Here is CurrentHow’s Daily Briefing™ for the 17th of May, 2017 :-
1. Trump asked Comey to end Flynn probe : New York Times :-
U.S. President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to end the agency’s investigation into ties between former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia, according to a source who has seen a memo written by Comey.
The explosive new development on Tuesday followed a week of tumult at the White House after Trump fired Comey and then discussed sensitive national security information about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The Comey memo, first reported by the New York Times, caused alarm on Capitol Hill and raised questions about whether Trump tried to interfere with a federal investigation.
The White House quickly denied the report, saying in a statement it was “not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
Comey wrote the memo after he met in the Oval Office with Trump, the day after the Republican president fired Flynn on Feb. 14 for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his conversations last year with Russia’s ambassador, Sergei Kislyak.
“I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey, according to a source familiar with the contents of the memo.
The New York Times said that during the Oval Office meeting, Trump condemned a series of government leaks to the news media and said the FBI director should consider prosecuting reporters for publishing classified information.
Coming the day after charges that Trump disclosed sensitive information to the Russians last week, the new disclosure further rattled members of Congress.
“The memo is powerful evidence of obstruction of justice and certainly merits immediate and prompt investigation by an independent special prosecutor,” said Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they wanted to see the memo.
Republican U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of a House of Representatives oversight committee, said his committee “is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.”
Legal experts took a dim view of Trump’s comments, as quoted in the memo.
“For the president to tell the FBI to end a potential criminal investigation, that’s obstruction of justice,” said Erwin Chereminsky, a constitutional law professor and dean of University of California, Irvine School of Law. “This is what caused President Nixon to resign from office.”
But the experts said intent was a critical element of an obstruction of justice charge, and the president’s words could be subject to interpretation and possibly put into the context of other actions, like Comey’s termination.
The fact that the president apparently said he “hoped” Comey would end the Flynn investigation rather than more directly ordering it “makes for a weaker but still viable case,” said Christopher Slobogin, a criminal law professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.
Flynn’s resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks earlier that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Kislyak before Trump took office on Jan. 20.
Kislyak was with Lavrov at the White House when Trump disclosed the sensitive information.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on the details of the memo.
An emailed fundraising appeal by Trump’s political organisation and the Republican National Committee sent out after reports of the Comey memo said Trump was being victimized by an “unelected bureaucracy.”
“You already knew the media was out to get us,” it said. “But sadly it’s not just the fake news… There are people within our own unelected bureaucracy that want to sabotage President Trump and our entire ‘America First’ movement.”
The new development came as Republican and Democratic lawmakers pressured Trump to give a fuller explanation for why he revealed sensitive intelligence information to Lavrov.
The information had been supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State militant group, the officials said.
2. Researchers see possible North Korea link to global cyber attack :-
Cybersecurity researchers have found evidence they say could link North Korea with the WannaCry cyber attack that has infected more than 300,000 computers worldwide, as global authorities scrambled to prevent hackers from spreading new versions of the virus. (Also Read: The anonymous whiz kid who foiled the global cyberattack)
A researcher from South Korea’s Hauri Labs said on Tuesday their own findings matched those of Symantec and Kaspersky Lab, who said on Monday that some code in an earlier version of the WannaCry software had also appeared in programmes used by the Lazarus Group, identified by some researchers as a North Korea-run hacking operation.
“It is similar to North Korea’s backdoor malicious codes,” said Simon Choi, a senior researcher with Hauri who has done extensive research into North Korea’s hacking capabilities and advises South Korean police and National Intelligence Service.
Both Symantec and Kaspersky said it was too early to tell whether North Korea was involved in the attacks, based on the evidence that was published on Twitter by Google security researcher Neel Mehta.
The attacks, which slowed on Monday, are among the fastest-spreading extortion campaigns on record.
In China, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information to share, when asked about the origin of the attack and whether North Korea might be connected.
Several Asian countries have been affected by the malware, although the impact has not been as widespread as some had feared.
In Malaysia, cybersecurity firm LE Global Services said it identified 12 cases so far, including a large government-linked corporation, a government-linked investment firm and an insurance company. It did not name any of the entities.
“We may not see the real picture yet, as companies are not mandated to disclose security breaches to authorities in Malaysia,” said LE Global CEO Fong Choong Fook.
“The real situation may be serious. In one of the cases, the attack was traced back to early April.”
Vietnam’s state media said on Tuesday more than 200 computers had been affected.
Taiwan Power Co. said that nearly 800 of its computers were affected, although these were used for administration, not for systems involved in electricity generation.
FireEye Inc, another large cyber security firm, said it was also investigating, but it was cautious about drawing a link to North Korea.
“The similarities we see between malware linked to that group and WannaCry are not unique enough to be strongly suggestive of a common operator,” FireEye researcher John Miller said.
US and European security officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that it was too early to say who might be behind the attacks, but they did not rule out North Korea as a suspect.
The Lazarus hackers, acting for impoverished North Korea, have been more brazen in their pursuit of financial gain than others, and have been blamed for the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank, according to some cyber security firms. The United States accused it of being behind a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.
An official at South Korea’s Korea Internet & Security Agency said on Tuesday the agency was sharing information with intelligence officials on recent cases reported for damages but was not in position to investigate the source of the attack.
The official declined to comment on intelligence-related matters.
A South Korean police official that handles investigations into hacking and cyber breaches said he was aware of reports on the North Korean link, but said police were not investigating yet.
Victims haven’t requested investigations but they want their systems to be restored, the official said.
North Korea has denied being behind the Sony and banking attacks. North Korean officials were not immediately available for comment and its state media has been quiet about the matter.
Hauri researcher Choi said the code bore similarities with those allegedly used by North Korean hackers in the Sony and bank heists. He said based on his conversations with North Korean hackers, the reclusive state had been developing and testing ransomware programmes since August.
In one case, alleged hackers from North Korea demanded bitcoin in exchange for client information they had stolen from a South Korean shopping mall, Choi added.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations was not immediately available for comment on Monday.
While the attacks have raised concerns for cyber authorities and end-users worldwide, they have helped cybersecurity stocks as investors bet governments and corporations will spend more to upgrade their defenses.
Cisco Systems closed up 2.3 per cent on Monday and was the second-biggest gainer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
3. Diamond earrings fetch $57 million at Sotheby’s auction :-
Two dazzling pink and blue pear-shaped diamonds have together sold for $57,425,000 to a private buyer at Sotheby’s auction house.
Sotheby’s said the Apollo and Artemis stones are “by far the most important pair of earrings ever offered at auction”.
They were offered to buyers separately at the auction house’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale in Geneva, but were purchased by the same buyer.
4. Putin open to revealing Trump-Lavrov ‘intel exchange’ :-
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow could provide a recording of a controversial exchange between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US President Donald Trump that has plunged the White House into turmoil.
His comments were the first since Trump was hit with accusations that he shared secrets while meeting Lavrov in Washington, the latest crisis to hit the White house amid existing investigations into whether Trump’s aides colluded with Moscow during the campaign.
Putin said he was pleased with Lavrov’s visit to Washington last week but mocked the idea that Trump had shared secrets during the meeting, calling the allegations “political schizophrenia” and saying people spreading them are either “dumb” or “corrupt.”
“We can see that political schizophrenia is developing in the United States,” Putin told reporters after talks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
“I cannot otherwise explain the accusations of the president that he handed Lavrov some sort of secrets,” Putin added.
“If the US administration finds it possible, we are ready to provide a recording of the conversation between Lavrov and Trump to the US Congress and Senate,” Putin said.
Although Putin used the Russian word for audio recording at the press conference, his foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said that “audio is not made” at such meetings.
“There is a recording kept by a special person present at conversations,” Ushakov clarified to Russian news agencies.
Citing unnamed sources, the Washington Post reported that Trump had shared intelligence with Lavrov regarding an Islamic State group terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes.
According to sources cited in the report, that intelligence came from a US ally who had not authorised Washington to pass it on to Moscow.
The fresh US crisis sank the dollar early Wednesday as well as Hong Kong stocks amid worries that Trump’s economy-boosting and tax-cutting agenda could be derailed, with some experts mentioning possible impeachment.
As news emerged that Israel was the initial source of the intel, it attempted to contain the fallout from the scandal, with Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying security ties would continue to be “unprecedented” in scope.
A US administration official confirmed to AFP on condition of anonymity that the original intelligence came from Israel, which was initially reported by the New York Times.
British PM Theresa May meanwhile said Trump is free to decide what to discuss with White House visitors, while stressing that London’s relationship with Washington was “the most important defence and security relationship” around the world.
Putin mocked the idea that Trump went off-script to share secrets with the Russians, saying he could issue a “reprimand” to Lavrov since the minister hadn’t passed on the information.
“(Lavrov) didn’t share these secrets with us — neither with me nor with the representatives of the Russian security services. That is very bad of him,” Putin said to sniggers from the audience including Lavrov himself.
The visit had already generated its share of scandal after Moscow released pictures of the closed-door Oval Office meeting showing Trump and Lavrov grinning after White House officials presumed they would not be made public.
Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster denied the president caused any security lapses while Trump himself insisted he had the “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining… to terrorism and airline flight safety” with Russia.
Adding to the confusion, Russian senator Alexei Pushkov on Wednesday tweeted that “US media were hysterical with Trump because he told us about IS plans to detonate our passenger plane.”
Putin on Wednesday also slammed critics who spread allegations about Trump’s ties with Russia.
“What else will the people generating such drivel and nonsense think of next?” he said. “They are shaking up their internal politics while using anti-Russian slogans.”
“They either don’t understand that they are hurting their own country, and then they are simply dumb, or they understand everything and then they are dangerous and corrupt people,” Putin added.
5. Car bombs kill at least six in Syrian camp near Jordan :-
Two car bombs killed at least six people and wounded several others in Syria’s sprawling Rukban refugee camp near the border with Jordan late on Monday, a rebel official and a resident said.
One explosion was near a restaurant and the second targeted the camp’s market nearby, they said.
“There are at least six civilians dead and the number is expected to rise,” said Mohammad Adnan, a rebel official from Jaish Ahrar al-Ashair who runs the policing of the camp.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
In January, a car bomb killed a number of people in the camp, and Islamic State militants have since launched attacks on Syrian rebels in the area.
Rukban, near the joint Syria-Iraq-Jordan border, is home to refugees and also to rebel groups, including the Jaish Ahrar al-Ashair, which fight both President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State movement. It was also hit by bomb attacks last year.