Europe/Americas update: March 16 2018



US officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI said on Thursday that Russian hackers have been engaged in what appears to be a very serious effort to penetrate major US infrastructure:

“Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors” have targeted “government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors,” including those of energy, nuclear, water and aviation, according to an alert issued Thursday by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Critical manufacturing sectors and commercial facilities also have been targeted by the ongoing “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors.”

This alert provides a little more context to the sanctions that were levied against Russian interests by the Treasury Department on Thursday.


A Romanian man named Constantin Reliu, who had been declared legally dead by the Romanian government, was told by a court on Friday that the declaration cannot be reversed. Even though he’s, you know, alive. Reliu apparently went to Turkey for work in 1992 and somehow lost touch with his family, so his wife had him declared dead in 2016. Reliu returned to Romania and appealed the decision, but apparently it’s too late to do anything about it. If you’re interested, attwiw has been able to obtain video of the court proceeding:


Tens of thousands of people protested across Slovakia on Friday–50,000 just in Bratislava–demanding new elections following Thursday’s resignation of ex-Prime Minister Robert Fico. At this point, Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini has been designated to form a new government, but the protesters are demanding new elections to root out corruption that they insist goes deeper than Fico, and to preclude the possibility of Fico continuing to run the country behind the scenes with Pellegrini merely serving as his public representative.


Incoming German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer seems like a nice guy:

In his interview with the mass-circulation Bild newspaper, Mr Seehofer said Germany had been “shaped by Christianity”, and that the country should not give up its own traditions.


“No. Islam does not belong to Germany. Germany is shaped by Christianity,” he said.


“The Muslims who live among us naturally belong to Germany… That of course does not mean that we should, out of a false consideration for others, give up our traditions and customs.


“Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us.”

Muslims are desperate to recruit this guy

This will come as a huge blow to refugees in Germany, who in addition to literally fleeing for their lives from war zones and trying to find someplace where they could hopefully eke out a basic existence are also definitely trying to turn Horst Seehofer Muslim. And probably gay, too. Seehofer is intensely interested in making the refugee community his punching bag because, as leader of the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union party, he’s been such an abject failure that his party is losing ground to fascists.


Ever since Italy’s recent election put it within shouting distance of forming a government, the Five Star Movement has been jettisoning long-held positions like a late-night infomercial salesperson trying to get you to order their revolutionary hydraulic carrot peeler or whatever. The latest thing to go is the party’s economic plan, which once promised higher spending and tax cuts but is now being redone so that it will not raise the deficit. These guys will be full-on neoliberals by the summer if this process drags on that long. They appear to be appealing to the Democratic Party to help them form a governing coalition, even though the Democrats have promised to go into the opposition.


If you’re still trying to catch up on the Sergei Skripal story, The Guardian has an explainer that might help.

In the latest developments, we’re all waiting with bated breath to find out how Russia plans to retaliate for the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats/intelligence agents, or 40 percent of its previous diplomatic presence, from the UK. They will certainly expel an equal number of British diplomats from Russia, but whether they’ll be equal in absolute numbers or equal as a percentage of the UK’s diplomatic staff in Russia remains to be seen. The Kremlin is busy performing outrage over comments from British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that it’s “overwhelmingly likely” that Vladimir Putin ordered the hit on the Skripals himself. Yes, that’s a reckless accusation to make while the investigation is ongoing, particularly since Boris Johnson would be lucky if he could find Moscow on a map, but “unforgivable”? Give me a break.

Meanwhile things may get more tense, as London police are opening an investigation into the suspiciously foul play-like death of another Russian exile, Nikolai Glushkov.



Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco, a frequent critic of the city’s police force, was murdered on Wednesday in an attack that many of her supporters are calling a politically motivated assassination:


Lost in the stories about Rex Tillerson’s departure from the State Department and the prospects of Mike Pompeo taking over there–the consensus seems to be that staff are nervous about Pompeo’s politics but happy to see Tillerson go–is the other side of the personnel change. How are people at the CIA handling the Pompeo’s likely departure? Ned Price argues that they’re most likely pretty happy as well:

Well before Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director in January 2017, there was every indication he would not approach the job as his predecessors had. Pompeo made a name for himself in Congress as a leading purveyor of hard-line conservative ideology and even conspiracy theories. While his firebrand reputation would have given most presidents-elect pause, Pompeo’s incendiary rhetoric — especially his relentless, and not always factual, attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the context of the Benghazi investigation — reportedly endeared him to Trump, who himself rose to prominence peddling a conspiracy theory.


Agency-watchers recognized that Pompeo’s selection was fraught, as the CIA workforce prizes its distance — literal and physical — from the politics of Washington. Indeed, there’s no dirtier word within Langley’s corridors than “politicization.” That’s not to say that Pompeo’s tenure was doomed to failure. Previous directors — from George H.W. Bush to Leon Panetta — had successfully made the turn from political animal to above-it-all intelligence chief. As most CIA directors have, they checked their policy predispositions at the great seal and adopted a “just the facts” demeanor — both in public and behind closed doors. Not Mike Pompeo.

Finally, POLITICO reported earlier this week that the Trump administration–not unlike some previous Republican administrations–has been marginalizing and attempting to purge senior nonpolitical State Department personnel over their perceived ideological leanings, their perceived ties to the Obama administration, or even, in at least one case, their ethnicity:

[State Department official Brian] Hook was already well aware of the story. The article, which appeared in an obscure online publication called Conservative Review, had caused a stir among conservative activists and incoming Trump officials who were busy trying to establish who [Iran policy expert Sahar] Nowrouzzadeh was — and whether she could be purged.


According to emails obtained by POLITICO, the agitators included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who sent the article to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s chief of staff, and a Trump official who told top Tillerson aides that Nowrouzzadeh “was born in Iran” — she was not — and that she had wept after Trump’s election.


The emails show that State Department and White House officials repeatedly shared such misleading information about Nowrouzzadeh, deriding her as an Obama cheerleader and strong advocate for the nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump had repeatedly denounced. Later, after Nowrouzzadeh was reassigned to another job, some State Department officials tried to mislead a POLITICO reporter about whether she’d completed her full tenure in Hook’s policy shop.

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