President Donald Trump has given the CIA "secret new authority" to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported March 13, citing US officials. This is said to depart from the Obama administration policy of a "cooperative approach" to drone strikes, in which the CIA used surveillance drones to locate suspected terrorists and the Pentagon then conducted the actual strike. The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was named as an example of that "hybrid approach." The report asserts that the Obama administration had the Pentagon carry out the strikes "to promote transparency and accountability." The CIA, operating under covert authority, wasn't required to report its drone strikes. The Pentagon, in most cases, was required to do so.
Lynne Stewart, the fighting activist attorney who gained fame with her 2005 conviction for "providing material support" to terrorism, died March 7 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 77, and had been granted a "compassionate release" from federal prison in January 2014 after she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The obituary in the New York Times says she was convicted of "helping smuggle messages" from her imprisoned client Omar Abdel Rahman "to his violent followers in Egypt." It doesn't mention that the "messages" were essentially press releases, barred by stringent "Special Administrative Measures" imposed by the Justice Department, which Stewart rejected as illegitimate. Her prison term, initially set at 28 months, was later increased to 10 years after an appeals court ordered the trial judge to consider a longer term. In a statement after her release, her longtime partner Ralph Poynter said: "The enduring global movement for social justice has persevered—ever inspired by Lynne Stewart's steadfast refusal to bend the knee, submit to coercion or official duplicity."
A former journalist named Juan Thompson, who was sacked by the Intercept last year for inventing sources, has been arrested after the FBI traced back to him multiple bomb threats against Jewish community centers, and one against the New York headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League. Authorities are claiming psycho-sexual motives, saying he attempted to pin the threats on an ex-girlfriend who dumped him. In true troll fashion, NBC reports that he even feigned outrage over the threats on his own Twitter account. And while some of the threats were in the name of his ex, some were in his own name in an apparent attempt to frame his ex for framing him. Plenty twisted, but none too bright. Reports in the Riverfront Times, of Thompson's hometown St. Louis, delineate his long history of improbable inventions about himself on social media, revealing an inveterate liar with a pathological antipathy to the truth rivaling that of our incumbent president. The fact that he worked for the lefty Intercept, and that he is African American, makes this a propaganda windfall for the right. So, are the "false flag" theories reportedly floated by Trump (and certainly by some of his supporters) now vindicated?
The Uighur people of China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region are coming under unprecedented surveillance and militarization amid official fears of terrorism in the far-western territory. In the latest draconian measure, residents of one prefecture are being ordered to install a government-developed GPS tracking system in their vehicles. By June 30, all motorists in Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture must have the BeiDou navigation satellite system installed in their vehicles, under an order aimed at "ensur[ing] stability and social harmony." Gas stations will only be permitted to serve cars that have the system. Installation is free, but vehicle owners will be charged 90 yuan a year for the Internet fees.
The Trump administration has seriously turned up the heat on Venezuela, slapping sanctions on the country's vice president as a drug "kingpin." The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Feb. 13 officially named Tareck Zaidan El Aissami as a "Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker" under terms of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) of 1999. The order charges that El Aissami received pay-offs from a trafficking network linked to Mexico's Zetas narco-gang. Under the order, US nationals and corporations are barred from doing business with El Aissami, and all his assets within the country are frozen.
There was recently a sign that the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte was going to rein in his murderous police in the face of mounting international criticism of their harsh anti-drug crackdown. It took the police killing of a foreign business executive, but Duterte finally pledged that he would disband and reorganize the National Police narco units. But human rights observers may have rejoined too soon. On Jan. 31—just one day after his announcement of the police overhaul—Duterte made a speech to army generals, telling them that while the police were off the drug war beat the armed forces would have to step in to replace them. Rather than taking a step back from the brink, it looks like the Philippines could be following the grim examples of Mexico and Colombia of turning the drug war into a real war, run by the military.
Veteran journalist Jim Lobe this week called out Trump's "deputy assistant" Sebastian Gorka—who just refused to admit it may have been poor judgment not to mention the Jews in the White House statement on Holocaust Day—for appearing in multiple photographs wearing the medal of the Hungarian Order of Heroes, listed by the State Department as having collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Breitbart now runs a video in which Gorka unapologetically says he wears the medal in honor of his father, who was awarded the decoration in 1979 for his resistance activities under the communists. He says his father escaped imprisonment in Hungary with the 1956 uprising and fled to the West, so he was presumably awarded the medal in exile, although it isn't clear where the Order was based at that time. Gorka hails his father's "pro-democratic, anti-communist" agitation, but the Order appears far more anti-communist than pro-democratic.
Amid rapidly deteriorating relations between the US and Mexico, reports are emerging that President Donald Trump openly threatened military intervention in a phone call with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto. According to a partial transcript of the conversation obtained by the Associated Press, Trump told Peña Nieto: "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it." ("Bad hombres" is a term Trump also used in his final debate during the presidential campaign to refer to Mexican narco-gangs.)