Thursday, October 29, 2015

Russia’s air force hits 118 terrorist targets in Syria over 24 hours — Defense Ministry

MOSCOW, October 28. /TASS/. The Russian air force grouping has attacked 118 facilities of the Islamic State terrorist organization in Syria over the past 24 hours, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday.

"Aircraft of the Russian air force grouping in the Syrian Arab Republic have made 71 sorties over the past twenty-four hours against 118 terrorist facilities in the Idlib, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia provinces," he said.

According to Konashenkov, Russia’s Su-24M bombers have destroyed a militant command post with a communication hub and a large ammunition depot discovered by unmanned aerial vehicles near the village of Salma in Latakia province.

"After more reconnaissance, the Su-24M bombers delivered a strike completely destroying the facility," Konashenkov said.

A command post of Jaish al-Islam terrorist organization, which was located on the outskirts of the settlement of Misrabah near the Syrian capital of Damascus, as well as a command post of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organization in the area of the settlement of Tel-Bisa in the Homs province were also destroyed.

The Russian air group in Syria has destroyed a large disguised terrorist supply post with weapons and ammunition, Defense Ministry’s spokesman informed.

"Su-25 jets destroyed a large disguised terrorist supply post with weapons, ammunition and materiel in Idlib province," Konashenkov said. "A bomb hit a truck loaded with ammunition and destroyed both the truck and the nearby depot."

In Konashenkov's words, the strikes were also delivered at the exposed infrastructure of militants, which was earlier mothballed or thoroughly masked.

"These are first of all bases, transit centers and strongholds of terrorists as well as command posts," he said.
According to Konashenkov, all Russian aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria are technically sound, there are enough ammunition and fuel reserves.

Russian warplanes have increased the number of combat sorties in Syria because of receiving more confirmed reconnaissance data about the Islamic State infrastructure facilities, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson went on to say.

"As you can see, the number of combat sorties has increased due to the fact that we have started to receive more accurate reconnaissance information, which is confirmed through various channels, about the location of terrorist infrastructure targets," Konashenkov said.

"This fact is a convictive answer to various anonymous sources in certain foreign media who take the liberty of making unfounded claims on allegedly insufficient technical soundness of our aircraft," he noted.

"I want to underscore once again: Russian aircraft at the Khmeimim airbase are all-weather and all support services for our air group work consistently, reliably and effectively," Konashenkov stressed.

"Analyzing the methods of work of our foreign colleagues on that issue and without waiting for their next [information] injection, we report: we have the required volumes of reserves of materiel, petroleum, oil and lubricants, ammunition and everything required for effective hostilities," the general said.

The New Moscowteers


Across Europe, apologists for Russia and Russian policy have coalesced into what amounts to a fifth column. The emergence in Western capitals of what might be called the "Party of Putin" is an exceptionally dangerous development, precisely because those who comprise it are not only the usual far-left and far-right suspects. So who are its "members"?

They are, for starters, those who, regardless of party, have had nothing critical to say about the full state reception that Russian President Vladimir Putin just staged at the Kremlin for that multi-recidivist enemy of the West, and more importantly, butcher of his own people, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They are those whose craven relief that a "strongman" has appeared to impose order (his own) on the Syrian mess prevents them from seeing that the primary effect of Russia's massive, indiscriminate bombardments has been to accelerate the flow of refugees toward Europe.

And they are the great many who simply ignore what motivates Putin's armed diplomacy (and not just in Syria): the desire to exact revenge on those who, in his eyes, were responsible for the Soviet Union's downfall. Putin famously declared that the Soviet collapse was the "biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century," and he has never stopped blaming it on the United States, the Catholic Church (and its Polish pope), and Europe.

Yet the Party of Putin prefers not to see how seemingly discrete events are components of a Kremlin strategy of revenge, humiliation and, at the very least, destabilization aimed at Europe. But you need to be almost willfully blind to miss this big picture, because Putin's tactics -- to pounce on the slightest breach or sign of weakness in Europe in order to sow division -- have been remarkably consistent.

Thus, for example, Putin reportedly told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in September 2014, "If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest." That November, he wondered "what was so bad about" the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Nazi-Soviet agreement that opened the way to Stalin's invasion of eastern Europe, and annexation of the Baltic states, and parts of Poland and Romania. Given this, it is perhaps not very surprising that, at the end of June, Russian prosecutors announced the opening of an investigation into the legality of the Baltic States' independence.

Beyond the revisionist rhetoric, there is Putin's rapprochement with Hungary, initiated at his February 17 meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (a meeting lamented in the streets of Budapest by demonstrators opposed to becoming a "Russian colony" again). There are also his repeated contacts with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who went to Moscow at the height of Greece's showdown with the European Union to ask for $10 billion to print a new drachma.

Then there are the Russian military's repeated violations of the airspace of Europe's border countries. And there is the Kremlin's systematic support of the populist, nationalist, and outright fascist parties that, in every EU country, are most eager to dismantle Europe.

Wherever Putin goes, his party in Europe is sure to follow. When Ukrainian civil society proclaimed its love for the EU and Putin interpreted that as a hostile gesture directed at Russia, its members took Putin's side against Europe. When Putin justifies his claims to Crimea and Donbas by dredging up linguistic nationalism (Russians are all those who speak Russian), his apologists in Europe -- where the Nazis used the same strategy in the Sudetenland (Germans are all those who speak German) -- consider it a matter of simple common sense.

One hesitates to call the Party of Putin suicidal, masochistic or driven by self-hatred or a taste for treason; yet its members say nothing when, for the first time since the Cold War, the Kremlin alters by force frontiers upon which the continent's collective security depends. They do not know, or pretend not to know, that Putin is an empire builder surrounded by ideologues whose vision of the world, though complex and robust, is in all key respects opposed to that of the West. They place right and law in the service of strength and force, rather than vice versa, prioritize order over liberty and treat gay people and other "deviants" as the quintessence of a decadent West emasculated by the poison of cosmopolitanism.

Determined to embody a "manly" Eurasian alternative to democratic civilization, Putin is now on the offensive and testing his neighbors' resistance. And the tools at his disposal are no longer those of the antiquated, corrupt, decomposing military that he inherited 15 years ago. Russia's new Kalibr cruise missiles, fired from ships in the Caspian Sea, recently surprised the world with their fearsome precision.

The blindness demonstrated by the Party of Putin is obviously not without precedent. The present dangers have led me to read Thierry Wolton on the history of Communism and the voluntary surrenders that it engendered over the decades.

But what is confounding is the degree to which, to quote Jean-François Revel (who was a friend of mine as well as of Wolton), knowledge of the past can go tragically unused, and how the same mistakes, the same willful ignorance, can be repeated -- and not always, pace Marx, as farce.

Terror threat to UK is greater than any point in career, says MI5 chief

Director general Andrew Parker
Director general Andrew Parker said increasing amount of work is linked to Isis and Syria. Photograph: MI5/PA

The director general of MI5 has used a keynote speech in London, one week before the anticipated publication of a bill setting out a wide range of surveillance powers, to insist that the terrorist threat faced by the UK is greater than at any time in his career.

In the latest public intervention by the intelligence services before a debate among MPs about the government’s investigatory powers bill, Andrew Parker said his service would be unable to keep Britain safe without the use of tools to intercept communications data, which he said were subject to “strict safeguards”.

Referring to the bill, he said: “We do not seek sweeping new intrusive powers in that legislation, but rather a modern legal framework that reflects the way that technology has moved on, and that allows us to continue to keep the country safe.”

Giving a lecture entitled A Modern MI5 at a lord mayor’s event in the City of London, Parker said MI5 and those it worked with had thwarted six attempts at terrorist attacks in the UK in the last year, and several plots overseas.

“It may not yet have reached the high water mark, and despite the successes we have had, we can never be confident of stopping everything,” he added.

He spoke of a “three-dimensional threat” – at home, overseas and online – with an increasing proportion of the agency’s casework linked to Syria and Islamic State.

He said: “We are seeing plots against the UK directed by terrorists in Syria; enabled through contacts with terrorists in Syria; and inspired online by Isil’s [Islamic State’s] sophisticated exploitation of technology.

“It uses the full range of modern communications tools to spread its message of hate, and to inspire extremists, sometimes as young as their teens, to conduct attacks in whatever way they can.”

The speed at which radicalisation can occur online, and the emphasis on low-sophistication but potentially deadly plots are two major challenges posed by Isis, he said, while a greater ambition for “mass casualty” attacks has been observed in the last year.

Parker sought to underline the importance of communications interception, but claimed that an increasing proportion of communications were now beyond the reach of the intelligence service – in particular with the growing prevalence of sophisticated encryption.

The MI5 head also moved to keep up the pressure on companies such as Facebook, Google and others after he used an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last month to insist that they had an “ethical” responsibility to provide more help in monitoring the communications data of suspected terrorist.

In his latest comments, he said: “Those providers rightly want to maintain the privacy and security of their customers’ data – but they also have an obligation, and I would argue an ethical responsibility, to work with law enforcement and other agencies to prevent their services being used for the purposes of serious crime and terrorism.”

Parker said that he imagined that the debates on the forthcoming legislation would attract “rather wider interest” than previous parliamentary debates about legislation governing the security services.

He added: “But I hope that the public debate will be a mature one, informed by the three independent reviews, and not characterised by ill-informed accusations of ‘mass surveillance’, or other such lazy two-worded tags.”

After years of intrigue has this Kremlin defector solved the riddle of the spy in the bag?

To those acquainted with the dark arts of international espionage, the strange death of Gareth Williams appeared to bear all the hallmarks of a ‘wet job’ — the grisly name for an assassination carried out by people trained to kill.

Originally from Anglesey in North Wales, Williams, 31, worked for British intelligence. A former child genius, he had graduated from the University of Bangor with a first-class mathematics degree aged just 17.

He completed his PhD at Manchester University aged 20, and went on to Cambridge. 

But he dropped out after being offered a job at GCHQ, the Government’s secret communications and surveillance centre, where he worked as a computer systems expert for ten years.

Gareth Williams on CCTV at a Tube station on August 14, 2010

Then, in 2009, he was seconded to the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, at their headquarters in Vauxhall Cross, on the south bank of the Thames in London.

He had lobbied for this job, but failed with his first application, and was invited to join MI6 on a temporary secondment only on his second attempt. But this dream job did not go well. He complained to his family that he hated the macho, hard-drinking culture of the intelligence world, where officers are encouraged to take part in ‘bonding events’ such as team sports and office social events.

To the dismay of his superiors, Williams — a keep-fit fanatic — shunned all such social interaction. Instead, he often went straight home after work, spending hours browsing the internet or going for a run or cycle alone through the streets of London.

He lived at an MI6 flat at 36 Alderney Street, in Pimlico, near the organisation’s HQ at Vauxhall, where each day he walked under a sign bearing the intelligence services’ motto: ‘Semper Occultis’ — Always Secret.

Williams’s body was found inside a red North Face holdall, which had been padlocked from the outside. The key to the padlock was underneath his body, curled into a foetal position inside the bag

But he failed to turn up for work on August 16, 2010. A week later, an official from MI6 called Scotland Yard, whose officers broke down the door of the top floor flat — and encountered a gruesome scene.

Williams’s body was found inside a red North Face holdall, which had been padlocked from the outside. The key to the padlock was underneath his body, curled into a foetal position inside the bag. The heating in the flat had been turned up, even though it was the middle of August. The holdall had been placed in the bath, ensuring fluids did not drip into the properties below. There were no signs of a break-in.

Oddly, all the windows had been closed, raising the temperature further, meaning the body decomposed rapidly, making it difficult to assess the cause of death since the internal organs had liquefied and the cells of his blood had started to break down and effectively dissolve.

Fiona Wilcox, the coroner at an inquest into the spy’s death, found it was ‘probable his death was unlawful’. She also revealed that it was ‘unlikely his death will ever be satisfactorily explained’ and that he died either from oxygen depletion or hypercapnia — a build-up of carbon dioxide inside the bag.

At the same time, there were lurid reports that he died in a solo sex game gone wrong, while £20,000 worth of women’s clothing, including shoes designed by Stella McCartney and Christian Dior, with ladies’ wigs and an extensive range of cosmetics, had been found in his flat.

Williams, a keep-fit fanatic, shunned all such social interaction. Instead, he often went straight home after work, spending hours browsing the internet or going for a run or cycle
Williams, a keep-fit fanatic, shunned all such social interaction. Instead, he often went straight home after work, spending hours browsing the internet or going for a run or cycle

Mr Williams also visited bondage sex websites and was seen browsing for ladies’ clothes at exclusive stores in central London. Such reports ensured the waters were muddied enough to cast doubt on the spy’s mental state.

Finally, after a three-year investigation, Scotland Yard dismissed suggestions that the code-breaker had been murdered by a ‘shadowy third party’, as alleged by the lawyer for Gareth Williams’s family, and that it is a ‘more probable conclusion that there were no other persons present when Gareth died’.

Case closed — if not solved — with no one seemingly any the wiser about what really happened at 36 Alderney Street, where the red bag containing the maths genius was discovered.

But one man, a former major in the Russian KGB, now exiled in London, claims to have the answers to this disturbing riddle that could come out of a Bond movie — a story which, if true, will heighten tensions between Moscow and London over the activities of Russian agents on British soil.

Now living in constant fear of his life, this man claims to have information crucial to Britain’s security: namely, that there is a traitor inside GCHQ working for the Russians whose identity was discovered by Williams, meaning he had to be liquidated before he revealed the name.

The major’s name is — or, rather, was — Boris Karpichkov. Now living under a new identity with a British passport after fleeing to the UK following a fall-out with his Kremlin bosses, this 56-year-old knows all about the espionage game.

A graduate of a KGB academy in Minsk, he was a model pupil and, with his easy charm, seemed a perfect recruit. At the academy, he was trained how to use all manner of weapons, and was taught how to kill with his bare hands, as well as other techniques for ‘wet jobs’ — the killing of a target, preferably without leaving any trace — and how to clean premises of DNA and other clues.

He served in Russian intelligence for more than a decade, reaching the rank of KGB major and, as such, was privy to Kremlin secrets at the very highest level. He spent much of his career in the then Soviet republic of Latvia, where he specialised in counter-intelligence for the KGB.

When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, Boris stayed in newly independent Latvia, where he joined the country’s intelligence services. But he also remained on the books of the Kremlin, supplying information back to his old bosses.

However, he was jailed for two months on trumped-up weapons charges after a row over payments he claimed were owed to him by the KGB. Released and placed under house arrest in Latvia, he escaped via several countries to Britain, using one of several false passports he had been supplied with during his time as a spy.

We met outside a Tube station in central London. The Major was wearing a sun hat and sunglasses, and was agitated and nervous.

Officers from Scotland Yard broke down the door of Williams's flat and found his body inside the bag
Officers from Scotland Yard broke down the door of Williams's flat and found his body inside the bag

We went to a quiet cafe, but when a teenager wearing headphones sat down nearby, Boris suggested that we move seats. ‘I’m a dead man,’ said the former KGB officer bluntly. ‘I will pay, one way or another, for what I’m about to tell you about what happened to Gareth Williams, rather than all the nonsense that’s been written.’

Handing me a dossier he has compiled — he investigated the case because he believes the same hitmen he says killed Williams are coming for him — the scenario he outlines as the reason for the murder sounds like something from a spy thriller.

It involves compromising sexual behaviour, drugs and a shadowy third figure acting to recruit Williams as a spy for the KGB.

According to the major, Williams became ‘of particular interest’ to the Russian security services while working at GCHQ in Cheltenham and living nearby, before he moved to London.

A colleague — in reality, a double agent or mole working for the Russians — tipped off Moscow that the loner code-breaker was a ripe target for a clandestine recruitment approach.

Codenamed ‘Orion’, this double agent inside GCHQ was apparently aware of ‘compromising’ elements of Williams’s life — believed to include a penchant for cross-dressing and visits to gay nightclubs — and an elaborate operation began to blackmail him into co-operating.

‘Orion’, who had cultivated and befriended Williams, introduced him to a rich European businessman working for Moscow, called Lukas, who was operating under a ‘false flag’: a system where the spy pretended to be from another country, believing that Williams would not deal with the Russians.

Three months before his death, Williams travelled to America to attend a specialist computer hacking convention in Las Vegas, according to Major Boris.
There, a chance encounter was engineered between Williams and Lukas, the go-between. The two went out to nightclubs together in the U.S.

Three months before his death, Williams (pictured) travelled to America to attend a specialist computer hacking convention in Las Vegas, according to Major Boris
Three months before his death, Williams (pictured) travelled to America to attend a specialist computer hacking convention in Las Vegas, according to Major Boris

At one party back in Lukas’s rented home in an undisclosed American location, the trap was allegedly sprung. Williams’s drink was spiked and, after he passed out, photographs were taken of him naked in bed with a man and another woman.

Ecstasy tablets were planted in his pocket, which Williams apparently found in the morning in front of his bedmates, but had no recollection of buying or being given.

According to Major Boris, this information was stored by Lukas to be used to recruit Williams. The plan was to build up a friendship between the two men, before Lukas suggested that Williams should help the KGB with information if he wanted details of his escapades in America to remain a secret from his MI6 bosses.

But the recruitment attempt — called ‘Operation Sweetie’ by the Russians — failed badly.

After both men had returned to London, Lukas went to Williams’s flat in Pimlico the day before he was due to return to work, and talked about the Welshman’s ‘party lifestyle’ in both America and London. Major Boris says Moscow had undertaken psychological profiling of the computer expert, and having monitored his personal telephone calls, too, had determined that Williams was ‘soft’ and ‘flexible’, and would be likely to co-operate in order to keep details of his private life away from his superiors and his family.

But Williams, apparently, did not take kindly to this approach when Lukas attempted to threaten him — and blurted out that he knew the identity of the only man who could have provided Lukas with certain details about his private life: his former colleague nicknamed ‘Orion’ at GCHQ.

After Lukas left Williams’s flat, apologising for the confusion and attempting to play down the recruitment operation, he contacted his spy masters.

Fearing their mole inside GCHQ would be exposed when Williams returned from leave to MI6 the following day, a plan was hastily hatched to deal with the ‘imminent threat’ posed by Williams.

According to Major Boris, Lukas returned later that evening to Williams’s flat, bringing a bottle of wine and saying he wanted to apologise for the ‘confusion’ about his earlier visit. But there was nothing sociable about the guest’s real intentions.

The wine had been spiked with drugs, which meant Williams lost consciousness shortly after drinking some of it. In order to finish him off, Williams was injected inside the ear with a poison mixed with plant extracts and a chemical called diphenhydramine, a fatal compound which breaks down quickly and is difficult to detect.

The project, according to Boris, was overseen by the Kremlin’s operational unit called Zaslon — which translates as ‘blockage’ — a team of specialists in ‘wet jobs’.

The plan had been to remove the body, but Lukas and another Zaslon operative were worried they would be spotted if they tried to move it out to a vehicle waiting in such a busy London street.

Instead, says Major Boris, the corpse was placed in the red sports holdall and left in the bath. The heating was turned up. ‘This was done to get rid of traces of the deadly toxin before the body was found,’ he says, referring to the fact that the breakdown of the body happens faster in warm temperates.

It is all dramatic stuff — but the obvious question is how does the former KGB officer claim to know more about the case than the British security services?

He says he became interested in the case only by accident — and contacted a high-level source within the KGB with whom he remains on friendly terms. They have helped him piece together a picture of the events he describes.

He says that having moved to London, he noticed Russian diplomatic cars — they use the numberplate prefix 251 — regularly cruising along the streets where he lived in Notting Hill.

Convinced the Russians were coming to kill him, he was rehoused by the British at another property not far from the flat occupied by Williams. There, he again noticed cars being used by Russian intelligence agents — and thought they were tailing him.

His fear was understandable: other Russian defectors to the UK have met sinister ends, including Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with a radioactive substance while drinking adulterated tea in a London hotel, and Alexander Perepilichny, believed to have been poisoned with a rare plant after he collapsed and died at his home in Surrey last year.

It sounds an incredible story, and it could be that Major Boris is unnecessarily paranoid or has some unknown motive for suggesting that a Russian agent killed Williams.

Whatever the case, the major insists that he is telling the truth, and angrily denies suggestions that he is still working for the Russians, and spreading disinformation to cause panic that there is a mole at GCHQ. He points out that such was his falling out with the KGB that one Moscow newspaper printed his photograph, with a sniper sight overlaid on it, revealing there was an order to kill him.

Certainly, the family of Gareth Williams have never believed he died alone. ‘There is a high probability there was a third party present in the flat at the same time,’ says Anthony O’Toole, a lawyer for the family. ‘The unknown third party was a member of some agency specialising in the dark arts of the secret services.’

Nigel West, the author and espionage expert dubbed the ‘unofficial historian of the secret services’, dismisses ‘wild’ theories about how Williams met his death, saying the spy was fixated by claustrophilia — a medical term for a desire to be held in confined spaces, usually for sexual gratification.

‘He could shut the bag from inside by pinching the fabric together to fasten the clasp,’ says Mr West. ‘He was into cross dressing and had a series of bizarre habits. You don’t kill people by putting them in bags — you put two bullets into the back of their head.’

Perhaps he is right. But isn’t there something compelling about the account from the turncoat KGB officer?

And if he really is onto something, could a Russian mole called ‘Orion’ still be at large inside Britain’s most sensitive spy centre?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Warships sent, US ambassador called in as China bolsters Navy presence in disputed Spratly islands, after US sail-by rattles Beijing's sovereignty claims

The People's Liberation Army yesterday sent two vessels to warn a US Navy warship after the guided-missile destroyer sailed close to China's man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea.

Defence spokesman Yang Yujun said the PLA would take all steps to protect national security as it sent its own guided-missile destroyer Lanzhou and frigate Taizhou to warn USS Lassen, which had entered waters within 12 nautical miles of the Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

Subi and Mischief are located among a group of reefs, islets and atolls in the South China Sea, where the Philippines and Vietnam have competing claims.

But while USS Lassen's sail-by was the United States' most significant challenge yet to China's territorial claims in the disputed waters, analysts believed neither side would allow the situation to escalate beyond control.

A US defence official said the warship's patrol was completed without incident. Another official said the sail-by was part of Washington's "routine operations in the South China Sea in accordance with international law".

Beijing responded furiously to the US move, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi warning Washington not to "make trouble out of nothing" and Foreign Vice-minister Zhang Yesui summoning Max Baucus, US ambassador to China.

Yang said the US move, which he described as an attempt to militarise the region, would threaten both nations' military personnel.

“China strongly urges the US side to conscientiously handle China’s serious representations, immediately correct its mistake and not take any dangerous or provocative acts that threaten China’s sovereignty and security interests," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Even so, military observers said neither Beijing nor Washington planned on escalating the incident, especially as it came after a series of friendly visits between their navies.

The movement of the USS Lassen was closely monitored as it moved close to an artificial island built by China inside what Beijing claims as a 12-nautical mile (22km) territorial limit around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago, the ministry added.

Just last month, days before President Xi Jinping set off for his first state visit to the US, the PLA and its American counterpart signed a Sino-US accord to maintain safe encounters between their military pilots.

Earlier this month on October 19, a 27-member US naval delegation visited China's aircraft carrier Liaoning. It was the second US visit to the vessel.

"The PLA has so far given only warnings to USS Lassen but it has yet to take any real action. This is despite the US warship having entered within 12 nautical miles of China's artificial islands - an area Beijing has long emphasised is part of its territorial waters," said Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong .

"If the PLA Navy really wanted to take military action, it would have sent at least two battleships to the South China Sea when Washington first indicated earlier this month that it intended to send warships to patrol the waters in the region."

The  ship’s arrival had been a long-anticipated challenge to what the Obama administration considers Beijing’s “excessive claim” of sovereignty in those waters, a US defence official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House approved the movement by the USS Lassen and that the patrol was completed without incident.

Nations including the Philppines, Vietnam and Brunei also lay rival claims to disputed areas in the South China Sea.

The warship had stayed in the disputed area for several hours in what would be the start of a series of challenges to China’s territorial claims in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, said a second US official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. The offical added the patrol also included waters around Mischief Reef.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Commander Bill Urban, declined to comment.

 Dredgers fill the lagoon of Mischief Reef in the Spratly archipelago, in this image shot by the US Navy on May 15 this year. The reclamation is seen by the US and other nations as part of Chinese efforts to bolster sovereignty claims. 
Earlier the second official said that the ship was likely to have been accompanied by a US Navy P-8A surveillance plane and possibly a P-3 surveillance plane, which have both been conducting regular missions in the region.

Additional patrols would follow in the coming weeks and could also be conducted around reefs and features that Vietnam and the Philippines have built up in the Spratlys, the official said.

“This is something that will be a regular occurrence, not a one-off event,” the second official said. “It’s not something that’s unique to China.”

The US Navy's official website said the warship had been conducting routine patrols in the South China Sea since May. Over the past few months, it had made several "safe interactions" with at least one PLA destroyer and two frigates in the waters. These interactions included friendly radio chats, according to the website.

"On board Lassen, in clear and perfect English, it is common to hear Chinese voices over the radio in the combat information centre," the website said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest referred questions on any specific operations to the Pentagon, but said the US had made clear to China the importance of a free flow of commerce in the South China Sea.

“There are billions of dollars of commerce that float through that region of the world,” Earnest told a news briefing.

Asked for comment about the US move, a spokesman at the Chinese embassy in Washington, Zhu Haiquan, said China respected freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Chinese sailors welcome the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen at a dock in Shanghai in 2008. Photo: Reuters

“Freedom of navigation and overflight should not be used as excuse to flex muscle and undermine other countries’ sovereignty and security,” he said.

“We urge the United States to refrain from saying or doing anything provocative and act responsibly in maintaining regional peace and stability.”

The state-run news Xinhua published a commentary strongly criticising the US move.

“Travelling thousands of miles to show off their force and make a mess, the Americans have become the troublemaker of the West Pacific. The international community raised eyebrows and the Chinese people are outraged," the commentary said.

“Last month President Obama stated his belief that the two side were capable to control disparities and agreed to interact positively with China on issues including the South China Sea.

“No sooner had the statement gone than warships are sent to ‘patrol’ closely to the waters around our islands. Their capricious manner is shocking. Such provocative behavior is irresponsible to the peace and stability of the South China Sea region and is against international principles and their own words.”

The Lassen had earlier been reported to be nearing Subi and Mischief reefs, features that were submerged at high tide before China began a massive dredging project to turn them into islands in 2014.

 Reclamation work on Subi Reef is seen in this photo taken from a nearby island five months ago. 
The Obama administration has long said it will exercise a right to freedom of navigation in any international waters, including in the South China Sea. The point of sailing a US ship within 12 nautical miles of any of the artificial islands created by China would be to demonstrate the US assertion that they are not sovereign Chinese territory.

“Make no mistake, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea is not and will not be an exception,” US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on October 13.

“We’ll do that at times and places of our choosing,” Carter said. “And there’s no exception to that, whether it’s the Arctic or the sea lanes that fuel international commerce widely around the world, or the South China Sea.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Monday the US would not be required to consult with other nations if it decided to conduct freedom of navigation operations in international waters anywhere on the globe.

“The whole point of freedom of navigation in international waters is that it’s international waters. You don’t need to consult with anybody. That’s the idea,” Kirby said. He referred questions about specific Navy ship movements to the Pentagon.

China’s assertive behaviour in the South China Sea has become an increasingly sore point in relations with the United States, even as President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping have sought to deepen cooperation in other areas, such as climate change.

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea. The Philippines and other countries that have territorial disputes with China in the busy sea have been particularly concerned by China’s recent land reclamation projects that have turned a number of previously submerged reefs in the Spratly archipelago into artificial islands with runways and wharves.

Admiral Harry Harris Jnr, commander of the US Pacific Command, has said the South China Sea is no more China’s than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico’s.

Both Beijing and Washington would be careful to keep the situation in the South China Sea under control, said Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie .

"Beijing understands that the United States' ruling Democratic Party needs to play up the political influence of President Barack Obama's administration in the Asia-Pacific ahead of the country's presidential election. The move is aimed at helping the party's candidate win public support," he said.

China, on the other hand, also needed to consider its citizens' sentiments with regard to the US challenge as it balanced the two nations' interdependent bilateral relationship, Li said.

Russian subs looking for undersea Internet cables, say US officials

An increased presence of Russian submarines near American territorial waters appears to correspond to the location of undersea Internet cables used for commercial and military communications, according to officials. Citing “more than half a dozen” American and European officials, including naval commanders and intelligence professionals, The New York Times said on Sunday that the United States Department of Defense was paying close attention to what it described as “significantly increased Russian activity” along known routes of the cables. The paper was referring to Russian underwater vessels, which Washington believes are equipped with technology designed to tap into the cables, or even to sabotage them, by severing them.

According to The Times, officials at the Pentagon believe that Moscow is less interested in tapping into the cables and more interested in mapping their location so that it can attack them during a hypothetical clash with the US. Superficially, the paper said that, according to US officials, the Russian Navy appeared to be seeking to locate the precise coordinates of the fiber-optic cables. The ultimate goal was to sever them “at some of their hardest-to-access locations” if Russia ever needed to disrupt the flow of communication to and from the US. The Russian submarines seem to be seeking some of the deeper locations of the undersea cable networks, which would make it harder for repair crews to locate and repair severed fiber-optic cables.

The New York Times said that, alongside commercial Internet cable networks, Russian submarines were looking for military networks, whose location is usually classified. The paper quoted a European diplomat, who said anonymously that Russian submarine patrols in American territorial waters had increased by nearly 50% since 2014. The level of activity of Russian submarines was now “comparable to what we saw in the Cold War”, said the diplomat.

Why is the US federal tax agency using phone interception devices?

Documents acquired by a newspaper show that the Internal Revenue Service, which is the United States government’s agency responsible for collecting taxes, has purchased devices used to intercept cell phone messages. Founded in 1862, the IRS is the revenue service of the US state, and operates as a bureau of the Department of the Treasury. But it also maintains a number investigative components, including the Criminal Investigation Division. The latter consists of between 3,000 and 4,000 personnel and is tasked with investigating and helping build cases for the prosecution relating to tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes.

Historically, the Criminal Investigation Division’s scope and tactics have been limited and rarely relied on telecommunications interceptions. But according to British newspaper The Guardian, the IRS purchased a number of Stingray devices in 2009 and 2012. Known also as IMSI catchers, Stingrays are portable communications-interception devices, which mimic the operation of cell phone towers. They gather data, including the phone numbers dialed, duration of phone calls and location of users, from cell phones that communicate with them. Some Stingray models are said to be able to intercept the content of telephone calls made by unsuspecting cell phone users.

According to The Guardian, the IRS made an initial order to purchase Stingray equipment in 2009 and repeated the request in 2012. At least 12 US federal agencies and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies use Stingrays for communications-interception purposes. But the London-based paper says this is the first time that the IRS has been found to be using the devices. It is unclear, however, what the IRS uses the Stingrays for. The Guardian said it contacted an IRS spokesman who refused to respond to questions on the matter.

Parents receive body of first Russian to die in Syria, doubt suicide

Russian servicemen unload a coffin containing the body of Kostenko from a truck near his family's house in the village of Grechnaya Balka
Russian servicemen unload a coffin containing the body of Vadim Kostenko.

The body of the first Russian serviceman confirmed dead in four weeks of air strikes in Syria was delivered on Tuesday to his parents, who said they were not convinced by the military's account that their 19-year-old son had hanged himself.

In an interview with Reuters at their home in southern Russia before they received the body of their son Vadim, Alexander and Svetlana Kostenko said their son had sounded cheerful over the phone as recently as Saturday, the day he died while working at an air base on the Syrian coast.

"I will never believe this version (suicide)," said Svetlana, who was wearing a black head scarf. "We spoke every day by phone for half an hour. (On Saturday) he was cheerful, happy, and he laughed," she said.

Alexander, Vadim's father, speaking in a low voice, agreed: "We were told he had hanged himself because of a girl. He would never have done it. I know my son really well."

The body was delivered later on Tuesday afternoon in a military truck. Soldiers carried the body into the house inside a wooden box. Shortly afterwards, a woman could be heard loudly sobbing. A little later, a polished wooden coffin was delivered to the house.

After the family saw the body, Vadim's younger sister Katya, 14, told Reuters the corpse appeared undamaged and it was unclear if he was strangled or had hanged himself.

Kostenko was one of the Russian air force's support staff. He signed a contract on June 20 and was dispatched to Syria by plane on Sept. 14, two weeks before the Kremlin's air campaign began, his father said. He said they had only discovered Vadim was in Syria when he was already there.

Interfax news agency quoted a source in the defense ministry's press service confirming the death.

"A contract serviceman stationed at the Hmeimim airbase (in Latakia) as a technician committed suicide while he was resting after duty," the source told Interfax. 

"According to preliminary information, in particular the analysis of text messages in his phone, the reason for the death of the contract serviceman is problems in his personal relationship with a girl," the source said.

The ministry, which did not name the girl, did not respond to written questions from Reuters.

When asked by Reuters via social media whether the couple had fallen out, Tatiana, Vadim's girlfriend, did not respond. 

Opinion polls show strong public backing at home for the Kremlin's air campaign in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad; one survey put support above 70 percent.

Kostenko's death was first flagged by Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of bloggers who have previously worked to uncover information about Russian military deaths in Ukraine, where Russia denies its troops are fighting despite what Western countries say is overwhelming evidence.

Kostenko's social network account, which contains an image of him in air force uniform, was filled with condolences, as well as disrespectful abuse from some users.


A Reuters reporter was told she could not enter the base of the air force unit, in Primorsko-Akhtarsk, where Kostenko served, and where CIT says Sukhoi-25 jets operational in Syria are usually based.

Standing in front of their house in the village of Grechanaya Balka in southern Russia as hens clucked around them before the body arrived, the Kostenkos said their son's battalion commander had broken the bad news personally, telling them Vadim had hanged himself on Saturday, Oct. 24.

The funeral would take place on Wednesday.

Vadim's sister and his aunt, Anna Musienko, said they also did not believe he had killed himself. Vadim was planning to marry his girlfriend and that the two got along well, they said.

Musienko painted a picture of her nephew as someone who was enthused by serving in the military, saying Vadim had nursed ambitions to train as a pilot. Vadim had told his relatives he and his friends could not refuse the order to go to Syria when it came, she said.

President Vladimir Putin ordered in May that deaths of Russian soldiers during special operations in peacetime should be classified as a state secret.

Before Tuesday, reports of Russian deaths in Syria had been unconfirmed.

On Oct. 20, a senior pro-Syrian government military source told Reuters at least three Russian citizens fighting with Syrian government forces had been killed by a shell. Russian authorities strongly denied at the time that any of their military personnel had been killed.

An unnamed Russian defense ministry source also told the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 23 that a Russian soldier had been killed in an incident related to careless weapons handling.


Congress warned on dirty bombs

US ports are at risk of an attack by radioactive 'dirty bombs', according to a supply chain expert testifying on Capitol Hill.

Stephen Flynn, a former policy adviser to President Barack Obama, warned that only 19% of containers arriving in the United States in 2013 deemed by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to be at high risk for containing a weapon of mass destruction were inspected at a foreign port.

One of the reasons, according to Flynn's testimony on 27 October before the maritime subcommittee of the US House of Representative's transportation committee, is that such inspections can disrupt port terminal operations.

"If CBP routinely asked that as little as 1 to 2% of US-bound containers in a major overseas port to be subject to examination before loading, it would likely completely overwhelm the inspection facility," Flynn said.

To reduce the risk of a dirty bomb attack, Flynn suggested that the USD3 billion to USD5 billion it would cost to deploy non-intrusive container inspection equipment at ports around the world could be paid for through a USD10 to USD15 per container security fee, much like the security fees charged by airlines.

"Such a fee-based cost-recovery approach would allow for equipment to be upgraded with new technologies as frequently as every two years," Flynn said.

Meanwhile, almost 10 years have passed since radiation portal monitors (RPMs) were mandated in the United States, and "questions have been raised regarding who pays for the maintenance of the RPMs, who is responsible for paying for new portals during a port expansion, and what is the long-term obligation for the next generation," according to testimony submitted to the hearing by the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA).

The group urged that CBP "request adequate federal funding to purchase, install, and maintain all RPM equipment at ports throughout the United States".

Alternatively, the US Department of Homeland Security should consider creating a standalone priority for funding RPMs within the agency's Port Security Grant Program, the AAPA said.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

7 shocking spy secrets revealed by MI5 files

7 shocking spy secrets revealed by MI5 files

The hidden world of betrayal, espionage and cover-ups in post-Second World War Britain has been uncovered in official files made public for the first time.

Dozens of MI5 and Foreign Office files have been released to the National Archives in Kew, west London, revealing the stories behind vanishing spies and government scandal.

Here’s 7 shocking spy secrets revealed in the declassified files.

1. Notorious Soviet spy Kim Philby desperately tried to save his own skin after the flight of his two colleagues.

Maclean and Burgess. 
Maclean, left, and Burgess, right

Philby and fellow spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were recruited by Russia’s KGB while studying at Cambridge in the 1930s and became part of a major spy ring within the Foreign Office.

But in May 1951 Burgess and Maclean slipped out of the country as an investigation closed in on them. This left their associates, including senior MI6 officer Philby, under suspicion.

In June, records show Philby messaged MI6 chief Sir Stewart Menzies to inform him of Burgess’ suspicious behaviour, in an attempt to shift attention from himself.

“There is, I am afraid, very little doubt that Burgess had available the essential requirements of an espionage agent,” Philby wrote.

2. MI6 could have exposed Philby as a double agent much sooner.

Kim Philby  
Notorious spy Kim Philby

MI6 failed to investigate one of Philby’s most treacherous acts in September 1945 – exposing Russian defector Constantin Volkov to the KGB, who had offered to reveal details of some 250 Soviet agents working in Britain.

By a stroke of luck, Philby was assigned to the case and delayed it to give the KGB time to act. Volkov was whisked back to Russia from where he was hiding in Turkey in a Soviet military aircraft.

MI6 assumed he had been tortured and murdered, but Menzies dismissed the idea of an investigation into the case.

3. A mistake by Philby could have hastened the fall of the Cambridge spy ring. 

The desk in Philby’s Moscow flat

In the late 1940s, US codebreakers reopened the hunt for a spy at the British embassy in Washington who passed secret wartime telegrams between Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt to the Russians.

New files show in November 1949 Philby pointed out that shortly before the war Russian defector General Walter Krivitsky had revealed there was an unnamed Foreign Office source with a “first class” education reporting regularly to the Soviets.

Philby may have been trying to protect himself, but his tip led his colleague Maclean to be included in a shortlist of just six names who fitted the bill.

4. The US just couldn’t believe the government had employed Burgess and Maclean.

Poster of missing diplomats. 
Portraits of the two missing diplomats, complete with descriptions

Papers reveal that US officials were incredulous that the two drunken characters could be employed in the Foreign Office and demanded that Britain “clean house”.

Burgess publicly revealed the identities of two British intelligence officers during a drunken row in Tangiers while Maclean smashed up the flat of a female staff member of the US embassy in Cairo.

Maclean had once even admitted he was a communist while drunk, but was not taken seriously.

5. The government feared the body of the missing Royal Navy diver – who was the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventure Thunderball – would be used for propaganda if found 

Lionel Buster Crabb 
Lionel “Buster” Crabb

Lionel “Buster” Crabb disappeared on April 19 1956 while spying on a warship in Portsmouth harbour that had brought Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin to the UK on a diplomatic visit.

It emerged people outside the mission knew Crabb was diving in Portsmouth, and he had been booked into a hotel using his real name.

Unseen government papers now reveal officials felt it most likely his body was still in the water after being killed by Russian counter-measures and there were fears “if it was aboard the Russian ship, they might produce it for propaganda purposes at an opportune moment either dead or alive, or they might dispose of it after leaving Portsmouth”.

6. Tory peer Robert Boothby and East End gangster Ronnie Kray went to “homosexual parties” together and were “hunters” of young men.

Robert Boothby was linked with an east end gangster (PA) 
Robert Boothby was linked with an East End gangster

Boothby, a popular TV presenter and former MP, was accused of having an affair with notorious criminal Kray after a photo was leaked of the pair together in 1964.

The story sent Westminster in a spin and Boothby fiercely denied the claims. But declassified files reveal the pair were closer than he would have liked to admit.

An MI5 report reveals Boothby’s chauffeur and lover, a young “Shoreditch-born former boxer” named Leslie Holt, introduced the peer to Ronnie and the two went to “homosexual parties” together.

7. But MI5 didn’t think the pair’s friendship was a threat to national security.

Ronnie and Reggie Kray 
The Kray twins – Ronnie, left, and Reggie, right

Roger Hollis, director general of MI5, said there was “no security issue involved” as Boothby didn’t have an official position that could allow him to compromise government secrets.

In 1968 the Krays were later sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, but luckily for Boothby the scandalous relationship was kept under wraps.





Thursday, October 22, 2015

UK to probe role of high-ranking IRA informant in 24 murder cases

Authorities in Northern Ireland have launched an official investigation into the alleged involvement of a British government informant in dozens of murders perpetrated by Irish republican militants. The informant, codenamed STAKEKNIFE in British government documents, has been identified by some as Freddie Scappaticci, the grandson of an Italian immigrant to Northern Ireland, who in the early 1970s joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Eventually, Scappaticci was put in charge of the Provisional IRA Northern Command’s Internal Security Unit. The unit was tasked with counterintelligence operations, which involved detecting, capturing and eliminating suspected British government spies inside the IRA.

Unbeknownst to the IRA, however, Scappaticci was himself an informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s Special Branch. He is believed to have been paid up to £80,000 a year to provide information to the British government about the IRA’s activities. STAKEKNIFE’s reputed work for the British government was first publicized in 2003 by another British government informant in the IRA, Kevin Fulton. But Scappaticci, who is known in republican circles as ‘Scap’, denies he was STAKEKNIFE, and the claims about him and his activities have been surrounded by an air of mystery.

Last year, however, families of those killed by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit took advantage of Fulton’s claims. They argued that, if STAKEKNIFE was indeed a British government informant, and if he was personally involved in the murder of alleged IRA informants, then the British authorities technically allowed him to get away with murder in order to protect his secret identity. The government, therefore, technically colluded in the murders and should be held responsible.

The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland investigated these claims and communicated his findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The latter recently described the STAKEKNIFE investigation as “perhaps the most significant case” in his time as DPP. He has now ordered the Police Service of Northern Ireland to launch a formal inquiry into the matter and to start inviting witness testimonies. It is reputed that Northern Ireland First Minister, Martin McGuinness, who is said to have been close to Scappaticci during his tenure in the IRA, will be among the first witnesses called on to testify as part of the investigation.

Killer posed for photos before murdering two in Swedish school sword attack

It was not immediately clear what the motive for the attack was.

A masked man wielding "knife-like weapons" posed with students for photographs, before walking from classroom to classroom to stab students as they opened the door, killing a teacher and a boy and wounding two others at a school in western Sweden before being shot dead by police.

Local media showed what it said was a picture of the assailant carrying a sword and dressed in a black trench coat and helmet.

"We thought it was a joke, a Halloween prank or something, but it wasn't," one witness student told TV4.

The incident occurred at the Kronan school in Trollhattan, an industrial town of about 50,000 inhabitants north of Gothenburg. The town has been plagued by high employment after the demise of car company Saab which was headquartered there.

"This is a black day for Sweden," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a statement.

Photos by a local news agency showed several ambulances and police cars on the scene as emergency service staffers dealt with distraught adults and teenagers. A police cordon was marked out with white tape.

Police said they had responded to an emergency call saying a masked man with a sword was on the premises and that a person had been attacked at a cafeteria.

Attacks in schools are rare in Sweden, with the last similar attack taking place near Gothenburg in 1961.

The lower grades of the school were criticised this year by Sweden's education watchdog for failing to address problems in providing a safe and calm environment for students and staff, saying teachers struggled to conduct teaching in some classes.

Russia says to build military base on contested Kurile Islands

MOSCOW: Russia plans to build a military base on the Kurile islands, a group of Pacific islands it seized from Japan at the end of World War Two, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency.

The move is likely to worsen already frayed relations with Tokyo which lays claim to the Southern Kuriles, known in Japan as the Northern Territories. The dispute is so acrimonious that Moscow and Tokyo have still not signed a formal peace treaty after the war.

2 Chinese Diplomats Shot to Death in Philippines

A Chinese interpreter, center, sat with the Chinese couple detained in the shooting in Cebu: Li Qinglong, right, and his wife, Gou Jing

Two Chinese diplomats were killed Wednesday, and a third was wounded, in a shooting at a restaurant in the central Philippine city of Cebu, the authorities in Manila said.

The diplomats were having a birthday lunch at the Lighthouse Restaurant around 1:20 p.m. when a man, a citizen of China and a guest at the celebration, opened fire, the police said.

The two diplomats who were killed were aides to Song Ronghua, 53, the Chinese consul general in Cebu, who was wounded in the attack. Mr. Song was taken to a nearby hospital, where he remained Wednesday evening, in stable condition.

The victims were identified by the police as Shen Sun, 59, the deputy consul general, and Li Hui, who served as a finance officer at the consulate.

The assailant, who was identified by the police as Li Qinglong, was arrested. The police had also detained his wife, Gou Jing, a Chinese national, in connection with the shooting.

Initially, the police said the suspect was a woman married to a consular official. But late Wednesday, after reviewing security-camera footage of the shooting, the police determined it was Mr. Li who had fired the weapon, said Rey Lyndon Lawas, a police spokesman.

“The gunman just stood up and shot the two people to his right, and then he shot the person right across from him,” Mr. Lawas said. The police recovered a .45-caliber pistol from the restaurant.

Mr. Lawas said the police were still investigating the motive for the shooting. Officials from the Chinese Embassy in Manila were scheduled to arrive late Wednesday to help interpret, he said.

Mr. Song, 53, a career diplomat, recently took office as the consul general in Cebu, where he was on the front lines of China’s efforts to improve relations with the Philippines. The two countries have sparred over territorial claims in the South China Sea. At a conference last month, Mr. Song said China and the Philippines had “no excuses to quarrel,” according to local reports.

Calls to the office of the Chinese Consulate General in Cebu and the Chinese Embassy in Manila were not returned, and officials in Beijing did not respond to a request for comment. 


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Australian spy agency reviews gun policy after ‘drunken episode’ in Afghanistan

The use of firearms by Australian intelligence and security personnel stationed abroad is being reviewed following an incident in which an intoxicated special forces soldier pulled a gun on a spy in Afghanistan. According to reports in the Australian media, the review was conducted by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, a government-appointed office that monitors the conduct of Australian intelligence and security agencies.

It is believed that the Inspector General’s office began the investigation in 2014, shortly after it was made aware of the alleged incident in Afghanistan. According to unconfirmed reports, the incident involved two members of a “defence support team” who were stationed in Kabul. Defence support teams are highly secretive outfits that operate abroad and bring together members of Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) with officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) —the country’s primary external intelligence agency. Some reports suggest that a group of SAS soldiers had been drinking heavily at the embassy of Australia in the Afghan capital, and that one of them, who was heavily intoxicated, pointed a loaded handgun at a female ASIS officer, while verbally threatening her.

Cooler heads prevailed and the incident ended quickly. But it allegedly shook everybody who witnessed it, and it was quickly reported to the Inspector General. The watchdog promptly carried out an audit “to make sure guns were only being issued to foreign posts that really needed them”. Its written recommendations were circulated within ASIS earlier this week. However, the agency says it will not reveal the precise content of the Inspector General’s recommendations, because it could “prejudice [Australia’s] security relations with other counties” and place spies at risk.

UK terror threat: Four arrested on terrorism suspicion in London and West Yorkshire raids

An armed police officer in London

Five suspected terrorists have this morning (21 October) been arrested in London and West Yorkshire by counter terrorist officers. Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command arrested a 23-year-old man under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism, an a home in east London.

Officers continue to search the address, the location of which a Met spokesman could not reveal for "operational reasons", and a second residential address in east London. The man is being detained under Schedule 8 of Terrorism Act 2000 legislation.

The arrest came as four more people were detained in connection with Syria-related terror offences on the same day in West Yorkshire. Counter-terror officers detained three men and one woman and are searching five properties in Sheffield, Batley and Dewsbury.

Two men from Sheffield, aged 40 and 36, were arrested on suspicion of an offence under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act – preparation to commit an act of terrorism - while a 55-year-old woman and a 44-year-old man from Batley were arrested on suspicion of an offence under Section 15 – terrorist fundraising.

Detective Chief Superintendent Clive Wain, Head of the North East Counter Terrorism Unit, said: "We understand that people may be concerned following today's arrests however we would like to reassure communities that today's activity is as a result of an ongoing investigation which is intelligence led. There is no evidence to suggest that communities are at risk." 

U.S. to Iraq: If Russia helps you fight ISIS, we can't

The U.S. has told Iraq's leaders they must choose between ongoing American support in the battle against militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and asking the Russians to intervene instead.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the Iraqis had promised they would not request any Russian airstrikes or support for the fight against ISIS.

Shortly after leaving Baghdad, Dunford told reporters traveling with him that he had laid out a choice when he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi earlier Tuesday.

"I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well," Dunford said. "We can't conduct operations if the Russians were operating in Iraq right now."

He said there was "angst" in the U.S. when reports surfaced that al-Abadi had said he would welcome Russian airstrikes in Iraq. The U.S., Dunford said, "can't have a relationship right now with Russia in the context of Iraq."

The ultimatum to Iraq comes as the U.S. grapples with Russia's dramatically increased role in the war in Syria, just to the west of Iraq.

In Syria, President Vladimir Putin has essentially rescued his close ally, President Bashar Assad, from opposition forces that had been inching closer to his seat of power prior to the beginning of Russian airstrikes at the end of September.

Russia's intervention was not telegraphed beforehand to the U.S., and while Moscow first insisted its primary target was ISIS in Syria, it became apparent immediately that the Russian planes were targeting other opposition groups more in a clear effort to shore up Assad's beleaguered forces.

Assad visited Moscow Tuesday in his first known trip abroad since the war broke out in Syria in 2011 to meet Putin and personally thank him for intervening.

As CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports, the visit was a clear sign of who's now running the show on the government side of the Syrian conflict, and it was a lot more than a simply courtesy call paid by Assad as Putin's jets have effectively become the Syrian air force. Photos of the meeting show the Syrian leader smiling as he hasn't smiled in years.

The choice given to Abadi in Iraq by Dunford on Tuesday is a clear indication that the U.S. is not willing to compete with Russia for airspace over two neighboring countries deeply intertwined in the same convoluted war.

The U.S. and Russia put into practice new rules on Tuesday designed to minimize the risk of air collisions between military aircraft over Syria.

Reuters reports that the U.S. ultimatum to Iraq puts Abadi in a difficult position, as his own country's ruling political alliance and some powerful Shiite groups have been pushing him to request Russian air support.

The news agency said a proposal to request Russian strikes had been put to Abadi last week, but that he was yet to respond.

"Abadi told the meeting parties that it wasn't the right time to include the Russians in the fight because that would only complicate the situation with the Americans and could have undesired consequences even on long-term future relations with America," Reuters quoted a senior Shiite politician close to Abadi as saying.

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador in London, who has a history of snarky jabs at U.S. policy on Twitter, took to the social media platform to suggest "terrorists must be rejoicing" at the news that Russia appeared unlikely to get a request for help from the Iraqis.