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.

In the News

  • GOP’s DHS problem: Punt or blame?
  • Iran nuke talks: Edging to deal?
  • Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted: by Mossad
  • Top-secret files leaked
  • Mossad: Iran “does not appear to be ready”
  • NSA chief dodges new spy allegations
  • Obama wants regs for some financial brokers
  • AUMF: Are Democrats revolting?
  • GOP regulators: Delay net neutrality vote
  • O’Reilly redoubles defense of Falklands reporting
  • “Chummiest” riot

 

GOP’s DHS Problem: Punt or Blame?

• It’s looking more likely that Republican leaders will punt rather than risk getting blamed for shutting down an agency that fights terrorism. Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) moved the Senate toward a standalone bill narrowly targeting the president’s 2014 executive action and sparing the 2012 action aimed only at certain young immigrants (Politico, TRNS, me)

• Senior Republicans said privately earlier in the day that the party may have no choice now but to fund the agency on a short-term basis. The length of a so-called continuing resolution isn’t clear, but McConnell plans to discuss the matter with senators in a closed-door lunch today

• Monday evening, for the fourth time this month, Senate Democrats filibustered a bill that would keep DHS open while blocking President Obama’s executive order shielding roughly 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation

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• A range of fall-back proposals continued to be floated on Monday. One would be to tie a short-term budget bill to the outcome of the Texas immigration case, another would be to file an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit. Separately Monday, the DoJ filed a motion asking a Texas judge to grant an emergency stay blocking his own ruling which put Obama’s actions on hold

• Outspoken conservatives, such as Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX), are trying to stiffen GOP leaders’ spines. Cruz did little to hide his disregard for party leaders’ tactics to find a way out of the jam. “There was a reason in December I so vigorously opposed the CRomnibus strategy: Because leadership had no way out.”

• Neither Cruz nor Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would say if they would throw procedural hurdles in front of a stopgap funding bill, which could add days to Senate consideration, with passage in the House anything but assured. Still, the approaching deadline could spur Congress to act

• Meanwhile, flanked by nearly 30 employees from across the dept and the chiefs of FEMA and Customs and Border Patrol, DHS Sec Jeh Johnson said Monday up to 80% of the dept would work without pay in the event of a shutdown, while 30,000 employees would be furloughed, including 80% of FEMA

 

• Congress will send a bill approving the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline to the WH this morning, and President Obama is expected to swiftly veto it. “I would not anticipate a lot of drama or fanfare around it,” WH spox Josh Earnest said Monday (Hill, TRNS, me)

 

Iran Nuke Talks: Edging to Deal?

• Iranian and American officials ended a round of high-level nuclear talks in Geneva Monday considering a proposal that would strictly limit for at least 10 years Iran’s ability to produce nuclear material, but gradually ease restrictions on Tehran in the final years of a deal. There’s a 31 March deadline for finalizing the outline of an accord (NYT, me)

• Strict constraints on the number of centrifuges that Iran could operate might be maintained for the first 10 years of a potential 15-year agreement and then relaxed in the last five years. Such an approach would allow the Iranians to say the tough constraints would last for only 10 years, and the Americans could say they had a 15-year agreement

• It’s unclear what form a March agreement might take, if it’s reached. Would it be a signed doc that the U.S., its allies and Iran would make public? Or would it be a confidential record of the status of the talks on which Congress might be briefed but which wouldn’t be published? (would lawmakers go along?)

• Both sides have said they’re not interested in extending negotiating deadlines further. Adding to the pressure to show progress, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on 3 March to present his criticism of the potential accord

• Sunday, Netanyahu said the emerging deal would be “dangerous for Israel.” He added that it was “astonishing” that the talks were continuing since Iran has yet to answer longstanding questions that the IAEA has posed about Tehran’s suspected earlier work on nuclear designs

 

Netanyahu’s Iran Bomb Claim Contradicted – by Mossad

• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration to world leaders at the UN in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, according to a top-secret Mossad document (Guardian, al Jazeera, me)

• In a secret report shared with South Africa a few weeks later, Mossad concluded that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The disclosure comes as tensions between Israel and its staunchest ally, the U.S,. have dramatically increased ahead of Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress on 3 March

• The doc is part of a cache of hundreds from the world’s major intel services – one of the biggest spy leaks in recent times. They span almost a decade of global intel traffic, from 2006 to Dec last year. Leaked to the al Jazeera investigative unit and shared with the Guardian. Include details of ops against al Qaeda, ISIS and even targeting of environmental activists. Files reveal:
Top-Secret Files Leaked

• President Obama “threatened” the Palestinian president to withdraw a bid for recognition of the Palestinian Authority at the UN / The CIA attempted to establish contact with Hamas in spite of a U.S. ban (Guardian, al Jazeera, me)

• South Korean intelligence targeted the leader of Greenpeace / South African intelligence spied on Russia over a controversial $100m joint satellite deal

• The cache mainly involves exchanges between South Africa’s intel agency and its counterparts around the world. It’s a selective leak. One of the biggest hauls is from Mossad. Bur there are docs from Russia’s FSB, which is responsible for counterterrorism – such leaks of Russian material are extremely rare. U.S., Britain, France, Jordan, UAE and many other nations are in there

• The latest spy cables deal with espionage at street level – known as human intelligence or “humint.” They include surveillance reports, inter-agency info trading, disinformation and backbiting, as well as evidence of infiltration, theft and blackmail. Edward Snowden’s leaks dealt with tech. The leaks show how important Africa is becoming for global espionage
Mossad: Iran “Not Appear to be Ready”

• The Mossad briefing was in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s alarmist tone. Netanyahu told the UN: “By next spring, at most by next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks, before they get enough uranium for the first bomb.” (Guardian, al Jazeera, me)

• He said his info wasn’t based on secret info or military intel, but IAEA reports. Mossad shared info with South African spies on 22 Oct 2012 – but likely written earlier – conceding Iran was “working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate, such as enrichment reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given.”

• But the report also states that Iran “does not appear to be ready” to enrich uranium to the higher levels necessary for nuclear weapons. To build a bomb requires enrichment to 90%. Mossad estimated that Iran then had “about 100kg of material enriched to 20%.”

• Last week, a senior Israeli govt official said there was no contradiction between Netanyahu’s statements on the Iranian nuclear threat and “the quotes in your story – allegedly from Israel intelligence.” Both the PM and Mossad said Iran was enriching uranium to produce weapons, he added

• Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who left office in Dec 2010, let it be known that he had opposed an order from Netanyahu to prepare a military attack on Iran. And in April 2012, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, accused Netanyahu of “messianic” political leadership for pressing for military action
• A U.S. court in New York has found the PLO and the Palestinian Authority liable for attacks in Israel over 10 years ago. Six attacks in Jerusalem killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more, including Americans, during the second Palestinian intifada between 2002 and 2004. The jury awarded victims more than $218m (BBC, NYT, me)

 

NSA Chief Dodges New Spy Allegations

• NSA chief Adm Mike Rogers said Monday, “Clearly I’m not going to get into the specifics of the allegations. But the point I would make is, we fully comply with the law,” when responding to questions about reports that the NSA had embedded spyware in computers on a vast scale and that along with its British counterpart, had hacked into the world’s biggest manufacturer of SIM cards (Reuters, Hill, me)

• “They not only screwed the manufacturer, they screwed all of us, because the only way to address the security compromise is to recall and replace every SIM sold by Gemalto,” former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said Monday during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session

• Snowden said the hack of SIM cards from manufacturer Gemalto is “more significant” than reports the NSA was reprogramming the firmware of hard drives at dozens of top manufacturers. “Although firmware exploitation is nasty, it’s at least theoretically reparable. … This isn’t the same for SIMs.”

• Even as he declined comment on the reports of aggressive NSA operations, Rogers argued, at a Washington forum, that U.S. intel, along with law enforcement agencies, needs the legal means to break strong encryption increasingly built into operating systems such as those of Apple or Google (no, it doesn’t)

• “Most of the debate that I’ve seen has been, ‘It’s all or nothing. It’s either total encryption or no encryption at all.'” Rogers said (no doubt they’re setting about figuring out how to break in as we speak)

 

• The State Dept has appointed Randy Berry to be its first special envoy to promote LGBT rights globally. Berry is a senior U.S. Foreign Service officer fluent in Spanish and Arabic (Hill, TRNS, me)

 

Obama Wants Regs for Some Financial Brokers

• At AARP Monday, President Obama called for tougher standards on brokers who manage retirement savings accounts. Labor Dept submitted a proposal to the WH Monday that would require the brokers who sell stocks, bonds, annuities and other investments to disclose to their clients any fees or other payments they receive for recommending certain investments (AP, Hill, TRNS, me)

• Under current rules, brokers are required to recommend only “suitable” investments based on the client’s finances, age and how much risk is appropriate for him or her. The rules would make brokers handling retirement accounts obligated to put their clients’ interests first (stunning concept)

• The admin first proposed a reg in 2010, but pulled it back following an industry outcry that the proposal would hurt rather than help investors by limiting choices. Industry officials say the industry is well governed by financial regulators like the SEC. WH officials said they have been consulting with SEC chair Mary Jo White

• To buttress the new effort, the WH on Monday released a 30-page report from its Council of Economic Advisers noting that an estimated $1.7 trillion of individual retirement account assets are invested in products that pay fees or commissions that pose conflicts of interest

• Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was on hand at AARP to help lend her support to the proposal. “It’s about time to do something that we should’ve done long ago – to end the kickbacks, the free vacations and the fancy cars … to ensure that all of our retirement advisers and not just some of them are looking out for the people they serve.”

• Monday, 51 House Republicans called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Loretta Lynch’s nomination for attorney general. They warned of her “apparent unwillingness to stand up to the president.” The committee is slated to vote Thursday, and is expected to send Lynch’s nomination to the floor (Hill, me)

AUMF: Are Democrats Revolting?

• A wide range of House and Senate Democrats – many of whom, like President Obama, rose to prominence opposing the Iraq War – are warning they won’t support any war-powers measure that gives the president even greater latitude than he’s already asked for (Politico, me)

• But the Republicans who control Congress insist that any war authorization must offer broad authority to combat Islamic militants, saying the WH’s three-year draft would do too much to tie the hands of Obama and his successor

• That will leave Obama with a critical decision: He can stick with his proposal to limit the war against ISIS, fighting the GOP-controlled Congress over a draft that many liberals already dislike

• Or he can acquiesce to Republican demands and prompt a revolt from his own party, something the president has rarely done during his six years in office. The result could be the largest Democratic rebellion in years, which could send an embarrassing message to U.S. allies just as the U.S. tries to show unity against a serious national security threat

• The question for Democrats is what role Obama will play as Republicans seek to tilt the president’s draft toward their party’s more hawkish views. Progressive leaders and Democratic lawmakers say they essentially want Obama to publicly advocate against his own proposal: shorten the timetable, repeal the 2001 authorization and further restrict ground troops – developing

 

• SecDef Ash Carter met in Kuwait Monday with military and diplomatic leaders for over six hours to discuss ISIS strategy. “The discussion indicated clearly to me that this group is hardly invincible,” Carter said. He now heads back to DC where he’ll report back to President Obama (TRNS, me)

 

GOP Regulators: Delay Net Neutrality Vote

• The two Republicans on the FCC are making a final plea to delay Thursday’s vote on net neutrality rules. The commissioners said the proposal should be publicly released, with the vote then delayed for at least 30 days to allow time for review (Hill, me)

• “With the future of the entire internet at stake, it is imperative the FCC get this right,” commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly said in a statement. They cited a poll released last week that found 79% of people supported releasing the text of the rules publicly before a vote

• FCC chair Tom Wheeler has rebuffed similar requests from the commissioners and members of Congress. Wheeler has said releasing the rules early would run contrary to past procedure. Wheeler tweeted Monday: “FCC received more than 4 million comments on #OpenInternet during past year that helped shape proposal. It’s time to act.”

• Pai, O’Reilly and Republicans in Congress are strongly opposed to reclassifying broadband internet service under authority governing traditional telephone service

• The FCC usually circulates regs internally three weeks before a vote but doesn’t make them public until after a vote. While the broad outlines of the net neutrality rules have been released, the public and other stakeholders haven’t seen the text of the regs
• Veterans Affairs Dept Sec Robert McDonald apologized Monday for falsely claiming last month that he’d served in the U.S. Special Forces when talking with a homeless veteran during a CBS News segment. McDonald served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. WH officials accepted his apology (HuffPo)

 

O’Reilly Redoubles Defense of Falklands Reporting

• Fox News host Bill O’Reilly stepped up his defense against reports in Mother Jones and subsequent interviews with former journalists at CBS News that accuse him of misrepresenting his coverage of the Falklands War in 1982 as a young correspondent for CBS News. The central dispute is whether O’Reilly reported from active war zones, as he’s repeatedly said he did

• He in fact covered protests in the aftermath of the war in the streets of Buenos Aires, some 1,200 miles away from the Falklands. On Monday’s show, O’Reilly played CBS footage from 1982 the showed the violent protests and included an interview with Don Browne, a former NBC News bureau chief who oversaw coverage of Latin America

• “It was a real country at war,” Browne said. “It was a very intense situation where people got hurt.” He said there were tanks on the streets. David Corn, a reporter for Mother Jones, said the issue wasn’t whether O’Reilly had reported on a violent protest, but whether he had reported from a war zone

••• During a phone conversation Monday, O’Reilly told a reporter for the NYT that there would be repercussions if he felt any of the reporter’s coverage was inappropriate. “I am coming after you with everything I have,” O’Reilly said. “You can take it as a threat.”

• Former CBS News staff members said Monday that O’Reilly’s account of his reporting on the protests in Argentina was flawed. Eric Engberg, a correspondent for CBS News for 27 years, reported on the same protest near the presidential palace, as O’Reilly
“Chummiest” Riot

• Engberg said in an interview that several CBS News camera crews were sent out to cover the angry crowds. Though the crowd was unruly, Engberg said, the rest of the CBS News crew, which included veterans of war zones, thought “it was the chummiest riot anyone had ever covered.”

• Corn said the video released by CBS News proved nothing. “The question is whether Bill O’Reilly was stating the truth when he repeatedly said that Argentine soldiers used real bullets and fired into the crowd of civilians and many were killed.”

• Monday, there was back and forth over O’Reilly’s quoting from a 1982 NYT article which read: “One policeman pulled a pistol firing five shots over the heads of fleeing demonstrators.” O’Reilly left out that the shots were “over the heads of fleeing demonstrators.” The reporter who wrote the article said as far as he knew, no demonstrators were shot or killed that night

• Engberg also strongly disputed O’Reilly’s claim that he had rescued an injured cameraman while being chased by the Argentine army. “Nobody reported a cameraman being shot or injured,” he said. His account was supported by a senior member of the CBS News management team, with close knowledge of the events of that night

• Another CBS News correspondent on the ground, Charles Gomez, who has covered wars in Nicaragua and other conflict zones, said, though he likes O’Reilly and was surprised by the accusations, he “did not see any bloodshed.” “What was happening on the Falkland Islands was a war zone. What was happening in Buenos Aires was unrest.”

 

• Vid: Michelle Obama announces the 2015 WH Easter Egg Roll: theme #GimmeFive

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, Nicholas Salazar, William McDonald, James Cullum and Mary Jarvis contributed to this report

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