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Exclusive: Russia carried out a ‘stunning’ breach of FBI communications system, escalating the spy game on U.S. soil

Zach Dorfman, Jenna McLaughlin and Sean D. Naylor

Reporters, Yahoo News

September 16, 2019  –  The U.S. forced to extract top spy from Russia after Trump revealed classified information to Russians in Oval Office meeting

On Dec. 29, 2016, the Obama administration announced that it was giving nearly three dozen Russian diplomats just 72 hours to leave the United States and was seizing two rural East Coast estates owned by the Russian government. As the Russians burned papers and scrambled to pack their bags, the Kremlin protested the treatment of its diplomats, and denied that those compounds — sometimes known as the “dachas” — were anything more than vacation spots for their personnel.

The Obama administration’s public rationale for the expulsions and closures — the harshest U.S. diplomatic reprisals taken against Russia in several decades — was to retaliate for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But there was another critical, and secret, reason why those locations and diplomats were targeted.

Both compounds, and at least some of the expelled diplomats, played key roles in a brazen Russian counterintelligence operation that stretched from the Bay Area to the heart of the nation’s capital, according to former U.S. officials. The operation, which targeted FBI communications, hampered the bureau’s ability to track Russian spies on U.S. soil at a time of increasing tension with Moscow, forced the FBI and CIA to cease contact with some of their Russian assets, and prompted tighter security procedures at key U.S. national security facilities in the Washington area and elsewhere, according to former U.S. officials. It even raised concerns among some U.S. officials about a Russian mole within the U.S. intelligence community.

Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images
Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images

“It was a very broad effort to try and penetrate our most sensitive operations,” said a former senior CIA official.

American officials discovered that the Russians had dramatically improved their ability to decrypt certain types of secure communications and had successfully tracked devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams. Officials also feared that the Russians may have devised other ways to monitor U.S. intelligence communications, including hacking into computers not connected to the internet. Senior FBI and CIA officials briefed congressional leaders on these issues as part of a wide-ranging examination on Capitol Hill of U.S. counterintelligence vulnerabilities.

These compromises, the full gravity of which became clear to U.S. officials in 2012, gave Russian spies in American cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco key insights into the location of undercover FBI surveillance teams, and likely the actual substance of FBI communications, according to former officials. They provided the Russians opportunities to potentially shake off FBI surveillance and communicate with sensitive human sources, check on remote recording devices and even gather intelligence on their FBI pursuers, the former officials said.

Part of the Russian Federation's riverfront compound on Maryland's Eastern Shore. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Part of the Russian Federation’s riverfront compound on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

“When we found out about this, the light bulb went on — that this could be why we haven’t seen [certain types of] activity” from known Russian spies in the United States, said a former senior intelligence official.

The compromise of FBI systems occurred not long after the White House’s 2010 decision to arrest and expose a group of “illegals” – Russian operatives embedded in American society under deep non-official cover – and reflected a resurgence of Russian espionage. Just a few months after the illegals pleaded guilty in July 2010, the FBI opened a new investigation into a group of New York-based undercover Russian intelligence officers. These Russian spies, the FBI discovered, were attempting to recruit a ring of U.S. assets — including Carter Page, an American businessman who would later act as an unpaid foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The breaches also spoke to larger challenges faced by U.S. intelligence agencies in guarding the nation’s secrets, an issue highlighted by recent revelations, first published by CNN, that the CIA was forced to extract a key Russian asset and bring him to the U.S. in 2017. The asset was reportedly critical to the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally directed the interference in the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence by his side, on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump speaks, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence by his side, on Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Yahoo spoke about these previously unreported technical breaches and the larger government debates surrounding U.S. policies toward Russia with more than 50 current and former intelligence and national security officials, most of whom requested anonymity to discuss sensitive operations and internal discussions. While the officials expressed a variety of views on what went wrong with U.S.-Russian relations, some said the United States at times neglected to appreciate the espionage challenge from Moscow, and paid a significant price for a failure to prioritize technical threats.

“When I was in office, the counterintelligence business was … focused entirely on its core concern, which is insider threats, and in particular mole hunting,” said Joel Brenner, the head of U.S. counterintelligence and strategy from 2006 to 2009. “This is, in fact, the core risk and it’s right that it should be the focus. But we were neither organized nor resourced to deal with counterintelligence in networks, technical networks, electronic networks.”

The discovery of Russia’s newfound capacity to crack certain types of encryption was particularly unnerving, according to former U.S. officials.

“Anytime you find out that an adversary has these capabilities, it sets off a ripple effect,” said a former senior national security official. “The Russians are able to extract every capability from any given technology. … They are singularly dangerous in this area.”

 

The FBI’s discovery of these compromises took place on the heels of what many hoped would be a breakthrough between Washington and Moscow — the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” initiative, which sought to improve U.S.-Russia relations. Despite what seemed to be some initial progress, the reset soon went awry.

In September 2011, Vladimir Putin announced the launch of his third presidential campaign, only to be confronted during the following months by tens of thousands of protesters accusing him of electoral fraud. Putin, a former intelligence officer, publicly accused then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of fomenting the unrest.

It was around this time that Putin’s spies in the United States, operating under diplomatic cover, achieved what a former senior intelligence official called a “stunning” technical breakthrough, demonstrating their relentless focus on the country they’ve long considered their primary adversary.

A December 2011 protest in Moscow against the alleged rigging of parliamentary polls. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)
A December 2011 protest in Moscow against the alleged rigging of parliamentary polls. (Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

That effort compromised the encrypted radio systems used by the FBI’s mobile surveillance teams, which track the movements of Russian spies on American soil, according to more than half a dozen former senior intelligence and national security officials. Around the same time, Russian spies also compromised the FBI teams’ backup communications systems — cellphones outfitted with “push-to-talk” walkie-talkie capabilities. “This was something we took extremely seriously,” said a former senior counterintelligence official.

The Russian operation went beyond tracking the communications devices used by FBI surveillance teams, according to four former senior officials. Working out of secret “listening posts” housed in Russian diplomatic and other government-controlled facilities, the Russians were able to intercept, record and eventually crack the codes to FBI radio communications.

Some of the clandestine eavesdropping annexes were staffed by the wives of Russian intelligence officers, said a former senior intelligence official. That operation was part of a larger sustained, deliberate Russian campaign targeting secret U.S. government communications throughout the United States, according to former officials.

The two Russian government compounds in Maryland and New York closed in 2016 played a role in the operation, according to three former officials. They were “basically being used as signals intelligence facilities,” said one former senior national security official.

An estate in Oyster Bay, N.Y., one of two Russian diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration in late 2016 as punishment for Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S. election. (Photo: Photo: Alexander F. Yuan/AP)
An estate in Oyster Bay, N.Y., one of two Russian diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration in late 2016 as punishment for Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S. election. (Photo: Photo: Alexander F. Yuan/AP)

Russian spies also deployed “mobile listening posts.” Some Russian intelligence officers, carrying signals intelligence gear, would walk near FBI surveillance teams. Others drove vans full of listening equipment aimed at intercepting FBI teams’ communications. For the Russians, the operation was “amazingly low risk in an angering way,” said a former senior intelligence official.

The FBI teams were using relatively lightweight radios with limited range, according to former officials. These low-tech devices allowed the teams to move quickly and discreetly while tracking their targets, which would have been more difficult with clunkier but more secure technology, a former official said. But the outdated radios left the teams’ communications vulnerable to the Russians. “The amount of security you employ is the inverse of being able to do things with flexibility, agility and at scale,” said the former official.

A former senior counterintelligence official blamed the compromises on a “hodgepodge of systems” ineffective beyond the line of sight. “The infrastructure that was supposed to be built, they never followed up, or gave us the money for it,” said the former official. “The intelligence community has never gotten an integrated system.”

The limitations of the radio technology, said the former senior officials, led the FBI’s surveillance personnel to communicate on the backup systems.

“Eventually they switched to push-to-talk cellphones,” said a former counterintelligence executive. “The tech guys would get upset by that, because if they could intercept radio, they might be able to intercept telephones.”

That is indeed what happened. Those devices were then identified and compromised by Russian intelligence operatives. (A number of other countries’ surveillance teams — including those from hostile services — also transitioned from using radios to cellphones during this time, noted another former official.)

The FBI seal outside the bureau's headquarters in Washington. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)
The FBI seal outside the bureau’s headquarters in Washington. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. intelligence officials were uncertain whether the Russians were able to unscramble the FBI conversations in real time. But even the ability to decrypt them later would have given the Russians critical insights into FBI surveillance practices, including “call signs and locations, team composition and tactics,” said a former intelligence official.

U.S. officials were also unsure about how long the Russians had been able to decipher FBI communications before the bureau realized what was happening. “There was a gap between when they were really onto us, and when we got onto them,” said a former senior intelligence official.

Even after they understood that the Russians had compromised the FBI teams’ radios, U.S. counterintelligence officials could not agree on how they had done it. “The intel reporting was they did break our codes or got their hands on a radio and figured it out,” said a former senior intelligence official. “Either way, they decrypted our comms.”

Officials also cautioned, however, that the Russians could only crack moderately encrypted communications, not the strongest types of encryption used by the U.S. government for its most sensitive transmissions. It was nonetheless “an incredible intelligence success” for the Russians, said the former senior official.

While the Russians may have developed this capability by themselves, senior counterintelligence officials also feared that someone from within the U.S. government — a Russian mole — may have helped them, said former officials. “You’re wondering, ‘If this is true, and they can do this, is this because someone on the inside has given them that information?’’ said another former senior intelligence official.

Vladimir Putin, then Russia's prime minister, in September 2011, around the time he announced he would stand for president in 2012. (Photo: Yana Lapikova/AFP/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s prime minister, in September 2011, around the time he announced he would stand for president in 2012. (Photo: Yana Lapikova/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia has a clear interest in concealing how it gets its information, further muddying the waters. According to a former senior CIA officer who served in Moscow, the Russians would often try to disguise a human source as a technical penetration. Ultimately, officials were unable to pinpoint exactly how the Russians pulled off the compromise of the FBI’s systems.

Mark Kelton, who served as the chief of counterintelligence at the CIA until he retired in 2015, declined to discuss specific Russian operations, but he told Yahoo News that “the Russians are a professionally proficient adversary who have historically penetrated every American institution worth penetrating.”

This remains a core worry for U.S. spy hunters. The number of ongoing espionage investigations into U.S. government personnel — at the CIA, the FBI and elsewhere — including those potentially recruited by Russia, “is not a little, it’s a lot,” said another former senior counterintelligence official.

Once the compromises of FBI communications devices were confirmed, U.S. officials scrambled to minimize the exposure of mobile surveillance team operations, quickly putting countermeasures in place, according to former senior officials. There was a “huge concern” about protecting the identities of the individuals on the teams — an elite, secret group — said the former senior counterintelligence official. U.S. officials also conducted a damage assessment and repeatedly briefed select White House officials and members of Congress about the compromise.

After the FBI discovered that its surveillance teams’ cellphones had been compromised, they were forced to switch back to encrypted radios, purchasing different models, according to two former officials. “It was an expensive venture,” said one former counterintelligence official.

But the spying successes went both ways. The U.S. intelligence community collected its own inside information to conclude that the damage from the compromises had been limited, partly due to the Russians’ efforts to keep their intelligence coup secret, according to a former senior intelligence official. “The Russians were reticent to take steps [that might reveal] that they’d figured it out,” the former senior official said.

 

Even so, the costs to U.S. intelligence were significant. Spooked by the discovery that its surveillance teams’ communications had been compromised, the FBI worried that some of its assets had been blown, said two former senior intelligence officials. The bureau consequently cut off contact with some of its Russian sources, according to one of those officials.

At the time of the compromise, some of the FBI’s other Russian assets stopped cooperating with their American handlers. “There were a couple instances where a recruited person had said, ‘I can’t meet you anymore,’” said a former senior intelligence official. In a damage assessment conducted around 2012, U.S. intelligence officials concluded the events may have been linked.

The impact was not limited to the FBI. Alerted by the bureau to concerns surrounding Russia’s enhanced interception capabilities, the CIA also ceased certain types of communications with sources abroad, according to a former senior CIA official. The agency “had to resort to a whole series of steps” to ensure the Russians weren’t able to eavesdrop on CIA communications, the former senior official said. There was a “strong hint” that these newly discovered code-breaking capabilities by Russia were also being used abroad, said another former senior intelligence official.

The CIA has long been wary of Russian spies’ eavesdropping efforts outside of the United States, especially near U.S. diplomatic facilities. U.S. officials have observed Russian technical officers repeatedly walking close to those compounds with packages in their hands, or wearing backpacks, or pushing strollers, or driving by in vehicles — all attempts, U.S. officials believe, to collect information on the different signals emanating from the facilities. While the tools used by the Russians for these activities were “a bit antiquated,” said a former senior CIA official, they were still a “constant concern.”

It’s not unusual for intelligence officers operating from diplomatic facilities, including the United States’s own operatives, to try and intercept the communications of the host nation. “You had to find ways to attack their surveillance,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former head of counterintelligence at the Department of Energy and a former CIA officer who first served in Moscow in the 1980s. “The Russians do everything in the U.S. that we did in Moscow.”

Indeed, the focus on cracking radio communications was no different.

“We put extraordinary effort into intercepting and monitoring the FSB surveillance radio networks for the purpose of understanding whether our officers were under surveillance or not,” said another former senior CIA officer who also served in Moscow.

Entrance to a Russian diplomatic compound in Maryland that was shuttered in late 2016 in retaliation for alleged election hacking. (Photo: Brian Witt/AP)
Entrance to a Russian diplomatic compound in Maryland that was shuttered in late 2016 in retaliation for alleged election hacking. (Photo: Brian Witt/AP)

The discovery of the Russians’ new code-breaking capabilities came at a time when gathering intelligence on Russia and its leaders’ intentions was of particular importance to the U.S. government. U.S. national security officials working on Russia at the time received rigorous security training on how to keep their digital devices secure, according to two former senior officials. One former U.S. official recalled how during the negotiations surrounding the reset, NSC officials, partially tongue in cheek, “would sometimes say things on the phone hoping [they] were communicating things to the Russians.”

According to a former CIA official and a former national security official, the CIA’s analysts often disagreed about how committed Russia was to negotiations during the attempted reset and how far Putin would go to achieve his strategic aims, divergences that confused the White House and senior policy makers.

“It caused a really big rift within the [National Security Council] on how seriously they took analysis from the agency,” said the former CIA official. Senior administration leaders “went along with” some of the more optimistic analysis on the future of U.S.-Russia relations “in the hopes that this would work out,” the official continued.

Those disagreements were part of a “reset hangover” that persisted, at least for some inside the administration, until the 2016 election meddling, according to a former senior national security official. Those officials clung to the hope that Washington and Moscow could cooperate on key issues, despite aggressive Russian actions ranging from the invasion of Ukraine to its spying efforts.

“We didn’t understand that they were at political war with us already in the second term once Putin was reelected and Obama himself was reelected,” said Evelyn Farkas, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia during the Obama administration.

 

As high-level hopes for the U.S.-Russia “reset” withered, concerns about the threat of Russian spying made their way to Capitol Hill. Top officials at the FBI and CIA briefed key members of Congress on counterintelligence issues related to Russia, according to current and former U.S. officials. These included briefings on the radio compromises, said two former senior officials.

Mike Rogers, a former Republican lawmaker from Michigan who chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2011 to 2015, alluded to counterintelligence concerns at a conference earlier this year in Washington, D.C.

One of those concerns was a massive intelligence failure related to the secret internet-based communications system the CIA used to communicate with agents. The extent of that failure, first reported publicly by Yahoo News in 2018, got the attention of Congress earlier.

But the problems were broader than that issue, according to Rogers.

“Our counterintelligence operations needed some adjustments,” said Rogers, adding that he and his Democratic counterpart from Maryland, Dutch Ruppersberger, requested regular briefings on the subject from agency representatives. “We started out monthly until we just wore them out, then we did it quarterly to try to make sure that we had the right resources and the right focus for the entire community on counter[intelligence].”

Rogers later told Yahoo News that his request for the briefings had been prompted by “suspected penetrations, both physical and technical, which is the role of those [Russian and Chinese] intelligence services,” but declined to be more specific.

The former committee chairman said he wanted the intelligence community to make counterintelligence a higher priority. “Counterintelligence was always looked at as the crazy uncle at the party,” he said. “I wanted to raise it up and give it a robust importance.”

 

The briefings, which primarily involved counterintelligence officials from the FBI and CIA and were limited to the committee leadership and staff directors, led to “some useful inquiries to help focus the intelligence community,” Rogers said. The leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were also included in some of the inquiries, according to Rogers and a current U.S. government official.

Spokespeople for the current House and Senate intelligence committees did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI and CIA declined to comment. The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not respond to a request for comment.

The briefings were designed to “get the counterintelligence house in order,” said Jamil Jaffer, senior counsel at the House intelligence committee from 2011 to 2013, and to ensure that Congress and the intelligence agencies were “on the same page” when it came to such matters. “There were some concerns about what the agencies were doing, there were some concerns about what Congress knew, and all of these issues, of course, had China-Russia implications.”

Rogers and Jaffer declined to provide further details about what specific counterintelligence issues the committee was addressing, but other former officials indicated that worries weren’t limited to the compromise of FBI radio systems. Senior U.S. officials were contemplating an even more disturbing possibility: that the Russians had found a way to penetrate the communications of the U.S. intelligence community’s most sensitive buildings in and around Washington, D.C.

Suspected Russian intelligence officers were seen conspicuously loitering along the road that runs alongside the CIA’s headquarters, according to former senior intelligence officials. “Russian diplomats would be sitting on Route 123, sometimes in cars with diplomatic plates, other times not,” a former senior intelligence executive said. “We thought, they’re out doing something. It’s not just taking down license plates; those guys are interrogating the system.”

Though this behavior dated back at least to the mid-2000s, former officials said those activities persisted simultaneously with the compromise of the FBI’s communication system. And these were not the only instances of Russian intelligence operatives staking out locations with a line of sight to CIA headquarters. They were “fixated on being in neighborhoods” that gave them exposure to Langley, said a former senior official.

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Getty Images)
FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Getty Images)

Over time, U.S. intelligence officials became increasingly concerned that Russian spies might be attempting to intercept communications from key U.S. intelligence facilities, including the CIA and FBI headquarters. No one knew if the Russians had actually succeeded.

“The question was whether they had capabilities to penetrate our comms at Langley,” said a former senior CIA official. In the absence of any proof that that was the case, the working theory was that the Russian activities were provocations designed to sow uncertainty within the CIA. “We came to the conclusion that they were trying to get into our heads,” the former senior official said.

A major concern was that Russian spies with physical proximity to sensitive U.S. buildings might be exfiltrating pilfered data that had “jumped the air gap,” i.e., that the Russians were collecting information from a breach of computers not connected to the Internet, said former officials.

One factor behind U.S. intelligence officials’ fears was simple: The CIA had already figured out how to perform similar operations themselves, according to a former senior CIA officer directly familiar with the matter. “We felt it was pretty revolutionary stuff at the time,” the former CIA officer said. “It allowed us to do some extraordinary things.”

While no one definitively concluded that the Russians had actually succeeded in penetrating Langley’s communications, those fears, combined in part with the breach of the bureau’s encrypted radio system, drove an effort by U.S. intelligence officials around 2012 to fortify sensitive Washington-area government buildings against potential Russian snooping, according to four former officials.

At key government facilities in the Washington area, entire floors were converted to sensitive compartmented information facilities, or SCIFs. These are specially protected areas designed to be impenetrable to hostile signals intelligence gathering.

The normal assumption was that work done in a SCIF would be secure, but doubts arose about the safety of even those rooms. “The security guys would say, your windows are ‘tempested’”—that is, protected against the interception of emissions radiating from electronic equipment in the building —“you’re in a SCIF, it’s fine,” a former senior counterintelligence executive recalled. “The question was, ‘Is it true?’”

Increasingly, U.S. officials began to fear it was not.

New security practices were instituted in sensitive government facilities like the FBI and CIA headquarters, according to former officials. “It required many procedural changes on our part to make sure we were not susceptible to penetrations,” said a former senior CIA official. These included basic steps such as moving communication away from windows and changing encryption codes more frequently, as well as more expensive adjustments, said four former officials.

Revelations about the Russian compromise of the radio systems, recalled a former senior intelligence official, “kick-started the money flowing” to upgrade security.

 

While the breaches of the FBI communications systems appeared to finally spur Congress and the intelligence agencies to adopt steps to counter increasingly sophisticated Russian eavesdropping, it took the Putin-directed interference in the 2016 election to get the White House to expel at least some of those officials deemed responsible for the breaches, and to shut down the facilities that enabled them.

Even then, the decision was controversial. Some in Washington worried about retribution by the Russians and exposure of American intelligence operations, according to a former senior U.S. national security official directly involved in the discussions. The FBI consistently supported expulsions, said another former national security official.

More than two years later, the Russian diplomatic compounds used in the FBI communications compromises remain shuttered. The U.S. government has prevented many of the Russian spies expelled by the United States from returning, according to national security experts and senior foreign intelligence officials. “They are slowly creeping back in, but [the] FBI makes it hard,” said a senior foreign intelligence official. “The old guard is basically screwed. They need to bring in a whole new generation.”

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller leaves a meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2017. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller leaves a meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2017. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In the meantime, those familiar with Russian operations warn that the threat from Moscow is far from over. “Make no mistake, we’re in an intelligence war with the Russians, every bit as dangerous as the Cold War,” said a former senior intelligence officer. “They’re trying all the time … and we caught them from time to time,” he said. Of course, he added, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

That’s the same message that special counsel Robert Mueller tried to convey during the highly contentious hearings to discuss his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. “They are doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” Mueller told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee about covert Russian involvement in U.S. politics.

But a number of observers believe Mueller’s message about the threat from Russia was largely lost amid a partisan battle on Capitol Hill over President Trump.

During his Washington conference appearance earlier this year, Rogers, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, also lamented that the current politicized state of the intelligence committees would make spy agencies more hesitant to admit their failures.

“They’re not going to call you to say, ‘I screwed up.’ They’re going to say, ‘God, I hope they don’t find that,’” he said. “That’s what’s going to happen. I’ll guarantee it’s happening today.”

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Police, government issue warning on new drugs labelled “Zeeser”

Police, government issue warning on new drugs labelled “Zeeser”

by staff writer

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sept 11, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government and police Wednesday said they were concerned at the proliferation of a new drug labelled “the Zesser Pill” that has been blamed for causing severe adverse physical and mental behavioural reactions in users.

The Ministry of National Security in a statement said that it is aware of the recent information circulating in the print and social media about the availability of the drug that is being sold for as much as TT$100 (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents).

“This drug has been attributed to causing severe adverse (physical and mental) behavioural reactions in users,” the Ministry said in a statement, quoting National Security Minister Stuart Young as advising “that the chemical composition of this drug has not yet been verified by the Trinidad and Tobago Forensic Science Centre (TTFSC), but investigations are underway.

“The Ministry of National Security continues to urge the public to avoid the use of any substances with psychoactive properties, in the interest of their health, safety and wellbeing,” the statement said.

Speaking at the weekly Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) news conference, Acting Superintendent Wayne Mystar, law enforcement authorities are aware of the drug and that “based on our intelligence it is a combination of ecstasy and cocaine.

“It is in a powder form and it is also designed to look like sweets,” he said, adding “we are critically concerned about it and we are doing all in our power to get that dangerous drug off the street.”

Mystar said that the police are seeking to cooperate with the Ministry of Education to assess a programme “because we are realising that because of the infiltration of gangs into schools, the drug may well find itself within the schools.
“So that is something of concern to the TTPS and we are looking into that seriously,” he said, adding based on intelligence, the drug is circulating within parties and at schools.

“We are doing our investigations but what we want to advise principals …if you see something say something, that is our mantra. We are asking the parents to get involved to educate their children about accepting these things from strangers and as it relates to gangs trying to infiltrate we have a partnership with each school…to provide strategies that would keep a high security blanket across our nation schools,” he added.

Anti-substance abuse activist, Garth St. Clair, recently warned that the video posted on social media showing a number of young people passed out at the Hasely Crawford Stadium following a party, was troubling and urged young people to stay away from the drug that could kill them.

St. Clair said that the drug takes a long time to leave the body’s system and thereby prolonging the effect of heart attacks, paranoia, strokes, seizures, coma and even death.

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Bahamas-4-hudreds flee

Government defends measures taken to deal with aftermath of Hurricane Dorian

by staff writer

NASSAU, Sept 12, CMC – The Bahamas government has defended its handling of its response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian when it slammed into the country more than a week ago, killing at least 50 people and causing widespread devastation mainly on the Abacos island and the Grand Bahama.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis in a radio and television broadcast on Wednesday night also announced plans for a national day of mourning and has ordered that all flags be flown at half-mast on public buildings.

Officials here estimate that more than 2,500 people still remain missing following the passage of the Category 5 storm on September 1. They also acknowledge that the death toll could increase significantly as the search and rescue teams move more into the devastated areas of the Abacos and the Grand Bahama, where most of those reported missing had been residing.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis addressing the nation (CMC Photo)

In his address, Prime Minister Minnis seemed to have acknowledged the criticisms levelled at his administration in the policies being implemented following the storm telling the nation, his administration had been removing the red tape that has been frustrating members of the public who are in desperate need of assistance.

“Right after the all-clear was given by the Met Department, we began mobilising our search, rescue and recovery efforts. We deployed security, food, water, and other resources as quickly as was possible once the all-clear was given so that first respondents were not put at risk.

Abaco under water

“Our search, rescue, and recovery efforts are one response with many parts. As soon as was possible, after the impact of the hurricane, the government deployed Bahamian rescue and security personnel, from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the Royal Bahamas Police Force.”

Minnis said that at the invitation of the government, he asked the US Coast Guard to immediately go into action, using their helicopters and other resources.

hundreds waiting to leave…

He praised the United States, saying President Donald Trump has authorised the full support of his government and that disaster management experts from the US are in the country providing their expertise.

“One of our closest allies and neighbour, is the United States of America,” he said, adding “because of their specialty equipment and resources, the US Coast Guard has been leading air rescuers and transport within the disaster zone.

“USAID is providing significant relief supplies. Members of the FBI are here too along with other US rescue, aid and security officials.”

In his address, Minnis also thanked the United Kingdom, which has sent its Royal Navy; the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which has sent security forces and aid officials and the  Canadian government and the Royal Dutch Navy.

But Minnis said that while efforts are being made to assist people as quickly as possible, he also urged that people get together and assist in rebuilding the battered country.

“Instead of criticising those who are trying their best, day after day, in government, charities, churches and volunteers’ efforts, let us all join hands and hearts to focus on the needs of those who are suffering,” he said, adding “those whose lives are devastated need hope, love and generosity, not needless negativity.

“How can you help? Volunteer at a reputable charity. Make a donation. Take in those in need,” he said, noting that the destruction by the hurricane that had winds in excess of 180 miles per hour (mph) led to much of Abaco “no longer exists” while East Grand Bahama “has been laid to waste

“No living Bahamian has ever seen anything like this in their lifetime. But as horrible and vicious as Hurricane Dorian was, the bravery and resilience of the Bahamian people is even more powerful.”

Minnis said incidents of looting and lawlessness post-hurricane will not be tolerated, adding law enforcement officials have secured Abaco.

He said a private accounting firm will have oversight of storm relief donations to the government and will report on how the money is being spent.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest said the government is keeping a close tab on all the financial donations made to it for Hurricane Dorian relief, which he said have not yet totalled US$100 million.

“I’m not able to give you that number at the moment, I’d be speculating. But we are pleased with the level of contributions so far. We are keeping close tabs and control over all the donations and all the expenditure that we incur as a result of this disaster.

“We have assigned a certified public accountant to be on that team to ensure that the procedures and processes are fully controlled and that we get accurate reporting, so that we can give feedback to our donors on exactly how their money was spent,” he told reporters.

“Certainly, for the money I have collected I’ve given that commitment to those donors that we will give a detailed report of everything that we have done with their monies. No money that is collected for donation to the public or for infrastructure is going to incur any kind of deduction or any kind of administrative cost, we want every penny of that to go where it’s intended to go,” he added.

Meanwhile, two former prime ministers, Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham have said they are available to assist in the rehabilitation efforts.

“Let me just say one point that may be perceived as criticism and if it is that’s too bad, too sad. Some people have the view that ‘listen, I have this job, I got this. So no I don’t need no help from you. I got it,” Ingraham said ’

“Well, it’s big. It’s bigger than any one man. It’s bigger than any one government, bigger than any one group and it’s our country all of our country and so we all have a duty to support.”

Ingraham said despite speaking with Minnis following the hurricane he did not think that the prime minister was minded to carve out a role for him as efforts continue.

Christie told reporters that when he spoke to Prime Minister Minnis, he suggested that they meet, but this meeting has not taken place.

“I spoke with Prime Minister Minnis on Sunday. He called me to make a suggestion as to what he thought I could do. I indicated to him that we should meet if circumstances warranted it. That didn’t happen, but I indicated at the time that based on the experience that I have had through four or five hurricanes that he would be overwhelmed by this.

“I told him that he should exercise the greatest care because the reputation of the country was being assaulted, that he was personally being heavily criticised and that it was just too much even if he was symbolic, for him to be the symbol of restoration in this country. I said if you were to make a bold decision, the people of the Bahamas would applaud you,” he added.

Posted in CARICOM, Climate/Weather, Hurricane, International, Local, News, Regional0 Comments

Congresswoman ‘disheartened’ by Trump’s rejection of TIPS for Bahamians

Congresswoman ‘disheartened’ by Trump’s rejection of TIPS for Bahamians

by staff writer

WASHINGTON, Sept 13, CMC – Caribbean American Democratic Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke says she is “disheartened but not surprised” by the Trump administration’s decision not to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Bahamian nationals in the United States in the wake of the destruction to the Bahamas caused by Hurricane Dorian.

Trump’s decision comes on the heels of Clarke’s introduction in the US House of Representatives legislation that would provide TPS for Bahamian nationals.

Yvette D. Clarke

“I am disheartened, but not surprised by the Trump administration’s inhumane decision to deny Bahamian nationals temporary protected status in light of the devastation they are facing in recovery from Hurricane Dorian,” Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

“Donald Trump is a bigot who has chosen to essentially close the border to victims of a devastating natural disaster,” added the representative for the predominantly Caribbean 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York

“As Members of Congress, we must uphold our duty to welcome and protect individuals from across the globe who seek asylum from humanitarian crises, especially when this administration won’t.

“We’ve come to expect that this administration will not provide humanitarian aid to nations, especially to Black nations. Trump has made it clear he wants America to look the way he wants it to look, white.

“If this were a European country who had suffered the same fate as the Bahamas, we’d be having a different conversation today. Trump is a xenophobic racist who doesn’t want people of color displaced from disasters staying in America for any length of time.”

On Monday, Clarke, who is chair of the Caribbean Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus’ Immigration Task Force, introduced “crucial legislation” to grant TPS to Bahamian nationals impacted by the Category 5 hurricane.

As of Friday, Clarke said the TPS for Victims of Hurricane Dorian Act has 30 congressional co-sponsors, including Stacey Plaskett (USVI-At Large); Barbara Lee of California; Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; Eliot Engel, Thomas Suozzi, Adriano Espaillat and Nydia Velázquez of New York; and Frederica Wilson of Florida.

Clarke said the TPS for Victims of Hurricane Dorian Act “will help provide some respite in America for people whose lives have been drastically impacted by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

“When life throws a massive curve ball, Americans stand up to help those who have fallen on bad luck. As a Caribbean-American myself, my heart hurts for those whose lives have changed as they know it back home in the Caribbean.

“My legislation will assist in easing these folks’ new reality as a result of the devastation they’ve experienced from Hurricane Dorian,” she added.

Specifically, Clarke said the TPS for Victims of Hurricane Dorian Act would allow Bahamians in the US to remain in the country during “this difficult chapter for the islands under the TPS programme.”

“There is a longstanding history of using this programme to permit victims of natural disasters and other humanitarian crises in designated countries,” she added.

The US Congress created Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the Immigration Act of 1990.

Posted in International, Local, News, Politics, Regional0 Comments

Earthquake rattles two Caribbean countries

Earthquake rattles two Caribbean countries

by staff writer

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sept 9, CMC – An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.2 rocked Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada on Monday, but there were no reports of injuries or damage, the Trinidad-based Seismic Research Centre (SRC) of the University of the West Indies (UI) has said.

It said that the quake, which occurred at 6.45 am (local time) was located Latitude: 11.13N, Longitude: 62.30W and at a depth of 84 kilometers (km).

The quake was felt 102 km north west of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago and 119 km south west of St. George’s in Grenada.

The SRC said it was also felt 115 km north east of Carúpano, Venezuela

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Climate/Weather, Earthquake, Environment, Legal, Local, News, Regional, TOURISM0 Comments

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Brexit Showdown in Parliament as Boris Johnson Warns of a General Election


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Demonstrators outside Downing Street in London on Saturday protesting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament.
Demonstrators outside Downing Street in London on Saturday protesting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament.CreditCreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

By Stephen Castle

  • Sept. 3, 2019, 6:16 a.m. ET

LONDON — British lawmakers were preparing on Tuesday for one of the most critical showdowns of the country’s agonizing three-year Brexit battle, with Parliament expected to try to stop the government from leaving the European Union without an agreement — a maneuver that could prompt a third general election in four years.

Lawmakers are expected to try to seize control of events in Parliament, a process that is normally the preserve of the government. Such a move would clear the way for them to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek an extension to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if he fails to reach an exit agreement with the bloc.

The clash on Tuesday has been made possible by a faction of lawmakers in Mr. Johnson’s own party who have said they will not support a no-deal departure, threatening to defy the prime minister’s warning that Tory rebels will be expelled from the party if they pursue the parliamentary effort.

Mr. Johnson said on Monday that he would not ask the European Union to extend the Brexit deadline under any circumstances.
Mr. Johnson said on Monday that he would not ask the European Union to extend the Brexit deadline under any circumstances.CreditChris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Mr. Johnson, who holds only the slimmest of majorities in Parliament, said on Monday that he would not ask the European Union to extend the deadline under any circumstances, meaning that his only option would be to call for a general election, which would be expected to be called for Oct. 14.

The confrontation is the latest chapter in an escalating crisis over Brexit that has divided Britons. It has torn apart the governing Conservative Party, provoked claims that Mr. Johnson is trampling the conventions of Britain’s unwritten constitution and led to accusations that Brexit opponents are trying to circumvent the results of a democratic referendum.

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Opponents of a no-deal Brexit argue that Mr. Johnson’s promise to leave the bloc without a deal would be catastrophic for the British economy. Many experts say it could lead to shortages of food, fuel and medicine, and wreak havoc on parts of the manufacturing sector that rely on the seamless flow of goods across the English Channel.

Despite the threats of a party purge, Philip Hammond, the chancellor of the Exchequer under Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, said on Tuesday that he would join the efforts to stop a no-deal Brexit, adding that he thought the rebels had enough support for victory.

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Mr. Johnson’s government has only the narrowest of majorities in Parliament.
Mr. Johnson’s government has only the narrowest of majorities in Parliament.CreditTom Jamieson for The New York Times

Mr. Hammond also dismissed claims from the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, that opponents of a no-deal Brexit were undermining Mr. Johnson’s negotiating strategy in Brussels. There had been, Mr. Hammond told the BBC, no progress in those talks.

To add to the turmoil and confusion, the opposition Labour Party said it might thwart Mr. Johnson’s attempt to push for a general election, should it come to that. Under a 2011 law, the prime minister needs a two-thirds majority in order to secure a snap election.

The bitter dispute has taken Britain into new political territory. Last week Mr. Johnson provoked outrage by curtailing Parliament’s sessions in September and October, compacting the amount of time lawmakers would have to deal with the most crucial decision the country has faced in decades.

Mr. Johnson says he needs to keep the no-deal option on the table to give him leverage in talks in Brussels, because an abrupt exit would also damage continental economies, if not as much as Britain’s.

Philip Hammond, left, the former chancellor of the Exchequer, said on Tuesday that he would join the efforts to stop a no-deal Brexit.
Philip Hammond, left, the former chancellor of the Exchequer, said on Tuesday that he would join the efforts to stop a no-deal Brexit.CreditPeter Summers/Getty Images

On Monday, he said that the rebels were trying to “chop the legs” from his negotiating position at a time when he is making progress, although the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, gave a more downbeat assessment of those negotiations.

Mr. Hammond told the BBC on Tuesday that Mr. Johnson’s claim was “disingenuous” because there was “no progress going on” in discussions in Brussels. One of the most unlikely of rebels, Mr. Hammond was a senior member of the cabinet two months ago, and his downbeat style and focus on economic detail earned him the nickname “Spreadsheet Phil.”

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But he accused his enemies of trying to turn the Conservative Party from “a broad church into a narrow faction,” and criticized Mr. Johnson’s close aide Dominic Cummings.

If Mr. Johnson does pursue a general election, Mr. Hammond said he would try to block that push.

There is so little trust in British politics that Mr. Johnson’s opponents fear that he might request an election for Oct. 14 but then switch the date until after Oct. 31 as part of a move to lock in a no-deal withdrawal.

Labour, which has its own polarizing leader in Jeremy Corbyn, has said it might thwart Mr. Johnson’s attempt to push for a general election.
Labour, which has its own polarizing leader in Jeremy Corbyn, has said it might thwart Mr. Johnson’s attempt to push for a general election.CreditAnthony Devlin/Getty Images

Labour, which has its own polarizing leader in Jeremy Corbyn, has said that its priority is to stop Britain leaving the European Union without a deal because of concerns about what such a departure would mean for the economy.

But Labour’s stance underscores that the backdrop to everything in British politics is a sense that a general election is looming, with key players maneuvering for the most advantageous moment.

Even with the support of 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland, the government has a working majority in Parliament of just one, a position that cannot be sustained by any administration for long, let alone one facing the challenge of Brexit.

Mr. Johnson is trying to unite the political right, particularly Brexit supporters frustrated with Britain’s failure to leave the bloc earlier this year. Some Tories fear that they face an existential threat from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, leading to a belief that Mr. Johnson must pursue a no-deal Brexit, whatever the economic cost, to save his party.

Others think that the disruption likely to flow from such a rupture would make it impossible for the government to win a vote.

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Elections, Featured, International, Legal, Local, News, Politics, Regional, UK - Brexit0 Comments

WESH

Hurricane Dorian intensifies to Category 5 storm


TRACKING HURRICANE DORIAN

WESH

Updated: 8:22 AM EDT Sep 1, 2019Play Video SHOW

ORLANDO, Fla. —Hurricane Dorian is now a Category 5 storm as it continues to inch west toward Florida.

>>> County-by-county impacts in Central Florida

At 8 a.m., the center of the storm was 225 miles east of West Palm Beach. It was moving to the west at 8 mph with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

>>> Track Dorian with the WESH 2 News app

A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the east coast of Florida from Deerfield Beach to Sebastian Inlet. The area was previously under a Tropical Storm Watch.

A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued from north of Golden Beach to Deerfield Beach.

A Hurricane Warning has been issued for the northwestern Bahamas excluding Andros Island, where a Hurricane Watch is in effect.

Amy Sweezey@amysweezey

5 AM change: The tropical storm watch has been replaced with a WARNING now that Dorian impacts are expected within 36 hours from Sebastian Inlet to Deerfield Beach. A TS watch has been added from Deerfield down to Golden Beach. #WESHwx

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75:06 AM – Sep 1, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacySee Amy Sweezey’s other Tweets

Dorian’s slower westward path is forecast to continue for the next day or two, before making a gradual turn to the northwest.

On its current track, forecasters say the core of the storm should be near or over portions of the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday and move closer to Florida’s east coast late Monday through Tuesday night.

The storm’s forecast path has shifted slightly to the west for South Florida areas, but remains unchanged for Central Florida. If the track stays as it is, Central Florida will feel impacts Tuesday and Wednesday.

Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next few days, forecasters say.

The path

Hurricane cone

WESH 

TD 5 Models

WESH 

Dorian Satellite

WESH 

HURR_B_STATS_RADAR2

WESH 

HURR_B_BOTTOMLINE2

WESH

Orlando International Airport has decided to keep operations running on Monday. The airport decided to change its plan on Saturday, which originally had the airport halting commercial flight operations Monday starting at 2 a.m.

The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office has delayed a mandatory evacuation order for people living in the barrier islands, low-lying and flood-prone areas, mobile homes, and anyone with disabilities.

The mandatory evacuation was originally slated to go into effect at 8 a.m. on Sunday. Officials are now calling for evacuations to begin at 8 a.m. Monday.

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Climate/Weather, Environment, Hurricane, International, Local, Regional0 Comments

The deep state swamp dragon (HT scerg, DA)

Montserrat: why do we need a Development Partnership MoU with the UK?

Part 10/2019 (Contribution)

Is there a real “deep state swamp dragon,” which will try to block our progress?

BRADES, Montserrat, August 30, 2019 –   One of the commonest complaints about key development projects for Montserrat, is how they move in a dragged out, stop, study, start, re-study, consult, stop again . . . pattern. In many cases, for 10 to 20 years now. This indefensible outrage clearly points to the need for an agreed framework that moves us ahead steadily on the key, catalytic initiatives needed to re-spark self-sustaining growth like we once had, before the volcano crisis.

So, just as we looked at the need for, usefulness of and possible format of a Charter of Good Governance “last time”[1] we also need to ponder what a credible framework for a Development Partnership with HMG should look like. 

For instance, why not:

  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between our government and the UK Government, acting through DfID and FCO? (With attached technical agreements with DfID the main implementing agency on the UK side.)
  • Using the usual “whereases” to set a context for why such a partnership is needed and what sets out its motives and purpose.
  • Setting out the joint commitment to development based on the acknowledged legal force of the UN Charter, Article 73.[2]
  • Setting out other UK commitments given the 2012 FCO Whitepaper on Overseas Territories, including the “notorious” first call on the UK aid budget principle.
  • Expressing determination to put in place key projects that will help to catalyse economic development, health, education and social progress.
  • Launching an agreed programme of action that builds on the CIPREG framework but broadens scope under the full force of the Article 73 mandate.
  • Setting out an agreed framework that identifies priority transformational projects, sets a time frame to move them forward and establishes principles and organisation for the programme-based project cycle management needed to move such projects forward (without undue delays).
  • Establishing the required organisational units and capacity-building framework, perhaps using the PRINCE2, Axelos framework for qualifications, organisation, management and governance.
  • Setting up agreed funding, staffing and implementation with expediting and oversight.
  • Premier Romeo’s recent call for a UN resident facilitator could also be brought into such a framework.

Can such be done? (Obviously, yes – once there is willingness.)

Will such be done? (Not until the roadblocks that made sure it “didn’t get far” the last time around are dismantled and those who put up the roadblocks face accountability over what they did. And, over what it cost Montserrat.)

The deep state swamp dragon (HT scerg, DA)

These days, we hear of a lot of back and forth accusations about the “deep state” establishment entrenched in and/or unduly influencing Governments, the civil service, the military, finance, media etc. Some, of course, dismiss the idea as myths, or even “conspiracy theories.”

But wise change agents know better. 

There is always “an unofficial party of business as usual” that has its own quarrelling factions and internal, dirty, stab-in-the-back power games.

However, it is in the mutual interest of the power players to patch together some sort of live and let live. This results in an agenda that the power players are willing to go along with, at least for now. Of course, depending on the state of play the power games that agenda will shift.  That’s what sets the real agenda of governance: how the big decisions are really made, and how they are made to stick.

Hey, presto: meet your friendly, local, deep state[3] swamp dragon.

But, but, isn’t this a mere myth?

Best advice: if the river mullet says, there is a crocodile in the river, believe him.

The deep state dragon is real enough, and of course it means that genuine reforms of our civil service (especially at senior levels) are necessary. So will be, wider governance reforms; hence, the Charter of Good Governance.

However, here in Montserrat, our deep state challenge is much broader than our local problems: we have to deal with TWO of the most notorious UK Government Departments.

The Foreign and Colonial [→ oops, “Commonwealth”] Office, FCO, ruled much of the world for centuries.

DfID has a sobering reputation, including not only questions about actual ability to deliver on development promises and repeated corruption scandals that go far beyond the Daily Mail’s perpetual attack on development aid, but also for the subtle threat: DfID protects its own.

We have to put in place something strong enough to be a counter-weight to such deep state dragons, ours and theirs.

That’s why we need [a] a Charter of Good Governance we establish through our elected – so, accountable – representatives AND [b] a development partnership MoU with the UK Ministers. Then, [c] a declared Cabinet Policy on Governance reforms and [d] a technical implementing agreement for onward development partnership can de-claw and de-fang the deep state swamp critters.

To get there, we will have to chop our way into the swamp and drain it sufficiently that the old dragons cannot hide anymore in murky, smelly waters. (That’s part of why fearless independent media are so important for building Montserrat’s future. Especially, a serious newspaper, serving as The People’s College.)

So, now, let us demand action on a charter of good governance and on a development partnership MoU.

Never mind, what that fire-breathing dragon crawling out of the swamp over there behind you is muttering about how such could “never” work. (Since when could we trust hungry dragons with smoke coming out of their mouths to tell the truth?)

Folks, it’s up to us, the ordinary people:  if not now, then, when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then, who?


[1] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/%ef%bb%bfmontserrat-fixing-governance/

[2] TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/%ef%bb%bfhow-the-un-charter-governs-montserrats-relationship-with-the-uk/

[3] See Politico: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/09/05/deep-state-real-cia-fbi-intelligence-15537

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Columns, Culture, De Ole Dawg, Education, Local, News, Politics, Regional0 Comments

logo-10th Foor

Trump’s Personal Assistant Suddenly Resigns – Why?

August 30, 2019

Why would Trump’s personal assistant resign abruptly, just as his reelection campaign is kicking off in full force?

Rumor has it she shared private information on the President and his family at a private dinner with reporters earlier this month, but could that really be the reason his assistant, nicknamed the Whitehouse Gatekeeper, left?

Wikipedia Trump personal assistant suddenly resigns feat
Wikipedia

Who She Is

Madeleine Westerhout has worked with the Trump administration since the early days in 2016 and was present for the transition. Before that, she was a Republican National Committee aide, and she worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Reports indicate that Westerhout was so upset when President Trump won that she cried on election night, but she clearly changed her tune since then.

Westerhout isn’t famous, she was never featured on television except by accident, and she was never an official spokesperson for the White House. But she did work closely with Trump, providing him with important documents, keeping his schedule, and traveling with him.

On her private Instagram page, she shared photos from the West Wing, at rally’s or functions she attended with the President and even once joked that she printed a piece of paper that the President himself used during a public event.

Why She Left

Sources in the White House say that Westerhout left “abruptly”, and that her departure wasn’t planned or expected.

According to reports, Westerhouse attended an off-the-record dinner with reporters that were staying near Bedminster, New Jersey earlier this month while the President was on a “working vacation”.

During this dinner, she spoke openly and indiscreetly not just about the President, but his family. When Trump found out about this dinner, he was very displeased, and she was immediately asked to resign.

She is now considered a “separated employee”, which means she will not be working out a typical 2-week notice. As of Friday morning, Westerhout is not permitted in the White House.

No Official Comment from Either Side

The White House has yet to release a statement on Westerhout’s departure, and no news outlet has been able to reach the assistant herself for her own side of the story.

If true, it’s not surprising that Trump acted the way he did. He is very protective of his personal life and details, especially since entering the office. Reporters who follow Trump’s progress, however, say that these dinners are very common.

There is also no word on who will replace her, and serve as Trump’s new assistant. While the position itself does not hold a level of power in a traditional sense, the personal assistant does control who sees the President, and when.

Westerhout was also one of the 6 White House Officials who were found to have violated the Hatch Act last year, using an official government Twitter account to support the President. She and the others were not charged.

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, International, Local, News, Regional0 Comments

'Absolute monster' Hurricane Dorian on track to rock Florida as Category 4 storm

‘Absolute monster’ Hurricane Dorian on track to rock Florida as Category 4 storm

blob:https://uw-media.usatoday.com/a568a4e5-1d19-44fc-a76d-114f55ee6037

Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY, USA TODAY • August 30, 2019, 

Hurricane Dorian strengthens to Category 2 storm hurricane Dorian strengthens to Category 2 stormUSA TODAY

Scroll back up to restore default view.

Hurricane Dorian hurtled toward the United States and was on track to become a major hurricane Friday before its expected landfall Monday into Tuesday along Florida’s east coast, forecasters say.

The storm was slowly turning west on Friday as it makes it way back toward land and is expected to strengthen in the coming days, the National Hurricane Center said. Dorian is then forecast slam the southeastern United States as a possible Category 4 storm.

Forecasters say Dorian will likely slow down considerably as it approaches Florida, allowing for heavy rainfall, dangerous winds and life-threatening storm surge to linger.

“Dorian is likely to remain an extremely dangerous hurricane while it moves near the northwestern Bahamas and approaches the Florida peninsula through the weekend,” the hurricane center said.

No evacuations were ordered yet, but Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded state of emergency declarations throughout all of Florida’s 67 counties and warned Floridians to have a hurricane plan in place. He also asked President Donald Trump to declare a pre-landfall disaster for the entire state.

Stay updated on Dorian this weekend: Get USA TODAY’s Daily Briefing in your inbox

What we know now: Hurricane Dorian expected to bring life-threatening storm surge to Florida

Trump, who canceled a planned trip to Poland, called the storm “an absolute monster” and compared Dorian to Hurricane Andrew, which devastated Florida in 1992.

“All indications are it’s going to hit very hard and it’s going to be very big,” Trump said in a video he tweeted Thursday.

Shoppers were lining up to buy supplies and water as waits at gas stations grew. Some scattered fuel shortages were reported Friday. Sandbags were also being distributed by local governments. National guard troops are expected to be deployed in the comings days, too.

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At 11 a.m. Friday, the storm was 660 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida, and was moving northwest at 10 mph, the National Weather Service says. Dorian was brewing as a Category 2 with 110-mph winds, at the brink before Category 3 status, which forecasters expect the storm to reach later Friday.

“On this track, Dorian should move over the Atlantic well east of the southeastern and central Bahamas today, approach the northwestern Bahamas Saturday, and move near or over portions of the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday,” the Hurricane Center said Friday morning.

The hurricane’s exact path once it hits the U.S. remains uncertain, but the storm could make landfall Monday or early Tuesday along southeastern Florida. Models of the path place it anywhere between the Keys and southern Georgia. 

Ryan Truchelut, chief meteorologist at WeatherTiger, said most models show it hitting between Vero Beach and Boca Raton overnight Monday into early Tuesday. The models show Dorian then moving up the Atlantic coast before spinning out to sea later next week.

The Southeast was forecast to be drenched in half a foot to a foot of rain, with isolated patches up to 15 inches. Storm surge is also expected, though forecasters can’t say for sure where the hardest hit areas will be.

“You’re looking at a potentially significant water event throughout portions of the state,” DeSantis told reporters Friday.

Tropical storm conditions with high-powered winds could arrive as early as Saturday night.

What makes Dorian dangerous: 5 things that make Dorian a dangerous hurricane

A hurricane watch was issued for the northwestern Bahamas as current models have parts of the islands, including Grand Bahama, on track for a direct hit Sunday into Monday. Storm surge there could reach as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels with onshore winds.

Large, destructive waves are also likely, the hurricane center says.

Major cruise lines began rerouting ships and airlines began allowing travelers to change their reservations without an extra charge.

Florida Power and Light, which operates more than 48,000 miles of overhead power lines, activated its emergency response plan and will have nearly 13,000 employees on hand to restore power after the storm, the utility said in a news release Friday. It was also working with utilities across the country to secure additional resources and position crew before the storm hits.

Posted in Climate/Weather, Hurricane, International, Local, News, Regional0 Comments

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