Chinese naval ships came within 12 nautical miles of American soil

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Pentagon doesn’t plan to provide additional updates on the location of the ships

by Missy Ryan | The Washington Post | September 4, 2015

A group of Chinese naval vessels transited U.S. territorial waters near Alaska this week, a Pentagon official said on Friday, in an unusual maneuver that underscores the potential for increased U.S.-Chinese friction at sea.

A U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the Chinese naval movements, said the group of five Chinese vessels had passed within about 12 nautical miles of the Aleutian Islands following a joint Russian-Chinese military exercise.

The ships did not violate international law, which allows countries to transit other nations’ seas under what is called “innocent passage,” the official said. He likened China’s movement through U.S. waters off Alaska to the activities of U.S. ships in the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Iran.

The official said the flotilla, which included three surface combatant ships, one amphibious ship and a supply ship, now appeared to be heading back to China. “By all accounts and by all indications, they’re going home,” he said.

Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said the ships continued out to sea into the Pacific Ocean after transiting the Aleutian Island chain. The Defense Department does not plan to provide additional updates on the location of the ships, indicating that defense officials likely consider the issue resolved.

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The Chinese ships, whose foray into U.S. waters was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, were spotted as President Obama concluded a high-profile visit to Alaska.

“This is clearly a signal,” said David Titley, a retired real admiral who is a professor at Penn State University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Of what, Titley said, it’s difficult to say, but he suggested that China may be seeking to establish itself as a player in growing commercial activity in the Arctic.

He said the incident — and especially the lack of a dramatic U.S. response — could also have a softening effect on China’s position on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

As Chinese military spending grows, U.S. officials have criticized China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea and its attempt to strengthen territorial claims by building up islands. Titley said a shrug by American officials about this week’s activity in the Bering Sea may lead leaders in Beijing to ratchet down their own response to foreign presence off China.

“This is how mature super powers operate,” he said. “You don’t go to general quarters every time there’s a ship operating legally.”

Beijing announced plans this week to cut 300,000 soldiers from Chinese armed forces.

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

Clinton ‘jeopardized national security’ by using private email server – Snowden

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden said that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state jeopardized national security secrets. He said Clinton’s claims to the contrary “is completely ridiculous.”

Snowden’s remarks were taken from an interview with Al Jazeera English, excerpts of which were made available on Thursday, and were in response to a reminder that a year ago it was Clinton who accused Snowden of helping terrorists by leaking details of the NSA’s surveillance programs.

When the unclassified systems of the United States government, which has a full-time information security staff, regularly gets hacked, the idea that someone keeping a private server in the renovated bathroom of a server farm in Colorado is more secure is completely ridiculous,” Snowden told Mehdi Hasan in the debut episode of UpFront, a weekly talk show which will air on Friday.

Snowden said that anyone with the clearances of the secretary of state, or the director of any top level agency, knows how classified information should be handled.

Snowden was an NSA contractor when he blew the whistle on the agency’s programs conducting mass surveillance on Americans and foreigners alike, handing over an archive of documents to journalist Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian in Hong Kong.

Clinton has argued that the information in her emails was not classified at the time, and the State Department confirmed in an August 31 press conference that 125 email contained “confidential” information but were “not marked ‘classified’ at the time the emails were sent.”

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The FBI is investigating who at the State Department sent the information to Clinton’s private email account. The Justice Department has also begun an investigation into the use of a private email server for government communication.

If an ordinary worker at the state department or the Central Intelligence Agency […] were sending details about the security of embassies, which is alleged to be in her email, meetings with private government officials, foreign government officials and the statements that were made to them in confidence over unclassified email systems, they would not only lose their jobs and lose their clearance, they would very likely face prosecution for it,” Snowden added.

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Snowden spoke from Moscow, where he has been granted temporary asylum following the NSA exposures.

A federal criminal complaint was filed against Snowden in June 2013, charging him with three felony violations of the Espionage Act for turning over the government documents to journalists. Each count can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Snowden’s lawyers said the whistleblower wanted to return to the US and was working with a team of German and American lawyers to see if he could receive a fair trial and access to a “public interest defense.

‘Humans, not cattle’: Egyptian mogul wants to buy Mediterranean island to house refugees

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Shocked by the fate and treatment of refugees who risk crossing thousands of miles from war zones to reach the EU, an Egyptian billionaire has put forward an unusual offer: he wants to buy an Italian or Greek island to accommodate the migrants.

“Greece or Italy sell me an island, I’ll call its independence and host the migrants and provide jobs for them building their new country,” Egyptian television industry billionaire Naguib Sawiris proposed via Twitter.

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It is not just empty words: Sawis insists he is ready to make concrete proposals to Rome and Athens.

READ MORE: Bayern Munich to provide refugee children with food, German lessons, football equipment

“You have dozens of islands which are deserted and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees,” the billionaire told AFP, calling the idea “feasible.” But the man acknowledged potential legal challenges to his project which could include potential jurisdiction and customs regulation problems.

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By Sawis’ estimates an island could cost between $10 million and $100 million, but before the project turns into a blooming utopia, more investment will be required to build the correct infrastructure to care for those arriving.

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There would be “temporary shelters to house the people, then you start employing the people to build housing, schools, universities, hospitals,” the potential investor said. “And if things improve, whoever wants to go back (to their homeland) goes back.”

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Sawis criticized the conditions offered by Italy and Greece to refugees and migrants who have arrived on their shores, saying that on the new island refugees would be treated as “human beings.” The Egyptian businessman claimed that “the way they are being treated now, they are being treated like cattle.”

The billionaire’s proposal comes amid a wide public outcry over the latest deaths of refugees who took the risk of crossing the Mediterranean in order to reach the EU.

READ MORE: EU’s Mogherini ‘fed up’ with calls to act emotionally amid uproar over drowned refugee kids’ photos

Shocking photos of drowned children washed ashore in Turkey and Libya are circulating online and making headlines, causing a massive public outcry.

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However some people pointed out that it would make more sense to buy an island in Africa, arguing that it would also be cheaper to host people there. Others offered to set up the country-camp after purchasing a portion of the desert in Egypt instead.

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Since the beginning of the year, more than 350,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean, hoping to reach Europe after suffering conflicts and poverty in their countries of origin. At least 2,600 have died during their journeys, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Eastern European states’ leaders to hold emergency summit on spiking refugee influx

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The European Quartet countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – will discuss ways to tackle the unprecedented wave of people coming from the Middle East and North Africa to find sanctuary in Europe, at an emergency summit in Prague on Friday.

Follow RT’s LIVE UPDATES on EU refugee crisis

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told public radio on Friday that if the European Union does not protect its borders, tens of millions refugees may end up arriving in Europe.

“The reality is that Europe is threatened by a mass inflow of people, many tens of millions of people could come to Europe,” he said. “Now we talk about hundreds of thousands, but next year we will talk about millions and there is no end to this,” he said.

“All of a sudden we will see that we are in minority in our own continent,” he said, urging Europe “to show strength in protecting our borders.”

On Thursday, emotions ran high when Hungarian police allowed hundreds of refugees inside Budapest’s main railway station, but then the authorities canceled all trains to Western Europe, causing chaos. Police declared Bicske railway station an ‘operation zone’, ordering all media to leave.

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Officers earlier stopped the first train bound for the town of Sopron near the Austrian border, ordering refugees off at Bicske, where Hungary has a migrant reception center. The refugees reportedly banged on the train windows, shouting “No camp, no camp.”

Police detained asylum seekers who lay on the rail tracks in protest against being sent to the reception camp. Those who were told to get off the train, forced their way back on, Reuters reported.

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Viktor Orban has promised that by mid-September, Budapest should have a package of regulations in place, including a physical barrier, designed to tackle the growing number of refugees. He said Hungarians are “full of fear” because Europe is unable to “control the situation.” Following talks with the president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, Orban noted the current refugee crisis was not an EU problem, but actually “a German problem.”

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Europe’s refugee crisis has already been dubbed the worst since WWII, with a record number of 107,500 asylum seekers crossing the EU’s borders in July. Europe appeared to be totally unprepared to deal with record high numbers of refugees.

“Eastern European countries are homogenous and not cosmopolitan as Western countries, so they get scared when so many people of different race and religion are coming in. No one knows where all this is going to,” Tony Robinson, co-director of the Pressenza international press agency, told RT.

Robinson added that Orban and other leaders are driven by fear.

“No chance they will agree to binding quotas. People are dissatisfied and fearful as no one has a coherent response to the problem. People in Budapest are outraged by what they see. Europe has never seen such a larger influx of migrants. The ultimate root of the problem is that the EU and NATO have been largely involved in conflicts in the Mid-East. Until the politicians start to tackle this root cause the situation will only get worse. The migrant debate is one of the key points driving Europe apart,” he said.

It took European leaders years to realize that the growing influx of refugees, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, won’t be stopped until the fighting itself is ended.

While Angela Merkel has stated that it’s important to fight the ‘root causes’ of the problem, David Cameron insisted the best solution to the crisis was to bring peace and stability to the Middle East. “We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world. I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees,” he said this week during a visit to Northamptonshire.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged world leaders to engineer an end to the Syrian civil war.

“The situation in Syria is the cause of a large part of the problems we are currently having in Europe,” Rajoy told COPE radio. “Settling the situation in Syria is of capital importance.”

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With up to 60 million people displaced globally, it’s become common to see the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ being used interchangeably in media outlets. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the two terms meanwhile have “distinct and different meanings, and confusing them leads to problems for both populations.”

The agency defines refugees as “persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution.”  These are people for whom “denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.”

In contrast, migrants “choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons.”
Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said on Thursday that Europe should do its best to stop illegal migrants from entering. Warsaw is prepared to share the burden of giving shelter to refugees in real need.

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“All must be done to stop immigration at Europe’s borders. We have to defend ourselves against illegal, uncontrolled immigration,” Schetyna told public broadcaster TVP1.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is expecting to cater for up to 800,000 this year, said earlier this week that refugees should be “fairly” distributed across the EU according to the EU member states’ ability to receive them.

On Friday, the UN high commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres called on the European Union to admit up to 200,000 refugees as part of a mass relocation programme that would be binding on EU states.

“People who are found to have a valid protection claim [in this initial screening] must then benefit from a mass relocation program, with the mandatory participation of all EU member states.” he said in a statement.

“Europe cannot go on responding to this crisis with a piecemeal or incremental approach. No country can do it alone, and no country can refuse to do its part,” Guterres added.

A European source told AFP that next week European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will unveil a plan for the relocation of at least 120,000 more refugees.

On Thursday, France and Germany announced joint proposals “to organize the reception of refugees and a fair distribution in Europe” as well as “converging standards” to strengthen the European asylum system.