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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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Italy: Injured drivers and smashed windscreens as hailstorm halts traffic | World News

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A violent hailstorm has brought traffic to a halt on one of Italy’s main highways, injuring a number of people and smashing car windows.

The storm hit part of the northern stretch of the road between Milan and Naples, which runs for almost 500 miles.

Hundreds of cars were pelted with hail, forcing drivers to pull up by the roadside and causing authorities to close part of the road for a short time.

Footage broadcast by Italian weather channel Meteo Weather 24, showed vehicles with smashed windscreens, stopped on the road as the storm passed.

A number of people were hurt, mainly by glass shards from cracked windscreens but no one is believed to be seriously injured.

While hailstorms ravaged mainland Italy, forest fires forced at least 900 people from their homes in central Sardinia.

France and Greece sent four planes to help put out the wildfires, which consumed around 20,000 hectares in the Italian province of Oristano.

The aircraft joined 10 Italian firefighting squads and five other planes deployed to tackle the fires which broke out over the weekend and have been spread by dry southerly winds.

No deaths or injuries have been reported.

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Italy wildfires: Hundreds of people forced from their homes in Sardinia’s ‘unprecedented disaster’ | World News

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Raging forest fires in central Sardinia have forced at least 900 people from their homes.

Four planes from France and Greece were sent to help put out the wildfires, which have consumed around 20,000 hectares in the Italian province of Oristano – the size of about 20,000 rugby fields.

The aircraft joined 10 Italian firefighting squads and five other planes deployed to tackle the fires which broke out over the weekend and have been spread by dry southerly winds.

Firefighters spent all night battling the blaze near the town of Montiferro, which destroyed farms and engulfed some residential areas in smoke.

“Currently, the situation for the people seems to be under control,” said Alessandro Paola, deputy chief for the Italian firefighters’ emergency department.

He said this is dependent on the weather forecast.

The wildfires hit the area of Montiferru, in the centre-west of the island, because of a heatwave, according to the European Commission.

No deaths or injuries have been reported.

Christian Salinas, president of Sardinia region, called it “one of the most serious natural disasters ever to happen in Sardinia”, according to Italian news outlet Corriere della Sera.

He said the “huge firestorms favoured by weather and climate conditions absolutely at the limit” were an “unprecedented disaster” in Sardinia’s history.

“Up to now, 20,000 hectares of forest that represent centuries of environmental history of our island have gone up in ashes.”

According to Italian news outlet La Stampa, it could take at least 15 years to rebuild the woods and the Mediterranean scrub destroyed by the flames that have reached pastures, olive trees, sheds, barns with stocks of fodder and agricultural vehicles but also killed animals.

The planes sent by France and Greece were used to pick up water to drop on the fires.

A Canadair plane drops water to put out a fire, near Oristano, on the island of Sardinia, Italy, Monday, July 26, 2021. Fires raged Sunday on Italy's Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where nearly 400 people were evacuated overnight. No deaths or injuries have been reported. Firefighters said several homes were damaged in the island's western interior region. (Alessandro Tocco/LaPresse via AP)
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France and Greece dispatched aircraft to help battle the flames

Claudio Atzori, president of Legacoop Sardegna, told La Stampa: “We ask for an immediate investigation to verify the reason for the damage to homes and businesses, in or close to the villages, which should have been protected, through greater attention in the maintenance phase of the territory and prevention.”

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Arab Spring: What is legacy of protests and uprisings as Tunisia’s president ousts PM in ‘coup’ | World News

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Long considered one of the few success stories that sprang from the Arab Spring, Tunisia has seen its president accused of staging a coup after he sacked his prime minister and suspended parliament with the help of the army.

President Kais Saied’s dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday followed violent demonstrations across the country over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has led to clashes between supporters and opponents of the president in the streets of the capital, Tunis.

President Kais Saied (pictured) fired the prime minister less than a year after Hichem Mechichi was appointed o the role. Pic AP
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President Kais Saied (pictured) fired the prime minister less than a year after Hichem Mechichi was appointed to the role. Pic AP

Mr Saied has said he will name a new prime minister, but his critics have accused him of a power grab that threatens Tunisia‘s young democracy.

Here is a look at the legacy of the Arab Spring and how protests and uprisings dramatically altered the political structure of much of the Arab world.

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring spread across much of the Arab world from early 2010 as demonstrators rallied against the region’s dictatorial leaders in protests over corruption, poverty and oppression.

Escalating anti-government protests spilt over into uprisings and eventually civil wars in several countries as the Arab Spring spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen, resulting in the ousting of the leaders in those countries, with the exception of Syria.

It has directly contributed to the refugee crisis and the rise of the Islamic State and has seen fresh authoritarian leaders seize power in many countries, leaving many with their hopes crushed as they struggle to live under increasingly authoritarian regimes in countries beset by greater levels of poverty and unemployment.

Tunisia

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People took to the streets in the capital, Tunis, to celebrate the PM’s dismissal – but others have called the move ‘a coup’

The roots of the Arab Spring can be traced back to Tunisia, where Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller, set himself on fire in protest after police confiscated his goods and a female officer slapped him on 17 December 2010.

Footage of his self-immolation spread across the country and led people in his home city of Sidi Bouzid to take to the streets in rage.

Within a month, protests had forced Tunisia’s authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Despite the relative success of Tunisia’s revolution, the country has recently seen large protests over mass unemployment and many consider its parliament inefficient and stagnant.

These problems have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the economy hard as infection rates soared over the summer.

Egypt

Thousands of Egyptians protest in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the Egyptian uprising, in Cairo on 29 July, 2011. Pic: Associated Press
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Thousands of Egyptians protest in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the Egyptian uprising, in Cairo in July 2011. Pic: Associated Press

Demonstrations in Tunisia following the death of Bouazizi inspired massive protests across Egypt, leading President Hosni Mubarak to leave office within weeks.

A presidential election in 2012 gave power to President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, but Mr Morsi himself was later deposed when Egypt’s military generals seized power in 2013.

Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi then became president and imposed a police state, which has seen tens of thousands of Egyptians imprisoned and hundreds executed.

The country remains under military rule.

Syria

President Bashar al Assad with his wife Asma as she casts her vote
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President Bashar al Assad with his wife Asma as she casts her vote in Syria’s president election in May 2021

As unrest spread across Syria, Bashar al Assad’s government began using live ammunition against protesters, leading tensions to boil over and igniting a civil war in 2011 between the regime and rebel groups.

IS emerged from among the myriad rebel groups and expanded across the border into Iraq, where it declared a new Islamic caliphate in 2014.

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Sky’s Mark Stone visits refugee camps in northern Syria and hears of the growing influence of Islamic State inside

Syria’s brutal decade-long civil war has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and over 6.8 million Syrians become asylum seekers and 6.7 million displaced within the country’s borders.

Despite this, Mr Assad has managed to cling on to power with the support of Russia, Iran and Lebanon-based Shia-militant group Hezbollah, although fighting in the war-ravaged country continues and several areas remain under the control of rebels.

Libya

Members of the Libyan pro-government forces gesture as they stand on a tank in Benghazi, Libya, 21 May, 2015
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Members of the Libyan pro-government forces gesture as they stand on a tank in Benghazi, Libya, in May 2015

Similarly, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi decided to crack down on the largest protests in the country’s history with force.

The move sparked a civil war and a NATO-led coalition began conducting airstrikes in support of the country’s rebels.

Rebel forces deposed and later killed Gaddafi in October 2011. However, efforts to transition away from Gaddafi’s rule broke down and the country descended into a renewed civil war.

The internationally recognised Government of National Accord remains in control of Tripoli and the city of Misrata, while the Libyan National Army, commanded by General Khalifa Haftar, runs Benghazi and much of the oil-rich east. General Haftar’s forces are supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Yemen

A malnourished girl at a hospital in Sanaa in October 2020
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Yemen’s civil war has led to one of the worst famines the world has ever seen

As protests spread throughout much of the Arab world, pressure on Yemen’s authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh led him to hand power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.

However, Mr Hadi’s presidency was beset by continuing problems of corruption, unemployment and an insurgency from the Houthi militia.

The Houthis took control of the capital, Sana’a, in 2014 and declared themselves in charge of the government. Yemen’s President, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, fled to Aden, where he continues to lead Yemen’s internationally-recognised government.

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David Miliband criticises Yemen aid cut

Fierce fighting between the Iran-backed Houthi group and the western-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia has led to one of the worst famines the world has ever seen, with half of the population lacking food and almost 16 million on the brink of starvation in 2016.

Other countries affected

While the Arab Spring saw rulers deposed in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, it also led to street protests in Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Sudan. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, were able to use military force to effectively end revolts before they could seriously threaten the status quo.

Legacy of the Arab Spring

While the reverberations of the Arab Spring continue to affect life in the Arab World, continuing issues including corruption, authoritarianism and poverty are likely to be exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

Only Tunisia’s uprising resulted in a transition to a constitutional democracy, but with the country’s president ousting his prime minister, the shift away from authoritarian rule is looking increasingly fragile.

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