Sunday, January 31, 2010

LPP News Frist Draft...

Pakistan checks reported death of Taliban chief

  • 112 votes
FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2008 file photo, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah AP – FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2008 file photo, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is seen in Orakzai …
ISLAMABAD – The Pakistani army said Sunday that it was investigating reports that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud died from injuries sustained in a U.S. drone missile strike in mid-January. The militant leader's death would be an important success for both Pakistan, which has been battling the Pakistani Taliban, and the U.S., which blames Mehsud for a recent deadly bombing against the CIA in Afghanistan. Mehsud's predecessor was also killed in a missile strike less than six months ago, highlighting the ability of the unmanned aircraft to target Taliban and al-Qaida leaders holed up in Pakistan's lawless tribal area. The army's disclosure of its investigation came shortly after Pakistani state television, citing unnamed "official sources," reported that Mehsud died in Orakzai, an area in Pakistan's northwest tribal region where he was reportedly being treated for his injuries. "We have these reports coming to us," army spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press. "We are investigating whether it is true or wrong." A tribal elder told the AP that he attended Mehsud's funeral in the Mamuzai area of Orakzai on Thursday. He said Mehsud was buried in Mamuzai graveyard after he died at his in-laws' home. The elder spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the Taliban. Pakistani intelligence officials have said that Mehsud was targeted in a U.S. drone strike in South Waziristan on Jan. 14, triggering rumors that he had been injured or killed. The strike targeted a meeting of militant commanders in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan. Mehsud issued an audio tape after the strike directly denying the rumors, and his voice sounded strong. But Pakistani intelligence officials told the AP on Sunday that they have confirmation that the Taliban chief's legs and abdomen were wounded in the strike. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Pakistani Taliban officials were not immediately available for comment, but low-level fighters have dismissed rumors of Mehsud's death in recent days as propaganda. The drone strike that targeted Mehsud came about two weeks after a deadly suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees at a remote base across the border in Afghanistan. Mehsud appeared in a video issued after the bombing sitting beside the Jordanian man who carried out the attack. The bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, said he carried out the attack in retribution for the death of former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah MehsudHakimullah Mehsud's predecessor — in a U.S. drone strike last August. The U.S. refuses to talk about the covert CIA-run drone program in Pakistan but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed several senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders. Pakistani officials publicly protest the strikes as violations of the country's sovereignty, but U.S. officials say privately they support the program, especially when it targets militants like Mehsud who the government believes is a threat to the state. Mehsud, who has the reputation as a particularly ruthless militant, took over leadership of the Pakistani Taliban soon after Baitullah Mehsud's death. The 28 year-old militant leader has focused most of his attacks against targets inside Pakistan, but his men have also been blamed for attacking U.S. and NATO supply convoys traveling through the country en route to Afghanistan. Hakimullah Mehsud first appeared in public to journalists in November 2008, when he offered to take reporters in Orakzai on a ride in a U.S. Humvee taken from a supply truck headed to Afghanistan. He was the Pakistani Taliban's regional commander in the Orakzai, Khyber and Mohmand tribal areas before taking over the organization. He has taken responsibility for a wave of brazen strikes inside Pakistan, including the bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar last June and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore earlier that year. There is a 50 million rupee ($590,000) bounty on his head. The Pakistani Taliban stepped up its attacks after the army invaded its stronghold of South Waziristan in mid-October. More than 600 people have been killed in attacks throughout the country since the ground offensive was launched. Pakistani officials have said some of the militants have fled to neighboring North Waziristan, an area dominated by groups launching cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The army struck deals with the leaders of two of those groups, Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir, before it invaded South Waziristan, promising not to target the militants if they stayed on the sidelines. An umbrella group that includes the two militants and the Pakistani Taliban issued a pamphlet in North Waziristan on Sunday accusing the government of violating the agreement and warning it would trigger a major war if it launched any kind of military operation in the area. The pamphlet issued by the Shura-e-Ittehad-ul-Mujahedeen, or Council of United Holy Warriors, said the government violated the agreement in various ways, including by creating a network of spies in North Waziristan who helped the U.S. kill militants in drone attacks. "We have tolerated all sorts of mistreatment, but now we are not going to accept any kind of military operation in even our smallest area," said the pamphlet, a copy of which was obtained by the AP. The Pakistani army has said it cannot launch another major operation for at least six months, but it has carried out two strikes in North Waziristan in the past two weeks. "Westerners have some regard for civilians and they do distinguish between Taliban fighters and civilians, but the Pakistani army doesn't," said the pamphlet in a rare admission for a militant group. "Instead of the Taliban, it is bombing ordinary people's homes and their bazaars and killing innocent people." ___ Associated Press writers Hussain Afzal in Parachinar and Ishtiaq Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.

U.S., Britain close embassies in Yemen

January 3, 2010 by admin   Filed under Homeland Security News
“Threats by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula against targets in Yemen prompted the closure of the U.S. and British embassies there Sunday, officials said. ‘There are indications that al Qaeda is planning to carry out an attack against a target inside of Sanaa, possibly our embassy,’ John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ on Sunday. ‘And what we do is to take every measure possible to ensure the safety of our diplomats and citizens abroad, so the decision was made to close the embassy.’ The United States is working closely with the Yemeni government on the proper security precautions, he said.” (Source: U.S., Britain close embassies in Yemen –

Haiti detains Americans taking kids across border

  • 106 votes
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Ten American Baptists were being held in the Haitian capital Sunday after trying take 33 children out of Haiti at a time of growing fears over possible child trafficking. The church members, most from Idaho, said they were trying to rescue abandoned and traumatized children. But officials said they lacked the proper documents when they were arrested Friday night in a bus along with children from 2 months to 12 years old who had survived the catastrophic earthquake. The group said its "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" was an effort to help abandoned children by taking them to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic. "In this chaos the government is in right now we were just trying to do the right thing," the group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, told The Associated Press at the judicial police headquarters in the capital, where the Americans were being held pending a Monday hearing before a judge. The children, some of them sick and dehydrated, were taken to an orphanage run by Austrian-based SOS Children's Villages, which was trying to find their parents or close relatives, said a spokesman there, George Willeit. "One child, an 8- or 9-year-old, said she thought she was going to some sort of summer or vacation camp in the Dominican Republic," Willeit said. The Baptist group planned to scoop up 100 kids and take them by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, that they were converting into an orphanage, Silsby told the AP. Whether they realized it or not, these Americans — the first known to be taken into custody since the Jan. 12 quake — put themselves in the middle of a firestorm in Haiti, where government leaders have suspended adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking. The quake apparently orphaned many children and left others separated from parents, adding to the difficulty of helping children in need while preventing exploitation of them. While many legitimate adoption agencies and orphanages operate in Haiti, often run by religious groups, the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration reported in 2007 that bogus adoption agencies in Haiti were offering children to rich Haitians and foreigners in return for processing fees reaching US$10,000. The agency said some Haitian parents were giving their children to traffickers in return for promises of financial help. Silsby said the group, including members from Texas and Kansas, only had the best of intentions and paid no money for the children, whom she said they obtained from Haitian pastor Jean Sanbil of the Sharing Jesus Ministries. Silsby, 40, of Boise, Idaho, was asked if she didn't consider it naive to cross the border without adoption papers at a time when Haitians are so concerned about child trafficking. "By no means are we any part of that. That's exactly what we are trying to combat," she said. She said she hadn't been following news reports while in Haiti. Social Affairs Minister Yves Cristallin told the AP that the Americans were suspected of taking part in an illegal adoption scheme. Willeit, the SOS spokesman, said the children arrived at the orphanage" very hungry, very thirsty, some dehydrated." All had their names written on pink tape on their shirts. Many children in Haitian orphanages aren't actually orphans but have been abandoned by family who cannot afford to care for them. Children's rights groups have urged a halt to adoptions until it can be determined that the children have no relatives who can raise them. The government now requires Prime Minister Max Bellerive to personally authorize the departure of any child as a way to prevent child trafficking. UNICEF and other NGOs have been registering children who may have been separated from their parents. Relief workers are locating children at camps housing the homeless around the capital and are placing them in temporary shelters while they try to locate their parents or a more permanent home. U.S. diplomats met with the detained Americans and gave them bug spray and field rations, according to Sean Lankford of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and 18-year-old daughter were being held. "They have to go in front of a judge on Monday," Lankford told the AP. "There are allegations of child trafficking and that really couldn't be farther from the truth," he added. The children "were going to get the medical attention they needed. They were going to get the clothes and the food and the love they need to be healthy and to start recovering from the tragedy that just happened." Silsby said they had documents from the Dominican government, but did not seek any paperwork from the Haitian authorities before taking the children to the border. She said the children were brought to the Haitian pastor by distant relatives and only those with no close family would be put up for adoption. The 10 Americans include members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, and the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. Friends and relatives have been in touch with them through text messages and phone calls, Lankford said. The group had described its plans on a Web site where it asked for tax-deductible contributions to help it "gather" 100 orphans and bus them to Cabarete before building a more permanent orphanage in the Dominican town of Magante. "Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon our hearts the need to go now versus waiting until the permanent facility is built," the group wrote. ___ Associated Press Writers Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Hope Yen in Washington, contributed to this story.  

LPP Archive...

Judge reduces sentences of two Cuban spies

Tue Dec 8, 2009 7:53pm EST

(L-R) Adriana Perez (wife of Gerardo Hernandez), Elizabeth Palmeiro (wife of Ramon Labanino), Olga Salanueva (wife of Rene Gonzalez) and Irma Sehwerert (mother of Rene Gonzalez) hold a news conference at the International Press Center in Havana March 12, 2007. REUTERS/Claudia Daut
MIAMI (Reuters) - A U.S. judge Tuesday reduced the prison terms of two convicted Cuban spies in the latest twist of a high-profile espionage case that has strained already hostile ties between Havana and Washington.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard cut the sentence of Ramon Labanino, also known as Luis Medina, from a life term to 30 years, an assistant to the judge told Reuters.
In a separate later ruling, Lenard reduced the sentence of a second convicted spy, Fernando Gonzalez, also known as Ruben Campa, from 19 years to 17 years and nine months.
Cuba said the sentence reductions did not go far enough.
U.S. prosecutors said they were part of a Cuban espionage ring that had spied on the Cuban exile community in Florida and sought to penetrate U.S. military facilities there.
The original sentences imposed by Lenard against Labanino and Gonzalez were thrown out as excessively harsh last year by a U.S. appeals court, which argued the Cuban agents had not succeeded in actually sending back top secret information, despite their conspiracy to do so.
Labanino and Gonzalez were arrested in 1998 along with three other Cuban agents. Prosecutors said they formed the so-called "Wasp Network" sent to the United States to infiltrate exile groups opposed to Cuba's communist government, then led by Fidel Castro.
Fidel Castro, now 83, handed over the Cuban presidency last year to his younger brother, Raul Castro, 78. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to try to improve U.S.-Cuban ties after a half century of hostility.
The case of the five spies has long been a point of contention between the United States and Cuba, which demands their release, hails them as heroes and says they were trying to prevent "terrorist" attacks by exile extremists.
In Havana, the president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, said the decision to reduce the sentences did not go far enough and criticized the U.S. justice system.
"Any sentence imposed on these comrades is unjust, but that doesn't mean that the reduction of the sentences is insignificant," Alarcon told a Cuban television talk show.
"This is an important day, a victorious day, but it isn't cause for satisfaction, nowhere near. This must serve as an additional argument, not only to continue the fight but to intensify it," said Alarcon, Cuba's long-time pointman on relations with Washington.
In October, one of the five, Antonio Guerrero, had his sentence reduced from life to about 22 years.
The five Cuban espionage agents were convicted in a Miami court in 2001 of 26 counts of spying and received sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison.
U.S. prosecutors had linked the activities of the Cuban spy ring to the 1996 shooting down by Cuban fighter jets of two planes belonging to an exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, which flew near Cuba. Four men in the planes were killed.
Cuba has staged national and international campaigns calling for the release of the five, arguing they did not receive a fair trial in Miami, center of the exile community that fled after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.
(Reporting by Tom Brown and Pascal Fletcher in Miami and Rosa Tania Valdes in Havana; Editing by Jim Loney)


Cuba's spy `walk-ins' target U.S., experts say

Two Cuba experts said spies sent by Cuba to the United States after 9/11 were part of a permanent intelligence program to mislead, misinform and identify U.S. spies.


In the six months after the 9/11 attacks, up to 20 Cubans walked into U.S. embassies around the world and offered information on terrorism threats. Eventually, all were deemed to be Cuban intelligence agents and collaborators, purveying fabricated information.
A White House official complained bitterly and publicly in 2002 that Fidel Castro's agents had tried to send U.S. intelligence on ``wild goose'' chases that could cost lives at a time when Washington was reeling from the worst terrorism attacks in history.
But now two former U.S. government experts on Cuba have told El Nuevo Herald that the post-9/11 ``walk-ins'' were part of a permanent Havana intelligence program -- both before and long after 9/11 -- that sends Cuban agents to U.S. embassies to mislead, misinform and identify U.S. spies, perhaps even to penetrate U.S. intelligence.
``Many walk-ins were eventually identified as known/suspected [Cuban agents]. The problem was that U.S. intelligence was so starved for information on Cuba -- and we had so few Cuba experts -- that walk-ins were low risk, high payoff for the Cubans,'' said one former U.S. intelligence community official.
``The Cubans periodically used walk-ins to continue to test U.S. capabilities and reactions, but . . . later approaches were not as frequent as we saw in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11 attacks,'' added a former top Bush administration official.
Both asked that their names not be published because they were not authorized to speak on the topic.
In an average year, they said, Cuba sends about a dozen agents to walk into U.S. embassies around the world, claim to be defectors with important information and ask to speak with U.S. officials who can understand the value of their revelations. But the number can spike up to 20 to 25 at times of special importance, they added.
The year 2001 was certainly important. On Sept. 11, al Qaeda attacked the United States. Ten days later, U.S. authorities arrested the Pentagon's top Cuba analyst, Ana Belen Montes, on charges of spying for Havana.
Over the next six months alone, 15 to 20 Cubans walked into U.S. diplomatic missions and offered information heavily laced with references to terrorism threats, one of the Cuba experts said. ``All walk-ins in this group were eventually discredited,'' he added.
Most of the walk-ins took place in U.S. embassies in Latin America, Europe and Asia, the former Bush administration official said.
The CIA and the FBI's counterintelligence sections suspected many of the walk-ins were sent to penetrate U.S. intelligence in hopes of learning exactly how Montes was uncovered -- to this day one of the closest-held secrets in the case, one of the experts said.
``Their intelligence services had been taking a beating -- Montes in 2001, the five spies in Miami a couple of years earlier -- and we believed they were desperate to find out how they were being spotted,'' he added.
But most of the walk-ins over the years appear to have been part of a broader campaign: to make contact with U.S. intelligence agents, identify them, keep them busy and pass on misinformation, the two experts said. Any Cuban who walks into a U.S. embassy offering information is usually first interviewed by a low-ranking State Department official, the experts said. But if the information seems promising the visitor is later debriefed by a CIA or Defense Department official.
Most of the Cuban agents offer a broad range of information on topics that Havana knows will interest U.S. intelligence -- Cuba's electronic eavesdropping capabilities, chemical/biological warfare research, perhaps discontent within the Cuban military or money laundering.
But their information is usually ``a mile wide and one inch deep'' -- with no significant details in any of the categories, one of the experts said. CIA and military officials are nevertheless reluctant to ``throw them back on the street'' because the information at first might seem legitimate and ``out there [at the embassies] they don't have the expertise to wave the BS flag.''
``Another part of a successful walk-in is that they are a major resource drain, also known as a `time suck' '' because it takes time and effort by the U.S. intelligence community to spot them as fakes and cut them loose,'' the expert said.

And all at a pretty low cost, he added. A Cuban with just 20 hours of training can present a compelling enough offer of information to require U.S. officials to spend 100 hours figuring out that the visitor is a fraud.
Cuba's use of walk-ins went on for years both before and after the al Qaeda terror attacks, both experts said. But those in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 specially angered Bush administration officials.
``The Castro regime has . . . attempted at least one `walk-in' a month since Sept. 11 purporting to offer information about pending terrorist attacks against the United States or other Western interests,'' Dan Fisk, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said in a Sept. 17, 2002, speech in Washington.
``This is not harmless game-playing,'' Fisk added. ``It is a dangerous and unjustifiable action that damages our ability to assess real threats. . . . It could one day cost innocent people their lives.''

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez talks to the media ...
Thu Jan 28, 1:30 PM ET
Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez talks to the media during a meeting between the Cuban government and Cuban citizens living abroad, mainly in the U.S., in Havana January 28, 2010. Rodriguez said Cuba is investigating a U.S. government contractor arrested in late 2009 for distributing illegal satellite phones on the island, pointing out the charges against him represent a "a serious crime." He did not say whether the U.S. contractor will be formally charged by the Cuban government.

Venezuelan police fire tear gas at protesters

University students shout slogans against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez AP – University students shout slogans against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez during a protest in Caracas, …
CARACAS, Venezuela – Police fired tear gas to chase off thousands of students demonstrating in the capital Thursday, a fifth day of protests against President Hugo Chavez for pressuring cable and satellite TV providers to drop an opposition channel. Some of the protesters threw rocks at police in riot gear when officers moved to break up the rally outside the offices of the state-run electricity company. While charging that the government is trying to curb criticism, the students also used their demonstration to call attention to electricity shortages plaguing much of Venezuela and other pressing domestic problems like double-digit inflation. University students have taken to the streets daily since Sunday, after government pressure led cable TV services to drop Radio Caracas Television International, which has long been a critic of Chavez's socialist policies. "We are not going to allow continued shutdowns of media outlets that tell the truth, and we are not going to allow ineptitude and inefficiency to continue," said Nizar El Sakih, a student leader. Critics of the government say Chavez is responsible for domestic problems ranging from double-digit inflation to violent crime to rolling power blackouts. The government says RCTV was removed for refusing to comply with a new rule requiring media outlets to televise mandatory programming, including Chavez's speeches. Chavez accused students of trying to stir up violence as a means of destabilizing his government. "There are some attempting to set fire to the country," Chavez said in a televised address Thursday. "What are they seeking? Death." He said unidentified assailants armed with assault rifles shot at National Guard troops Wednesday in the city of Merida, where two soldiers suffered gunshot wounds. A military barracks in the city of Barquisimeto was also attacked, he said. Chavez vowed to crack down on street demonstrations that turn violent. "We cannot permit this," he said. "The state and the government must impose authority." Ten students were accused of fomenting public disorder Thursday in the eastern city of Barcelona — a day after they led protests that ended in clashes with police, Fortunato Herrera, a lawyer representing the students, told the local Globovision TV channel. Student leader Jonathan Zambrano told Globovision that 22 protesters were arrested in the city of Barinas. The students were released, Zambrano said, after university groups agreed to call off street demonstrations. Two youths were killed in Merida on Monday — a day after the protests began. Dozens of people have been injured during the week's demonstrations. ___
Associated Press Writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.