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Report: Trump shared secret info about IS with Russians

The World In Brief: Tuesday, May 16

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 15, 2017.

Photo by Associated Press.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 15, 2017.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information about Islamic State militants to Russian officials during a meeting last week, The Washington Post reported Monday, prompting strong condemnation from both Democrats and Republicans.

Three White House officials who were in the May 10 meeting strongly denounced the story, saying no intelligence sources and methods were discussed — but they didn’t deny that classified information was disclosed.

Citing current and former U.S. officials, the Post said Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

The anonymous officials told the Post that the information Trump relayed during the Oval Office meeting had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement. They said it was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government.

“I was in the room, it didn’t happen,” H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, told reporters outside the White House late Monday.

AP Interview: Expert who beat cyberattack says he’s no hero

ILFRACOMBE, England (AP) — A young British computer expert credited with cracking the WannaCry cyberattack told The Associated Press he doesn’t consider himself a hero but fights malware because “it’s the right thing to do.”

In his first face-to-face interview, Marcus Hutchins, who works for Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic, said Monday that hundreds of computer experts worked throughout the weekend to fight the virus, which paralyzed computers in some 150 countries.

“I’m definitely not a hero,” he said. “I’m just someone doing my bit to stop botnets.”

The 22-year-old computer whiz from the south coast of England, discovered a so-called “kill switch” that slowed the unprecedented outbreak on Friday. He then spent the next three days fighting the worm that crippled Britain’s hospital network as well as computer systems around the world.

WannaCry paralyzed computers running mostly older versions of Microsoft Windows by encrypting users’ computer files and displaying a message demanding anywhere from $300 to $600 to release them; failure to pay would leave the data mangled and likely beyond repair.

US: Syria is burning bodies to hide proof of mass killings

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States accused Syria on Monday of executing thousands of imprisoned political opponents and burning their bodies in a crematorium to hide the evidence.

The allegation could test the Trump administration’s willingness to respond to atrocities, other than chemical weapons attacks, that it blames on President Bashar Assad’s government.

The allegation of mass killings came as President Donald Trump weighs options in Syria, where the U.S. launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad’s military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent. Trump on Monday kicked off a week of meetings with Middle East leaders, sitting down with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi a day before he hosts Turkey’s president. Trump flies to Saudi Arabia later this week.

All are governments that have pressed the United States over six years of civil war in Syria to intervene more forcefully. Trump had backed away from President Barack Obama’s calls for regime change in the Arab country, with the new president’s officials pointedly saying leadership questions should be left to Syria’s citizens, until his intervention last month. His administration now says Assad cannot bring long-term stability to Syria.

In its latest accusations of Syrian abuses, the State Department said it believed about 50 detainees each day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes north of Damascus. Many of the bodies are then burned in the crematorium “to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place,” said Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, accusing Assad’s government of sinking “to a new level of depravity.”

Federal judges ask if travel ban is biased against Muslims

SEATTLE (AP) — Federal judges on Monday peppered a lawyer for President Donald Trump with questions about whether the administration’s travel ban discriminates against Muslims and zeroed in on the president’s campaign statements, the second time in a week the rhetoric has faced judicial scrutiny.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, defending the travel ban, told the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the executive order should be reinstated because it falls well within the president’s authority.

“No one has ever attempted to set aside a law that is neutral on its face and neutral in its operation on the basis of largely campaign trail comments made by a private citizen running for office,” he said.

Further, Wall said the president had backed off the comments he made during the campaign, clarifying that “what he was talking about was Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor or shelter them.”

Neal Katyal, who represented Hawaii, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, expressed disbelief at that argument and said Trump had repeatedly spoken of a Muslim ban during the presidential campaign and after.

AP News Guide: What to know about travel ban appeals

SEATTLE (AP) — Does federal law give President Donald Trump broad legal authority to freeze immigration by refugees and citizens of some predominantly Muslim nations?

That’s the question before two federal appellate courts that have now heard arguments over Trump’s revised travel ban and are being asked by Trump’s opponents to use the president’s own anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric against him. Federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland earlier this year blocked Trump’s revised travel ban from taking effect. Trump wants those decisions reversed.

On Monday a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle heard Hawaii’s lawsuit challenging the ban, which would suspend the nation’s refugee program and temporarily bar new visas for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Last week, judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, heard arguments over whether to affirm a Maryland judge’s decision putting the ban on ice.

Huge cyberattack ebbs as investigators work to find culprits

NEW YORK (AP) — The global cyberattack that took computer files hostage appeared to slow on Monday as authorities worked to catch the extortionists behind it — a difficult task that involves searching for digital clues and following the money.

Among their findings so far: The first suggestions of a possible link between the “ransomware” known as WannaCry and hackers linked to North Korea. Those findings remain quite tentative; one firm advancing them described them as intriguing but still “weak.”

Experts had warned that WannaCry might wreak renewed havoc on Monday, particularly in Asia, which was closed for business on Friday when the malware scrambled data at hospitals, factories, government agencies, banks and other businesses.

But while there were thousands of additional infections there, the expected second-wave outbreak largely failed to materialize, in part because security researchers had already defanged it .

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for the Finnish security company F-Secure, said the perpetrators of WannaCry made one crucial mistake.

North Korea: New long-range missile can carry heavy nuke

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Monday boasted it successfully launched a new type of “medium long-range” ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead, an escalation of its nuclear program that the U.N. Security Council warned could bring new sanctions on Pyongyang.

Outsiders saw a significant technological jump in the weekend test, with the rocket apparently flying higher and for a longer time than any other such previous missile.

Amid condemnation in Seoul, Tokyo, Washington and Moscow, a jubilant North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised more nuclear and missile tests and warned that his country’s weapons could strike the U.S. mainland and Pacific holdings.

North Korean propaganda must be considered with wariness — Pyongyang has threatened for decades to reduce Seoul to a “sea of fire,” for instance — but Monday’s claim, if confirmed, would mark another big advance toward the North’s goal of fielding a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Some experts, including officials in Tokyo, estimated Sunday’s launch successfully tested a new type of missile, potentially the longest-range in North Korea’s arsenal.

The test is also an immediate challenge to South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, a liberal elected last week who expressed a desire to reach out to North Korea. Pyongyang’s aggressive push to boost its weapons program also makes it one of the Trump administration’s most urgent foreign policy worries, though Washington has struggled to settle on a policy.

Busy day for French president: Names PM, meets with Merkel

BERLIN (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron hit the ground running Monday on his first full day in office by naming a prime minister from the center-right and then flying to Germany, where he and Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to work together to undertake European reforms.

At home, Macron started to shape his government by appointing relatively little-known lawmaker Edouard Philippe, 46, as his prime minister. That made good on a promise to repopulate French politics with new faces and reinforced the generational shift under Macron, who at 39 is France’s youngest president.

Then, a large crowd outside the chancellery welcomed Macron to Berlin, with some waving European Union flags. Macron and Merkel were all smiles inside, and the German leader declared that “Europe will only do well if there is a strong France, and I am committed to that.”

Germany and France have traditionally been the motor of European integration, but the relationship has become increasingly lopsided in recent years as France struggled economically.

German leaders were hugely relieved by the independent centrist’s rout of far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the May 7 presidential runoff, and now they hope that Macron can deliver the economic upturn that his predecessors couldn’t.

Man gets 49 years for anti-transgender hate crime killing

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi man received a 49-year prison sentence Monday for the first-ever conviction on federal hate crime charges arising from the killing of a transgender woman.

In a case watched by the LGBT community nationwide, U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. sentenced Joshua Vallum in the 2015 killing of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson. It was the first case prosecuted under the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving a victim targeted because of gender identity.

Prosecutors said Vallum shocked 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson with a stun gun, stabbed her and beat her to death in 2015 to keep fellow Latin Kings gang members from discovering the two were having sex. Gang rules barred homosexual activity and declared it punishable by death.

Guirola could have sentenced Vallum to life in prison, but heeded a lesser sentence suggested in a plea agreement between defense attorneys and prosecutors, citing Vallum’s neglected childhood and other issues. Both the judge and defense lawyers said Vallum’s history of abuse as a child had to be considered.

“The taking of a human life because a person has a particular gender identity is particularly heinous and cannot be tolerated in an enlightened society,” Guirola said in court in Gulfport.

US trumpets Mosul gains, but Iraq says more aid needed

HAMAM AL-ALIL, Iraq (AP) — During a visit south of Mosul on Monday, a senior U.S. official praised territorial gains against the Islamic State group in Iraq, but local officials cautioned more aid is needed to rebuild on the heels of victories against the extremists.

The Mosul fight is approaching its “final stages,” Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition against the IS, told The Associated Press during a meeting with Iraqi military and civilian officials at a water treatment plant near the town of Hamam al-Alil.

“The world is now seeing that (Iraqi) soldiers are completely destroying Daesh,” McGurk said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group that is also referred to as IS, ISIS and ISIL. He described the fight to retake Mosul, which was launched nearly seven months ago, as one of the most difficult urban battles since World War II.

But the men who had gathered to receive McGurk and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman were dressed in suits, not fatigues and they had come asking for aid, not weapons and training.

With the fight against IS in Iraq about to enter its fourth year, more than half of the territory the extremists once held is now under government control, but with those advances has come greater demand for reconstruction money.