UK lawmakers warned of Chinese spying threat

A woman suspected of working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has been attempting to improperly influence members of parliament. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

UK lawmakers warned of Chinese spying threat

  • UK’s MI5 found that the woman “has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of” China
  • Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang

LONDON: A woman suspected of working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party has been attempting to improperly influence members of parliament, the speaker of the House of Commons said in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday.
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said Britain’s MI5 domestic intelligence service had found that the woman “has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with Members here at Parliament.”
She “has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring Parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China,” the letter added.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang, told parliament: “This is a matter of grave concern.”
Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Last year MI5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism.
British spies say China and Russia have each sought to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property as well as to interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.


FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited

Updated 56 min 51 sec ago

FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited

  • Agents took more than 30 items, including 20-plus boxes
  • Trump says the seized records were “all declassified“

WASHINGTON : FBI agents in this week’s search of former US President Donald Trump’s Florida home removed 11 sets of classified documents including some marked as top secret, the Justice Department said on Friday, while also disclosing it had probable cause to conduct the search based on possible Espionage Act violations.
The bombshell disclosures were made in a search warrant approved by a US magistrate judge and accompanying documents released four days after agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach. The Espionage Act, one of three laws cited in the warrant application, dates to 1917 and makes it a crime to release information that could harm national security.
Trump, in a statement on his social media platform, said the records were “all declassified” and placed in “secure storage.”
“They didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago,” the Republican businessman-turned-politician said.
The search was carried out as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election two months earlier to Democrat Joe Biden.
Although the FBI on Monday carted away material labeled as classified, the three laws cited as the basis for the warrant make it a crime to mishandle government records, regardless of whether they are classified. As such, Trump’s claims that he declassified the documents would have no bearing on the potential legal violations at issue.

The receipt for property seized by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida is shown in this photo taken on Aug. 12, 2022. (AP)

FBI agents took more than 30 items including more than 20 boxes, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Trump’s ally and longtime adviser Roger Stone, a list of items removed showed. Also included in the list was information about the “President of France.”
The warrant showed that FBI agents were asked to search a room called “the 45 Office” — Trump was the 45th US president — as well as all other rooms and structures or buildings on the estate used by Trump or his staff where boxes or documents could be stored.
The Justice Department said in the warrant application approved by US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart that it had probable cause to believe violations of the Espionage Act had occurred at Trump’s home.
That law was initially enacted to combat spying. Prosecutions under it were relatively uncommon until the Justice Department ramped up its use under both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama to go after leakers of national security information, including leaks to the news media.
The law’s section cited as the basis for the warrant prohibits unauthorized possession of national defense information. It did not spell out the details about why investigators have reason to believe such a violation occurred.
The Justice Department has used the Espionage Act in high-profile cases in recent years including former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The application also cited probable cause of possible violations of two other statutes that make it illegal to conceal or destroy official US documents.

Levels of classification
There are three primary levels of classification for sensitive government materials: Top secret, secret and confidential.
“Top secret” is the highest level, reserved for the most closely held US national security information. Such documents usually are kept in special government facilities because disclosure could gravely damage national security.
FBI agents on Monday collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, it was disclosed on Friday. Agents were revealed to have collected a set of documents labeled “classified/TS/SCI documents,” a reference to top secret and sensitive compartmented material.
Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing. It remained unclear whether any charges would be brought.

An escalation
Monday’s search marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations he is facing from his time in office and in private business, including a separate one by the Justice Department into a failed bid by Trump’s allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting phony slates of electors.
Trump on Wednesday declined to answer questions during an appearance before New York state’s attorney general in a civil investigation into his family’s business practices, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced that the department asked Reinhart to unseal the warrant. This followed Trump’s claim that the search was political retribution and a suggestion by him, without evidence, that the FBI may have planted evidence against him.

Legal experts said Trump’s claim that he had declassified the materials would not be a useful defense should he ever face charges.
“The statute does not even strictly require even that the information be classified so long as it is relating to the national defense,” Northwestern University law professor Heidi Kitrosser said, referring to the Espionage Act.
The investigation into Trump’s removal of records started this year after the National Archives and Records Administration, an agency charged with safeguarding presidential records that belong to the public, made a referral to the Justice Department.
Republican House of Representatives Intelligence Committee members on Friday called on Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray to release the affidavit underpinning the warrant, saying the public needs to know.
“Because many other options were available to them, we’re very concerned of the method that was used in raiding Mar-a-Lago,” Representative Michael Turner, the committee’s top Republican, told reporters.
If the affidavit remains sealed, “it will still leave many unanswered questions,” Turner added.
The Justice Department’s request to unseal the warrant did not include a request to unseal the accompanying affidavit, nor has Trump’s legal team publicly made such a motion.
Since Monday’s search, the department has faced fierce criticism and online threats, which Garland have condemned. Trump supporters and some Republicans in Washington have accused Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target him even as he mulls another run for the presidency in 2024.
 


Salman Rushdie stabbed onstage, rushed to hospital

Updated 12 August 2022

Salman Rushdie stabbed onstage, rushed to hospital

  • Police said that a male suspect stormed the stage and attacked Rushdie
  • He was rushed by helicopter to a local hospital, police said, adding that his condition was not known

NEW YORK: British author Salman Rushdie, whose writings have made him the target of Iranian death threats, was attacked and stabbed in the neck at a literary event on Friday in western New York state.
Police said that a male suspect stormed the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer, with the writer suffering “an apparent stab wound to the neck.”
He was rushed by helicopter to a local hospital, police said, adding that his condition was not known.
New York governor Kathy Hochul said Rushdie was alive, and hailed him as “an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power.”
“We condemn all violence, and we want people to be able to feel (the) freedom to speak and to write truth,” she said.
A state trooper assigned to the event at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was due to give a talk, immediately took the suspect into custody.
Police gave no details about the suspect’s identity or any probable motive.
Social media footage showed people rushing to Rushdie’s aid and administrating emergency medical care. The interviewer also suffered a head injury in the attack.
The Chautauqua Institution — which puts on arts and literary programming in a tranquil lakeside community seventy miles (110 kilometers) south of Buffalo — said in a statement that it was coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials.
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India.
But his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” brought attention beyond his imagination when it sparked a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for his death by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The novel was considered by some Muslims as disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammad.
Rushdie, who was born in India to non-practicing Muslims and today identifies as an atheist, was forced to go underground as a bounty was put on his head — which remains today.
He was granted police protection by the government in Britain, where he was at school and where he made his home, following the murder or attempted murder of his translators and publishers.
He spent nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and being unable to tell his children where he lived.
Rushdie only began to emerge from his life on the run in the late 1990s after Iran in 1998 said it would not support his assassination.
Now living in New York, he is an advocate of freedom of speech, notably launching a strong defense of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after its staff were gunned down by Islamists in Paris in 2015.
The magazine had published drawings of Muhammad that drew furious reactions from Muslims worldwide.
Threats and boycotts continue against literary events that Rushdie attends, and his knighthood in 2007 sparked protests in Iran and Pakistan, where a government minister said the honor justified suicide bombings.
The fatwa failed to stifle Rushdie’s writing and inspired his memoir “Joseph Anton,” named after his alias while in hiding and written in the third person.
“Midnight’s Children” — which runs to more than 600 pages — has been adapted for the stage and silver screen, and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages.
Suzanne Nossel, head of the PEN America organization, said the free speech advocacy group was “reeling from shock and horror.”
“Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face,” Nossel said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery. We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”


Drought officially declared in several parts of England

Updated 12 August 2022

Drought officially declared in several parts of England

  • The "drought trigger threshold had been met" in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern England
  • The Environment Agency on Friday published a report saying that England as a whole had its driest July since 1935

LONDON: The UK government on Friday officially declared a drought in several parts of England, following months of record low rainfall and unprecedented temperatures in recent weeks.
At a meeting of the National Drought Group, the government’s Environment Agency said the “drought trigger threshold had been met” in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern England.
Drought was last officially declared in England in 2018.
The Environment Agency on Friday published a report saying that England as a whole had its driest July since 1935.
The exceptional weather comes as France is also experiencing a record drought and battling huge wildfires.
The Met Office, the UK’s meteorological authority, said the period from January to June this year saw the least rainfall in England and Wales since 1976.
That summer saw the use of drastic measures such as roadside standpipes and water rationing.
The government statement said the move to drought status was based on factors such as rainfall, river flows and levels of groundwater and reservoirs and their impact on public water supply.
“We urge everyone to manage the amount of water they are using in this exceptionally dry period,” National Drought Group chair, Harvey Bradshaw, was quoted as saying.
The Environment Agency and water companies “will step up their actions to manage impacts” and press ahead with their published drought plans, including thinks like hosepipe bans.
It stressed that “essential supplies of water are safe.”
England and parts of Wales are severely parched and some water companies have already announced hosepipe bans.
The UK overall had 56 percent of its average rainfall for July. Every month of the year except February has been drier than average, according to the Met Office.
Satellite images from July released by NASA showed dried-up brown areas extending across most of southern England and up the northeastern coast.
The source of the River Thames has dried up, with the river now flowing from a point several miles downstream.
Meetings of the National Drought Group are convened by the government’s Environment Agency, which monitors water levels in rivers and ground water.
The group is made up of senior decision-makers from the government and water companies, along with other affected groups such as farmers.
The Met Office on Tuesday issued an amber warning over “extreme heat” in parts of England and Wales Thursday to Sunday, predicting possible impacts on health, transport and infrastructure.
Temperatures were expected to hit the mid-30s Celsius, peaking on Friday and the weekend, after which showers and thunderstorms were forecast.
Temperatures were not expected to hit the record levels seen in July when a temperature of 40.3 Celsius was recorded in Lincolnshire in northeastern England on July 20, during an unprecedented heatwave.
The National Climate Information Center said that such high temperatures in the UK were only possible due to human-induced climate change.


Germany suspends military operations in Mali

Updated 12 August 2022

Germany suspends military operations in Mali

  • The German move comes as Mali’s junta turned away from France and toward Russia in its fight against militancy

BERLIN: The German defense ministry said Friday it had suspended most of its operations in Mali after the local military-led government denied flyover rights to a UN peacekeeping mission.
“The Malian government has once again refused to give flyover rights to a flight planned today” for the rotation of personnel on the ground, a ministry spokesman said at a regular press conference.
In response, Germany had decided to “suspend until further notice the operations of our reconnaissance forces and CH-53 (helicopter) transport flights.”
“It is no longer possible to support the MINUSMA reconnaissance missions on an operational basis,” the spokesman said.
Without the new troops, who were set to “replace French forces” in the process of withdrawing, “security on site is not assured” as the “remaining forces must be kept ready for security operations.”
The flyover rights were refused despite assurances to the contrary from the Malian Defense Minister Sadio Camara in a call with his German counterpart Christine Lambrecht Thursday, the spokesman said.
“Camara’s actions tell a different story than his words,” Lambrecht said in a statement posted by her ministry on Twitter.
The German move comes as Mali’s junta turned away from France and toward Russia in its fight against militancy.
The long-running insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
The relationship between Bamako and Paris, its former colonial power and traditional ally, has deteriorated in recent months.
The arrival of Russian paramilitaries in the country on the invitation of the government was a key factor in France’s decision to pull its military forces out.
The withdrawal is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.


US, Indonesia, Australia hold drills amid China concerns

Updated 12 August 2022

US, Indonesia, Australia hold drills amid China concerns

  • More than 5,000 personnel from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore are participating in this year’s exercises

BATURAJA, Indonesia: Soldiers from the US, Indonesia and Australia joined a live-fire drill on Friday, part of annual joint combat exercises on Sumatra island amid growing Chinese maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific region.
A total of more than 5,000 personnel from the US, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore are participating in this year’s exercises, making them the largest since they began in 2009.
The expanded drills are seen by China as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the US of building an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO to limit China’s growing military and diplomatic influence in the region.
The United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and East Timor also sent observers to the exercises, which began early this month.
The US Indo-Pacific commander, Adm. John C. Aquilino Aquilino, said the 14 nations involved in the training are signaling their stronger ties as China grows increasingly assertive in claiming virtually the entire South China Sea and holds exercises threatening self-ruled Taiwan.
“The destabilizing actions by the People’s Republic of China as it applied to the threatening activities and actions against Taiwan is exactly what we are trying to avoid,” he said at a joint news conference with Indonesian military chief Gen. Andika Perkasa in Baturaja, a coastal town in South Sumatra province.
“We’ll continue to help deliver a free and open Indo-Pacific and be ready when we need to respond to any contingency,” Aquilino said.
Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive ties, but Jakarta has expressed concern about what it sees as Chinese encroachment in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Despite its official position as a non-claimant state in the contested South China Sea, Indonesia has been “dragged along” in the territorial dispute since 2010 after China claimed part of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the northern region of the Natuna Islands, said Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, a security analyst at the University of Indonesia.
The edge of the exclusive economic zone overlaps with Beijing’s unilaterally declared “nine-dash line” demarking its claims in the South China Sea.
Increased activities by Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats in the area have unnerved Jakarta, prompting Indonesia’s navy to conduct a large drill in July 2020 in waters around Natuna at the southern portion of the South China Sea.
Indonesia sees the current exercises with the US as a deterrent in defense of the Natuna Islands, while for Washington, the drills are part of efforts to forge a united front against China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, Bakrie said.
“Indonesia wants to send the message that it is fully prepared for any high-intensity conflict in the South China Sea area,” she said.
The joint combat exercises end Sunday.