TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

Ayatollah Khameini tweets this morning: “Negotiation with US is forbidden due to many disadvantages and no advantages it has.”

News Now

  • Obama’s team gaming options on Syria
  • Senate Dems: Background check bill today
  • US general: Afghan hospital bombing a mistake
  • Obama weighing change in Afghan drawdown
  • Snowden: Intel agencies “want to own your phone”
  • “They can photograph you”
  • Biden leaked word of son’s dying wish
Obama’s Team Gaming Out Options on Syria (Hill, Politico, me)
• President Obama’s team has been gaming out options for responding to Russia on its provocations against U.S. interests in Syria, but so far there’s no plan to use any of them, even as President Putin keep upping the ante. Obama believes Putin is making a strategic blunder, faces a contracting economy, diplomatic isolation and that rising to his bait would be a mistake
• Meanwhile, SecDef Ash Carter said during a presser in Spain Tuesday that he doesn’t believe Russia’s claims that its violation of Turkish airspace over the weekend was an accident. “We will react to that, and certainly the Turks will and have said they will. So it’s a serious matter.” Carter said he’d discuss the matter with NATO on Thursday
• U.S. officials say Russia’s air campaign has hit the same anti-regime rebel groups backed by the U.S. in a bid to boost President Assad – and not ISIS. The U.S. is reportedly working with Turkey and other members of an anti-ISIS coalition to open an offensive in northern Syria
• Pentagon officials began a first round of talks with Russian counterparts last week to discuss avoiding conflicts in the airspace over Syria, but Carter said the Russians “have yet to respond to us.” He said the Russians wanted the talks in the first place, and their lack of follow-up “may be a further sign of their strategic confusion.”
• Carter said Russia’s military campaign in Syria is “a very wrongheaded and backward approach that’s sure to backfire,” and that reports it will send in “volunteer” ground troops would only deepen their mistake. “Reality is going to be the first check on the Russians,” he said (Obama knows he looks weak but is convinced he’s right)


Senate Dems: Background Check Bill Today (Hill, Hill, TPM, HuffPo, Hill, me)
• Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Sen Chris Murphy (D-Conn) are expected to join a handful of Democratic colleagues today to unveil Blumenthal’s legislation that would close a “loophole” that allows a retailer to sell a gun without a background check after 72 hours (that’s got to be fixed – how Dylann Roof got his gun)
• Separately, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) said that Senate Democrats would be rolling out a new gun control program Thursday, but gave no details. The background check bill that was introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that left 28 dead failed to overcome a 60-vote procedural hurdle, with red-state Dems voting against (odds worse now)
• Instead Sen John Cornyn (R-Texas) is working on a mental health bill, but it’s opposed by Democrats who say that it would ultimately make it easier for mentally ill people to get guns (would). “If we can’t do anything to stop this soul-crushing, life-extinguishing violence, then we might as well as just go home,” said Murphy on Tuesday
• WH spox Josh Earnest said at the briefing Tuesday, “We have heard
[GOP WH] candidates talk about an openness to work with the admin on gun violence.” “For those who say they want to work with the admin in limiting gun violence, we would welcome the support for the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicaid.” – big provider of mental healthcare
• The House paused its proceedings last night to hold a moment of silence to honor the victims of last week’s Oregon shootings. “Now let’s do something!” Rep Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill) yelled once the moment of silence concluded, prompting applause from several Democrats around her
• Sad boaster and hero in his own mind, GOP 2016er Ben Carson claimed that if a gunman had asked him to state his religion, “Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.'” (yup, let’s blame the victims, not the murderer) (me, Politico)


US General: Afghanistan Hospital Bombing a Mistake (Reuters, Hill, Hill, AP, Politico, NYT, TRNS, TRNS, me)
• The deadly air strike on Saturday that hit a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz was a mistake made within the U.S. chain of command, the American commander of international forces in Afghanistan said Tuesday. “A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility,” said Army Gen John Campbell
• The strike that hit a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) killed 22 people and deeply angered the medical charity. MSF officials have blamed the U.S. and called it a war crime. They’re demanding an independent investigation under the Geneva Conventions
• Army Gen John Campbell’s comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee differed from remarks on Monday, when he said the U.S. conducted the airstrike at the request of Afghan security forces that were under fire from the Taliban. Those remarks also walked back previous reports that it was U.S. Special Ops Forces who were under fire (he’ll fall over soon)


• U.S. authorities have charged John Ashe, a former UN General Assembly president, with taking bribes worth $1.3 million from a Chinese billionaire. “In return for Rolex watches, a basketball court and bespoke suits, John Ashe sold himself and the global institution he led,” said U.S. Federal Attorney Preet Bharara. Investigations ongoing (TRNS)
Obama Weighing Change in Afghan Drawdown
• Campbell also told the committee that he thinks President Obama should revise the current plan to reduce the U.S. force in Afghanistan at the end of 2016. The plan calls for cutting the force from 9,800 to about 1,000 embassy-based security
• Campbell said he has provided his superiors with several options because conditions in Afghanistan have changed significantly since Obama approved that troop-cut plan in 2014. He told the committee the options were “above and beyond a normal embassy presence”. SecDef Ash Carter has said the Pentagon is providing options to the WH and Obama will make decisions this fall
• “The world walked away from Afghanistan once before and it descended into chaos that contributed to the worst terrorist attack ever against our homeland,” said committee chair Sen John McCain (R-Ariz), referring to the 9/11 attacks. “We cannot afford to repeat that mistake.”
• About two dozen Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Obama on Tuesday urging him to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2016. Campbell testifies before the House committee on Thursday

• LOL: Democrats on the Benghazi Committee – still on offense – have released a new video and fact sheet rebutting claims by chair Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC) that the committee isn’t focused on Hillary Clinton. It’s pretty funny – and telling


Snowden: Intel Agencies “Want to Own Your Phone” (BBC, Hill, me)
• American and British spy agencies have been aggressively developing tools to hack smartphones, govt whistleblower Edward Snowden told BBC’s “Panorama” (like Frontline) in a Monday interview. Intel officials want the devices to take photos or eavesdrop. “They want to own your phone instead of you,” Snowden said (sounds like they do)
• And smartphone owners have “very little” they can do to stop these officials from cracking their device. For GCHQ, the British spy agency, all it takes is a well-placed encrypted text message to get into the smartphone it wants to manipulate. The message is even invisible to the user, so it’s very difficult not to fall for the hack
• GCHQ has dubbed these capabilities the “Smurf Suite,” named after the Belgian cartoon characters. “Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off without you knowing,” Snowden said
• “Nosey Smurf is the ‘hot mic’ tool,” he continued. “For example if it’s in your pocket, [GCHQ] can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you – even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for switching it on.” (no more make out sessions with that sheep – you know who you are)


• “Tracker Smurf is a geo-location tool which allows [GCHQ] to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers.” Another tool Paranoid Smurf, is actually a defensive mechanism, designed to make the other tools undetectable (no more visiting that sheep, either)
• Snowden described GCHQ as “to all intents and purposes a subsidiary of the NSA.” “The NSA provide technology, they provide tasking and direction as to what GCHQ should go after.” The NSA has also spent nearly $1 billion on a similar program, Snowden said, in response to terrorists’ increasing use of smartphones
• Snowden said the agencies were targeting those suspected of involvement in terrorism or other serious crimes “but to find out who those targets are they’ve got to collect mass data.” “They say, and in many cases this is true, that they’re not going to read your email, for example, but they can and if they did you would never know.” “They can photograph you.” (sheep…)

• A Clinton campaign source says a team of opposition researchers working on behalf of Clinton is digging through Biden’s long record in office to develop possible attack lines. They’ve turned up material on his ties to Wall St., his reluctance to support the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and his role in the Anita Hill saga as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee (NYMag)


Biden Leaked Word of Son’s Dying Wish (Politico, me)
• Joe Biden’s a politician, after all. NYT columnist and Hillary Clinton-critic Maureen Dowd published a column on 1 Aug. VP Joe Biden spoke to her for the column and painted a tragic portrait of a dying son, trying to make his father promise to run for president because “the WH should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”
• Biden had effectively placed an ad in the NYT, asking people to call him. And they did. And a prospective campaign started moving. But by every account of those surrounding Biden, son Beau is constantly on his mind. But so are Clinton’s poll numbers – and his own
• At the end of August, Biden invited Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma) for an unannounced Sunday lunch at at the Naval Observatory. According to Warren-ish sources, he raised Clinton’s scheduled appearance at the House Benghazi Committee, even hinting there might be a running mate opening for Warren. When will Biden announce his plans?
• Biden was never going to Las Vegas for the first Democratic debate next Tuesday, according to people familiar with the plans. Better to force Clinton to enter the first contest with Biden’s potential challenge looming. And if he’s going to run, the second debate’s only a month away – and that one’s in Iowa
• Biden’s decision is an emotional one, too. The tears he’s shedding are real. He feels an obligation not just to his son, but to other people, who’ve told him he’s an inspiration in their own grief. The first hurdle is whether he and his family are up to the race, and they still haven’t made a final decision, according to people who know – word is this weekend or soon after

• Oooh: Final trailer for “Spectre” is OUT and it’s looking good. If you can’t wait to catch 007, hop on a plane and hit a London movie theatre on 26 October or – wait for him to land in U.S. theaters on 6 November

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Victoria Jones

TRNS’ Loree Lewis and Luke Vargas contributed to this report


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