Wednesday, 21 November 2018

W Weekly Update

March 10-17

Trump Fires Tillerson

CNN reports, that “President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and will nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed him, replacing his top diplomat ahead of a potential high-stakes sitdown between the US President and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.”

Tillerson extended his gratitude to the American people, his State Department staff and the nation's extensive network of diplomats in his farewell statement on March 13. CNN further reports, that “Trump has wanted Pompeo as his secretary of state for months.” President told reporters that he and Pompeo are "on the same wavelength" and "the relationship has always been very good and that is what I need."

He also tweeted about his decision: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

Gina Haspel, the newly nominated first-ever female director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is a career intelligence officer with more than 30 years' experience. She ran a prison in Thailand, the so-called "black sites", where suspected al-Qaeda members were tortured by waterboarding in 2002.

 

Russia’s Poisoning Spree

On March 4 Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were deliberately poisoned by a nerve agent, named Novichok, developed by Vil Mirzoyanov who called it “a weapon of mass murder.” Mrs May said Russia is "culpable" for the attack and she expelled 23 Russian diplomats. As The New York Times reports, “she vowed to crack down on Russian spies, corrupt elites and ill-gotten wealth in Britain.”

U.S. Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement on the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England:

“As we hope for the recovery of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, we must recognize the brutal reality: whether in the shadow of the Kremlin or in a peaceful town in the English countryside, Putin will not hesitate to engage in state-sponsored assassination and endanger the lives of innocent bystanders. He must not be allowed to treat the United Kingdom or any other nation as a venue for political murder. The precedent set by inaction would be disastrous.

The United States and all of Britain’s allies must stand firmly alongside the United Kingdom and be prepared to take resolute and appropriate steps to hold Russian authorities accountable for this outrageous crime – a crime that demonstrates so perfectly Putin’s contempt for the sovereignty of a free people.” 

Shortly after that, a statement followed from the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom on the attack in Salisbury: “We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2018. A British police officer who was also exposed in the attack remains seriously ill, and the lives of many innocent British citizens have been threatened. We express our sympathies to them all, and our admiration for the United Kingdom police and emergency services for their courageous response. This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It is an assault on the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all. The United Kingdom thoroughly briefed its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack. We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia´s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury. Russia should, in particular, provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behavior. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the U.N. Security Council to uphold international peace and security.”

 

U.S. Treasury Sanctions Russian Cyber Actors for Interference with the 2016 U.S. Elections and Malicious Cyber-Attacks

On March 15 the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed new sanctions on Russia. “The Administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.  “These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.  Treasury intends to impose additional CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.”

Today’s action counters Russia’s continuing destabilizing activities, ranging from interference in the 2016 U.S. election to conducting destructive cyber-attacks, including the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack attributed to the Russian military on February 15, 2018 in statements released by the White House and the British Government.  This cyber-attack was the most destructive and costly cyber-attack in history.  The attack resulted in billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the United States, and significantly disrupted global shipping, trade, and the production of medicines.  Additionally, several hospitals in the United States were unable to create electronic records for more than a week.

Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors have also targeted U.S. government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.  Indicators of compromise, and technical details on the tactics, techniques, and procedures, are provided in the recent technical alert issued by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In addition to countering Russia’s malign cyber activity, Treasury continues to pressure Russia for its ongoing efforts to destabilize Ukraine, occupy Crimea, meddle in elections, as well as for its endemic corruption and human rights abuses. The recent use of a military-grade nerve agent in an attempt to murder two UK citizens further demonstrates the reckless and irresponsible conduct of its government. To date, this Administration has sanctioned more than 100 individuals and entities under our Ukraine and Russia-related sanctions authorities, including 21 individuals, nine entities, and 12 subsidiaries that are owned 50 percent or more by previously sanctioned Russian companies on January 26, 2018.  These sanctions are in addition to other ongoing efforts by Treasury to address destabilizing activity emanating from within Russia, including our sanctioning of Russians targeted for activities related to the North Korea sanctions program, the Global Magnitsky program, and the Sergei Magnitsky Act.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”

Sanctions include the designation of three entities and 13 individuals pursuant to E.O. (Executive Order) 13694, as amended, which targets malicious cyber actors, including those involved in interfering with election processes or institutions. Sanctions also include the designation of two entities and six individuals pursuant to section 224 of CAATSA, which targets cyber actors operating on behalf of the Russian government -- Federal Security Service (FSB) and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

 

Prepared by Marina Muradyan

16 November 2018
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