “This is yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the President. The reality is, a review of the President’s income from the last ten years showed he had virtually no financial ties at all. There appears to be no limit to which the President’s political opponents will go to perpetuate this false narrative, including illegally leaking classified material. All this does is play into the hands of our adversaries and put our country at risk.”

The FBI declined to comment for this story. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Flynn did not return calls seeking comment.

Tiger Woods: Alcohol ‘not involved’ in arrest

Tiger Woods: Alcohol 'not involved' in arrest
  • May 30, 2017
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The player, who was charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), blamed “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medication”, according to the BBC.

“I understand the severity of what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said.

Police released a mugshot of Woods, looking unshaven and unkempt, following his arrest in the town of Jupiter.

“I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications,” he said.

“I didn’t realise the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”

He added: “I would like to apologise with all my heart to my family, friends and the fans. I expect more from myself too.”

Portland deaths: Two stabbed trying to stop anti-Muslim abuse

Portland deaths: Two stabbed trying to stop anti-Muslim abuse
  • May 28, 2017
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The abusive man turned on the two men and fatally stabbed them in the city of Portland, police said, according to the BBC.

The incident happened on a commuter train. Another passenger was wounded before the attacker was arrested.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged President Trump to speak out against increasing Islamophobia in the US.

It accused the president of exacerbating the trend with his statements and policies.

The attack took place at about 16:30 local time (00:30 GMT) on a train at Hollywood Transit Station, police said in a statement. One of the victims died at the scene, the other died in hospital.

Police have identified the suspect as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35. He has been charged with offences including aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.

“Suspect was on the train and he was yelling and ranting and raving a lot of different things, including what would be characterised as hate speech or biased language,” said Sgt Pete Simpson.

“In the midst of his ranting and raving, some people approached him, appeared to try to intervene with his behaviour. Some of the people that he was yelling at, they were attacked viciously by the suspect, resulting in the two deaths and one injury.”

Jeremy Joseph Christian was arrested shortly after he got off the train. The two women he was abusing – one of whom was said by eyewitnesses to have been wearing a headscarf – left the scene before police could speak to them.

However one of the girls’ parents later told the Oregonian newspaper that they were teenagers, one black and one Muslim.

Dyjuana Hudson said the attacker “was saying that Muslims should die. That they’ve been killing Christians for years”.

Reuters: Trump son-in-law had undisclosed contacts with Russian envoy

Reuters: Trump son-in-law had undisclosed contacts with Russian envoy
  • May 27, 2017
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Those contacts included two phone calls between April and November last year, two of the sources said to Reuters. By early this year, Kushner had become a focus of the FBI investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, said two other sources – one current and one former law enforcement official.

Kushner initially had come to the attention of FBI investigators last year as they began scrutinizing former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s connections with Russian officials, the two sources said.

While the FBI is investigating Kushner’s contacts with Russia, he is not currently a target of that investigation, the current law enforcement official said.

The new information about the two calls as well as other details uncovered by Reuters shed light on when and why Kushner first attracted FBI attention and show that his contacts with Russian envoy Sergei Kislyak were more extensive than the White House has acknowledged.

NBC News reported on Thursday that Kushner was under scrutiny by the FBI, in the first sign that the investigation, which began last July, has reached the president’s inner circle.

The FBI declined to comment, while the Russian embassy said it was policy not to comment on individual diplomatic contacts. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Kushner’s attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said Kushner did not remember any calls with Kislyak between April and November.

“Mr Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described. We have asked (Reuters) for the dates of such alleged calls so we may look into it and respond, but we have not received such information,” she said.

In March, the White House said that Kushner and Flynn had met Kislyak at Trump Tower in December to establish “a line of communication.” Kislyak also attended a Trump campaign speech in Washington in April 2016 that Kushner attended. The White House did not acknowledge any other contacts between Kushner and Russian officials.

BACK CHANNEL

Before the election, Kislyak’s undisclosed discussions with Kushner and Flynn focused on fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Russian economic relations, six of the sources said. Former President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia after it seized Crimea and started supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

After the Nov. 8 election, Kushner and Flynn also discussed with Kislyak the idea of creating a back channel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could have bypassed diplomats and intelligence agencies, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine how those discussions were conducted or exactly when they took place.

Reuters was first to report last week that a proposal for a back channel was discussed between Flynn and Kislyak as Trump prepared to take office. The Washington Post was first to report on Friday that Kushner participated in that conversation.

Separately, there were at least 18 undisclosed calls and emails between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked people in the seven months before the Nov. 8 presidential election, including six calls with Kislyak, sources told Reuters earlier this month. . Two people familiar with those 18 contacts said Flynn and Kushner were among the Trump associates who spoke to the ambassador by telephone. Reuters previously reported only Flynn’s involvement in those discussions.

Six of the sources said there were multiple contacts between Kushner and Kislyak but declined to give details beyond the two phone calls between April and November and the post-election conversation about setting up a back channel. It is also not clear whether Kushner engaged with Kislyak on his own or with other Trump aides.

HOW KUSHNER CAME UNDER SCRUTINY

FBI scrutiny of Kushner began when intelligence reports of Flynn’s contacts with Russians included mentions of U.S. citizens, whose names were redacted because of U.S. privacy laws. This prompted investigators to ask U.S. intelligence agencies to reveal the names of the Americans, the current U.S. law enforcement official said.

Kushner’s was one of the names that was revealed, the official said, prompting a closer look at the president’s son-in-law’s dealings with Kislyak and other Russians.

FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official.

The head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, Sergei Nikolaevich Gorkov, a trained intelligence officer whom Putin appointed, met Kushner at Trump Tower in December. The bank is under U.S. sanctions and was implicated in a 2015 espionage case in which one of its New York executives pleaded guilty to spying and was jailed.

The bank said in a statement in March that it had met with Kushner along with other representatives of U.S. banks and business as part of preparing a new corporate strategy.

Officials familiar with intelligence on contacts between the Russians and Trump advisers said that so far they have not seen evidence of any wrongdoing or collusion between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.  Moreover, they said, nothing found so far indicates that Trump authorized, or was even aware of, the contacts.

There may not have been anything improper about the contacts, the current law enforcement official stressed.

Kushner offered in March to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s election.

The contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign coincided with what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was a Kremlin effort through computer hacking, fake news and propaganda to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House and damage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.