Top Intelligence Officials Set to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Bounties

Top U.S. intelligence officials are set to brief key members of Congress Thursday on what is known — and what is not known — about an alleged Russian plot to pay militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.The White House confirmed CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone will meet with members of the so-called Gang of Eight.The meeting will be the first chance for lawmakers to hear directly from veteran intelligence officials about reports that Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to target and kill U.S. and allied troops.Until now, briefings on the allegations have been led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. representative who was sworn in just over a month ago, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom have served in their roles less than a year.The three have repeatedly told lawmakers that information on the alleged Russian bounty program could not be confirmed, defending the decision not to bring the intelligence to the attention of President Donald Trump.”The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told White House reporters earlier on Wednesday. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”O’Brien also said the White House was working on potential responses to Russia should additional intelligence lend credibility to the initial reports.”These are important allegations that, if they’re verified, I can guarantee you the president will take strong action” he said. “We’ve been working for several months on options.”But other officials, when pressed, refused to elaborate on what might come next.”I won’t get ahead of the president on action. I also won’t get ahead of the intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a White House briefing, saying the intelligence remained unverified.And Trump himself on Wednesday continued to dismiss the alleged Russian plot as a hoax, first on Twitter and later during an interview with Fox Business News.“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) FILE – American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan.Credible reports
New media reports, however, are challenging that assertion.The Reuters news agency, citing four U.S. and European government sources, reported Wednesday that the U.S. had acquired fresh intelligence in recent weeks that lent credibility to the claims Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops.Current and former Taliban officials have also come forward, claiming that the bounty program was real.“Individual commanders have been receiving money and weapons from Russian intelligence,” Moulani Baghdadi, a Taliban commander from Ghazni, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department, July 1, 2020, in Washington.Pompeo downplays concerns
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.Still, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday continued to express dissatisfaction and frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the intelligence.“If true, these reports detail an astounding escalation by an already aggressive adversary and the President’s dereliction of his most sacred responsibility to protect the lives of the American people,” Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, July 1, 2020.Not taken lightly
Despite the lack of agreement on the intelligence about the alleged Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack and kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist the threat was not taken lightly, and that precautions were put in place. And White House officials said there is no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this story. 

your ad here

British Judge Denies Venezuela Access to Gold in Bank Vault

A British judge on Thursday refused to give Venezuela control of over $1 billion in gold sitting in a Bank of England vault, ruling that it is unlawful to give it to the President Nicolás Maduro since Britain does not recognize him as the president.
Maduro has demanded the gold to help his cash-starved nation fight the coronavirus pandemic.
But the central bank for the United Kingdom, whose government recognizes Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as his country’s legitimate leader, had refused to hand it over to Maduro’s socialist administration.
Guaidó has sought to preserve the gold stash at the Bank of England to keep it out of the hands of the Maduro government.
Banco Central de Venezuela sought to release the gold, which it wants to sell for food and medical equipment that is desperately needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lawyer representing Maduro’s side promised to appeal.
Sarosh Zaiwalla said in a statement that the judgment “entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground” in Venezuela.
“Mr Maduro’s government is in complete control of Venezuela and its administrative institutions, and only it can ensure the distribution of the humanitarian relief and medical supplies needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “This outcome will now delay matters further, to the detriment of the Venezuelan people whose lives are at risk.” 

your ad here

White House Sending Top Intelligence Officials to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Bounties

Top U.S. intelligence officials are set to brief key members of Congress Thursday on what is known — and what is not known — about an alleged Russian plot to pay militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.The White House confirmed CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone will meet with members of the so-called Gang of Eight.The meeting will be the first chance for lawmakers to hear directly from veteran intelligence officials about reports that Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to target and kill U.S. and allied troops.Until now, briefings on the allegations have been led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. representative who was sworn in just over a month ago, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom have served in their roles less than a year.The three have repeatedly told lawmakers that information on the alleged Russian bounty program could not be confirmed, defending the decision not to bring the intelligence to the attention of President Donald Trump.”The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told White House reporters earlier on Wednesday. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”O’Brien also said the White House was working on potential responses to Russia should additional intelligence lend credibility to the initial reports.”These are important allegations that, if they’re verified, I can guarantee you the president will take strong action” he said. “We’ve been working for several months on options.”But other officials, when pressed, refused to elaborate on what might come next.”I won’t get ahead of the president on action. I also won’t get ahead of the intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a White House briefing, saying the intelligence remained unverified.And Trump himself on Wednesday continued to dismiss the alleged Russian plot as a hoax, first on Twitter and later during an interview with Fox Business News.“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020″We never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level,” the president said.”The intelligence people, many of them didn’t believe it happened at all,” he added. “I think it’s a hoax based on the newspapers and the Democrats.”New media reports, however, are challenging that assertion.The Reuters news agency, citing four U.S. and European government sources, reported Wednesday that the U.S. had acquired fresh intelligence in recent weeks that lent credibility to the claims Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops.Current and former Taliban officials have also come forward, claiming that the bounty program was real.“Individual commanders have been receiving money and weapons from Russian intelligence,” Moulani Baghdadi, a Taliban commander from Ghazni, told Business Insider when asked about the bounties. “These are criminal groups that work alongside the mujahedeen and give us a bad reputation.”Mullah Manan Niazi, a onetime spokesman for former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, told The Daily Beast such a program would not be unusual.“The Taliban have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on U.S. forces — and on ISIS forces ù in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present,” he said.U.S. defense and intelligence officials have long been concerned about Russian interference in Afghanistan, complaining repeatedly that Moscow has been providing the Taliban with weapons and training.A new Pentagon report released Wednesday, while making no mention of the alleged bounties, warned Russian involvement is growing.“Russia has politically supported the Taliban to cultivate influence with the group, limit the Western military presence, and encourage counter ISIS [Islamic State terror group] operations, although Russia publicly denies their involvement,” the report said.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.Still, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday continued to express dissatisfaction and frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the intelligence.“If true, these reports detail an astounding escalation by an already aggressive adversary and the President’s dereliction of his most sacred responsibility to protect the lives of the American people,” Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in a letter demanding Pompeo testify before Congress.Other Democrats were even more critical.“If this does not count as treason, I don’t know what does,” Democratic Representative Seth Moulton said during a call with reporters Wednesday. “If the most junior officer in the United States military ignores an intelligence report delivered to him or her, as we know this intelligence report was delivered to the commander in chief, then that junior officer would absolutely be in prison.”Despite the lack of agreement on the intelligence about the alleged Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack and kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist the threat was not taken lightly, and that precautions were put in place. And White House officials said there is no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this story. 

your ad here

Russian Voters Clear Path for Putin to Remain in President Until 2036

Voters in Russia have approved a package of constitutional reforms that includes opening the possibility that President Vladimir Putin can remain president until 2036.Opposition officials and independent election observers cast doubts on the legitimacy of the voting, which ended Wednesday, noting among other concerns that turnout seemed artificially high in some areas.“We’ll never recognize this result,” opposition politician Alexei Navalny said.Election officials said the voting was carried out with integrity.The 67-year-old Putin has led Russia either as president or prime minister for more than two decades, and the reforms allow him to run for two more six-year terms after his current term runs out in 2024.With most of the votes counted, election officials said voters had approved the package 78 percent to 21 percent.Putin has said he will decide closer to 2024 as to whether he would run for another term.Also included in the constitutional reforms are protections for pensions and a de facto ban on same-sex marriages.The voting took place over the course of a week so that polling places could minimize crowds due to coronavirus concerns. 

your ad here

With US Off EU’s Coronavirus Safe List, Parisians to Miss a Popular Visitor

After months of coronavirus restrictions, the European Union began reopening its borders to visitors Wednesday from 14 countries it considers safe. That list does not include the United States, where the virus is resurging in some states. Public health is at stake, but from Paris, the world’s most visited city, Lisa Bryant reports the travel ban also reflects widening transatlantic differences.

your ad here

Russian Voters Back Reforms Allowing Putin to Stay Until 2036

Russians overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes in a nationwide vote, partial results showed Wednesday, allowing President Vladimir Putin to potentially extend his two-decade rule until 2036.With 60 percent of ballots counted after the end of six days of voting, 76.9 percent of voters had supported the reforms, the central election commission said.There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year and critics denounced as a maneuver to allow him to stay in the Kremlin for life. FILE – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks during a rally in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 29, 2019.But top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny slammed the results as a “huge lie” which don’t reflect real public opinion.The amendments had been passed weeks ago by Russia’s parliament and copies of the new constitution were already on sale in bookshops, but Putin had said voter approval was essential to give them legitimacy.The reforms include conservative and populist measures — like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage — but crucially for Putin also reset presidential limits allowing him to run twice again after his current six-year term expires in 2024.Turnout as of 2000 GMT was about 65 percent, the election commission said.The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week, the last day of voting declared a national holiday and prizes — including apartments, cars and cash — on offer to voters.Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic but rescheduled after Putin said the epidemic had peaked and officials began reporting lower numbers of new cases. ‘Stability, security, prosperity’In a final appeal to voters on Tuesday, Putin said the changes were needed to ensure Russia’s future “stability, security, prosperity.”State television showed Putin voting Wednesday at his usual polling station at the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was handed a ballot by an electoral worker wearing a surgical mask and gloves. Russian President Vladimir Putin shows his passport to a member of a local electoral commission as he arrives to cast his ballot in a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms at a polling station in Moscow, July 1, 2020.Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Putin was not wearing any protective gear.At a polling station in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East, 79-year-old Valentina Kungurtseva told AFP she supported the reforms.”For us as pensioners, it’s very important that they will increase our pension every year,” she said.”As long as we have a good president, life will be good,” she said.In the second city, Saint Petersburg, 20-year-old Sergei Goritsvetov said he opposed the reforms but doubted it would make any difference.”I voted against and I hope there will be many of us, but I don’t know what it will change,” he said. “At least I expressed my opinion.” A woman holds a placard reading “No to everlasting Putin” as she protests amendments to the Constitution of Russia on Pushkinskaya Square in downtown Moscow, July 1, 2020.Navalny had said Putin, 67 and in power as president or prime minister since 2000, wants to make himself “president for life” and called for a boycott, calling the vote illegitimate.”We have just watched a show with a planned finale,” he wrote on his blog after polls closed.”Putin will not leave himself,” Navalny wrote, “not until we begin to come out to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, by millions.”The opposition divided and failed to mount a serious campaign, with some voting “no” and others staying home. There were only small protests Wednesday in central Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Falling approval ratings Golos, an independent election monitor, said it had received hundreds of complaints of violations, including people voting more than once and claims employers were putting pressure on staff to cast ballots.Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station after a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow, July 1, 2020.Election commission chief Ella Pamfilova denied any problems on Wednesday, saying only a couple of violations were confirmed and they would have no effect on the result.Putin’s approval rating has fallen in recent months. It stood at 60 percent in June according to pollster Levada, down 20 points from the months after his reelection in 2018.Analysts say Putin wanted to get the vote over with before Russians — already suffering from several years of falling incomes — are hit by the full economic impact of the pandemic.Putin said in a recent interview that he had not decided whether to run again but suggested that part of the reason for the presidential reset was to allow Russia’s political elite to focus on governing instead of “hunting for possible successors.”
 

your ad here

Coronavirus Amplifies Spain’s Nursing Home Nightmare

Spain has had the world’s highest nursing home death rate during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Madrid city government documents show officials set rules preventing nursing homes from transferring some residents to hospitals at the time the infection rate peaked.  Now, some people are demanding answers.  Jonathan Spier narrates this report by Alfonso Beato in Barcelona. Camera:Alfonso Beato  Producer: Jonathan Spier 
 

your ad here

Turkey Outperforms Much of Europe in COVID Battle, But Fear Remains

Turkey claims to have one of the lowest COVID mortality rates in Europe, surpassing many more wealthy countries. But doctors warn complacency could spoil that record.   Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.Camera: Berke Bas, Turkish Ministry of Health Produced by:  Rod James   

your ad here