Thursday, April 20, 2017

Missing Tennessee teen allegedly abducted by former teacher found in California


AOL.COM EDITORS          April  20th 2017 
Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins has been caught by law enforcement after a weeks-long manhunt across multiple states after he allegedly kidnapped 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports that Cummins, 50, was apprehended in California with Thomas, the teen who vanished with him more than one month ago. Authorities reported that she was found safe as well.

The end to the month-long nationwide manhunt came after officials found Cummins' Nissan Rogue on Wednesday night. The duo had last been spotted in Oklahoma City on surveillance footage at a Wal-Mart on March 30.

Cummins, who is married, and Thomas became the subject of a nationwide search after the teacher apparently lured Thomas into his car outside of a Shoney's restaurant in Columbia, Tennessee, about 45 miles south of Nashville.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation put him on its top 10 "most wanted" list shortly afterwards.

Cummins was suspended from his position in February after he ignored an order that barred Thomas from entering his classroom. The month before a student had reported seeing the 50-year-old and teenager kissing.
The two had disappeared on March 13.

Cummins will face charges of sexual contact with a minor and aggravated kidnapping, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 US election: documents

Thomson Reuters
NED PARKER, JONATHAN LANDAY AND JOHN WALCOTT         April 19th 2017 
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters' faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [https://en.riss.ru/], after the election.

The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin's office.

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system's legitimacy and damage Clinton's reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The current and former U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the Russian documents' classified status. They declined to discuss how the United States obtained them. U.S. intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them.

Putin has denied interfering in the U.S. election. Putin's spokesman and the Russian institute did not respond to requests for comment.

The documents were central to the Obama administration's conclusion that Russia mounted a "fake news" campaign and launched cyber attacks against Democratic Party groups and Clinton's campaign, the current and former officials said.
"Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map," said one of the sources, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Trump has said Russia's activities had no impact on the outcome of the race. Ongoing congressional and FBI investigations into Russian interference have so far produced no public evidence that Trump associates colluded with the Russian effort to change the outcome of the election.

Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump's quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.

Russia Today did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Sputnik dismissed the assertions by the U.S. officials that it participated in a Kremlin campaign as an "absolute pack of lies." "And by the way, it's not the first pack of lies we're hearing from 'sources in U.S. official circles'," the spokesperson said in an email.

PRO-KREMLIN BLOGGERS

Russia Today and Sputnik published anti-Clinton stories while pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a Twitter campaign calling into question the fairness of an anticipated Clinton victory, according to a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the election made public in January. [http://bit.ly/2kMiKSA]

Russia Today's most popular Clinton video - "How 100% of the 2015 Clintons' 'charity' went to ... themselves" - accumulated 9 millions views on social media, according to the January report. [http://bit.ly/2os8wIt]

CYBER ATTACKS

Neither of the Russian institute documents mentioned the release of hacked Democratic Party emails to interfere with the U.S. election, according to four of the officials. The officials said the hacking was a covert intelligence operation run separately out of the Kremlin.

The overt propaganda and covert hacking efforts reinforced each other, according to the officials. Both Russia Today and Sputnik heavily promoted the release of the hacked Democratic Party emails, which often contained embarrassing details.

SEE ALSO: Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria attack, China abstains

Five of the U.S. officials described the institute as the Kremlin's in-house foreign policy think tank.

The institute's director when the documents were written, Leonid Reshetnikov, rose to the rank of lieutenant general during a 33-year-career in Russia's foreign intelligence service, according to the institute's website [http://bit.ly/2oVhiCF]. After Reshetnikov retired from the institute in January, Putin named as his replacement Mikhail Fradkov. The institute says he served as the director of Russia's foreign intelligence service from 2007 to 2016. [http://bit.ly/2os4tvz]

Reuters was unable to determine if either man was directly involved in the drafting of the documents. Reshetnikov's office referred questions to the Russian institute.

On its website, the Russian institute describes itself as providing "expert appraisals," "recommendations," and "analytical materials" to the Russian president's office, cabinet, National Security Council, ministries and parliament. [http://bit.ly/2pCBGpR]

On Jan. 31, the websites of Putin's office [http://bit.ly/2os9wMr] and the institute [http://bit.ly/2oLn9Kd] posted a picture and transcript of Reshetnikov and his successor Fradkov meeting with Putin in the Kremlin. Putin thanked Reshetnikov for his service and told Fradkov he wanted the institute to provide objective information and analysis.

"We did our best for nearly eight years to implement your foreign policy concept," Reshetnikov told Putin. "The policy of Russia and the policy of the President of Russia have been the cornerstone of our operation."

(Reporting by Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay, additional reporting by Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Rohde and Ross Colvin)

Mark Zuckerberg Disgusted With Social Media; Set To Leave Facebook Later This Year

(ET, Wednesday, April 19, 2017) - Mark Zuckerberg helped to create a whole new world when he unveiled Facebook in 2004. Barely 20 years old, the fresh faced college student knew he had something special with his technological find. But even this genius had no way to predict how Facebook would change the world.

Now, just 17 years later, this 32-year-old billionaire is ready to give it all up? Why? According to those closest to the developer, Zuckerberg is disgusted with the way the public has used and abused the platform. “He wanted to create a way for people to connect; not tear them apart,” explained one colleague.

Since its inception, Facebook has enjoyed a wild ride of success. With more than 1.2 billion people logging on every single day, one would think that Zuckerberg fulfilled his dream of global connection. But, according to friends and coworkers, that wasn’t at all what Zuckerberg had in mind when he and a group of friends built the concept (and the reality) of the famous site back in their Harvard dormitory.

“What Mark wanted most was to bring the world together. It’s not good enough if it brings along some people and leaves others behind.” And when it comes to using the platform he created to bully or disparage others, Zuckerberg is completely disgusted. “He hates the way some users utilize the platform to bring others down or even to circulate false accounts of events or history.”

While Facebook itself begins a new chapter in harnessing its platform for the betterment of society, focusing on remaking the site in order to offer global connectedness while fighting isolationism and social ills. Although a manifesto recently released by Zuckerberg himself outlines a long-term plan by his company to revamp the site and “focus on social infrastructure for the community for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all,” many behind the scenes say that the Facebook founder has no intention of being a part of the changes and will announce his exit from Facebook in the coming months.


Since marrying wife Priscilla Chan M.D., in 2012, Zuckerberg has discovered a new passion: for eradicating disease and living a healthier lifestyle. A pediatrician who specializes in childhood disease, Chan convinced her husband last year to fund the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative, whose main focus is health and education. The initiative has also cited a long-term goal of working towards eradicating all disease by the end of the 21st century.

Monday, April 17, 2017

PRINCE'S DEATH : SEARCH WARRANTS REVEAL PILLS HIDDEN EVERYWHERE

Prince's death scene was riddled with pills strewn around his home ... this according to search warrants just released by Minnesota authorities.
According to new docs, law enforcement found Ziploc bags with pills as well as envelopes containing pills.
The docs bear out what TMZ has reported ... Prince's bodyguard was the person who went to a Walgreens pharmacy the day preceding the singer's death to fill prescriptions, including Percocet.
And, Prince used an alias -- Peter Bravestrong -- and cops found a suitcase with that name that contained pill bottles along with the lyrics for the song, "U Got the Look."
The main doctor who was treating Prince -- Dr. Michael Schulenberg -- admitted to a detective he had prescribed Prince Oxycodone the same day Prince OD'd on a jet -- 6 days before he died. The doctor put the Rx in Prince's bodyguard's name.
Prince would regularly get B12 injections before his concerts to feel better and they were set up through his managers.
And this is interesting ... Prince didn't use a cellphone ... apparently because he was once hacked and didn't trust it. His communications were through emails and landlines.
As we reported ... Prince died of an overdose of the powerful painkiller Fentanyl.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

US drops 'mother of all bombs' in Afghanistan: Pentagon

Thomson Reuters         IDREES ALI         April  13th 2017 
WASHINGTON, April 13 (Reuters) - The United States dropped a massive GBU-43 bomb, the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday against a series of caves used by Islamic State militants, the military said.

It was the first time the United States has used this size of bomb in a conflict. It was dropped from a MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, close to the border with Pakistan, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said.

Also known as the "mother of all bombs," the GBU-43 is a 21,600 pound (9,797 kg) GPS-guided munition and was first tested in March 2003, just days before the start of the Iraq war.

The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious, with a number of militant groups trying to claim territory more than 15 years after the U.S. invasion which toppled the Taliban government.

General John Nicholson, the head of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, said thebomb was used against caves and bunkers housing fighters of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, also known as ISIS-K.

It was not immediately clear how much damage the device did.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer opened his daily news briefing speaking about the use of the bomb and said, "We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target U.S. military advisers and Afghan forces in the area."

Last week, a U.S. soldier was killed in the same district as the bomb was dropped while conducting operations against Islamic State.

"The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group, we must deny them operational space, which we did," Spicer said.

He said the bomb was used at around 7 p.m. local time and described the device as "a large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon." The United States took "all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage," he said.

U.S. officials say intelligence suggests Islamic State is based overwhelmingly in Nangarhar and neighboring Kunar province.

Estimates of its strength in Afghanistan vary. U.S. officials have said they believe the movement has only 700 fighters but Afghan officials estimate it has about 1,500.

Islamic State's offshoot in Afghanistan is suspected of carrying out several attacks on minority Shi'ite Muslim targets.


The Afghan Taliban, which is trying to overthrow the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, are fiercely opposed to Islamic State and the two group have clashed as they seek to expand territory and influence. (Reporting by Idrees Ali and Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tensions mount as Tillerson meets with Putin in Moscow

Thomson Reuters
YEGANEH TORBATI AND VLADIMIR SOLDATKIN         
April  12th  2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting in the Kremlin with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Moscow said on Wednesday, citing Kremlin officials.

The Kremlin had previously declined to confirm that such a meeting would take place during Tillerson's visit, reflecting tensions over a U.S. missile strike on Syria, a staunch Russian ally, last week.

Putin said on Wednesday trust had eroded between the United States and Russia under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.

Any hope in Russia that the Trump administration would herald less confrontational relations has been dashed in the past week after the new U.S. leader fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow's ally for its suspected use of poison gas.

Tillerson started a meeting with Putin in the Kremlin after talking to his Russian opposite number Sergei Lavrov for around three hours. The Kremlin had previously declined to confirm Putin would meet Tillerson, reflecting tensions over the U.S. strike on Syria.

Just as Tillerson sat down for talks with Lavrov earlier on Wednesday, a senior Russian official assailed the "primitiveness and loutishness" of U.S. rhetoric, part of a volley of statements that appeared timed to maximize the awkwardness during the first visit by a member of Trump's cabinet.

"One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated," Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television.

In his interview, Putin doubled down on Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad's government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad's enemies.

Tillerson's official itinerary in Moscow started with the meeting with Lavrov, in an ornate hall in a foreign ministry-owned residence. In opening remarks in front of reporters, Lavrov greeted Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.

"I won't hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs," Lavrov said.

"And of course, that's not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken."

Lavrov also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office -- a point of sensitivity in Washington.

One of Lavrov's deputies was even more undiplomatic.

"In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington. We'll hope that this doesn't become the substance of American policy," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency.

"As a whole, the administration's stance with regards to Syria remains a mystery. Inconsistency is what comes to mind first of all."

Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was "to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be."

"I look forward to a very open, candid, frank exchange so that we can better define the U.S.-Russian relationship from this point forward," he told Lavrov.

After journalists were ushered out of the room, Lavrov's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her Facebook page that U.S. journalists traveling with Tillerson had behaved as if they were in a "bazaar" by shouting questions to Lavrov.

Moscow's hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was consistently full of effusive praise for him.

COVER-UP

The White House has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad's use of chemical weapons after the attack on a town killed 87 people last week.

Trump responded to the gas attack by firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday. Washington warned Moscow, and Russian troops at the base were not hit.

Moscow has stood by Assad, saying the poison gas belonged to rebels, an explanation Washington dismisses as beyond credible. Putin said that either gas belonging to the rebels was released when it was hit by a Syrian strike on a rebel arms dump, or the rebels faked the incident to discredit Assad.

Trump came to the presidency promising to seek closer ties with Russia and greater cooperation fighting against their common enemy in Syria, Islamic State. Tillerson is a former oil executive who was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship by Putin.

Last week's poison gas attack and the U.S. retaliation upended what many in Moscow hoped would be a transformation in relations between the two countries, which reached a post-Cold War low under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

The United States and its European allies imposed financial sanctions on Russia in 2014 after Putin seized territory from neighboring Ukraine.

Washington is leading a campaign of air strikes in Syria against Islamic State fighters and has backed rebels fighting against Assad during a six-year civil war, but until last week the United States had avoided directly targeting the Syrian government.

Russia, meanwhile, intervened in the civil war on Assad's side in 2015 and has troops on the ground, which it says are advising government forces. Both Washington and Moscow say their main enemy is Islamic State, although they back opposing sides in the wider civil war which has killed more than 400,000 people and spawned the world's worst refugee crisis.

In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Trump said he was not planning to order U.S. forces into Syria, but that he had to respond to the images of dead children poisoned in the gas attack.

"We're not going into Syria," he said in excerpts of the interview on the station's website. "But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons ... and see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father's arms, or you see kids gasping for life ... when you see that, I immediately called (Defense Secretary) General Mattis."

Tillerson traveled to Moscow with a joint message from Western powers that Russia should withdraw its support for Assad after a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies also attended by Middle  East allies .

Some of Washington's allies had been wary of Trump, who spoke during his election campaign of seeking closer ties with Moscow and questioned the value of U.S. support for its traditional friends. Tillerson's mission sees the Trump administration taking on the traditional U.S. role as spokesman for a unified Western position.

Trump's relations with Russia are also a domestic issue, as U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of using computer hacking to intervene in the election to help Trump win. The FBI is investigating whether any Trump campaign figures colluded with Moscow, which the White House denies.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pressured by Trump, it looks like China is going to do something about North Korea's nukes

 Business Insider            ALEX LOCKIE            April  11th 2017
After a Chinese envoy arrived in South Korea, the two sides have reportedly reached an agreement to take "strong action" against North Korea if nuclear and ballistic missile testing continues, according to VOA News.

Joel Witt, co-founder of 38 North, a website that brings together experts on North Korea, told Business Insider that the country's nuclear and ballistic missile progress has appeared to rapidly increase over the past year as the program reaches the point where it needs to be tested.

But with each test, North Korea gets closer to its goal of creating an intercontinental ballistic missile that can threaten the US mainland. US President Donald Trump's administration has been clear that they would take military action if need be to prevent this.

Trump, in an interview with the Financial Times before his meeting last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping said "if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will."

It remains to be seen if South Korea and China's vision of unacceptable behavior matches the US', as the US has signaled growing impatience with the Kim regime's nuclear posturing.
Now, with the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and strike group redirected to the Korean peninsula, South Korea and Chinese diplomats seem to have struck an agreement on handling the North Korean missile threat that does not involve a US strike.

North Korea reacted to the Vinson's deployment by calling it an "outrageous act" and saying it is "ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US."

While the US certainly sent a message with a recent salvo of 59 cruise missiles rocking a Syrian airbase, it faces far more limited options in striking North Korea, due to myriad nuclear and conventional missile launchers and a massive array of artillery that could effectively level Seoul, South Korea's capital of 10 million people.

Experts have told Business Insider that while China disapproves of North Korea's nuclear threats, it has a much deeper interest in preserving a North Korean state as a buffer against Western influences, and also fears a strong, united Korea complete with democracy and US military installations.
Furthermore, the Chinese appear to have been spooked by a recent deployment of advanced missile defenses to South Korea, which the US put in place after a particularly provocative missile test from the North.

Trump reportedly discussed the north Korean issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, with the two reaffirming their commitment to denuclearizing the peninsula and adhering to all UN sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom.