Day: January 23, 2020


General says troop surge in Middle East may not end soon…

ABOARD THE USS BATAAN — Over the past eight months, the United States has poured more than 20,000 additional troops into the Middle East to counter the escalating threat from Iran that peaked with the recent missile attack on American forces in Iraq.

Despite President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring troops home, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East on Thursday said the most recent forces to enter the region could be there for “quite a while.”

“You’re here because I requested that you come,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie told sailors and Marines aboard the USS Bataan amphibious assault ship, his voice booming over the ship’s loudspeaker. “I’m not sure how long you’re going to stay in the theater. We’ll work that out as we go ahead. Could be quite a while, could be less than that, just don’t know right now.”

Patriot, along with other missile defense systems, are included in the Army Air and Missile Defense 2028, which provides the Army’s overarching vision for the AMD force, describes how the AMD force is postured to support the Army and joint forces (Army)

The Bataan and two other U.S. warships moved into the Middle East on Jan. 11. By Thursday, they were in the north Red Sea, roughly 50 miles south of the Sinai Peninsula. They are the latest additions to America’s troop presence in the region. Since May, their numbers have grown from about 60,000 to more than 80,000.

Those increased deployments came despite two significant hurdles: Trump’s persistent pledge to end the wars and bring troops home, and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s insistence that U.S. forces be shifted to the Asia-Pacific as a bulwark against threats from China.

In making its case for troops in the Middle East, the U.S. military points to Iran’s Jan. 8 launch of as many as two dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed. The attack was in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general.

“Iran continues to pose a very real threat,” McKenzie told reporters traveling with him to the Bataan. “I do believe that they are deterred right now, at least from state-on-state actions by our response. And so I think that while that threat remains, I think we’re in a period where they’re certainly not seeking to escalate anything.”

He added, however, that Iranian proxy forces, who may strike with or without direction from Iranian leaders, still present a threat. He noted that Iranian attacks against Saudi Arabia last fall came as a surprise.

“Iran is very hard to read,” McKenzie said. “So I would say the fact that things are quiet for a while does not mean that necessarily things are getting better.”

To help deter additional Iranian attacks, McKenzie asked to have the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which includes two other ships and a Marine Expeditionary Unit, divert from their original mission in Europe and go through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea. There are about 2,500 Marines and 1,500 sailors on the three ships.

That decision is the latest move since May to bolster the American presence in the region, including the deployment of the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne division, to Kuwait and Iraq after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked. The U.S. also moved an aircraft carrier into the region last year. It has left and was replaced the USS Harry S. Truman. The Pentagon has sent additional fighter jets, bomber aircraft, and Patriot missile batteries to Middle East to provide additional security for U.S. troops and allies and as a show of force to deter attacks by Iran.

Those moves have increased the U.S. troop strength in the region to more than 83,000, based on numbers from several U.S. officials and other government agencies that track military movements.

Asked about the increase, McKenzie said he understands the demand for troops in other parts of the world, and he has had discussions with Esper about the level of risk in the Middle East.

Esper, who has approved the moves, is looking closely at worldwide deployments in a broader effort to meet the needs of the national defense strategy that identified China and Russia as the key future threats. Even as McKenzie was traveling to the Bataan, Esper was in Florida telling reporters that Russia and China are “mission number one.”

“There’s only a finite number of dollars, a finite number of troops, so I’ve got to figure out, where is the best place to put them? I’ve articulated in the past that I want to either return forces to the States to improve their readiness, or redeploy others” to the IndoPacific, Esper said.

Trump has argued that the U.S. must get out of the “endless wars” in the Middle East. But he has also singled out Iran as a malign influence in the region, and after the Iranian missile strikes, was quick to threaten revenge.

After hundreds of Iranian-supported militiamen breached the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in early January, Trump tweeted, “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!” Trump also approved the airstrike on Soleimani, which triggered the Iranian reprisal. Some U.S. troops were flown out of Iraq for evaluation of concussion-like symptom after the missile strikes.

Senior U.S. officials have noted the relative calm after the Iranian strikes, saying both the U.S. and Iran want to deescalate tensions.

But McKenzie said that while the U.S. wants to be “coolheaded,” he worries that cooler heads may not prevail in Iran.

So when he went to the microphone on the Bataan, where Marine Harrier jets intermittently roared down the ship’s deck into the air, he issued a warning.

“You need to be ready because I may need to employ you on very short notice and on some very difficult missions,” he said.

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Ransomware Attacks Causing More Downtime Than Ever Before…

Ransomware: Why paying the ransom is a bad idea for everyone in the long run
ZDNet’s Danny Palmer explains that some cyber-insurance companies encourage their clients to pay the ransom to get back up and running as quickly as possible – but here’s how this just causes more problems. Read more:

Ransomware attacks are becoming more disruptive, with the amount of downtime for organisations which fall victim to network-encrypting malware campaigns on the rise.

According to figures in the new Ransomware Marketplace report from cybersecurity company Covewar, the average number of days a ransomware incident lasts is now 16.2 days – up from 12.1 days in the third quarter of 2019.

The increased downtime has been driven by a rise in attacks against large organisations, which often need to spend many weeks remediating and restoring their systems.

 “Enterprises must understand the magnitude of the remediation and restoration process necessary when a ransomware attack happens,” Coveware CEO Bill Siegel told ZDNet.

“Reconnecting that backup and restoring a large amount of data can be very time consuming. It is a huge project and frankly has to be practiced beyond theoretical table top exercises,” he added.

Ransomware has already had a big impact in just the first month of 2020: currency exchange provider Travelex was hit with Sodinokibi ransomware on New Year’s Eve and at the time of writing, some of the company’s online services remain offline over three weeks on from the attack.

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The report also notes that the ransom demands made by criminal operations are on the rise, with the average ransom payment doubling in just the space of a few months; it was $41,198 between July and September last year, and reached $84,116 for the period between October and December.

This is once again because ransomware is proving so effective across whole networks that the cyber criminals can make high demands, which in many cases organisations are taking the decision to pay.

However, organisations can go a long way to protecting themselves from falling victim to ransomware and other cyber attacks by following a few simple security procedures, including multi-factor authentication on accounts across the network.

“We still see broad non-adoption of multi-factor authentication, which would have prevented a large proportion of the attacks from having the impact they had,” said Siegel.

Organisations should also ensure their systems are regularly updated with relevant security patches in order to ensure that cyber criminals can’t take advantage of known vulnerabilities to gain access to networks and distribute ransomware.



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Case near Tokyo spurs alert for US military personnel…

Coronavirus case near Tokyo spurs alert for US military personnel in Japan

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. military has warned its personnel in Japan to watch out for symptoms of a deadly pneumonia-like virus after a man from Kanagawa prefecture, home to thousands of sailors and soldiers, contracted the disease in China this month.

Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million people in east-central China, planned to shutdown outbound flights and trains Thursday to contain the disease that has sickened hundreds and killed 17 in the country, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

The Air Force’s 374th Medical Group at Yokota posted an alert to social media the same day, stating that the World Health Organization had been informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan.

“A novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified as the causative virus by Chinese authorities on 7 January 2020,” the alert states.

The alert cited four cases reported outside of China, including patients in South Korea, home to 28,500 U.S. troops, and Japan, where another 50,000 service members are stationed, as well as thousands of civilian defense workers and family members.

“A local man from Kanagawa Prefecture developed a fever while visiting Wuhan, China, between January 3-6, 2020. The man was hospitalized upon return to Japan. He has since been released from the hospital,” the alert states.

Kanagawa prefecture is home to Yokosuka Naval Base, home of the 7th Fleet and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Other U.S. facilities in the prefecture include Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama, home of U.S. Army Japan. Yokota, the home of U.S. Forces Japan, is close to the border of Kanagawa in western Tokyo.

The Department of Defense has not yet provided guidance to military personnel about the virus, U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Capt. Michael Hopkins said in an email Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a level 2 travel alert, meaning people should take enhanced precautions, the medical group said in its warning.

The number of new cases has risen rapidly in China. Wuhan officials have confirmed 444 cases, bringing the national total to more than 500, AP reported.

The disease comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, AP reported.

“It seems like the initial cases were associated with a large seafood and animal products market in Wuhan,” Maj. Andrew Fisher, 47, a flight surgeon at Yokota and the base public health emergency officer, said Thursday. “It’s not uncommon for coronaviruses to spread from animal to human.”

Health officials are always concerned about the potential for an infectious disease to impact the military community, he said.

“Certainly, readiness is a concern, but we also care about our dependents and families,” Fisher said. “If our families are sick that also impacts our ability to do our jobs.”

There’s some evidence that the virus may spread from person to person, he added.

“We don’t know how infectious it is but the things you would do to protect yourself from the common cold are the things that you should do to protect yourself from this virus,” Fisher said.

Signs and symptoms of the virus include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory symptoms, kidney failure and death, the medical group’s alert states.

Prevention recommendations are provided in the alert. Anyone who has traveled to Wuhan and feels sick should stay home, except to seek medical care, and avoid contact with others.

Seek medical care immediately but call ahead before arriving at a doctor’s office or urgent care clinic and advise them of your symptoms and recent travel, the alert states.

Do not travel while you’re sick, the medical group advises. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve — not your hands — when coughing or sneezing or wear a mask.

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, the alert states.

Twitter: @SethRobson1


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Accuses FACEBOOK of helping…

George Soros in Davos | Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

‘Facebook will work to re-elect Trump and Trump will protect Facebook.’



DAVOS, Switzerland — George Soros accused Facebook of working to re-elect Donald Trump in this year’s U.S. election campaign in exchange for protection.

“Facebook will work to re-elect Trump and Trump will protect Facebook,” the Hungarian-born U.S. financier said in a speech in Davos on Thursday. “It makes me very concerned about the outcome of 2020.”

A Facebook representative was not immediately available for comment.

Speaking at a dinner hosted by his Open Society Foundation, Soros laid into Trump, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, among others.

He described Trump as “the ultimate narcissist” and called Xi Jinping a “dictator,” while praising teenage climate activists such as Greta Thunberg.

But rather than ceding to despair, Soros said he had decided to launch “the most important project of my life” — a $1 billion investment in “critical thinking” via a new network of colleges.

The new Open Society University Network, announced at Davos, will expand on the Soros-backed Central European University which was made unwelcome in its campus in Hungary by Orbán.

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Pharma exec sentenced to prison in opioid trial…

Updated at 4:43 p.m.

Former billionaire and pharmaceutical executive John Kapoor was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on Thursday. His sentencing is the culmination of a months-long criminal trial in Boston’s Moakley Federal Court that resulted in the first successful prosecution of pharmaceutical executives tied to the opioid epidemic.

Kapoor did not make a statement after his sentencing.

The 76-year-old is the founder of Insys Therapeutics, which made and aggressively marketed a potent opioid painkiller. Kapoor and four other executives were found guilty of orchestrating a criminal conspiracy to bribe doctors to prescribe their medication, including to patients who did not need it, and then lying to insurance companies to make sure the costly medication was covered. Two other executives pleaded guilty and became cooperating witnesses.

Kapoor’s 66-month prison term is substantially less than the 15-year sentence recommended by federal prosecutors, but it is more than the one year requested by Kapoor’s defense attorneys, who maintained his innocence and stressed his old age as reason for a short prison sentence. The other executives received between one year and 33 months, significantly less than many of the prison times recommended by the federal prosecutors.

For the federal government, this was a landmark trial in which corporate executives were charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a charge often reserved for mob bosses and drug lords. Experts saw the trial as sending a message to drug companies that they will be held criminally accountable for their alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis.

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Brad Bailey, a former federal prosecutor and current defense attorney who is not involved in the Insys trial but has been following it closely. “It’s a template that prosecutors will continue to use.”

While seven Insys executives were awaiting sentencing, the company entered into an agreement with the government to settle criminal and civil investigations. Insys agreed to pay $225 million and admitted to the kickback scheme. Shortly after the agreement was announced, the company filed for bankruptcy.

Bailey said between the prison sentences and the company’s financial woes, “there’s no question that this was a cautionary tale to all executives.”

The other former Insys executives who have been sentenced are Michael Gurry (former vice president), who received 33 months in prison; Richard Simon (former national sales director), who also got 33 months; Joseph Rowan (former sales manager), who was sentenced to 27 months; Sunrise Lee (former sales manager), who received a sentence of one year and one day; Michael Babich (former CEO), who received 30 months; and Alec Burlakoff (former vice president), who was also sentenced Thursday and received 26 months in prison.

Ameet Sarpatwari, an epidemiologist and lawyer at Harvard University’s Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law, said he thinks this trial will have a chilling effect on the pharmaceutical industry.

“It’s an important warning to other pharmaceutical manufacturers and executives who may be considering pushing their products through aggressive, and possibly legally dubious, marketing schemes,” said Sarpatwari. “The consequences for such actions may not simply be fines — which has historically simply been the cost of doing business — but possibly jail time.”

However, he said, this trial does not mean the practices that contributed to the overprescribing and addiction to opioid will go away.

“A lot of the activities that you see within the industry that are effective are technically legal. And so, if that’s the case, is this going to curb those aggressive tactics? No. But it will give second thought to pushing the boundaries,” said Sarpatwari. “I think that is going to be the hopefully helpful fallout of the case.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct Ameet Sarpatwari’s title at Harvard University. He is an epidemiologist and lawyer.

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Soros rips, says 'fate of world' at stake in 2020…

DAVOS, Switzerland — Liberal billionaire George Soros took aim at President Donald Trump and China on Thursday at his annual dinner amid the World Economic Forum.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is “trying to exploit Trump’s weaknesses,” Soros told the gathering. He also accused Xi of using “artificial intelligence to have total control of his people.”

And while Soros did not discuss the Democratic presidential primary, in which he has yet to make an endorsement, he said the 2020 election will not just determine the relationship between Trump and Xi, but the “fate of the world.”

Soros, the 89-year-old Democratic megadonor who has a net worth of just over $8 billion, made his comments at a private annual dinner set amid a conference known for featuring elite business and political leaders.

Soros’ fresh criticism of Trump and the Chinese government under Xi came after the two nations agreed to a so-called phase one trade deal. The agreement calls for China to increase its purchases of U.S. manufacturing, energy and agricultural goods and services by at least $200 billion over two years and includes provisions to root out intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers.

While Trump has said negotiations on a phase two agreement will begin soon, many business executives at the WEF have raised doubts that another agreement will be made over the next year.

He also leveled direct attacks at Trump, saying the president “is a con man and a narcissist, who wants the world to revolve around him.”

“When his fantasy of becoming president became a reality,” that narcissism dialed up, Soros said. “This has turned his narcissism into a malignant disease.”

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Soros did acknowledge Trump’s ability to retain support among his political base and undermine Democratic criticism especially in light of his ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate.

“He has an instinct of how they are going to respond to his actions,” Soros said. “This makes the tasks of the Democrats who impeached him extremely difficult.”

“The trial in the Senate is setting up to be strictly pro forma,” he added, noting that Republicans appear to be in lockstep with the president and unlikely to vote to remove him from office.

At last year’s conference, Soros labeled Xi as the “most dangerous” opponent to those who believe in open society. During that same dinner, Soros took aim at Trump’s negotiating tactics with China in the buildup to the eventual trade deal that was signed last week.

“Regrettably, President Trump seems to be following a different course: Make concessions to China and declare victory while renewing his attacks on U.S. allies. This is liable to undermine the U.S. policy objective of curbing China’s abuses and excesses,” he said at the time.

Although Soros avoided discussing the Democratic primary at the dinner, he has continued to use his wealth to back a slew of political causes outside of the presidential election.

His new super PAC, the Democracy PAC, was involved with funding several Democratic candidates during the recent Virginia state elections. Democrats went on to take control of the Virginia Legislature for the first time in more than two decades.

Records show that the PAC has raised just over $5 million and has that amount on hand.

Soros has been one of the top Democratic donors. During the 2016 presidential election, he spent more than $20 million on Democrats, including at least $8 million on a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA Action, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Soros is ranked second among all political donors in the 2020 election cycle, with over $6 million in contributions. Just ahead of him is billionaire and presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who has contributed just more than $23 million.

While Soros has not endorsed a candidate, he said in October that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a populist from Massachusetts, is “the most qualified to be president.”

— CNBC’s Thomas Franck reported from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

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NFL concussions rise despite safety moves…

Miami (AFP) – NFL players suffered 224 diagnosed concussions in the 2019 regular season and pre-season combined, 10 more than in 2018 but still off alarming 2017 totals, the league announced Thursday.

The data showed a rise from the 214 concussions in the 2018 season but remained well off the 281 over the same period in 2017, which pushed the NFL to ban using helmets to initiate contact and changed helmet designs to improve safety.

“Candidly, we need to have much more research by the (NFL Scouting Combine, which starts February 23) — how rules affect all injuries, whether rules changes were effective,” said Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president of health and safety.

Miller wants to examine whether or not banning lowered helmets making contact has changed the behavior of players and whether or not a 2019 rule to eliminate blind-side blocks contributed to a reduction in injuries.

The number of concussions in NFL pre-season practices fell from 45 in 2018 to 30 in 2019 after the league banned several high-impact drills.

But the league saw an increase in concussions suffered during pre-season games, data showing most of those concussions were suffered by players who did not make the team roster.

While inexperience could contribute to techniques that expose such players to greater risk, it could also be the case that the concussion plays a factor in keeping a player from making the final cut.

NFL games were stopped a record 19 times by spotters to remove a player from a game for a concussion test. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz reported his own injury after being hit in the head during his team’s first-round playoff loss to Seattle.

The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, said around a third of all concussion evaluations featured some level of player self reporting, with 485 concussion evaluations performed during the 2019 season.

Injuries to lower extremities, typically accounting for 60 percent of missed injury time in the NFL, saw torn knee ligaments drop from 132 to 109 for medial collaterals and 57 to 47 for anterior cruciates.

Lower-body soft-tissue injuries such as hamstrings remained between 580 and 610. The league continues to study the types of cleats worn on players’ shoes as well as analyzing the relationship between turf styles and injury rates.

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DOJ says Carter Page spy warrants 'not valid'…

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Senators Play With Toys, Read Books…

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Mulvaney becomes top target…

“But Mulvaney’s going to claim executive privilege and it will be tied up in courts,” Murphy said.

Mulvaney was front and center during the first full day of the House manager’s arguments, particularly the television clip of him confirming a quid pro quo that Ukraine aid wouldn’t be delivered without an investigation announced into Democrats — a claim which he later walked back.

Whether the Senate will call any witnesses at all is still in doubt, with a key procedural vote scheduled for next week on whether to subpoena new witnesses and documents. Votes to secure documents and testimony from Mulvaney, Bolton and others failed on Tuesday and Wednesday on party lines.

Unlike most potential witnesses in the Ukraine saga Democrats, Bolton has publicly confirmed he would be willing to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed. But he is viewed with some suspicion by the opposition party.

“I have low expectations for Bolton. I think we have to hear from him, but I think his next 20 years are tied up in making money and donations in book sales for Trump supporters,” Murphy said. “But if there’s a chance for him to be very clear about what the president said to him? Maybe. There is this one meeting between he and Trump in which, if he doesn’t claim executive privilege or ignores protections from the president, you could have some explosive testimony.”

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