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Liz Peek: Obama’s legacy will be that he allowed Russia to ‘sow discord’ in the US

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In a recent tweet, President Trump asked: “Why didn’t Obama do something about the (Russian) meddling?” It’s a good question, especially since, as President Trump pointed out, “all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama administration.”

The answer to President Trump’s question is that over the course of eight years the Obama administration neglected to take cybersecurity seriously, even though in 2013 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of a “coming (cyber) Pearl Harbor.”

Despite repeated intrusions, and though independent agencies concluded that our defenses against hackers were woefully inadequate, the Obama White House made only cosmetic attempts to protect our vital agencies and infrastructure. When this lack of preparedness led to damaging virtual break-ins, President Obama declined to confront the bad actors trying to steal our secrets.

This came in spite of President Obama’s easy access to Silicon Valley. The only time the White House called in some help from tech titans was when the ObamaCare rollout crashed, embarrassing the president. Not when the Chinese invaded the White House computer network in 2012 or when North Korea penetrated Sony’s systems; the big guns were summoned only when the president’s legacy program teetered on the brink of collapse.

In 2014 then-Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who served on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, published a report on the dangerous lapses in the government’s cyber preparedness, based on 40 reports and audits, including from the Government Accountability Office.

Federal agencies, Coburn reported, had neglected to implement even the most basic safeguards, such as resetting passwords or downloading software updates.

The report contained details of a hack of our Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for instance, in which data on the country’s 85,000 dams was stolen from the unprotected computers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The information included estimates of the potential death counts that would result from the failures of individual dams.

The most significant intrusion during President Obama’s two terms was the 2015 penetration of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in which sensitive information (Social Security numbers, birth dates, health histories, fingerprints) on 22 million people – many with top security clearances – was stolen.

Not only did the White House allow the break-in to occur – officials there lied about the severity of the attack. OPM officials initially told the Wall Street Journal that no sensitive data had been stolen, though the FBI had informed them otherwise. The Journal reported that the day OPM made that dishonest claim, former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano emailed to tell friends at the University of California that people who had gone through a security clearance were at risk. She had apparently received a heads-up.

That theft was said to have been the work of the Chinese.

The OPM breach was not unique. During the Obama years the Pentagon, the CIA, the Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security and the National Nuclear Security Administration were all hacked. 

After the OPM attack, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at a security conference: “Until such time as we can create both the substance and the psychology of deterrence, this is going to go on.” He argued that “unintended consequences and other related policy issues” made creating such deterrents difficult.

In other words, the Obama White House did nothing when China hacked the OPM, or when North Korea invaded Sony because there were overarching political considerations. Think climate accord and a nuclear stand-down.

But it was the White House’s tolerance of Russian intrusions that in retrospect was the most dangerous action. In 2013 Russia took advantage of a Microsoft glitch to hack into NATO’s computer systems, the new Ukrainian government and several European Union agencies. President Obama did nothing to respond to this aggression, emboldening Moscow.

Over the next two years Russian agents invaded the State Department and ultimately penetrated not only the White House but also the Pentagon. The thefts of data were not as public as the plundering of OPM by the Chinese; the Russians appeared to be accumulating virtual weapons.

In late 2015, the FBI warned the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that Russian hackers had breached its computers. A few months later the same group of Russians ensnared John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, harvesting his emails.

The Russians sat on their stolen material until a few weeks before the Democratic National Convention, when they then forwarded the hacked emails from the DNC to Wikileaks. The resulting uproar, which cost DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz her job, was only the beginning, as we now know.

Because President Obama was beholden to China for agreeing to join the Paris Climate Accord and because he needed both Russia and China to sign off on the Iran nuclear deal, he chose not to push back against their criminal invasions of our private and public institutions. As Luke Thompson has argued in the National Review, this lack of confrontation only encouraged more bad behavior.

Our country has been wracked by discord for more than a year, and the Trump presidency has been severely weakened by charges that his team colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton. There has been no evidence of such behavior, but the investigation goes on, dividing the nation and undermining Americans’ confidence in our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as our president.

The Justice Department has concluded that the Russians wanted to “sow discord” in the United States. This will be Obama’s legacy: he allowed them to do so.

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Alexei Navalny: Putin critic begins sentence in Russian penal colony | World News

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has arrived in a penal colony about 100km (60 miles) east of Moscow to begin his sentence.

Russia’s RIA news agency said the jailed Kremlin critic was transferred from a detention centre in Moscow, citing a public commission that defends the rights of Russian prisoners.

The name or exact location of the penal colony was not revealed.

Alexei Navalny in court in Moscow. Pic: AP
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Mr Navalny was jailed earlier this month for two years and eight months for parole violations. Pic: AP

Alexander Kalashnikov, of Russia’s federal penitentiary service (FSIN), told reporters: “According to the court’s decision, he left to where he currently should be. Everything is done within the framework of the law and the current legislation.”

Mr Kalashnikov added Mr Navalny will be kept in “absolutely normal conditions”.

Mr Navalny’s ally Leonid Volkov said on social media that his family and lawyers had not been officially informed about his whereabouts.

He was jailed earlier this month for two years and eight months for parole violations he claims were trumped up.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Chief Executive of Gazprom company Alexei Miller at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia January 19, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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Navalny is a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin’s rule

The 44-year-old was arrested on 17 January as he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied being behind the poisoning.

His sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he has rejected as fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled to be unlawful.

Mr Navalny’s allies declared a moratorium on street protests until spring after dozens following his arrest.

They announced the protest freeze after police broke up several nationwide rallies and detained more than 11,000 people, a monitoring group calculated.

Yesterday Alexei Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalny joined thousands of people in commemorating the anniversary of fellow Putin critic Boris Nemtsov’s murder.

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Myanmar: Violence erupts as police open fire killing four pro-democracy protesters and wounding several others | World News

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Police in Myanmar have fired tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades at pro-democracy protestors, killing at least four and leaving several wounded.

Violence erupted in the major city Yangon when a woman died after police broke up a teachers’ protest with stun grenades, though the cause of her death might have been a heart attack, her daughter and a colleague said.

Several people were being helped away, leaving blood-smeared pavements, after police opened fire, images posted on social media showed.

Protesters take cover as they clash with riot police officers
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Protesters take cover as they clash with riot police officers
Riot police officers fire teargas canisters during a protest in Yangon
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Riot police officers fire teargas canisters during a protest in Yangon

But protesters refused to back down. “If they push us, we’ll rise. If they attack us, we’ll defend. We’ll never kneel down to the military boots,” said Nyan Win Shein from one Yangon protest.

Footage also showed protesters running away from police as officers charged at them, makeshift roadblocks being put up to slow the police advance and protesters being bundled into police trucks to be taken away.

Sounds of gunfire could be heard and what appeared to be smoke grenades thrown into the crowds.

Demonstrators clash with riot police officers during a protest against the military coup in Yangon
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Demonstrators clash with riot police officers during a protest against the military coup in Yangon
A wounded protester is carried amid protests in Dawei
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A wounded protester is carried amid protests in Dawei

Police also opened fire in the southern town of Dawei, killing three and wounding several others, politician Kyaw Min Htike told Reuters news agency.

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The unrest comes after the military took over and detained elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party’s leadership, due to alleged fraud in the party’s landslide victory in November’s elections.

The coup, which brought a halt to tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has drawn hundreds of thousands on to the streets and the condemnation of Western countries.

Police form up at a junction in Dawei
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Police form up at a junction in Dawei
A protester flees from teargas during a rally
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A protester flees from teargas during a rally

Myanmar is like a battlefield,” the Buddhist-majority country’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, said on Twitter.

A group called the Whitecoat Alliance of medics said more than 50 medical staff had been arrested.

State-run MRTV television said more than 470 people had been arrested on Saturday after police launched the nationwide crackdown.

Protesters made the three-fingered salute in Yangon on Saturday
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Protesters made the three-fingered salute in Yangon on Saturday

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is calling on the United Nation to take action and ramp up the pressure on the military to step aside.

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Migrants resorting to treacherous night hikes through Alps to escape to new lives | World News

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Migrants and asylum seekers are resorting to dangerous night hikes through the Alps to reach France, aid workers are reporting.

As borders within Europe become increasingly difficult to cross due to pandemic restrictions, some asylum seekers who entered Europe through the Balkans are now braving the extreme, sometimes lethal, mountain cold – often with young children.

The Italian Red Cross has been monitoring the Italian side of the Alps in the town of Claviere for four years.

But for a few months now, they report they are seeing an increase in families, mainly from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq attempting the route.

Since October more than 1,500 have been intercepted.

Giacomo Italiano/MAXPPP - Various illustrations during the winter in the ski resort of La Clusaz in Haute-Savoie in the French Alps. Mountainous landscape around the resort with a bad weather. France, January 2021. Photographer : Giacomo Italiano / MaxPPP Illustrations
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If they are spotted near the border, migrants are returned to Italy after only a few hours of detention.

Michele Belmondo, a volunteer with the Italian Red Cross, patrols the mountains to warn people of the dangers, assist them with blankets and sometimes rescue them.

She said: “Unfortunately there have been cases of migrants who were rescued with serious injuries, serious hypothermia.

“In some cases there have been permanent injuries. People who had their fingers amputated due to the extreme cold.”

She added: “Initially it used to be young migrants of African origin, often francophones who tried to join France and other European countries.

“Starting some months ago, in 2020, the type of migrants passing in this area has changed a bit, there are many families, often with children who come down the Balkan route, so the main nationalities are Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi.”

Amir Hotak, 23, fled his native Afghanistan years ago to get away from the daily violence and insecurity he was facing there.

His odyssey to Italy passed by Iran, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia.

Now he wants to go to Paris.

“In France is good life,” he said. “No war.”

Hiking the Italian-French Alps, especially in the winter, is difficult even for those who have overcome other obstacles along the way.

Many try to do so at night to avoid being spotted by France’s National Gendarmerie who patrol aboard snow bikes.

If they are spotted near the border they are returned to Italy after only a few hours of detention.

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