U.S. Navy sailor shoots dead two, then himself, at Pearl Harbor base

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By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – A U.S. Navy sailor shot dead two civilians working at Hawaii’s historic military base of Pearl Harbor on Wednesday and wounded a third before turning his gun on himself, military officials said.

Authorities did not identify the victims or the gunman, described by a witness as wearing a U.S. Navy uniform, but local media reported they were all men. Base officials said the victims were civilians working for the Department of Defense.

It was not immediately clear what the gunman’s motive was for the shooting, three days before the 78th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on the naval base that led the United States to declare war on Japan and enter World War Two.

The gunman died of “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound”, and the third victim was in stable condition in hospital, military officials told a news briefing.

“We have confirmed that two (victims) are deceased,” said the regional commander, Rear Admiral Robert Chadwick.

The gunman “has tentatively been identified as an active-duty sailor assigned to USS Columbia SSN 771,” he said.

The base, a combined U.S. Air Force and Navy installation located eight miles (13 km) from the state capital of Honolulu, was placed on lockdown for about two hours after the incident at about 2:30 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time.

“We have no indication yet whether they (the victims) were targeted or if it was a random shooting,” Chadwick said.

He said he also did not know the type of weapon used by the attacker and that bringing personal weapons on the base was not authorized.

Emergency services sent ambulances and firefighters to the scene, which was secured by late Wednesday and the base reopened.

An unidentified witness told Hawaii News Now he had heard gunfire near Drydock 2 of the base and looked up from his desk to see the gunman, wearing an U.S. Navy uniform, put the weapon to his head and shoot himself.

“Details are still emerging as security forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam investigate,” Hawaii Governor David Ige said, using the official name of the base.

The White House had offered him assistance from federal agencies as needed, Ige said.

A White House spokesman said: “The president has been briefed on the shooting…and continues to monitor the situation.”

Hawaii police detectives are assisting the military in an investigation that could require up to 100 witnesses to be interviewed, local media said.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Steve Gorman in Culver City, Jeff Mason in Washington, D.C. and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Timothy Heritage)

U.S. military landlord filed false maintenance logs, earning bonuses, Reuters finds

Homes that were constructed by Balfour Beatty are seen in a neighborhood at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, U.S. May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

By M.B. Pell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A unit of UK infrastructure giant Balfour Beatty plc falsified housing maintenance records at a major U.S. military base to help it maximize fees earned from the Department of Defense, a Reuters investigation found.

At Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, the company’s U.S.-based unit used a second set of books and altered records to make it appear responsive to maintenance requests, Reuters found in a review of company and Air Force emails, internal memos and other documents, as well as interviews with former workers.

The practice boosted the company’s apparent performance at completing work on time, making it eligible to receive bonus fees from the Pentagon while persuading Air Force brass to ignore warnings from military base employees. The maintenance delays left tenants exposed to environmental hazards, residents said, such as asbestos, mold and sewage.

Balfour Beatty Communities, the U.S. unit that manages housing on military bases for the Pentagon, said in a statement that one employee acted “improperly” in 2016 and that the problems were not widespread. Since then, the company said, it has worked with the Air Force to strengthen its maintenance process.

“As an organization, BBC has not and does not condone the falsification of records in any way,” the company said in a statement.

Air Force housing employees stationed at Tinker reported instances of questionable record-keeping and slum-like living conditions to Air Force officials from late 2015 through 2018, emails and interviews show. Attempts to hold Balfour Beatty accountable were often blocked by the Air Force Civil Engineering Center, or AFCEC, an office based in San Antonio, Texas, tasked with monitoring private landlords.

John Henderson, the Air Force assistant secretary for installations, said AFCEC took the accusations seriously and since late last year has withheld all incentive fees from Balfour Beatty at Tinker and two other of the company’s bases. He said “allegations of fraud” were referred to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2017.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations does not discuss investigations, said a spokesperson. But she added: “Conversations are still taking place with the U.S. Department of Justice about what avenues (criminal or civil) if any – can be pursued against Balfour Beatty.”

Balfour Beatty earns $33 million in annual profit through its U.S. military housing activities. The incentive fees alone on those operations are worth about $800 million over the life of the 50-year contracts the company holds for 43,000 homes on 55 Air Force, Navy and Army bases, Reuters calculates.

A full version of this report, produced in partnership with CBS News, can be read on Reuters.com.

(Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Trump heads to U.S. border with Mexico to press case for wall

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for a visit to the U.S. southern border area in Texas from the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump heads to Texas on Thursday to press his case that the country is facing a crisis that can only be solved by spending billions of dollars to construct a wall along the border with Mexico.

His trip to the border town of McAllen, Texas, comes on the 20th day of a partial government shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work or working without pay, while Trump and fellow Republicans fight with Democrats over his demand for $5.7 billion this year to construct the barrier.

Trump’s plan to build a wall at the southern border was a central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign. He said last month he would be “proud” to shut the government down over the issue but has since blamed Democrats.

He also has been considering whether to declare a national emergency and use it to circumvent Congress by building the wall with money allocated for the Department of Defense. Democrats who control the House of Representatives refuse to approve the wall funding.

Critics say such a move by Trump would be illegal and plan to immediately challenge it in court. Even some Republicans who want to build a wall have said they do not want money to be taken from the military to pay for it.

Trump will travel to Texas with the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. After Trump’s midday visit, Cornyn will host a roundtable discussion with area mayors, judges, law enforcement personnel and others involved with the border issue.

On Dec. 22, about 25 percent of the government – excluding mainly the Department of Defense and health-related programs – shut down because of Congress’ inability to complete work by a September deadline on funding all government agencies.

Backed by most Republicans in Congress, as well as his most ardent supporters, Trump has said he will not sign any bill to reopen the government that does not provide the funds he wants for the wall.

“There is GREAT unity with the Republicans in the House and Senate, despite the Fake News Media working in overdrive to make the story look otherwise,” Trump tweeted on Thursday ahead of his departure. “The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don’t want to give ‘Trump’ another one of many wins!”

ACRIMONIOUS MEETING

The impasse has continued while Trump’s meetings with Democratic congressional leaders have ended in acrimony. On Wednesday, he stormed out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, calling it “a total waste of time.”

Trump says undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs are streaming across the border from Mexico, despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments likely are smuggled through legal ports of entry.

Democrats accuse Trump of using fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the border situation in order to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise as he looks toward his race for re-election in 2020.

The president has been working to make his case to the public, and bolster any congressional Republicans who might be wavering.

Pressure on them could intensify on Friday when about 800,000 federal employees – including border patrol agents and airport security screeners – miss their first paychecks.

On Tuesday, Trump said in his first prime-time television address from the Oval Office that there was a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border.

On Wednesday, he visited Republican lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol, emerging from a meeting to say his party was “very unified.”

Less than two hours later, eight Republicans in the House voted with majority Democrats on a bill that would reopen the Treasury Department and some other programs and did not include any funding for the wall.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that he will not allow that chamber to vote on any measure that does not include wall funding.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Trump to order National Guard to protect border with Mexico

FILE PHOTO - Members of the U.S Army National Guard monitor the Oculus transportation hub ahead of the U.S presidential election in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a proclamation on Wednesday ordering the deployment of the National Guard to help protect the border with Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said.

Troops may be heading to the border as early as Wednesday night, Nielsen said, saying that the National Guard would support U.S. Custom and Border Protection but would not be involved in enforcement.

Nielsen spoke at a White House news briefing a day after Trump sharpened his anti-immigration rhetoric by saying he wanted to deploy U.S. military forces until his promised border wall is built.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a press briefing on border security at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a press briefing on border security at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“The president has directed that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security work together with our governors to deploy the National Guard to our southwest border to assist the Border Patrol,” Nielsen said. “The president will be signing a proclamation to that effect today.”

She said the administration had drafted legislation and would be asking Congress to provide the legal authority and resources to address “this crisis at our borders.”

She did not give the number of the troops to be deployed or the cost of the operation.

Nielsen said that despite steps taken by the administration, the levels of drug smuggling, illegal immigration and dangerous gang activity across the border were unacceptable.

Trump met with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Nielsen and other officials to discuss border issues on Tuesday.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, lamenting what he called “horrible” U.S. laws that left the southern border poorly protected.

On Wednesday, Trump said in a tweet: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico andCanada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!”

(This version of the story was refiled to add dropped word “but” in paragraph two)

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Eric Beech and Leslie Adler)

Trump to order mental health aid to prevent suicide among military veterans

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (L) after signing the Veterans Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 12, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday was set to sign an executive order that will direct government departments to try to prevent suicide among military veterans by treating mental health problems before they become more serious.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told reporters on a conference call that Trump wants to address an alarming trend, that of 20 veterans a day taking their own life.

“That is just an unacceptable number and we are focused on doing everything we can to try to prevent these veteran suicides,” Shulkin said.

Trump’s order will direct the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to develop a plan in 60 days to provide access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for uniformed service members in the first year following military service.

The new order will cost about $200 million year to implement, money that will be diverted from the agencies’ current budget, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio)

Chinese jets intercept U.S. military plane over South China Sea

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative file image of an octagonal tower with a conical feature at its top, located on the northeast side of Subi Reef

By Idrees Ali and Megha Rajagopalan

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – Two Chinese fighter jets carried out an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, drawing a rebuke from Beijing, which demanded that Washington end surveillance near China.

The incident, likely to increase tension in and around the contested waterway, took place in international airspace on Tuesday as the U.S. maritime patrol aircraft carried out “a routine U.S. patrol,” a Pentagon statement said.

The encounter comes a week after China scrambled fighter jets as a U.S. Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

Another Chinese intercept took place in 2014 when a Chinese fighter pilot flew acrobatic maneuvers around a U.S. spy plane.

The intercept occurred days before President Barack Obama travels to parts of Asia from May 21-28, including a Group of Seven summit in Japan and his first trip to Vietnam.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea after creating artificial islands, while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased U.S. naval patrols and exercises in Asia.

The Pentagon statement said the Department of Defense was addressing the issue through military and diplomatic channels.

“ENDANGERING SECURITY”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the U.S. statement was “not true” and that the aircraft had been engaging in reconnaissance close to China’s island province of Hainan.

“It must be pointed out that U.S. military planes frequently carry out reconnaissance in Chinese coastal waters, seriously endangering Chinese maritime security,” Hong told reporters at a regular press briefing on Thursday.

“We demand that the United States immediately cease this type of close reconnaissance activity to avoid having this sort of incident happening again,” Hong said, adding that the actions of the Chinese aircraft were “completely in keeping with safety and professional standards”.

“They maintained safe behavior and did not engage in any dangerous action,” Hong said.

China’s Defense Ministry said in a fax that it was looking into reports on the incident.

The Pentagon has yet to release the precise location of the encounter.

SIGNAL OF DISPLEASURE?

In 2015, the United States and China announced agreements on a military hotline and rules of behavior to govern air-to-air encounters called the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).

“This is exactly the type of irresponsible and dangerous intercepts that the air-to-air annex to CUES is supposed to prevent,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.

Poling said either some part of China’s airforce “hadn’t gotten the message”, or it was meant as a signal of displeasure with recent U.S. freedom of navigation actions in the South China Sea.

“If the latter, it would be very disappointing to find China sacrificing the CUES annex for political gamesmanship.”

Zhang Baohui, a security expert at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, said he believed the encounter highlighted the limitation of CUES, and shows that Chinese pilots would still fly close to U.S. surveillance planes if needed.

“Frankly, we’re always going to see these kinds of incidents as China will always put the priority on national security over something like CUES whenever it feels its interests are directly threatened,” he said.

While the precise location of the encounter is not yet known, regional military attaches and experts say the southern Chinese coast is a military area of increasing sensitivity for Beijing.

Its submarine bases on Hainan are home to an expanding fleet of nuclear-armed submarines and a big target for on-going Western surveillance operations.

The Guangdong coast is also believed to be home to some of China’s most advanced missiles, including the DF-21D anti-ship weapon.

The Pentagon last month called on China to reaffirm it has no plans to deploy military aircraft in the Spratly Islands after China used a military plane to evacuate sick workers from Fiery Cross Reef, where it has built a 3,000 meter (9,800 ft) runway.

In April 2001, an intercept of a U.S. spy plane by a Chinese fighter jet resulted in a collision that killed the Chinese pilot and forced the American plane to make an emergency landing at a base on Hainan.

The 24 U.S. air crew members were held for 11 days until Washington apologized for the incident. That encounter soured U.S.-Chinese relations in the early days of President George W. Bush’s first administration.

Last month, the Pentagon said that Russia had intercepted a U.S. Air Force aircraft over the Baltic Sea in an “unsafe and unprofessional” way.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Greg Torode in Hong Kong, and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Sandra Maler, Lincoln Feast and Mike Collett-White)

In Paris, military chiefs vow to intensify Islamic State fight

PARIS (Reuters) – Defense chiefs from the United States, France, Britain and four other countries pledged on Wednesday to intensify their fight against Islamic State, in an effort to capitalize on recent battlefield gains against the militants.

Islamic State lost control of the western Iraqi city of Ramadi last month, in a sorely needed victory for U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. But critics, including some in the U.S. Congress, say the U.S. strategy is still far too weak and lacks sufficient military support from Sunni Arab allies.

“We agreed that we all must do more,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a news conference after talks in Paris among the “core” military coalition members, which also included Germany, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands.

A joint statement by the Western ministers re-committed their governments to work with the U.S.-led coalition “to accelerate and intensify the campaign.”

The Paris setting for the talks itself sent a message, coming just over two months after the city was struck by deadly shooting and bombing attacks claimed by Islamic State.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sounded an upbeat tone about the campaign, saying Islamic State was in retreat.

“Because Daesh is retreating on the ground and … because we have been able to hit its resources, it’s now time to increase our collective effort by putting in place a coherent military strategy,” he said.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the goal was now to “tighten the noose around the head of the snake in Syria in Raqqa.”

Carter forecast that the coalition would need to ramp up the number of police and military trainers. He also emphasized preparations to eventually recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State and the expanding role of U.S. special operations forces in Iraq and Syria.

COALITION NOT “WINNING”

Still, U.S. Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and other critics of U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach to the war effort say Islamic State still poses a potent threat.

“ISIL has lost some territory on the margin, but has consolidated power in its core territories in both Iraq and Syria,” McCain said at a Wednesday hearing on U.S. war strategy, using another acronym for Islamic State.

“Meanwhile, ISIL continues to metastasize across the region in places like Afghanistan, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, and Egypt. Its attacks are now global, as we saw in Paris.”

Carter has sought to lay out a strategy to confront Islamic State, both by wiping out its strongholds in Iraq and Syria and by addressing its spread beyond its self-declared caliphate.

But U.S. officials have declined to set a timeline for what could be a long-term campaign that also requires political reconciliation to ultimately succeed.

Carter announced a meeting next month of defense ministers from all 26 military members of the anti-Islamic State coalition, as well as Iraq, in what he described as the first face-to-face meeting of its kind.

“Every nation must come prepared to discuss further contributions to the fight,” he said. “And I will not hesitate to engage and challenge current and prospective members of the coalition as we go forward.”

(Additional reporting by Marine Pennetier, editing by Larry King)

Military Drones Could Carry Chemical Weapons

The military has a plan that could include drones carrying chemical weapons within the next 25 years.

The Department of Defense has released its Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap that shows a plan to have drones hunt in “swarms” that will have its own artificial intelligence that could have them deviate from a programmed mission on their own.

The drones would “deviate from mission commands” if they spot “a better target” according to a report in London’s Daily Mail.

The report also says that designs are being created to make chemicals within weapons reach a more powerful and faster explosion.

The Federal Aviation Administration says that within 20 years, there will likely be as many as 30,000 drones flying in U.S. airspace.

Department of Defense Calls Evangelical Christians and Catholics “Extremists”

On the heels of the discovery of a Pentagon training document calling the founding fathers of America “extremists” and labeling conservative organizations as hate groups, a training document has been uncovered calling evangelical Christians and Catholics as an “extremist” group in the same category as al-Qaeda and Hamas.

The document also lists Mormons on the extremist list along with Sunni Muslims. Strangely, Shia Muslims were not listed as an extremist group. Continue reading