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Intel officials say ISIS could regroup after U.S. ‘betrayal’ of Kurds in Syria

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WASHINGTON — A sustained Turkish military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria — which President Donald Trump appears to have permitted — would vastly increase the threat to Americans from the Islamic State militant group, which remains intent on attacking the West, current and former intelligence officials tell NBC News.

The immediate concern, officials say, is what will happen with the 12,000 ISIS fighters currently being guarded by the American-backed Kurds. The ISIS prisoners are the world’s largest concentration of terrorists. If those fighters are set free, officials fear a replay of what happened in Iraq between 2010 and 2013, when the core group who founded ISIS were released or escaped from detention after U.S. forces left the country.

Some of the very people who broke out of Iraqi prisons helped turn ISIS into a movement that not only seized territory in Iraq and Syria, but also orchestrated and encouraged terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States.

More broadly, current and former officials say, a large Turkish military incursion into northern Syria will have the effect of removing the single greatest source of counterterrorism pressure against ISIS — a Kurdish force that has been crucial to defeating and containing the terror group.

Asked about the risks, U.S. intelligence officials chose their words carefully Wednesday, not wanting to say anything publicly that appears to criticize Trump’s policies. But they did not dispute what one of the top counterterrorism officials in the government told NBC News last month — that ISIS remains a dangerous threat, and that reduction of counterterrorism pressure on the group would “set the conditions for potential reemergence in a very powerful way.”

“They are absolutely still a viable external operational threat globally,” the official, who chose not to be identified, said.

Just days before Trump ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from the border region of northern Syria, a bipartisan team appointed by Congress, the Syria Study Group, issued a report warning that an American pullout would take the pressure off the terrorists.

“There’s ample evidence ISIS is still very much active, it has access to tremendous resources, its brand still has international appeal,” said Dana Stroul, co-author of the Syria Study Group report and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.

“We know that ISIS is looking for opportunities to reconstitute and certainly the lifting of pressure on ISIS is likely to provide the organization with that opportunity.”

The report said that ISIS had lost its grip on territory in Syria and Iraq but had “morphed into an insurgency with the will, capability, and resources to carry out attacks against the United States.”

Apart from ISIS, al Qaeda-linked groups and other extremists are active in Syria, taking advantage of the chaos of the country’s civil war, according to the report.

“Areas of Syria have become safe havens for al Qaeda and its fellow travelers and home to the largest concentration of foreign terrorist fighters since Afghanistan in the 1990s,” the report said.

Current and former officials also expressed frustration over what they see as a profound betrayal of the Kurdish force — which fought under the rubric of the Syrian Democratic Forces — that lost thousands of men fighting to defeat the ISIS caliphate on behalf of the United States.

“I’ve worked directly with the SDF and had many fighters from the group I grew to trust with my life,” a former CIA officer told NBC News. “Now, I realize they are all going to be killed or detained after we betrayed them — killed with weapons we gave to Turkey.”

Tom Donilon, who was President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, “We have given a green light to the Turks to come and fight our allies. … It’s a real stain on the reputation of the United States.”

Some analysts see it differently, pointing out that U.S. backed Kurdish forces are linked to the PKK, a Kurdish military group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. Turkey has been fighting the group for decades, they say, and there was always going to be a day of reckoning, unless the U.S. planned to keep troops in Syria forever.

The former CIA officer said in response: “They trusted us and believed us. If we didn’t intend to honor our promise, we should not have made it.”

The White House declined to comment, but referred NBC News to a previous statement by Trump:

“Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place — and we will hold them to this commitment. In addition, Turkey is now responsible for ensuring all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form. We expect Turkey to abide by all of its commitments, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.”



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Elizabeth Warren ramps up battle with Facebook

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., ramped up her criticism of Facebook this weekend, taking aim at the company’s policy on political advertising and for having “contributed” to media job losses.

One of the leading 2020 Democratic candidates, Warren’s weekend of prodding Facebook comes amid continued scrutiny of the tech giant, which she has called to be broken up.

On Saturday, Warren tweeted that her campaign “intentionally” published a Facebook ad with false claims to “see if it’d be approved.” The ad said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had endorsed President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.

Warren posted the ad amid criticism the company has faced about its decision to allow politicians to run ads containing falsehoods.

“Facebook changed their ads policy to allow politicians to run ads with known lies — explicitly turning the platform into a disinformation-for-profit machine,” she tweeted. “This week, we decided to see just how far it goes.

“We intentionally made a Facebook ad with false claims and submitted it to Facebook’s ad platform to see if it’d be approved,” she continued. “It got approved quickly and the ad is now running on Facebook. Take a look:”

She added that Facebook “holds incredible power to affect elections and our national debate.”

“They’ve decided to let political figures lie to you — even about Facebook itself — while their executives and their investors get even richer off the ads containing these lies,” she continued. “Once again, we’re seeing Facebook throw its hands up to battling misinformation in the political discourse, because when profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit.”

It’s Facebook’s policy not to subject politicians to third-part fact-checking that the company uses to root-out misinformation.

Warren’s ad came after the company was criticized for allowing Trump’s campaign to run an ad which made false claims about former Vice President Joe Biden. Other outlets have refused to air that ad, including NBCUniversal. The Biden campaign sought to have Facebook remove the ad, but Facebook refused.

Last month, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg said in a speech: “It is not our role to intervene when politicians speak.”

“The Trump campaign is currently spending $1 million a *week* on ads including ones containing known lies — ads that TV stations refuse to air because they’re false,” Warren tweeted. “Facebook just takes the cash, no questions asked.”

“Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once through negligence,” she continued. “Now, they’ve changed their policy so they can profit from lies to the American people. It’s time to hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable.”

Facebook’s press team responded to Warren in a tweet, saying the Federal Communications Commission “doesn’t want broadcast companies censoring candidates’ speech.”

“We agree it’s better to let voters — not companies — decide,” Facebook continued.

Warren fired back, saying, “You’re making my point here.”

“It’s up to you whether you take money to promote lies,” she tweeted. “You can be in the disinformation-for-profit business, or you can hold yourself to some standards. In fact, those standards were in your policy. Why the change?”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

On Sunday afternoon, Warren again offered criticism of Facebook, posting a link to a story about a $40 million proposed settlement for Facebook having allegedly inflated video metrics.

“Companies shifted their resources and strategies because of Facebook’s inflated metrics, costing them money and contributing to job losses,” she wrote. “We need to do a lot more to hold Facebook accountable.”

The weekend marked the second major clash between Warren and Facebook in recent weeks. Earlier, leaked audio of a Q&A Zuckerberg held with employees revealed that he said Facebook would “go to the mat” and fight if the senator were elected president, which he said would “suck” for Facebook.

Warren hit back, saying: “”What would really ‘suck’ is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.”

Warren has pledged to break up a series of major tech giants. Warren has said Facebook should relinquish its ownership of WhatsApp and Instagram.



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Hillary Clinton attacks 'authoritarian leader' Boris before saying she ‘fears' for Brits

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HILLARY CLINTON blasted Boris Johnson as an “authoritarian leader” in a shocking attack as she claimed she “fears” for the UK.

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‘Of course’ Trump was wrong to ask China to probe Bidens

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Sen. Ted Cruz said Sunday that it was wrong for President Donald Trump to call on China to probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in the Texas Republican’s most direct rebuke of the president yet.

Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” whether Trump’s comments were “appropriate,” Cruz said “of course not.”

“Elections in the U.S. should be decided by Americans and it’s not the business of foreign countries, any foreign countries, to be interfering in our elections,” he said.

“Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan then asked if it was improper for Trump to ask Ukraine to probe the Bidens, as he did in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy — a call that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry.

“Listen, foreign countries should stay out of American elections,” Cruz said. “That’s true for Russia. That’s true for Ukraine. That’s true for China. That’s true for all of them. It should be the American people deciding elections. I don’t know what [Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has] been saying. I do know though that we should decide our elections. It should be the American people making those decisions.”

But Cruz added that it would make “sense” for Giuliani, who is at the center of the president’s campaign to have Ukraine investigate the Bidens, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has already invited Giuliani to do so.

“I’d like to see Rudy testify,” Cruz said. “Yes.”

Cruz’s comments come as Republicans have struggled to align on their responses to Trump’s requests to have Chinese and Ukrainian officials investigate the former vice president and his son. Some Republicans defended Trump’s China remarks by saying the president wasn’t “serious” despite Trump never having indicated he was joking.

Asked Thursday about whether he was serious about calling on China to investigate the Bidens, Trump said, “China has to do whatever they want.”

“If they want to look into something, they can look into it,” the president continued. “If they don’t want to look into it, they don’t have to. Frankly, are far as I’m concerned, if China wants to look into something, I think that’s great. And if they don’t want to, I think that’s great too. That’s up to China.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he “can’t comment” on whether Trump was serious in his ask to have China investigate the Biden family.

“I can’t comment on whether he was serious or not,” Mnuchin said, adding that the topic had not been brought up in trade negotiations between the two countries. “And in the Oval Office, when the president was asked about this in front of the Vice Premier, the president made very clear, they can do what they want. So, again, people who are trying to imply that the president is asking for things or quid pro quos, I think this is ridiculous.”

The president began ramping up his push to have China probe Hunter’s business dealings this month in the face of House Democrats’ rapidly escalating impeachment probe.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters outside the White House earlier this month.

The president has repeatedly accused the former vice president’s son of using a 2013 trip on Air Force Two with his father to procure $1.5 billion from China for a private equity fund he had started. There has been no evidence of corruption on behalf of either Biden. The Washington Post found Trump’s claims false. And a spokesman for Hunter Biden said he did not acquire an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office. Meanwhile, Hunter’s total capitalization from the fund at the time amounted to about $4.2 million, not the $1.5 billion Trump alleged.

On Sunday, Hunter announced through his attorney that he would step down from the Chinese-backed firm by the end of the month. Hunter’s attorney, George Mesires, wrote that the former vice president’s son “never anticipated the barrage of false charges against both him and his father by the president of the United States.”



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