Twitter Suspends 2 Accounts in Mueller Indictments

Social networking site Twitter Saturday suspended two accounts linked to 12 Russian spies indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On Friday, a federal grand jury charged the 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016 in the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the election to help Republican Donald Trump.

Twitter said Saturday it had suspended the accounts @DCLeaks_ and @Guccifer_2 that were named in the indictment, which alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy involving sophisticated hacking and staged release of documents.

The indictment alleges that from around June 2016 the conspirators released tens of thousands of stolen emails and documents “using fictitious online personas, including ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0.’”

In a statement Saturday, a Twitter spokesman said: “The accounts have been suspended for being connected to a network of accounts previously suspended for operating in violation of our rules.”

Twitter in recent months has purged suspicious user accounts in a bid to prevent the dissemination of fake news and “encourage healthy conversation,” the company said this month.

Friday’s indictment was the first by Mueller that directly charges the Russian government with meddling in the election. The Kremlin denies it interfered.

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Philadelphia on Saturday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the indictments proved that the United States “will not tolerate interference with our democratic processes and that there will be consequences for foreign meddling.”

Cuba to Reshape Government With New Constitution

Cuba revealed new details Saturday about plans to reshape its government, courts and economy with constitutional reform set to be approved by the national assembly this month.

The reform of the 1976 constitution would create the position of prime minister alongside the president, splitting the roles of head of government and head of state.

The constitution keeps the Communist Party as the sole political force in the country and says the communist state will remain the dominant economic force.

The constitution does, however, create new recognition of the free market and private property in Cuban society, and creates a new presumption of innocence in the justice system.

The proposed constitutional reform described in the main state paper Saturday is also expected to be approved in a later national referendum.

Officials say the 1976 charter does not reflect changes made in Cuba in recent years.

“The experiences gained in these years of revolution” and “the new paths mapped out” by the Communist Party are some of the reasons for reforming the constitution, the official Granma newspaper said Saturday. 

 

The new constitution will maintain rights such as religious freedom but will also make explicit the principle of non-discrimination due to gender identity. The text released in Granma did not specify to what extent the state would recognize same-sex marriages. 

Haiti’s PM Steps Down Over Fuel Prices, Violence

Haiti’s prime minister resigned Saturday after days of protest over the government’s plan to raise fuel prices.

Jack Guy Lafontant announced to the lower house of Haiti’s legislature: “I submitted my resignation to the president of the republic,” and he confirmed that the president had accepted his resignation. 

Haiti has been in turmoil since last week, when the government announced plans for major increases in the prices of gasoline, diesel and kerosene.

The announcement led to riots that resulted in at least four deaths. 

The government ended up calling off the price increases, but the political upheaval resulted in a no-confidence vote Saturday in the lower house of parliament.

The U.S. State Department has issued a “do not travel” warning to U.S. citizens as a result of the unrest in Haiti.

Siege on Students in Nicaraguan Church Ends

At least one person is dead and several others wounded in the wake of a siege on a Nicaraguan church where about 150 students, priests and journalists had taken shelter from an attack by paramilitary forces.

Church officials negotiated a release of the captives, who spent Friday night trapped under gunfire in Managua’s Divine Mercy Catholic Church. 

The students were then taken out of the church and transported to Managua Cathedral. Supporters lining the streets cheered as buses carrying the students passed by.

The overnight siege came after protests calling for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega on Thursday and a nationwide strike on Friday.

The Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference said a young man killed in the attack had been shot in the head in what it described as an assault by police and paramilitary forces.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, who visited the church along with a colleague, told reporters he had been told there were two dead and several wounded.

A Washington Post journalist tweeted a snapshot of the body of a victim inside the church. He was later allowed by the paramilitary forces to leave, as were a few injured protesters.

In Friday’s nationwide strike, businesses closed their doors and streets emptied out. Some students from a protest camp at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua barricaded themselves into a university building while paramilitary fighters shot at them from outside, according to media reports. Several people were thought to have been injured.

The Catholic Church, which has been aiding in talks between the government and the protesters, has denounced the violence.

The protests, which have continued for months, are the deadliest in Nicaragua since the end of its civil war in 1990. They began in April after the government announced changes to the social security system. Since then, protesters have been calling for Ortega to step down from office. He was elected to a third term in 2016.

Ortega’s administration accuses the protesters of trying to stage a coup.

Months of violence between the protesters and pro-government paramilitary forces has cost 300 lives.

Norway Recommits to Boost in NATO Spending

Norway renewed its financial commitment to NATO after U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis met Saturday with Norwegian officials in Oslo.

Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said “Norway is committed to the two percent goal in NATO,” and added without offering specifics, “We will continue to increase defense spending substantially in the coming years.” Currently the oil-rich country spends about 1.6-percent of its GDP on defense.

NATO agreed in 2014 that each member nation would raise military spending to 2-percent of their gross domestic product by 2024. But diplomats say only two-thirds of the 29-nation alliance, excluding the U.S., have a realistic plan to reach the 2-percent level in 2024. The U.S. spent 3.57-percent of its GDP on defense in 2017.

Norway’s recommitment comes after U.S. President Donald Trump again demanded at a two-day NATO summit this week in Brussels that member nations increase their defense spending. Trump claimed to have won assurances from NATO leaders during intense talks.

Norway, which Trump has described as NATO’s “eyes and ears” in northern Europe, is considered one of America’s most valuable allies. In addition to partnering with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Norway helps gather intelligence on Russia’s Maritime military activities.

 

While Trump has criticized Norway, which shares a border with Russia, for not having a plan to boost defense spending, Mattis has praised the Scandinavian country.

After talks Saturday with Bakke-Jensen and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide, Mattis said Norway’s commitment to the 2-percent goal was encouraging.

“Norway’s leadership in the Nordic region and especially up in the Arctic where you serve as NATO’s sentinel … you are definitely contributing beyond your weight class,” he said.

In addition to hosting one of NATO’s largest exercises in decades this fall, Norway will host up to 700 U.S. marines beginning next year, more than double the number who are presently stationed there.

Russia’s embassy in Oslo said the additional marines “makes Norway less predictable and could cause growing tensions, trigger an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe.” The embassy also said,” “We see it as clearly unfriendly, and it will not remain free of consequence.”

Trump is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday in Helsinki.

US Intel Chief Warns of Devastating Cyber Threat to US Infrastructure

The U.S. intelligence chief warned on Friday that the threat was growing for a devastating cyber assault on critical U.S. infrastructure, saying the “warning lights are blinking red again” nearly two decades after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are launching daily cyber strikes on the computer networks of federal, state and local government agencies, U.S. corporations, and academic institutions, said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Of the four, “Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor, no question,” he said.

Coats spoke at the Hudson Institute think tank shortly after the Department of Justice announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers on charges of hacking into the computers of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and Democratic Party organizations.

The indictment and Coats’ comments came three days before U.S. President Donald Trump was to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks in Helsinki, Trump’s first formal summit with Putin.

The summit will begin with one-on-one talks between the two leaders in which Trump has said he will raise the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia used cyber attacks and other means to meddle in the 2016 election, a charge Moscow denies.

Coats warned that the possibility of a “crippling cyber attack on our critical infrastructure” by a foreign actor is growing.

He likened daily cyber attacks to the “alarming activities” that U.S. intelligence agencies detected before al Qaeda staged the most devastating extremist attack on the U.S. homeland on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The system was blinking red. Here we are nearly two decades later and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again,” he said.

Coats said the U.S. government has not yet detected the kinds of cyber attacks and intrusions that officials say Russia launched against state election boards and voter data bases before the 2016 election.

“However, we fully realize that we are just one click away of the keyboard from a similar situation repeating itself,” Coats continued.

At the same time, he said, some of the same Russian actors who meddled in the 2016 campaign again are using fake social media accounts and other means to spread false information and propaganda to fuel political divisions in the United States, he said.

Coats cited unnamed “individuals” affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based “troll factory” indicted by a federal grand jury in February as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election meddling.

These individuals have been “creating new social media accounts, masquerading as Americans and then using these accounts to draw attention to divisive issues,” he said.

China, Coats said, is primarily intent on stealing military and industrial secrets and had “capabilities, resources that perhaps Russia doesn’t have.” But he said Moscow aims to undermine U.S. values and democratic institutions.

France Celebrates Bastille Day With Military Spending Boost – but not as Much as Trump Wants

France is marked Bastille Day Saturday with its traditional display of military might — a veritable assault of troops, helicopters, fighter planes taking over the skies and the famous Champs Elysees avenue of Paris. France’s defense budget is getting a sizeable boost that will meet NATO’s two percent spending commitment by 2025— and reverse a decade of budget cuts. But it may not be enough for Washington. 

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump was at the Bastille Day parade here in a visit that forged a personal bond with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. This year, President Macron attended the festivities with another leader — the prime minister of Singapore. But Macron and Trump met days earlier— at a fractious NATO summit that saw the U.S. leader criticizing allies for not spending enough on defense. 

France’s new military spending bill is a step toward meeting that goal. Signed by Macron hours before the Bastille parade, it sees boosting military spending by several hundred billion dollars over seven years, to hit the 2 percent NATO target by 2025. What it doesn’t do is double that amount — as Trump demanded of NATO allies and suggested they agreed to. 

 

“There’s no way this multi-year budget would meet this 4 percent request for NATO which caught everyone by surprise,” said Pierre Tran, Paris bureau chief of Defense News.

He says even signed, the bill’s spending increase is not a sure deal.

“It not only depends on the next administration which will have to win the elections, this present multi-year defense budget also requires each year’s budget to be approved by the finance ministry,” Tran said. “This multi-year budget can be adopted…can it be implemented? ”

President Macron earlier rejected Trump’s claims that NATO allies had agreed to more than a 2 percent increase. Still French military chiefs will be happy. Last year, Macron announced defense budget cuts —  triggering the resignation of the armed forces chief.

“There are 2 major areas where spending will be allocated,” Tran said. “One is greater spending on intelligence services …and that is in response to terrorism or unconventional fighters in the field. The other large increase will be in equipment.”

France’s military has been pressured to respond to multiple threats in recent years, including at home following a number of terrorist attacks. Overseas, France has about 4,000 troops deployed in an anti-terror mission in the Sahel, working with regional countries. A poll published Saturday in Le Figaro newspaper finds high public support of the military, with nine out of 10 French confident in its ability to fight terrorism.