Al Qaeda Targeting U.S. Infrastructure for Digital 9/11

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Terrorists, nation states, criminal groups have capability of causing significant damage

BY: Bill Gertz
July 24, 2014 3:45 pm

ASPEN, Colo.—Al Qaeda, nation states, and criminals are preparing for major cyber attacks against U.S. infrastructure that could be comparable to the devastating September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, a senior Justice Department official said on Thursday.

“We’re in a pre-9/11 moment, in some respects, with cyber,” said John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security in the Justice Department.

Carlin also said during remarks at a security conference that China’s government dared the Obama administration to provide court-level evidence of Chinese military hacking against the United States.

The dare resulted in the May 1 indictment of five members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) hacking group known as Unit 63198, he said.

On cyber terrorist attacks, Carlin said: “It’s clear that the terrorists want to use cyber-enabled means to cause the maximum amount of destruction to our infrastructure.”

“It’s clear because they have said it,” he told the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering at the mountain resort town of senior, current, and former national security and military officials.

Carlin said al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri recently issued a videotape statement indicating the group is planning cyber attacks against U.S. infrastructure—such as the electrical grids or financial networks.

Terrorists, nation states Carlin did not specify, and sophisticated criminal groups “have the capability now to cause significant damage” through cyber attacks.

One example of the kind of damaging infrastructure attack that can be expected in the future was the recent cyber attack against Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company Aramco that destroyed some 30,000 computers used to control key elements of that country’s energy infrastructure.

The recent Justice Department takedown of a cyber crime group code-named Game Over Zeus is another example of the kind of cyber attacks that terrorists could conduct in the future.

In Game Over Zeus, cybercriminals used a botnet—a network of hundreds of thousands of hijacked computers—to steal U.S. corporate data and encrypt the information and then extort payments from the companies that owned the data to release it.

“And I think many of the people and the industries that are in in this room would pay because of the important information we keep and sometimes life-saving information if we think of medical records,” Carlin said, noting that the operation was conducted for profit.

“If a terrorist group gets that same type of access or capability, they’re not going to ask for money and they are not going to wait till they try to destroy the data,” Carlin said.

“So there’s a real urgency I think now and it is going to require private and public sector cooperation given how much of the infrastructure is in private hands.”

Carlin said it would be “a shame” if current debates over national security prevent dealing with the cyber threat to infrastructure “before we’re looking backward at what happened and how we got there.”

On Chinese military hacking, Carlin said the case of the five PLA hackers grew out of Chinese government appeals to prove U.S. charges of military hacking into American companies and other organizations.

Carlin said the Justice Department has begun to approach cyber attacks using methods similar to its efforts to counter terrorism and since the early 2000s the government has learned more about intrusive cyber penetrations in the United States.

“We’ve become much much better at observing what is currently going on in terms of the information that as we speak is being taken from hard working Americans who are looking to create and innovate, and it’s being stolen, day in and day out, and used by their competitors to the disadvantage of the American companies,” he said.

“From our perspective we have to apply the same type of approach that we did to terrorism to the national security cyber threat.”

That approach ultimately led to the indictment of the PLA hackers. China’s government denied its military was involved in the hacking and responded by accusing the United States of hacking Chinese companies.

“We heard directly from the Chinese who said, ‘If you have evidence, hard evidence that we’re committing this type of activity that you can prove in court, show us.’ So we did,” Carlin said.

The indictment revealed that PLA Unit 61398 hacking activity was “cutting across the span of different American businesses—nuclear to solar, to steel to labor,” Carlin said.

The indictment, however, is only a first step in what Carlin called a multi-pronged strategic approach that set up a “red line” for the Chinese that was designed to dissuade future attacks.

“We will continue to increase the cost of committing this type of activity on American soil where it is occurring, where they are taking the information, until it stops,” Carlin said. “And we need to maintain that commitment.”

ISLAMIC STATE (ISIS) IS “NOW A FULL BLOWN ARMY”

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When New Yorker editor David Remnick pointed out to Obama during a November interview that years after Osama bin Laden had been killed, “the flag of al-Qaida is now flying in Fallujah, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria” and “al-Qaida has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too,” the response he got was either delusional or deceitful.

The president retorted that “if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” (IBT)

Well, the JV team is now a full-blown army that has successfully conquered whole swaths of the Middle East. Today, Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state, said that The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “is al Qaeda… it may have changed its name, but it is al Qaeda. In fact, it is worse than al Qaeda,” at a House Foreign Affairs Committee. McGurk warned that after the jihad organization seized enormous financial and military assets in Iraq, ISIS is “no longer a terrorist organization. It is a full-blown army.”

This is Obama’s catastrophic failure — JV. He’s a JV president — benched.

The Hill: The testimony from senior officials sparked alarm and frustration on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers said more should have been done to counter ISIS sooner.

Over the weekend, Attorney General Eric Holder said the threat of ISIS fighters infiltrating the U.S. was “more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general.”

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told The Hill on Wednesday that the threat from ISIS had been “blinking red a long time.”

“Now it’s flashing more frequently and is a lot brighter,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of fighters who are from European countries that are visa waiver countries, which means all they have to do is shave their beards and look like normal, responsible civilians and walk into the United States of America without a visa.

“It’s a real challenge for our intelligence community to identify them and get their names on a watch list.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, officials laid out steps for countering ISIS, including pressuring countries in the region to close their borders to stop the spread of fighters and offering U.S. training for local Iraqi security forces and centrist Syrian groups.

But it is still unclear whether the administration is planning any military response. U.S. advisers on the ground in Iraq have yet to begin helping local units as the Pentagon reviews an initial intelligence assessment that found embedded American forces would be easy targets for extremists.

Lawmakers expressed concerns over the delays but also remained deeply divided about what military steps the U.S. should take.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the administration had ignored the threat for too long and had rejected Iraqi requests for drone strikes as early as August 2013.

“What it seems like is the administration is just paralyzed. They just don’t know what to do,” added Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran.

“I’m renewing the call to the administration for massive manned military air strikes to push back this very, very bad cancer that’s encroaching on the Middle East,” he said.

Other lawmakers though expressed caution and said any solution must include political reforms in Baghdad.

“I supported the president’s decision to send assessment teams to Iraq, but I’m cautious of our future action. We cannot end up in another sectarian quagmire in Iraq,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the committee’s ranking member.

Lawmakers cautioned against providing Iraq with more military help until a stable government was in place. Critics of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki say his Shiite-majority government has alienated Sunni and Kurdish minorities and emboldened ISIS. Several lawmakers called for him to step down.

“Maliki is not a good guy just because we installed him. Now we need a new prime minister,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said.

McGurk said the administration had not ignored the threat and had already offered military assistance to Iraq.

“We set up intelligence fusion sharing centers, we helped them with the Hellfire missiles precision strikes, we helped them in terms of training forces on the ground of special operations,” he said.

But he cautioned that the focus should be on supporting an Iraqi unity government, requiring political reforms initiated by Baghdad.

“This is a uniquely Iraqi process, with Iraqi political dynamics. And the outcome will reflect that process,” McGurk said.

“There will not be an exclusively military solution to the threat posed by ISIL,” Slotkin added. Iraqis must do the heavy lifting.”

- See more at: http://pamelageller.com/2014/07/islamic-state-isis-now-full-blown-army.html/#sthash.LU3Sdqrf.dpuf

MORE WESTERN FIGHTERS JOINING MILITANTS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA

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Fresh concern about potential terrorist plots aimed at U.S. or its allies

By BRIAN BENNETT, RICHARD A. SERRANO

As many as 10,000 foreign fighters have joined Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq
Militants in Syria, Iraq may include 3,000 with Western passports, perhaps 100 American
U.S. officials alarmed by Westerners’ growing role in Islamic insurgency
Thousands of foreign fighters have bolstered the ranks of militant groups in Syria and Iraq in recent months, according to U.S. officials, driving fresh concern about potential terrorist plots aimed at the United States or its allies.

The surge, as well as intelligence that Yemeni terrorists have developed a powerful cellphone bomb designed to avoid detection at airports, is behind the Obama administration’s increasingly urgent warnings that a European or American passport holder might try to take down a passenger jet or plan other deadly mayhem.

As many as 10,000 foreign fighters — a third more than in February — have joined the militias seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Islamic State fighters who have swept across northern Iraq, said a counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments.

Islamic State
A fighter with the Islamic State insurgent group hands out a copy of the Koran in Mosul, Iraq. The extremist group has proved to be highly organized. (Associated Press)
As many as 3,000 of them hold European or other Western passports and thus can travel easily across most borders. Several dozen, perhaps as many as 100, hold U.S. passports, and officials say that number is growing.

The potential partnership between some of those Westerners and sophisticated bomb makers from the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, long viewed as the terrorist network’s most dangerous offshoot, has raised alarm in Washington and other capitals.

“It’s something that gives us really extreme, extreme concern,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. told ABC News last week. “In some ways, it’s more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general.”

FBI Director James B. Comey told reporters in Washington that the threat “keeps me up at night.” He sees the region as a “launching ground” for potential Sept. 11-style mass-casualty attacks in this country.

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Two U.S. citizens have been arrested on terrorism-related charges since April before boarding flights to Turkey, suspected of being on their way to help the militants. One is said to have paid his way with his federal tax refund. In May, a Florida man became a suicide bomber in northern Syria.

“It’s the largest number of Western fighters we have ever seen in a jihadist theater,” said Seth G. Jones, a former U.S. counter-terrorism official now with the Rand Corp. think tank.

“The scale of this is huge,” said Daniel L. Byman, professor of security studies at Georgetown University in Washington.

Some of the Western militants are joining Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate that is focused on defeating the Assad government in Syria. Others have rallied to the Islamic State, which broke away from Al Qaeda and has seized territory in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Eric Holder
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said he was alarmed by the connection between Westerners and Islamic militant movements. “In some ways, it’s more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general,” he told ABC News. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
Although the rebels in Syria are struggling, the stunning battlefield success of the Islamic State fighters, and its calls for an Islamic caliphate, have energized recruiting efforts for all the militant groups. Several have used YouTube videos of battles and updates posted to Twitter in English to draw supporters to their ranks.

So far the Islamic State has focused only on capturing and consolidating territory in Syria and Iraq, but that could change. The Sunni Muslim group, recently known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is so innovative and is growing so quickly that one U.S. national security official called it the “Silicon Valley” of militant organizations.

“The concern is not what is happening today, but in four or five years,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments. “If they get their own state, take on new projects, turn from looking inward to outward … we want to get in front of it.”

cComments
Those in the Middle East are very seductive as is Islam and factor the matter is that they simply have more emotional intelligence and Westerners don't use logic to rely on emotion seduce young into a very radical system
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The Transportation Security Administration said early this month that it had asked some overseas airports to stiffen security measures, especially checking cellphones and other electronic devices to make sure they’re not concealing explosives.

Intelligence agencies also have stepped up screening of passenger manifests of flights in and out of Turkey, the main entry point to Syria, officials said. In many cases, would-be fighters take a bus to the border and walk across.

A special counter-terrorism task force of FBI agents and federal prosecutors is investigating dozens of Americans who have traveled or who officials believe intend to travel to Syria to aid the militants, officials said.

“We’re spending a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to identify those who go [to Syria] so we can know who they are when they come back,” Comey told reporters.

It’s the largest number of Western fighters we have ever seen in a jihadist theater.
- Seth G. Jones, a former U.S. counter-terrorism official
The task force leader, veteran prosecutor Stephen Ponticello, joined Holder in Europe this month for meetings with allies that focused on the threat. Holder urged them to share intelligence on suspects, to conduct more undercover investigations and to enact stronger laws criminalizing support for terrorist groups.

The expanding conflict has become “a cradle of violent extremism,” Holder said in a speech in Norway. “But the world cannot simply sit back and let it become a training ground from which our nationals can return and launch attacks.”

With French and British citizens forming the largest bloc of Western passport holders in Syria, authorities in London and Paris already have begun to crack down.

Between January and March, at least 40 people in Britain were arrested on charges related to supporting militant groups in Syria, officials said. The British Home Office, empowered by a law Parliament passed in May, has stripped at least 20 people of their citizenship for suspected terrorism support or disloyalty, British officials said.

France is considering giving authorities additional power to block militant websites that seek to recruit foreign fighters, and to strengthen the ability of police to stop French citizens from traveling abroad to fight.

Americans have joined the conflict in Syria since it began in 2011, and at least one was killed. But their role as foreign fighters was little noticed until this May, when a 22-year-old Florida man blew himself up in a truck packed with explosives in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen government soldiers.

Born in West Palm Beach, Moner Mohammad Abusalha had an American mother and a Palestinian father. Known as “Mo,” he liked to play basketball, was a fan of the Miami Heat and thought of a career as a physical therapist’s assistant.

Abusalha went to Jordan in 2012, telling his family he would study nursing. He instead crossed into Syria and spent two months in an Al Nusra Front training camp, U.S. officials said.

Some Arabic speakers refer to one another by the name of their oldest child, but Abusalha had no children. He loved cats, though, so fighters called him “Abu Hurayra,” which means father of kittens.

After his death, Al Nusra Front posted a propaganda video online that shows Abusalha stroking a gray and white cat and smiling. The video then cuts to a truck, with Abusalha apparently driving, approaching a building. Both are demolished moments later in plumes of fire and smoke.

The Americans arrested in recent months followed a similarly unlikely path.

Michael Wolfe
Michael Wolfe, a Houston native, planned to use his federal tax refund to join Islamic militants in Syria, U.S. prosecutors say. He pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. (Austin Police Department)
Michael Wolfe, a native of Houston, told undercover FBI employees he would use a $5,000 federal income tax refund to take his wife and two children to Turkey and that he would then join the fighting in Syria, according to court documents. He would give any leftover cash to his mother-in-law, he said.

Wolfe, who has slicked-back black hair and a long goatee, was arrested in June by FBI agents at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston as he prepared to board the first in a series of flights to Turkey.

Wolfe pleaded guilty in June to one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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Two months earlier, Shannon Maureen Conley, a 19-year-old nurse’s aide from Arvada, Colo., was arrested at Denver International Airport as she prepared to fly to Adana, Turkey, less than 100 miles from the Syrian border.

Once she got to Syria, according to the charging documents, Conley planned to marry a 32-year-old Tunisian militant whom she had met on the Internet. She planned to use her medical training to help his cause.

Her plans were disrupted after a Faith Bible Chapel pastor in Arvada told local police in November that a young woman was acting suspiciously. Colorado state police called the FBI after Conley told an officer she intended to go overseas to wage jihad, according to the criminal complaint.

Conley told the FBI that she would engage in combat “if absolutely necessary” and that she had briefly joined the U.S. Army Explorers, a nonprofit youth program, to learn basic military skills. FBI agents and Conley’s parents could not persuade her to change her mind, the documents state.

cComments
Those in the Middle East are very seductive as is Islam and factor the matter is that they simply have more emotional intelligence and Westerners don't use logic to rely on emotion seduce young into a very radical system
HARVARD.DISPUTE
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She was arrested at the airport on April 8. FBI agents who searched her luggage found DVDs labeled “Anwar al-Awlaki,” the name of the American-born cleric and leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Recordings of Awlaki’s English-language speeches are seen as powerful recruiting tools for Al Qaeda.

She pleaded not guilty on April 22 to a single count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

ISLAMIC STATE KILLED 270 IN SYRIAN GAS FIELD BATTLE

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Islamic State has made rapid gains in Syria

(Reuters) – Militant group Islamic State killed 270 soldiers, guards and staff when they captured a Syrian gas field on Thursday in the bloodiest clash yet between the al Qaeda offshoot and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a monitoring group said on Saturday.

The anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday that 90 people had been killed and that many were missing after the attack against the Sha’ar gas field east of Homs in central Syria.

But on Saturday, the Observatory, which monitors violence in Syria through a network of sources in the country on both sides, quoted “trusted sources” as saying that the Islamic State had “killed and executed” 270 people during the assault. It said at least 40 Islamic State fighters were killed in the offensive.

Islamic State has made rapid gains in Syria, mostly by seizing territory from rival rebel groups, using weaponry brought in from Iraq where last month it managed to take large areas from government forces.

It was not immediately possible to verify the Observatory’s report. Syrian state media made no mention of the attack.

About 30 people had managed to escape to the nearby Hajjar field, the Observatory report added.

Activists say the Syrian air force has in recent weeks stepped up attacks on positions held by Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

Islamic State fighters have previously taken control of oilfields in Iraq as well as in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zor province. The group was once the Iraqi affiliate of al Qaeda, but al Qaeda disowned it in February after tensions mounted over its expansion into Syria.

Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” in the areas where it operates in Iraq and Syria. There the group has imposed Islamic law, carrying out harsh penalties including several executions.

In Raqqa in eastern Syria, two women were stoned to death for adultery, the Observatory said. One was killed on Friday and one on Saturday, according to the report, which could not immediately be corroborated.

More than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which started as a peaceful protest movement in 2011 but descended into a multifaceted civil war after a government crackdown.

Obama Is Trying To Hide It, But This Is What Could Truly Bring America To Her Knees…

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L. TODD WOOD — JULY 18, 2014

With all of the news coming out of Ukraine regarding the underlying civil war and the downing of a Malaysian airliner that killed 295 people, you could be forgiven for forgetting that a new terrorist state is being set-up in the Middle East.

This development is extremely ominous for the national security of the United States. The fact that our Dear Leader is treating this as just another routine geopolitical issue is a blatant disregard for our safety. We may have issues with Russia’s behavior, but at the end of the day, Russia does not want to kill us. The leaders of the Islamic State do. They make Al Qaeda look like junior varsity.

The fact that we are not doing everything in our power to prevent this state from being established is a dereliction of duty from this administration. It makes you wonder: what is their agenda?

As shown by the events of 9/11, the American economy is vulnerable to external shocks by destroying critical infrastructure. Be sure that this observation was not lost on our terrorist enemies, or our conventional ones either for that matter. Our financial system is at risk.

Recently there was a terrorist attack on part of our electrical grid in-country. The attack was not prevented or stopped and there has been nothing done to increase security at this critical economic node for America. Our water supply is vulnerable. Our food supply is vulnerable. We are a free society and can be severely hurt by a dirty bomb or other type of terrorist device being detonated in our cities. America could be changed forever. This is the threat ISIS poses to our homeland. And this administration is doing nothing about it.

Israel is fighting for its life against Hamas, a group that has vowed to destroy Israel. America is chastising Israel for civilian deaths while they try and prevent rockets raining down on its civilian population.

Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States. Yet we continue to send them billions in aid. Why is that? What is the agenda of this administration?

Iran continues to march towards the development of a nuclear weapons capability. The United States continues to negotiate. How long again have we been negotiating? Israel will at some point have to militarily confront Iran. Again, what is the Obama administration’s agenda concerning Iran?

As John Stuart Mills so famously said, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
We are not facing the real threat to our country and our way of life. Islamic jihad is the main problem this country faces and this administration has taken its eye off the ball. A major terrorist attack will affect your physical safety as well as that of your family, and it will severely hurt your portfolio and/or business.

I hope we get a new administration in place in time to deal with the issue.

Read more at http://www.westernjournalism.com/real-issue-terrorism/#tAJDytrQw6bKXJKY.99

Suspect in Benghazi attack killed under mysterious circumstances | Special Operations Speaks PAC

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2014-07-15 Source: Hot Air by: Ed Morrissey

Faraj al-Shibli did not lack for enemies, it would appear. The Libyan government held him for a time after the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, at least long enough for the FBI to interrogate him. Two days ago, another militia grabbed him in the former Cyrenaica capital of Marj, a town just off the Mediterranean, 96 kilometers from Benghazi. Yesterday, locals found his body:

Faraj al-Shibli, who was suspected of involvement in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, has been found dead, a Libyan source and locals in the town of Marj said.

Al-Shibli, whose name is also spelled Chalabi, was last seen being detained by a local militia in Marj two days ago, a Libyan source said.

It is unclear what happened to al-Shibli since then, but his body was found Monday in the eastern Libyan town of Marj.

Locals in Marj also confirmed that al-Shibli’s body was found Monday.

Shibli didn’t lack for friends, either. CNN reports that investigators have discovered links between Shibli and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates out of Yemen. That’s a different organization than al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has operated in North Africa for years, and which became one of the biggest winners from the US-NATO war against Moammar Qaddafi. The removal of Qaddafi left a huge vacuum for the Islamist terror networks, which took advantage of the failed Libyan state to recruit, mobilize, and attack. The link to AQAP undercuts the narrative that the Benghazi attack was just a target of convenience for local networks, if Shibli was part of it.

But there’s more, according to the initial CNN report. Shibli also had friends in Pakistan and the al-Qaeda network there. That’s the so-called “core” al-Qaeda, the group behind the 9/11 attacks as well as attacks on the USS Cole, the Khobar Towers bombing, and the bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. If those contacts have been established and if they existed prior to Benghazi, then that puts an even more interesting twist on the fact that the Benghazi consulate got sacked on the anniversary of the original 9/11 attacks. Read more at Hot Air – See more at: https://specialoperationsspeaks.com/news/suspect-in-benghazi-attack-killed-under-mysterious-circumstances#sthash.ReDL5B3x.dpuf

BERGDAHL COULD GET $350G TAX-FREE, IF CLEARED BY ARMY

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Army officials could reward Bergdahl if they determine he did not desert his post

By Dominic Di-NatalePublished July 14, 2014

FILE – In this file image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. A senior defense official says Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who spent nearly five years as a Taliban captive in Afghanistan, has been returned to regular Army duty. As of Monday he is assigned to U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas. That is the same location where he has been decompressing from the effects of his lengthy captivity. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video, File)The Associated Press
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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could have a tax-free $350,000 dropped into his bank account if the current investigation into his disappearance from his base in Afghanistan was not desertion, and if he is deemed to have been a prisoner of war for the five years he was held by Islamic militants, Fox News has learned.

The 28-year-old soldier, for whom the U.S. traded five senior Taliban operatives held at Guantanamo Bay, was set to return to active duty Monday after spending six weeks in medical rehab at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio.

“Essentially he’ll be working a desk job,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon Monday.

“They’re pulling his clearance so I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do.”
- Army official speaking under condition of anonymity
Bergdahl is due approximately $200,000 in back pay for the time he was in Taliban hands. He would be eligible for another $150,000 if an ongoing probe determines he was a prisoner of war. Both sums could be tax free for Bergdahl, who was promoted from private first class to sergeant during the time he was held.

Bergdahl was moved to the U.S. Army North command on Saturday, shifting from the U.S. Army South command, which had overseen his arrival in the U.S. and reintegration. Under Army North, he will return to work and live in standard military barracks. He is being assigned to the protocol office, which assists soldiers in military procedures and etiquette.

“That’s the worst place to put him. They’re pulling his clearance so I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do,” said one Army official, speaking on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly discuss the sergeant’s case.

Bergdahl is now able to leave the base and is escorted by his care team when he does. He recently visited a shopping mall to buy items for his computer and the group was seen at a local restaurant, say people with knowledge of his movements.

Bergdahl still has not spoken to his parents, although he has sent two letters to them at their home in Idaho. Robert and Jani Bergdahl have yet to visit him in Texas, and there are reports of a rift in the family.

A close long-time friend, identified as Kim Harrison, is currently staying in San Antonio and the two meet frequently, say officials.

Under tax rules for military pay, enlisted personnel can exclude active-duty pay earned while serving in a combat zone. And, according to the Department of Defense’s financial management regulation, payments to former captives generally are not taxable if the captive status resulted from the deprivation of personal rights, such as terrorist activity.

Bergdahl’s status as a POW can only be determined by the Secretary of the Army after the completion of the investigation into why he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. The Pentagon said Monday that the investigation is still continuin, but gave no further details.

According to military officials familiar with his rehabilitation program, Bergdahl now has a lawyer to represent him.

“He appears unconcerned about the Army’s investigation,” said one official. “The investigation has to get moving, as he’s out of the Army soon. He lawyered up so we had to scale back the de-briefing.”

Bergdahl has yet to be questioned about why he abandoned his post. It is unclear when his military service is due to end.

Several soldiers who served with Bergdahl have come forward to say they believe he intentionally deserted his post, and put his fellow soldiers at risk when they went to look for him.

“I think it’s very clear he deserted his post,” former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow told FoxNews.com last week. “He thought about what he was doing, he mailed some things home, he walked away and we have witnesses who saw him walking away. And if you’re walking away in one of the worst, most dangerous areas of Afghanistan without your weapon and gear, I don’t believe you’re planning on coming back.”

Former Army Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s unit, also told FoxNews.com Bergdahl deserted his unit. He believes the Idaho native should be charged with desertion, not showered with back pay.

“The most important factor isn’t necessarily why he did it or what made him do it,” Vierkant said. “The most important factor is that he did do it — for whatever reason. That’s enough in my mind to do a court-martial, bring him up under several different charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

​1,000-strong Syrian rebel brigade defects to Islamic State

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An entire 1,000-strong rebel brigade based in Syria’s Idlib province has reportedly defected to the Islamic State group, raising new questions as to whether other factions will rally behind the militant force that has swept through Iraq’s west.

The Dawud Brigade, which was based in Sarmin and fell under the umbrella of the anti-government Sham Army, arrived in the northeastern city of Raqqa last weekend, the main headquarters for the Islamic State (IS) – previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

The rebel group arrived in a convoy of over 100 vehicles, including 10 tanks seized from Syrian government forces, McClatchy reported quoting anti-government activists as saying on Tuesday. Syrian journalist Ammar Abu Shahin said that an increasingly complex relationship between anti-government rebel groups prompted Dawun Brigade’s leader, Hassan Abboud, to head to Raqqa.

“Frankly speaking, people in the countryside of Idlib are in a real panic about the advancement of the Islamic State,” said Shahin.

According to the journalist, who is familiar with the dynamics between pro-Western Syrian rebels and more radical Islamist elements, the decision by the brigade to formally align itself with the Islamic State was “only a change in uniform,” suggesting that groups already sympathetic could well identify themselves and also head for its Raqqa headquarters.

Meanwhile there have been reports on Monday that several rebel factions affiliated with the FSA have pledged allegiance to the IS in the border town of al-Bukamal in eastern Syria. Sources and eyewitnesses told Zaman Alwasl newspaper that brigades of Ahl Al Athar, Ibin al-Qa’im, and Aisha have joined the IS.

AFP Photo / Javier ManzanoAFP Photo / Javier Manzano

The reports of the defections come as the Obama administration ratchets up efforts to arm the Free Syrian Army. Last month the White House asked Congress for half-a-billion dollars in aid to go towards the opposition fighters.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the Pentagon to develop more detailed plans to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, should Congress approve the requested funding.

Having already declared a “caliphate,” IS is said to be planning to fuse its controlled territories in Syria with those it has claimed in Iraq, eliminating the border and securing oil and gas interests in the process. The group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has called on Muslims throughout the world to travel and join the Islamic caliphate.

Despite territorial gains in Syria, IS does not appear to have gained much support from Syrian citizens – just four percent of those recently polled believe the Islamic insurgents represent their interests.

The situation in Iraq, however, may be decisively different. There, the group has preyed upon the sectarian rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the country, and has been joined by seasoned members of the former Baath ruling party.

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ISIS Seizures Of Iraqi Uranium Threatens The West

Joseph R. Carducci, July 10, 2014

We have been regularly reporting on the activities of the new Islamic state, or ISIS. Now, they have reportedly seized a large amount of weapons grade uranium during one of their recent captures of an Iraqi city.

According to Reuters, these insurgents have captured this uranium from Mosul University. This material was supposedly used for scientific research, although many have suggested this was a part of former leader Saddam Hussein’s attempt to develop nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi sources say these could indeed be smuggled out of the country and then used in terrorist attacks on western targets.

By the way, this newest coup comes only days after the group had captured a chemical weapons facility. This contained a large amount of degraded chemical rockets and other ‘dirty’ material. Although this would be extremely dangerous to even handle, they could be used to formulate some types of chemical weapons that could be very destructive. Of course, militants are not adverse to risking their own lives, or those of their followers, in an attempt to create something like this which could then be unleashed on desired targets.

“Nearly 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at Mosul University, Iraq’s UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the July 8 letter obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

‘Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state,’ Alhakim wrote, adding that such materials ‘can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.’”

Although US officials were quick to downplay these events, there is a clear pattern developing. ISIS is certainly targeting areas they know to be full of old Hussein chemical weapons plants and stockpiles or current government sources of materials that could be used to build chemical weapons of mass destruction.

The real question is not whether ISIS is looking to do such a thing. The real question is which will be the first western target hit, once they actually obtain weapons of mass destruction. This is one of ISIS’s most paramount goals. Even American intelligence officials have been publicly warning about this. They say the group is determined to attack western targets. This is something that should make all of us sit up and take notice of, especially since there are other reports indicating the US and NATO actually helped to finance and train ISIS militants.

So, what do YOU think? Is the threat posed by ISIS growing? Should the US intervene in the situation? If so, how and under what conditions and rules of engagement? Do we need to take these warnings from our intelligence community seriously?