U.S. arrested two Yemenis on terror watchlist who tried to cross border from Mexico

By Ted Hesson and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. border agents in recent months arrested two Yemeni men on a terror watchlist in separate incidents as they crossed the border with Mexico illegally, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced on Monday.

The men, arrested in January and March near a port of entry in California, were on a U.S. government watchlist for terrorism suspects and a “no-fly” list, CBP said in a press release.

A group of Republican lawmakers that visited the border in El Paso, Texas, in March said border agents told them during the trip that some people caught crossing the border were on a U.S. terrorism watchlist. Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden for easing some restrictions put in place by former President Donald Trump as the number of border crossings has risen in recent months.

One of the men, aged 33, was arrested on Jan. 29 after allegedly attempting to cross the border illegally near a port of entry in Calexico, California, CBP said.

Border agents found a mobile phone SIM card located beneath the insole of the man’s shoe, the agency said.

The second man, aged 26, was arrested on March 30 in the same vicinity.

A CBP spokesman said in a written statement that it is “very uncommon” for border agents to encounter people suspected of terrorism at U.S. borders, but that the arrests underscore the agency’s “critical” vetting efforts.

The agency did not provide the names of the men.

The watchlist is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Terrorism Screening Center. The list contains “the identities of those who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities,” according to the FBI.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

White House cyber adviser says it will take months to investigate Russian hack

By Christopher Bing

(Reuters) – The White House’s top cybersecurity adviser said on Wednesday an investigation into a sprawling Russian hacking operation against the United States, known as the SolarWinds hack, will take several more months to complete.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger said that a total of nine federal agencies and 100 private-sector companies had been affected by the hack, which first came to light in December.

She also said that a number of the affected private-sector companies were technology companies, which were breached to facilitate access to other victims.

The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and several other U.S. government agencies have been digging into affected computer networks ever since the hacks’ discovery to find clues about the attackers. While multiple U.S. government officials have said the hackers came from Russia, they have offered little additional detail.

“We believe it took them months to plan and compromise,” said Neuberger. “It will take us some time to uncover this layer by layer.”

The Biden administration is currently working on set of cybersecurity policies to prevent a similar style attack, and Neuberger predicted some of these recommendations would become part of an upcoming “executive action.”

Government statements and public reporting have revealed that a diverse list of federal agencies were breached by the hackers, including the Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce departments. In those cases, the hackers typically attempted to steal emails belonging to high-ranking officials, Reuters previously reported.

“When there is a compromise of this scope & scale, both across govt & across the U.S. technology sector to lead to follow on intrusions, it is more than a single incident of espionage,” said Neuberger. “It’s fundamentally of concern for the ability for this to become disruptive.”

The recent government cyberattack is commonly referred to as the SolarWinds hack because of how the cyber spies exploited software created and sold by Texas technology company SolarWinds, which makes a popular network management tool that is commonly deployed across both U.S. government and private sector computer networks.

While SolarWinds was the first known supply chain victim of this hacking campaign, cybersecurity experts and government officials have cautioned that other technology companies were similarly exploited as part of the same operation.

(Reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Chris Reese, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)

Woman may have tried to sell Pelosi computer device to Russians, FBI says

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement is investigating whether a woman took a laptop computer or hard drive from U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol and tried to sell the device to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing.

An FBI agent disclosed the detail in an affidavit released on Sunday night that outlined a criminal case against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman accused of unlawfully breaching the Capitol building and directing people to Pelosi’s office.

The theft of electronic devices from congressional offices has been a persistent worry following the siege.

Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said after the attack that some of the thefts might have potentially jeopardized what he described as “national security equities.”

According to the affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the FBI received a tip from someone who stated they were a former romantic partner of Williams.

The tipster said Williams “intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service,” the affidavit stated.

According to the tipster, “the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it,” the affidavit stated. The investigation remains open.

Williams could not be reached for comment.

According to the FBI, it appears Williams has fled an address near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that she shared with her mother, deactivated her phone number, and took down social media accounts.

A Pelosi spokesman, Drew Hammill, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two days after the Capitol siege, Hammill said a laptop used for presentations was stolen from a conference room in Pelosi’s office. It was unclear whether that device was the one Williams was accused of taking.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Brad Heath; Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller)

Authorities still searching for motive in Nashville blast

(Reuters) – Federal, state and local law enforcement officers on Monday were searching for the motive behind a bombing that rocked Nashville on Christmas morning, with evidence pointing to the 63-year-old suspect on a suicide mission that took only his life.

The FBI on Sunday identified the suspect as Anthony Q. Warner and said he died in the blast, which damaged more than 40 businesses in downtown Nashville, Tennessee’s largest city and the United States’ country music capital.

Warner’s motor home exploded at dawn on Friday moments after police responding to reports of gunfire noticed it and heard music and an automated message emanating from the vehicle warning of a bomb. Police hurried to evacuate people in the area, and Warner is the only person known to have died in the blast.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has said that local officials felt there had to be some connection between the bombing, which occurred near an AT&T Inc transmission building on the city’s busy Second Avenue, and the building.

But officials have maintained it was too early in the investigation to discuss the suspect’s motives.

Council Member Freddie O’Connell, whose district includes Second Avenue, said officials have been reluctant to speculate about motive or to label the bombing an act of terrorism because it was still unclear whether Warner was driven by any ideology.

“It may be some time before we get even close to having some of these questions answered,” O’Connell said.

The explosion injured three people and damaged businesses, disrupting mobile, internet and TV services across central Tennessee and parts of four other states.

Investigators searched Warner’s home on Saturday and visited a Nashville real estate agency where he had worked part-time, providing computer consulting services.

Speaking to Fox News on Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee described the damage in Nashville as “enormous” and said he expected President Donald Trump would shortly grant his request to declare a state of emergency to assist the state.

“It was a indescribable blast and it’s destroyed businesses all up and down that downtown block,” Lee said.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Susan Heavey in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Trump pardons former adviser Flynn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A retired Army general, Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about interactions he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

He has since sought to withdraw the plea, arguing that prosecutors violated his rights and duped him into a plea agreement. His sentencing has been deferred several times.

Flynn was one of several former Trump aides to plead guilty or be convicted at trial in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s candidacy. Russia denied meddling.

Trump in March said he was strongly considering a full pardon for Flynn. He said the FBI and Justice Department had “destroyed” Flynn’s life and that of his family.

The Justice Department has repeatedly denied allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, and U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected all of Flynn’s claims in December 2019.

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge in January to sentence Flynn to up to six months in prison, arguing in a court filing that “the defendant has not learned his lesson. He has behaved as though the law does not apply to him, and as if there are no consequences for his actions.”

Flynn joined the Trump 2016 election campaign and at the Republican National Convention that year he led supporters in chants of “Lock her up,” in reference to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Howard Goller)

FBI investigating robocalls urging people to ‘stay home’ on Election Day

By Christopher Bing, Elizabeth Culliford and Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI is looking into a spate of mysterious robocalls urging people to stay home on Election Day as the nation remains on high alert to ensure voting is not compromised, a Department of Homeland Security official said Tuesday.

U.S. state and local officials have been raising the alarm over at least two separate automated call campaigns as million of Americans cast their votes on Tuesday to decide between President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden.

Experts who spoke to Reuters say they are mystified by one of the campaigns, which tells people to remain home but does not explicitly mention voting.

“There’s a little bit of confusion about this one across the industry,” said Giulia Porter, vice president at RoboKiller, a company that fights telemarketers and robocalls and has been tracking the campaign.

Audio of the calls, which RoboKiller shared with Reuters, features a synthetic female voice saying: “Hello. This is just a test call. Time to stay home. Stay safe and stay home.” Porter said the call had been placed millions of times in the past 11 months or so but had on Tuesday shot up to No. 5 or No. 6 in the list of top spam calls.

“This robocall is being sent at a very high volume,” she said.

Porter said her company was still in the process of compiling figures on the campaign’s intensity on Tuesday but estimated that “thousands or tens of thousands” of people had received it.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

One of them was Hashim Warren, a 40-year-old Democratic voter who lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, and works in marketing at a web development company.

Warren, who is Black, said the call triggered anxieties he and his wife already had about potential violence around the election from far-right supporters of President Donald Trump.

“Instead of saying like, Election Day is not today, the fact that it said ‘stay safe’ felt both vile and prescient as if they knew there were other things, real things happening in the world, not robocalls, that were making myself and my wife feel anxious,” Warren said in a telephone interview.

Janaka Stucky, 42, a Democratic voter who lives in Medford, Massachusetts, also received the robocall this morning.

“My first thought was that actually it was a municipal test call for a COVID lockdown thing,” he told Reuters.

“The more I thought about it I was like, oh this actually feels really off and weird and then started to feel like it was some sort of, maybe, voter suppression effort,” he added.

He said he voted weeks ago. “Joke’s on the robocalls. I’m stocked up on Halloween candy and I already voted,” he said.

Robocalls with similar or identical messages urging people to stay home were reported in series of battleground states including Florida and Iowa.

In Michigan, officials said they had reports of a separate batch of robocalls urging residents in the heavily Black city of Flint to “vote tomorrow” due to purported long lines.

“Obviously this is FALSE and an effort to suppress the vote,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a message posted to Twitter. “Don’t fall for it.”

It’s unclear what relation, if any, the Michigan calls have to do with the “stay home” calls.

Robocalls have long been a problem in the United States, which has struggled for years to put a lid on unwanted or scammy messages.

AT&T Inc, one of America’s leading telecommunications providers, did not return a message seeking comment. Verizon Communications Inc referred questions to USTelecom, an industry association.

USTelecom did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

(Reporting by Christopher Bing, Raphael Satter, and Elizabeth Culliford; Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in London.; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Emotional Louisville braces for more unrest after Breonna Taylor ruling

By Bryan Woolston

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) – Louisville braced for a second night of protests on Thursday after two police officers were shot during demonstrations over a decision by a grand jury not to file homicide charges against police in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Protests erupted in the Kentucky city on Wednesday after the state attorney general announced that a grand jury did not bring any charges for the six police bullets that struck Taylor, a Black woman, but instead lesser charges against one of the white policemen for stray shots that hit the neighboring apartment.

Civil rights activists decried the outcome as a miscarriage of justice and part of a nationwide pattern of unwarranted police violence against minorities.

The demonstration started peacefully and emotionally on Wednesday night, with many protesters in tears after they had mourned Taylor for months, demanding the arrest of the officers involved.

Louisville turned violent after dark when the two officers were shot and wounded. Police arrested 127 people in Louisville, including Larynzo Johnson, 26, who was charged with two counts of assault in the first degree and 14 counts of wanton endangerment in connection with the wounding of the two officers.

“We are extremely fortunate these two officers will recover,” interim Louisville Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Schroeder said.

“For all of us it is a very tense and emotional time,” he added.

The Louisville protest was the latest in a wave to grip the country following the killings of African Americans by police, including the May 25 death of George Floyd when a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck.

Demonstrators led by the Black Lives Matter movement have demanded an end to racial injustice and excessive police force.

With people already casting ballots in early voting for the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, the demonstrations have drawn not only peaceful anti-racism protests but also a volatile mix of armed, right-wing militias and anarchists.

On Wednesday, protests also flared in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, Oakland, Philadelphia, Denver, Portland and Seattle, where police said 13 were arrested for property destruction, resisting arrest, failure to disperse and assault on an officer.

In Buffalo, New York, a pickup truck sped into a group of demonstrators, injuring one person, video on social media showed.

GIRDING FOR UNREST

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency ahead of the grand jury announcement, ordering much of the center of town barricaded and setting a 9 p.m. curfew that remained in effect on Thursday.

National Guard units gathered in a central Louisville parking garage and a heavy vehicle known as a wrecker was seen driving into town, social media images showed.

“Tonight I expect more people to hit the streets. I expect the police to continue to antagonize and provoke. Hopefully and prayerfully, no one gets hurt tonight,” said Timothy Findley Jr., 41, a leader of the Justice & Freedom Coalition and a pastor with the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville.

Police said some protesters damaged businesses, jumped on a police vehicle, vandalized public works trucks serving as barricades, set garbage cans on fire and defied orders to disperse from what police determined were unlawful assemblies.

At least three stores were looted, police said.

Taylor’s death on March 13 drew little national attention at first but was thrust into prominence after Floyd’s death and with the help of celebrities such as Hollywood stars and basketball great LeBron James.

Demonstrations under the banner “Say her name!” have been held in Louisville for months.

Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician and aspiring nurse, was killed in front of her armed boyfriend after the three officers forced their way into her home with a search warrant in a drug-trafficking investigation.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the panel declined to bring any charges against two of the three policemen who fired into Taylor’s apartment because their actions were found to have been justified under Kentucky law as they returned fire after Taylor’s boyfriend shot at them, wounding one.

Police fired a total of 32 shots after the one round from Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who said he fired a warning shot because he feared a criminal intrusion and did not hear police identify themselves.

(Reporting by Bryan Woolston in Louisville; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)

Canada police say six ricin-filled letters sent to U.S., including to White House

By Christinne Muschi

LONGUEUIL, Quebec (Reuters) – Canadian police on Monday searched an apartment in a Montreal suburb that is linked to the woman arrested for sending a ricin-filled envelope to the White House and to five other addresses in Texas, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said.

U.S. authorities arrested a woman at the U.S.-Canada border near Buffalo, New York, on Sunday on suspicion that she sent the deadly poison by mail, addressed to the White House. The woman has joint Canadian and French citizenship, two sources said on Monday.

“We believe a total of six letters were sent, one to the White House and five to Texas,” RCMP officer Charles Poirier said outside the modern brown and grey building where the search was taking place. “We can’t confirm that she lived in (the apartment), but it is connected to her.”

Poirier could not say where in Texas the envelopes were mailed, but the police department in Mission, Texas, received a suspicious letter within the last week, Art Flores, a spokesman for the department, said. The department did not open the envelope and turned it over to the FBI, he said.

Flores also said the Mission police had arrested the woman now believed to be held in Buffalo in early 2019, but said he did not have records related to the arrest and referred further inquiries to the FBI.

The woman’s name has yet to be released.

The FBI is investigating several suspected ricin letters sent to law enforcement and detention facilities in South Texas, a U.S. law enforcement source told Reuters.

So far they have not found any link to political or terrorist groups, but the investigation is ongoing, the source said.

The RCMP’s special Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives team is leading the operation, the RCMP said.

On Saturday, the RCMP confirmed the White House letter had apparently been sent from Canada and said the FBI had requested assistance.

The envelope was intercepted at a government mail center before it arrived at the White House.

Ricin is found naturally in castor beans but it takes a deliberate act to convert it into a biological weapon. Ricin can cause death within 36 to 72 hours from exposure to an amount as small as a pinhead. No known antidote exists.

(Reporting by Christinne Muschi in Longueuil, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Mark Hosenball in Washington, additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

U.S. Justice Department unveils reforms for FBI wiretap applications

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it was implementing new compliance reforms at the FBI to minimize errors when it applies for wiretaps, following revelations it made numerous mistakes during its probe into President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Attorney General William Barr released two new memos outlining sweeping changes, including the creation of a new internal auditing office as well as a list of additional steps the FBI must undertake before filing an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Under the new protocol, if the FBI is seeking to monitor communications of an elected official or candidate, the director must first consider offering the target a defensive briefing, and the wiretap application must be approved by the Attorney General.

“The additional reforms announced today, which we worked on closely with the Attorney General’s office, will build on the FBI’s efforts to bolster its compliance program,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

The reforms could help take some heat off the bureau, which has been under fire for missteps in its early-stage investigation known as “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

In December, the department’s inspector released a major report scrutinizing the FBI’s FISA applications to spy on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.

He uncovered 17 major mistakes in the FBI’s applications – errors that were so substantial, they prompted a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to issue a rare public rebuke of the FBI.

His findings have also since led to criminal charges against former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who in August pleaded guilty to doctoring in email used as a basis to renew an application to monitor Page.

Former FBI lawyer to plead guilty as part of Russia probe: defendant’s lawyer

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A former FBI lawyer will plead guilty to falsifying a document as part of a federal probe into the origins of an investigation into possible contacts between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, an attorney for the former FBI lawyer said on Friday.

The former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, will admit he changed an email from the CIA that was used in seeking renewed court permission in 2017 for a secret wiretap on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, the New York Times reported.

“Kevin deeply regrets having altered the email,” Justin Shur, a lawyer for Clinesmith, told Reuters in an email.

“It was never his intent to mislead the court or his colleagues as he believed the information he relayed was accurate. But Kevin understands what he did was wrong and accepts responsibility,” Shur added.

Prosecutors were not expected to reveal any evidence that shows a broader conspiracy that would cast doubt on the decision by the Obama Administration to open a Russia investigation, according to the Times.

But after Clinesmith’s guilty plea was announced, President Trump suggested further similar cases were in the works.

“That’s just the beginning, I would imagine, because what happened should never happen again,” Trump said on Friday, describing Clinesmith as a “corrupt FBI attorney”.

“The fact is they spied on my campaign and they got caught. And you’ll be hearing more,” Trump said.

Clinesmith wrote texts expressing opposition to President Trump, according to the Times, which said Trump is likely to tout Clinesmith’s anticipated guilty plea as evidence the Russia investigation initiated by the administration of President Barack Obama was illegitimate and politically motivated.

According to a criminal information filed in Federal court in Washington D.C. on Friday, Clinesmith altered an email from another unnamed government agency, believed to be the CIA, to say that an unnamed individual, believed to be Page, “was not a source,” even though an email from the other government agency did not say that.

In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr predicted there would be a “development” on Friday in the investigation by John Durham, a Connecticut-based federal prosecutor whom Barr named to investigate the origins of federal investigations into alleged contacts between Trump advisors and Russia in 2016.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Franklin Paul, Chris Reese and David Gregorio)