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The President and the leaks: Sessions and Coats finally act

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of Intelligence Dan Coats finally heed President Trump’s demand for an investigation of the leaks which have been destabilising his administration.

Alexander Mercouris

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That Donald Trump’s Presidency is being effectively sabotaged by a campaign of leaking from inside the US government bureaucracy is disputed by no one.

That many of these leaks flagrantly violate the law and have been used in the most unethical way – for example to engineer the removal of General Michael Flynn – is rarely said, but is also undoubtedly true.

That former top officials of the preceding Obama administration are involved in these leaks, and that the viscerally anti-Trump media is actively colluding in the serial law-breaking involved in the leaks, is also widely known and is also undoubtedly true.

Lastly, that President Trump has been pushing for a criminal investigation of the leaks since soon after he took office, is indisputable also.  Here is what I wrote about it in February shortly after the press conference President Trump held following the resignation of General Flynn.  Here is what I said about it then, in an article I wrote on 17th February 2017

This in part also explains the criminal investigation into the leaks he has asked the Justice Department to tell the FBI to undertake.  Clearly he understands that until he has mastered his bureaucracy and proved to the Russians that he is the master of his own house there is no sense in his negotiating with them.  That he has done what he previously hinted at, and has asked the Justice Department to instruct the FBI to investigate the leaks, he has now confirmed

Yes, we’re looking at them very — very, very serious. I’ve gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies and we’re — I’ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks. They’re put out by people either in agencies — I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in. You know, again, we don’t have our people in because we can’t get them approved by the Senate.

(bold italics added)

Note that the highlighted words all but confirm a point I have repeatedly made: that the reason Trump has been unable to act against the leakers before is because the Department of Justice under Sally Yates has been working against him.

To be clear this is going to be a very different investigation from the various FBI investigations into the nebulous claims of contacts between President Trump’s campaign team and the Russians details of which have been appearing all over the media.  As Trump himself all but says – and as the FBI investigators undertaking them surely know – those investigations are a complete waste of time, and will lead nowhere, because no-one has identified a crime for anyone to investigate.

By contrast in the case of the leaks that brought about the downfall of General Flynn, not only is there no doubt a crime was committed, but The New York Times and CNN know the identity of the perpetrators, and probably enough is already known about them anyway to make it possible to identify them without too much difficulty.

Unlike the investigations into the allegations that are being made against Donald Trump’s campaign team, this investigation therefore stands a very strong chance of success, resulting in arrests, charges and legal action.

I would guess that already by now as I am writing this various people in The New York Times, CNN, the US intelligence community, and former officials of the Obama administration, are busy phoning their lawyers.

It is now clear that my expectations in February that an investigation of the leaks would quickly take place I wildly underestimated the extent of the resistance to the President’s call.  It turns out that it was not only Sally Yates at the Justice Department who was resisting the President’s demand for an investigation of the leaks but that this resistance extended right across the bureaucracy.

A key figure in defeating the President’s wish for a proper investigation of the leaks was almost certainly former FBI Director James Comey, who seems to have developed a strong personal dislike of the President and to have been acting working against him, probably because he had convinced himself that the fantastic conspiracy theories peddled about the President and his associates during the Russiagate allegations are true.

The result is that the FBI throughout Comey’s tenure resisted the President’s demands for an investigation of the leaks which have been undermining his administration.  Indeed it is a certainty that many of the leaks which have been undermining the President and his administration have originated from within the FBI itself.

The President sacked Comey on 9th May 2017, in part at least because of Comey’s refusal to heed the President’s request for a proper investigation of the leaks.  Since then the FBI has been without a director, with Acting Director McCabe mistrusted by the President because of his closeness to Comey and his wife’s political ambitions.  It is now that the FBI finally has in Christopher Wray a Director of the President’s choice.

Meanwhile the President has made no secret of his growing frustration at the delay in getting a proper leaks investigation started.  Much of the anger the President has expressed about his Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the leadership of the Justice in recent weeks stems from the President’s frustration at the failure to get the leaks investigation he has been insisting on going.

Today however we have a formal announcement from Attorney General Sessions and Director of National Insurance Coats that such an investigation is finally underway.  Here is a video of Sessions and Coats announcing it

In Coats’s words

Any disclosure outside of authorised channels is a criminal offence. And we will simply not tolerate the illegal release of classified information.  If you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you, we will investigate you, we will prosecute you to the full extent of the law, and you will not be happy with the result.

Coats’s involvement is obviously key to the success of the investigation since he is able to mobilise the gigantic resources of the US intelligence community to support it.  The press conference however spoke of other more conventional tools – such as subpoenas of news organisations that peddle the leaks – being used to extract information and help identify the leakers.

I do not agree with those who deny the need for such an investigation by saying it will prevent whistleblowing.  Nothing about the leaks which have been been happening over the last few months resembles whistleblowing.  On the contrary they have been a cynical exercise in destabilising the President and his administration by using the media to spread anonymously damaging but uncorroborated stories about him.  As such they have not safeguarded democracy; they have undermined it.

I would add that complaints from mainstream media organisations like the Washington Post and the New York Times that the new leaks investigation threatens free speech looks to me especially ironic given the zeal of these organisations in seeking to close down what is called alternative media.

Whilst it is unfortunately possible that action which may now be taken against the leakers will create precedents which may in future be used against genuine whistleblowers, the blame for that will rest first and foremost with the media, who have thrown all journalistic standards aside by colluding in this cynical abuse of the practice.

Whether the leaks investigation which has now been announced will be effective remains to be seen.  If it is then it will drastically change the atmosphere around the President and his administration, as well as Robert Mueller’s Russiagate inquiry.

Before closing off on this question, I will make a few personal points on the subject of leaks:

(1) as a fundamental principle information which is leaked anonymously should never be given equal weight to information which is given openly and publicly, and where the second contradicts the first it is the second which should always be preferred unless there are overwhelmingly strong reasons to do otherwise;

(2) journalists should use anonymously leaked material very sparingly, should publish it extremely infrequently, and before doing so should where possible look to corroborate it from open sources.  They should always consider the possible motives of the leaker, and should ask themselves whether publication of the material genuinely serves the public interest as opposed to serving some other purpose;

(3) journalists always ought to consider very carefully the security implications of leaking anonymously sourced information, especially when it appears to come from the security services;

(4) last but not least, there is no doubt that some reported “anonymous leaks” are simply covers for journalistic inventions, and that is an especially strong reasons to be wary of them.

There are very few journalists today who I trust to handle and report anonymously sourced material properly and accurately, and I look with the deepest misgivings when it is handled by anyone else.  Amongst those journalists – or persons who exercise journalistic functions – I would include Julian Assange, Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry, Glenn Greenwald and one or two others.

Obviously this is something which requires very long experience and in-depth knowledge of a sort which is possessed by very few.  Quite obviously the army of journalists employed by CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian and the rest, which have breathlessly repeated every story the anonymous leakers within the US bureaucracy have fed them, do not possess it.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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