National Security

U.S. seizes North Korean ship suspected of violating U.N. sanctions

The U.S. has seized a North Korean freighter that was caught shipping coal in violation of U.N. sanctions, the Justice Department revealed Thursday. The 17,000-ton cargo ship, called the Wise Honest, was stopped in Indonesia last year after it was found to be carrying coal. The ship’s captain was charged with violating Indonesian law, and last July, the U.S. filed an action to seize the ship, according to court papers. Federal prosecutors said the seizure marks the first time the U.S. has taken possession of a North Korean ship for violating international sanctions. “This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service,” said John Demers, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The Wise Honest, North Korea’s second-largest ship for carrying bulk cargo, was on its way to American Samoa, U.S. officials said. On Thursday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to give the U.S. ownership of the vessel through a civil forfeiture action — the same thing prosecutors do when they seek to take ownership of planes or boats used by drug smugglers. The Justice Department says the U.S. is entitled to take this action because payments to maintain and equip the vessel were made through American banks. “Our office uncovered North Korea’s scheme to export tons of high-grade coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of their ship, the Wise Honest,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “This scheme not only allowed North Korea to evade sanctions, but the Wise Honest was also used to import heavy machinery to North Korea, helping expand North Korea’s capabilities and continuing the cycle of sanctions evasion.” The announcement of the seizure came just hours after North Korea launched suspected short-range missiles — the second such weapons test in a week. But Berman said the effort to take control of the Wise Honest had been in the works for some time and was not spurred by North Korea’s overnight actions. The Justice Department said the Korea Songi Shipping Company used the Wise Honest from at least November 2016 through April 2018 — and broke American law by paying U.S. dollars to “unwitting” banks for several improvements, equipment purchases and service expenditures for the vessel. The March 2018 cargo shipment yielded payments totaling more than $750,000, the Justice Department said.

This story is developing…

Kim Jong-un’s move to replace hardline spy chief creates fresh uncertainty in nuke talks

A major regime shake-up by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the eight weeks since his failed summit with President Trump has set U.S. officials on edge amid uncertainty over whether high-level personnel changes in Pyongyang will help or damage the stalled nuclear talks. With the prospect of a third Trump-Kim summit hanging in the balance, U.S. officials are scrambling to make sense of Mr. Kim’s apparent sidelining of top adviser Kim Yong-chol, a 73-year-old hard-liner and former intelligence chief disliked by the Trump administration, in favor of a much younger and lesser-known regime apparatchik named Jang Kum-chol. American and South Korean sources said that while Mr. Jang’s name was rarely mentioned by North Korea’s state-controlled media until two weeks ago, he has been an influential behind-the-scenes player for years, with a reputation for favoring diplomacy over hard-line confrontation. In his late-50s, Mr. Jang comes from an elite North Korean family and has spent his entire career working within the ruling Korean Workers’ Party United Front Department (UFD), a powerful intelligence arm of the regime that has long overseen relations with South Korea and increasingly with the United States, the sources said. He is believed to have been elevated to replace Kim Yong-chol as head of the UFD, although it is not clear whether that means Mr. Kim, who once threatened to turn South Korea into a “hell of fires” and is accused of masterminding a major 2014 cyberattack against the United States, is being punished by Kim Jong-un or pushed into a more background role. Either way, analysts say, Mr. Jang’s promotion can be read in a variety of ways at a time of maximum uncertainty in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy. “Outside observers may not be familiar with Jang, but he is well known within the power structure in Pyongyang, having spent his career in the UFD,” said Robert Collins, a senior adviser to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea who has lived in South Korea more than four decades and is considered an authority on the regime in Pyongyang. “Jang also has a reputation there as a negotiator who is really the opposite of Kim Yong-chol, who is renowned for being an extreme hard nose in negotiations.” Longtime North Korea analyst Paik Haksoon, president of the Sejong Institute, a leading think tank in South Korea, went further, asserting that Mr. Jang’s sudden rise, coupled with the elevation last month of longtime nuclear negotiator and diplomat Choe Son-hui to the position of first vice foreign minister, was clearly meant by Kim Jong-un “to send a message.” “The North Koreans are playing politics by changing the players involved in the negotiations. By moving Jang and Choe to positions of more prominence, they are sending a signal to the Americans and to South Korea that North Korean negotiators may be more engaging diplomatically than Kim Yong-chol has been,” Mr. Paik said. “This is not a concession by North Korea,” he added, “but more of an overture to say that on a personal, attitudinal level, with regard to their personal negotiating styles, they could be more diplomatic.” But how they translate into tangible changes in the nuclear negotiations remains to be seen.

Indeed..  For more, click on the text above.

US military prepping for Guaidó takeover in Venezuela

The commander of U.S. forces in Latin America told Congress Wednesday that the military is developing plans to be immediately ready for any contingency if Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó ousts dictator Nicolás Maduro from power. Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee he believes it is only a matter of time before Guaidó, president of the country’s National Assembly, takes control. Guaidó encouraged Venezuelans to take to the streets starting Tuesday, saying that the final phase of “Operation Freedom” had begun. “[T]here is going to be a day when the legitimate government takes over, and it’s going to come when we least expect it,” said Faller. “And it could be right now, so we are calling it ‘day now’ planning.” Faller told the committee that repairing Venezuela’s dilapidated economic and energy infrastructure after years of corruption and mismanagement won’t be a sample task. “[T]he magnitude of the misery is going to require every element of international unity that currently exists,” he said. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., asked Faller if military planning includes contingencies involving the aftermath of a U.S. intervention in the country. Faller said the military is preparing for anything the president has said is on the table, adding that “we are on the balls of our feet.” He said he would prefer to disclose the details in a closed session of Congress. Trump has kept military options on the table since Venezuela’s political crisis began. In January, the United States and dozens of other Western nations recognized Guaidó as the country’s interim president. “The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today in an interview on Fox Business Network. Venezuela’s political turmoil has been exacerbated by mass food shortages. The average Venezuelan has lost 20 pounds in the last year, Faller said, with 90 percent of people suffering from malnutrition. Responsibility for the continuing crisis “squarely rests on Cuba, Russia, and to some extent China,” the admiral told the committee. The Pentagon has estimated as many as 20,000 Cuban forces are supporting the Maduro regime. An unknown number of Russian military personnel and mercenaries are also believed to be in Venezuela, with 100 special advisers flying in recently. “It’s significant, and it’s contributing to the devastation,” said Faller. Trump threatened an embargo against Cuba yesterday. “If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete … embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba,” the president said in a pair of tweets. Government officials and experts have warned that the conflict in Venezuela could create an immigration crisis larger than that caused by the Syrian civil war. The United Nations estimates that about 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country, with 1.8 million leaving in 2018 alone.

Mexican troops disarmed American soldiers on US side of the border

Armed Mexican troops disarmed two United States soldiers while they were on the American side of the border, U.S. defense officials have said. U.S. Northern Command said in a statement that “five to six Mexican military personnel questioned two U.S. Army soldiers who were conducting border support operations” this month. The U.S. soldiers were in an unmarked Customs and Border Protection [CBP] vehicle near the southwest border near Clint, Texas. Officials confirmed that the Mexican troops were armed with what seemed to be rifles. They raised their weapons when they saw the two U.S. soldiers, and then took a pistol from one and put it in the CBP vehicle. According to officials talking to CNN, the two Americans obliged “in an attempt to de-escalate a potential volatile situation.” “Throughout the incident, the U.S. soldiers followed all established procedures and protocols,” the statement said. The two U.S. troops were on the south side of the security perimeter but north of the Rio Grande and thus were in the U.S., according side American territory, it added. Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security officials demanded an explanation from the Mexican government. “An inquiry by CBP and DOD [Department of Defense] revealed that the Mexican military members believed that the US Army soldiers were south of the border,” the statement said. “Though they were south of the border fence, U.S. soldiers remained in U.S. territory, north of the actual border.”

Soo..  Is an official apology forthcoming from the Mexican government for this outrageous invasion onto our side, and the confrontation with our American soldiers?  Our politicians need to demand that official apology now!  Call, or email, your member of Congress and both of your U.S. Senators and demand that they secure that apology.  Major kudos to our troops who handled that with such class and professionalism.  They are a credit to their uniforms.  They could easily have turned the tables, and ended that nonsense real quick in a way that would have ended very differently.  Mexican troops make, on average, a couple hundred incursions onto U.S. soil each ear.  And, sometimes, they fire on U.S. Border Patrol agents, etc.  Yeah…  You read that correctly.  So, this is hardly an isolated incident.  That’s why our politicians need to really push back on the Mexican government.  If anything, it’s just another reason why we need to BUILD THE WALL NOW!!!..and put armed U.S. Army National Guard troops physically ON the border with Mexico to prevent would-be crossers from setting on foot on U.S. soil…as well as to deter these sorts of incursions onto our side by Mexican troops.

Thousands of Islamic State Militants Surrender as Group Nears Total Defeat

Thousands of Islamic State militants have surrendered to the U.S.-Syrian Democratic Forces as the caliphate nears complete defeat, according to the group’s spokesman. “Number of Daesh (ISIS) members surrendered to us since yesterday evening has risen to 3,000,’ Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted in English on Tuesday evening. “[Three] Yazidi women and [four] children were rescued, too.” Bali added that the “decisive moment is closer than ever before,” following heavy fighting in the Syrian town of Baghouz, the final stretch of territory in Syria and Iraq still held by the Islamic State. However, the group has not provided a timeline for when the group will be completely defeated. The operation to completely expel the caliphate from the Euphrates Valley has taken far longer than expected, having begun nearly six months ago. On January 25th, the SDF’s commander-in-chief Mazloum Kobani declared that the caliphate would be fully defeated within a month, a target the forces have not achieved. Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition has previously explained that Baghouz had been “more crowded with both civilians and fighters than expected,” requiring troops to evacuate around 40,000 civilians from the area. “The overflow during the lull in battle has been difficult for the SDF and they have responded to everything well,” said coalition spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan last month.

 

Report: Assad has used chemical weapons 300 times since Obama ‘red line’

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons in his country’s civil war more than 300 times over just the past five years, with the vast majority coming since President Obama declared in 2013 that chemical attacks constituted a “red line” that could not be crossed, a new report claims. The report from The Global Public Policy Institute, a leading European think tank based in Berlin, examined nearly 500 claims of chemical weapons attacks dating back to 2012. The organization said it was able to “credibly” confirm 336 of those attacks, with the first on Dec. 23, 2012, and the latest in April 2018. The comprehensive study makes the case that Mr. Assad, for the most part, has gone unpunished for his use of chemical weapons. “The Syrian regime’s persistent and widespread use of chemical weapons is best understood as part of its overall war strategy of collective punishment of populations in opposition-held areas,” the study reads in part. “We show that the Assad regime did not merely ‘get away’ with its use of these banned weapons, but succeeded in using them for strategic ends.” “More than two-thirds of Syria’s population are internally or externally displaced, and opposition-held communities have been buckling and surrendering under the cumulative weight — and eventually the mere threat — of violence, including the use of chemical weapons,” the report says, arguing that Mr. Assad is on the verge of crushing his foes largely due to the use of chemical weapons. There have been no confirmed uses of chemical weapons since President Trump ordered retaliatory airstrikes against the Assad regime in April 2018, the study says, suggesting the U.S. military action had a real impact on the Syrian leader’s strategy. But the Obama administration had far less success. Mr. Obama in August 2013 declared that Syria’s use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that would lead to a military response from the U.S. Instead, the administration struck a deal that centered on Russia overseeing the supposed dismantling and destruction of Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons capability. That process appears to have been little more than a sham, as chemical weapons have remained strewn across Syria for years afterward. The Assad regime was responsible for the vast majority of attacks, though the weapons in a few instances apparently fell into the hands of the Islamic State. “Our research found that there have been at least 336 chemical weapons attacks over the course of the Syrian civil war — significantly more than has commonly been known,” the report says. “Around 98 percent of these attacks can be attributed to the Assad regime, with the Islamic State group responsible for the rest. Approximately 90 percent of all confirmed attacks occurred after the infamous ‘red line’ incident of August 2013.”

That’s because Obama was all talk..and didn’t follow up his threats with action.  Obama was a weak president, and Assad knew it.  Trump followed up his threat with action and guess what?  Assad stopped using these chemical weapons.  Imagine that!

Opinion/Analysis: America should hit Iran where it hurts after 40 years of undeclared war

Most Americans don’t realize it, but we’ve been at war for the last 40 years with the Islamic state of Iran. This is not a war we declared. And often, it’s been a war that our political and intelligence elites have denied exists. That’s because, just like the war we’ve been fighting since the 9/11 attacks, it’s a war that others declared on us rather than a war of our choosing. It began on November 4, 1979, when “radicals” loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held our diplomats hostage for 444 days. Once the hostages were released, on the very minute President Reagan was sworn into office, most Americans – including our politicians – thought the war was over. We did nothing. On April 18, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. (I reported from the scene of that bombing for USA Today at the time). The U.S. government never determined who was behind the attack, although we now know it was Iran. We did nothing. On Oct. 23, 1983, twin truck bombs killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French peacekeepers in Beirut. Once again, Iran ordered and carried out the attacks. We did nothing. Over the years, the Iranian regime, through its top terror-master, Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, kidnapped Americans, hijacked U.S. aircraft, and blew up more U.S. embassies while we did nothing. In 1998 Mugniyeh and his Iranian paymasters teamed up with Usama bin Laden, attacking U.S. embassies in Africa, driving a boat laden with explosives into the U.S.S. Cole, and yes, attacking America on Sept. 11, 2001. Victims of the 9/11 attacks have won more than $18 billion in damages against the Islamic state of Iran in U.S. courts, based on evidence that Iran “materially and directly supported al Qaeda” in preparing and executing those attacks. Iran has also targeted U.S. soldiers on the battlefield, killing more than 1,000 U.S. troops with specialized improvised explosive devices in Iraq, placing a bounty on U.S. service personnel in Afghanistan, and most recently targeting U.S. forces in Syria. The carnage just goes on and on. President Trump has said repeatedly that Americans are tired of endless wars. I agree. So here’s a strategy for winning this war and ending it once and for all. First, we need to increase military pressure on Iran by cutting off its “land bridge” through Syria to Israel’s northern border. This can be done by continuing to support the U.S. base at al Tanf in southeastern Syria, whether it is operated by Kurdish or Arab allies or members of the U.S. military. Next, we need to loosen Iran’s stranglehold over Iraq, by convincing the Iraqi government to disband the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that funnel arms and material through Iraqi territory into Syria, and by weeding out Iranian agents in the Iraqi government. Third, we need to provide material, political and diplomatic support to the pro-freedom movement inside Iran, striking the regime at the core of its weakness – its democracy deficiency. And fourth, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo needs to encourage U.S. friends and allies at the international meeting on the Middle East in Poland to enact new multilateral economic sanctions against Iran. These should include measures to freeze Iranian government assets so that the victims of Iranian terrorism with U.S. judgments can file claim to them overseas. Justice for victims of terrorism must be part of the U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic dictatorship in Iran. After all, keeping safe those fat overseas bank accounts is something the corrupt mullahs in Iran treasure. Let’s hit them where it hurts.

We agree!!  Thanks to Kenneth R. Timmerman for that outstanding op/ed.  That was spot on!  Having personally spent some time in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Military Intelligence “field grade” officer, I know that we have been fighting a proxy war with Iran for many years.   Kenneth R. Timmerman, best-selling author, lectured on Iran at the Joint Counter-Intelligence Training Academy from 2010-2016. He was jointly nominated for the Nobel Peace prize with Ambassador John Bolton in 2006 for his work on Iran. His latest book is “ISIS Begins: a Novel of the Iraq War.”