attwiw is taking the long weekend off, so these will be our last updates until Tuesday. Thanks for reading!
At least five Afghan civilians were killed Thursday in three separate and so far unclaimed bombings–one in Kandahar province, one in Nangarhar province, and the third in Kabul. US officials announced on Thursday that one US soldier was killed in combat on Thursday but offered no further details.
Former Afghan deputy finance minister Gul Maqsood Sabit explains what a squandered opportunity Afghanistan’s mineral wealth currently represents:
Afghanistan is sitting on vast mineral resources that are looted on a daily basis. According to several geological reports, Afghanistan has over 1,400 mineral fields containing coal, barite, chromite, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones like emerald and lapis lazuli, salt, sulfur, talc, and zinc, copper, gold, and other minerals.The value of these natural resources is estimated to be over $1 trillion, possibly much higher, far exceeding the costs of developing the country. These resources, however, are being stolen and illegally extracted by smugglers and others in different parts of the country while the government heavily depends on international assistance to fund its national budget.
Some claim that illegal mining is a major source of income for armed groups and insurgents, others say illegal mining is less critical to such groups. Armed groups and insurgents may benefit from only a tiny fraction of the wealth by taxing smugglers in the areas under their control. Much of the wealth goes into the pockets of strongmen and other influential locals who extract the minerals in their respective areas and smuggle them to neighboring countries and beyond. In some cases, locals easily extract valuable stones and other minerals by using explosives in the mountains and sell the resources to smugglers. The smuggling and illegal extraction is reportedly encouraged and supported by some countries that benefit from the illegal trade of Afghanistan’s resources.
The Indian government deported seven Rohingya refugees on Thursday, which is par for the course for India’s right wing nationalist government but probably violates international law since they’re being returned to an unsafe situation. The men don’t seem to have been given counsel or due process before their deportation.
The Trump administration is now engaged in a transparent effort to overhype Chinese electoral manipulation as a campaign tactic. In a speech at the Hudson Institute on Thursday, Mike Pence claimed that whatever Russia might have done to the 2016 election “pales in comparison” to Chinese efforts to manipulate US politics to get rid of Donald Trump. This is a claim for which Pence had no evidence and that has been contradicted by, among others, Kirstjen Nielsen–though to be fair, I guess we shouldn’t take her at face value, seeing as how she’s the liberal [Googles “Kirstjen Nielsen”] secretary of homeland security for the Trump administration. For Christ’s sake these people can’t even coordinate their lies anymore, or they don’t feel like they need to bother. This is obviously an attempt to whip up the Trump base while blunting ongoing discussion of the Russian manipulation efforts in 2016, but I would expect most of the media to take it seriously nonetheless.
Of course I don’t mean to suggest that China is innocent here, but the manipulation they do tends to be more economic and military than strictly political. For example, a major new report from Bloomberg says that China has been secretly installing backdoors into server motherboards at its manufacturing facilities:
Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.
During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.
This attack was something graver than the software-based incidents the world has grown accustomed to seeing. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating, promising the kind of long-term, stealth access that spy agencies are willing to invest millions of dollars and many years to get.
This hardware hack affected 30 large US companies including Amazon and Apple, and should call into question the security of the entire global high tech supply chain, but I’ll believe that when I see it.
The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Turkey’s SIA Falcon International Group, its top directors, and Ri Song-un, a North Korean diplomat working out of its Mongolian embassy. They’re allegedly in violation of international restrictions on the sale of weapons and “luxury goods” to North Korea.
Islamist militants attacked Burkinabe police on Wednesday near a gold mine in Soum province, killing at least one. In response, French forces carried out airstrikes against the militants as they were leaving the site of the battle, killing an as-yet unknown number of the fighters. Northern Burkina Faso is increasingly suffering from jihadist violence connected to Mali’s Jamaʿat Nusrat al-Islam wa-l-Muslimin, itself an affiliate of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Cameroon is holding a presidential election on Sunday, which incumbent Paul Biya is expected to win. The issue isn’t really the outcome, it’s how many people are going to be able to vote. Ongoing separatist violence in the country’s anglophone region has displaced thousands and rebel threats to attack polling places could potentially leave millions of people unable to cast a ballot.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
A group of Congolese Red Cross workers trying to bury the body of an Ebola victim in northeastern DRC were attacked by locals on Wednesday, leaving three of them injured and forcing the Red Cross to suspend burial work in that area. That’s going to seriously hamper efforts to get the Ebola outbreak under control before it spreads further.
According to British and Dutch authorities, Russia has been on a little hacking spree for the past few months, related to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK in March:
Russian military intelligence services tried to hack the Foreign Office, government chemical weapons laboratory Porton Down, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the wake of the Skripal poisoning, UK officials have said.
An attempt to hack the Foreign Office was carried out in March by the military intelligence unit GRU, while Porton Down was targeted in April and the OPCW in May, officials said.
All of the incidents took place after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned with military-grade nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury on March 4.
The remote attacks were carried out in addition to an attempted cyberattack against the OPCW in the Hague on April 13, which British and Dutch authorities disclosed on Thursday. Four GRU operatives were escorted out of the Netherlands on the same day.
The Russian government has denied these allegations, with a foreign ministry spokesperson attributing them to “the vivid imagination of our UK colleagues.”
Another poll shows Jair Bolsonaro extending his lead over Fernando Haddad ahead of this weekend’s vote. The Datafolha survey has Bolsonaro at 35 percent, up three from just a couple of days ago, to 22 percent for Haddad. The two are once more in a dead heat in a hypothetical runoff.
Protesters surrounded the National Theater in San José on Wednesday evening because Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado was in attendance. The demonstrators, who are in their fourth week of protests coupled with a public sector strike, are angry about–you know where this is going–austerity, specifically proposals Alvarado has made to convert the country’s sales tax to a value-added tax, to institute taxes on formerly exempt items like staple foods, and to cut compensation for government workers.
Donald Trump may fire Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson because she’s not doing Space Force fast enough. That sentence is so fucking absurd that I’m not sure what else to say about it, but I thought you should at least know what’s going on.
The Trump administration unveiled a new national counterterrorism strategy on Thursday and apparently it’s focused on–hey I didn’t see this coming–Iran. National Security Advisor John Bolton described Iran as “the world’s central banker of international terrorism since 1979,” even though the two dominant terrorist groups in the world now, in 2018, are ISIS and al-Qaeda and, despite the administration’s best efforts at fudging the evidence, it hasn’t proven any credible connection between Iran and either of those hardline Sunni/Wahhabi groups.
Finally, since I’m going to be out for a few days I thought I’d leave you with some good, albeit probably temporary, news:
A federal judge in California issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday preventing the Trump administration from ending temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Sudan.
In his order, US District Judge Edward Chen enjoined and restrained the government from taking any action to end TPS for hundreds of immigrants while a lawsuit challenging the termination of the program moves forward.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration moved to take away TPS for six countries — Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal, and Sudan. TPS recipients from Nepal and Honduras are not covered by Chen’s ruling.
Chen ruled that there was both “direct evidence” and “circumstantial evidence” that Trump’s racism motivated the decision to end TPS for these groups. The ruling will likely be overturned, by the Supreme Court once
Ralph Bret Kavanaugh is confirmed if not earlier. But for now at least, tens of thousands of immigrants and their families–their children–can stay in the US a little bit longer.