JUNE 24, 2017
An Israeli defense contractor has successfully test-fired a missile with a 400-kilometer range that can fit into a standard shipping container.
Launched from a ship, it joins the trend of weaponizing civilian freighters.
The missile that was fired on Tuesday, dubbed LORA or Long-Range Artillery weapon system, is produced by state-owned defense giant Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). According to company specifications, the solid-propellant ground-to-ground 1,600-kilogram projectile has a range of 400 kilometers and can be fired at a target in just 10 minutes.
First revealed in 2006, the missiles were originally designed to be secretly deployed. To protect them from detection, the missiles are stored in dedicated sealed canisters that can fit inside a standard shipping container and have a shelf life of seven years without maintenance.
From the start, IAI saw LORA as both land-based and ship-based system. This week, a missile fired from a ground launcher placed on a freighter vessel out at sea successfully hit its intended target on land.
“This was one of the most complex trials we held over the past few years and a technological breakthrough for IAI’s missile development operations,” said Executive Vice President Boaz Levi, according to an IAI statement.
“The trial was held according to a full operational outline, including an assessment of the system’s maneuvering, assault, and precision capabilities. The impressive results attest to the system’s maturity and advanced capabilities,” he said.
In theory, a complete containerized version of LORA would not need a dedicated launcher system. Rather a standard container would house four missiles and everything needed to fire them. A command and fire control section inside another container would be enough to serve up to four launchers.
The new technology could potentially turn any civilian freighter ship into a naval missile platform, a consideration that raises concerns about potential sneak attacks. Standardization would also make deploying such missiles on dedicated warships more flexible.
Russia has a similar system, a version of its Kalibr cruise missiles called Club-K, which was unveiled in 2011. Artist concepts show the Russian Navy’s upcoming Arctic patrol boat with two containerized Kalibr launchers on its stern.
CNN has retracted a story claiming that an adviser to the Trump campaign is under Senate investigation for meeting with the head of a Russian state-backed investment fund at the Davos economic forum.
The now-deleted report cited an anonymous congressional source as saying that the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating ties between several figures in the Trump camp, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and financier Anthony Scaramucci, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a Russian sovereign fund that manages direct foreign investments into the Russian economy.
Scaramucci, who was part of Trump’s transition team, met with Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the RDIF, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. According to CNN, congressional investigators wanted to know if they had discussed lifting US sanctions against Russia. A spokesperson for the Russian fund said they hadn’t, while Scaramucci told CNN that there was “nothing there.”
The report implied that RDIF had been flagged by US investigators for its ties to Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned bank that ran the fund until June of 2016, when RDIF was restructured as an independent entity by the Russian government.
The news channel redacted the Thursday story on Friday, saying that it “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards” and apologized to Scaramucci.
Breitbart News, a pro-Trump news outlet, claimed credit for making CNN withdraw the story, which it described as a “conspiracy theory hit piece.” Earlier, it had cited its own sources as saying that no investigation into the meeting was underway because it had already been looked at and deemed to be appropriate.
Thousands of demonstrators formed a human chain around the American embassy in the South Korean capital, Seoul, to register their disapproval of the US-built THAAD missile defense system in their country.
According to organizers, 3,000 people attended a march through the center of Seoul, holding signs that read ‘Koreans hate THAAD’ and ‘Yes to peace talks,’ as well as banners directed at US President Donald Trump.
“The deployment of THAAD, which is unnecessary for the defense of the Korean Peninsula, should be pulled back,” said one of the speakers at the rally, quoted by local news outlet Yonhap. “The South Korea-US summit to come next week should be a venue where the review of the THAAD deployment should be assured.”
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Trump are due to meet for the first time in Washington next week, with THAAD expected to dominate the agenda.
Moon, a center-left politician, who was sworn in last month after a corruption scandal brought down the previous right-wing administration, has been a fierce critic of the way in which the sophisticated defense system has been deployed and has ordered a full investigation.
On Thursday, Moon told Reuters that according to the “original agreement,” only one missile battery, consisting of six missile launchers, was due to be deployed in 2017, with five others due to be imported and brought online thereafter.
Instead, two were brought online a week before last month’s election, and four were “covertly” brought into the country as the previous government realized that they were facing defeat, with the public not told until they were already in the country.
“For some reason that I do not know, this entire THAAD process was accelerated,” said Moon.
Washington said that all steps were agreed with the government and comply with NATO guidelines.
“The US trusts the South Korean official stance that the THAAD deployment was an Alliance decision. We have worked closely and have been fully transparent with the South Korean government throughout this process,” United States Forces Korea wrote to the Korea Herald on Friday, when asked to respond to Moon’s comments.
Trump has been angered by Moon’s insinuations of impropriety and the purported ingratitude of South Koreans, who would be receiving a state-of-the-art defense system against North Korea’s recently bolstered missile-launching capacities, and has charged that Seoul owes Washington $1 billion in THAAD expenses.
Moon’s office has been attempting to limit the stand-off between allies following the Reuters interview, saying his government is not fundamentally opposed to THAAD, but is merely trying to follow procedures.
“The president’s remark came as a part of his effort to explain that the South Korean government is not trying to postpone the deployment of THAAD. It was aimed to highlight the government’s effort to follow the legitimate process for the deployment,” it said in a statement.
The THAAD issue has become a nexus of several agendas and developments, meaning that backing down now will likely result in a loss of credibility for at least some of the involved actors.
North Korea’s frequent missile tests this year have demanded a response, but Moon has advocated charting a more diplomatic course with Pyongyang, and also wants a clean break with the messy practices of the previous government.
Trump has called for the total isolation of North Korea and has also threatened force. Trump further believes that NATO allies are not making sufficient contributions.
Pyongyang’s patron, China, has also condemned THAAD while engaging in a costly unofficial trade war with South Korea over its decision to install the missile defense system.
Senate Judiciary Committee looks into Lynch influence over FBI investigation
JUNE 23, 2017
The Senate Judiciary Committee has opened a probe into former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s efforts to shape the FBI’s investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the committee’s chairman announced Friday.
In a letter to Ms. Lynch, the committee asks her to detail the depths of her involvement in the FBI’s investigation, including whether she ever assured Clinton confidantes that the probe wouldn’t “push too deeply into the matter.”
Fired FBI Director James B. Comey has said publicly that Ms. Lynch tried to shape the way he talked about the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails, and he also hinted at other behavior “which I cannot talk about yet” that made him worried about Ms. Lynch’s ability to make impartial decisions.
Mr. Comey said that was one reason why he took it upon himself to buck Justice Department tradition and reveal his findings about Mrs. Clinton last year.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, chairman of the committee, said the investigation is bipartisan. The letter to Ms. Lynch is signed by ranking Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and also by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse, the chairman and ranking member of the key investigative subcommittee.
Letters also went to Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria and Leonard Benardo and Gail Scovell at the Open Society Foundations. Mr. Benardo was reportedly on an email chain from the then-head of the Democratic National Committee suggesting Ms. Lynch had given assurances to Ms. Renteria, the campaign staffer, that the Clinton probe wouldn’t “go too far.”
At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Mr. Comey told lawmakers that Ms. Lynch had attempted to change the way the FBI described its probe of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server. The change appeared to dovetail with how Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were characterizing the probe.
“At one point, [Ms. Lynch] directed me not to call it an ‘investigation’ but instead to call it a ‘matter,’ which confused me and concerned me,” Mr. Comey said during his June 8 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude I have to step away from the department if we are to close this case credibly.”
Acknowledging that he didn’t know whether it was intentional, Mr. Comey said Ms. Lynch’s request “gave the impression the attorney general was looking to align the way we talked about our investigation with the way a political campaign was describing the same activity.”
Mr. Comey said the language suggested by Ms. Lynch was troublesome because it closely mirrored what the Clinton campaign was using. Despite his discomfort, Mr. Comey said, he agreed to Ms. Lynch’s language.
• Andrea Noble contributed to this story.
A member of the so-called White Helmets which has been hailed by the western media as ‘peace-bearing heroes’ has been caught on camera helping a group of unidentified militants disposing the bodies of beheaded Syrian Army soldiers.
Graphic footage posted on Twitter on June 20 shows a man wearing a T-shirt with the White Helmets logo dumping a pile of bodies, allegedly being that of Syrian Army soldiers or pro-government fighters.
The gut-wrenching footage shows that many bodies in the pile are beheaded and one militant even shows a severed head of a soldier up close on camera.
“Impartial and humanitarian White Helmets [are] participating in the beheading and throwing of Syrian soldiers bodies at a dumpster in Daraa,” a caption under the video posted on Twitter reads.
Daraa is a southern Syrian province bordering Jordan where several rebel factions as well as Al-Nusra terrorist group and its affiliates are operating.
It remains unclear which militant group was shown in the video disposing of the bodies.
Following the incident, the White Helmets, officially known as the Syria Civil Defense, were quick to release a statement, in which the group’s management condemned the man shown in the video and said they fired him for violating their code of conduct.
The group acknowledged that the filmed man was indeed the member of the White Helmets but said he was “acting independently and not in his capacity as a member of SCD.”
“On 20 June 2017, a volunteer of SCD in Daraa Governorate was witnessed participating in an activity that violated the organizational principles and vision of SCD,” the statement said, adding, that the behavior of the man in question, whose name was not revealed, “constitutes a gross breach of SCD’s Code of Conduct.”
“As a result, the volunteer has been dismissed,” the statement says.
It is not the first time that the White Helmets has been caught in scandals involving their members participating in various atrocities.
In one such incident in May, footage emerged showing several members of the group’s rescue team helping to get rid of a body of a man shot dead by rebels in the town of Jasim, also in Daraa province.
The man was shot during a summary execution carried out by the rebels in front of a large crowd and recorded on camera. The video then shows volunteers from the White Helmets moving in to dispose of the body, Almasdar news website reported at that time.
In May, the White Helmets also quickly released a statement stating that the group’s volunteers “were seen to act improperly and not in accordance with the voluntary Code of Conduct for Syria Civil Defense (SCD) members.”
At that time, the issue appeared to be the fact that the group’s local team leader failed to seek “permission from his superiors before agreeing to the request” to dispose of the body. He was later dismissed.
The White Helmets have long been hailed by the mainstream western media as heroes who save lives. A Netflix documentary film praising the group as “unarmed and neutral civilian volunteers” even won an Oscar for best documentary short feature in February.
The unit has also received praise from Amnesty International, describing it as “a group of neutral, unarmed volunteers.”
However, the group has long been plagued by allegations of having ties with terrorist groups. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in April that the White Helmets are involved in covering up terrorist’s crimes.
“The White Helmets not only feel at home on territories controlled by Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], but also openly express positive attitudes towards them, providing them with information and even financial assistance,” she said at the time.
A Canadian journalist and rights activist, Eva Bartlett, who has traveled to Syria numerous times since the start of the war, has also questioned the authenticity of the White Helmets’ claims concerning their ‘rescue effort’ mandate.
Members of the group “purport to be rescuing civilians in eastern Aleppo and Idlib [but]… no one in eastern Aleppo has heard of them,” she said in an address to the UN in December 2016.
Vanessa Beeley, an independent researcher and journalist, told RT in October 2016 that “there is massive video and photographic testimonial evidence from inside Syria to give evidence that they are running a terrorist support group.”
She particularly pointed out that the group is “embedded entirely in terrorist-held areas whether it is predominantly Al-Nusra Front or ISIS or any of the various associated brigades of terrorists.”
The residents of Aleppo have described the group as “camera posers, thieves, and raiders,” who are only interested in releasing dramatic videos. “When they came to help the injured they stole from them,” one elderly man told RT’s war correspondent Lizzie Phelan in December 2016. “If people are wearing jewelry, they cut it off. All of them are thieves.”