Russia the main suspect in U.S. diplomats’ illness in Cuba: NBC

FILE PHOTO: Cuban employees enter the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia is the main suspect in U.S. agencies’ investigation of mysterious illnesses in American personnel in Cuba and China, NBC News reported on Tuesday.

Evidence from communications intercepts has pointed to Moscow’s involvement during the investigation involving the FBI, CIA and other agencies, NBC reported, citing three unidentified U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the probe.

The evidence, however, is not conclusive enough for the United States to assign blame publicly to Moscow, according to the NBC report.

The FBI said it did not have a comment on the NBC report. A U.S. government source familiar with official assessments said intelligence agencies would not confirm the report.

U.S. officials said in July that they are still investigating health problems at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, and do not know who or what was behind the mysterious illnesses, which began in 2016 and have affected 26 Americans.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told Reuters on Tuesday, “We have made no determination on who or what is responsible for the health attacks.”

Symptoms have included hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with “mild traumatic brain injury,” State Department officials have said.

The State Department said in June it brought a group of diplomats home from Guangzhou, China, over concern they were suffering from a mysterious malady resembling brain injury.

Cuban officials, who are conducting their own investigation, have denied involvement.

The United States believes sophisticated electromagnetic weapons may have been used on government workers, possibly in conjunction with other technologies, NBC reported.

The U.S. military has been trying to reverse-engineer the weapon or weapons used to harm the diplomats, including by testing various devices on animals, NBC said, citing Trump administration officials, congressional aides, and others.

Part of the work is being done at the directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves, NBC said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lesley Wroughton, Mark Hosenball; Editing by Susan Thomas and Dan Grebler)

NBC plans to show player protests if they occur at Super Bowl

Some members of the Cleveland Browns team kneel, while others stand, during the National Anthem before the start of their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, U.S., September 24, 2017. USA TODAY

By Lisa Richwine

PASADENA, California (Reuters) – U.S. television network NBC, broadcaster of this year’s Super Bowl, will show any players who kneel during the pre-game national anthem to protest racial inequality, the game’s executive producer said on Tuesday.

Several dozen National Football League players kneeled, sat or locked arms during “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the regular season, drawing rebukes from President Donald Trump who called it unpatriotic. Game broadcasters showed the protests during the initial weeks but reduced coverage of them later.

The anthem is typically shown live before the Super Bowl and this year will be performed by pop singer Pink at the Feb. 4 championship.

If any players decide to kneel at the Super Bowl, NBC will cover it, executive producer Fred Gaudelli said at a Television Critics Association event in Pasadena, California.

“When you are covering a live event, you are covering what’s happening,” Gaudelli said. “If there are players who choose to kneel, they will be shown live.”

Announcers likely will identify the players, explain the reasons behind the actions, “and then get on with the game,” Gaudelli said.

He also noted that the number of protests had waned since Thanksgiving.

The players who kneeled during the regular season said they were protesting the killing by police of unarmed black men and boys across the United States, as well as racial disparities in the criminal justice system. More than half of all NFL players are black.

The Super Bowl is the year’s most-watched U.S. television broadcast, attracting an audience of more than 100 million people. NBC is a unit of Comcast Corp.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Tillerson says he never considered resigning

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes a statement to the media that he is not going to resign, at the State Department in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Doina Chiacu and Yara Bayoumy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday he had never considered resigning and that he was committed to Donald Trump’s agenda but declined to directly address whether he had referred to the president as a “moron” as NBC News has reported.

The top U.S. diplomat, whose tenure has been dogged with rumors about unhappiness with Trump’s policies and rhetoric, said he was committed to Trump’s agenda as much today as he was when he first accepted the offer to serve as secretary of state.

Tillerson spoke after NBC reported that Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials had intervened to persuade him not to resign this summer as tensions rose between Trump and Tillerson.

“The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post,” Tillerson said in a hastily prepared news conference at the State Department.

“My commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state,” Tillerson said.

In a session with Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials at the Pentagon, Tillerson openly criticized the president and referred to him as a “moron,” NBC reported, citing three officials familiar with the incident.

Tillerson, who said he had not spoken to Trump on Wednesday, sidestepped the issue when taking questions after his statement:

“I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said, adding, “I’m not from this place (Washington), but the places I come from we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense.”

Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon and former president of the Boy Scouts, also said of Trump: “He’s smart. He demands results.”

Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson over the weekend when the president tweeted that he told him that he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson offered a vigorous defense of both the U.S. president and his foreign policy even though the White House and State Department have at times appeared to differ on policy.

“President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country,” Tillerson said.


The White House said Trump has confidence in Tillerson.

“As we’ve said many times before, if the president doesn’t have confidence in somebody, that person will not remain in that position,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Air Force One.

Pence, in a statement, said he never discussed with Tillerson the prospect of the secretary of state’s resignation.

In a tweet, Trump called on NBC to apologize for its story.

NBC News anchor Hallie Jackson said on air after Trump’s tweets: “NBC will not be issuing an apology to America as the president is calling for because again … the secretary did not refute directly some of the key points” in the story.

Several NBC journalists who reported the story also stood by their piece, saying on MSNBC that their reporting was true.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has played down any tensions between Trump and Tillerson over their apparent split, most recently over North Korea.

Tillerson’s insistence that he completely supports Trump’s agenda runs counter to what some administration officials have privately described as him chafing against some of the president’s pronouncements and off-the-cuff decisions, sometimes contrary to advice from senior advisers.

“… this was a stunning and unprecedented statement by a secretary of state in response to a news report about his comments about the president,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for both Republican and Democratic administrations and now an analyst at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

One U.S. official said the view of many within the administration was that despite Tillerson’s denial of having contemplated resignation, “it’s only a matter of time” before he does consider it.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no reason to believe that Trump would give up his habit of publicly contradicting Tillerson and that each time speculation on his future would resurface.

Tillerson has often found himself at odds with the president on a range of issues, according to current and former U.S. officials and media reports.

He has taken a more hawkish view on Russia and tried to mediate a dispute among key U.S. Mideast allies after four Arab nations boycotted Qatar over its alleged extremist ties.

Tillerson also appeared to distance himself from Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer, saying at the time “the president speaks for himself” when asked about Trump’s values.

Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said Tillerson was working under very difficult circumstances because there are a number of people in the administration who are undermining his authority by trying to act as secretary of state on a daily basis. He declined to name names.

Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he had never heard Tillerson make the kind of comment of calling someone a moron.

Asked whether he supported Tillerson, Corker said:

“As a team, Tillerson, Mattis and (White House Chief of Staff John) Kelly help separate us from chaos, so I absolutely support ‘em. Absolutely.”

Tillerson was confirmed by only 56-43 at his Senate confirmation hearing in January, an unusually low confirmation for a secretary of state.

Many members of Congress, including Republicans, strongly object to Tillerson’s plans to slash the State Department and foreign aid budgets.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Matt Spetalnick, Mohammad Zargham, Patricia Zengerle, Tim Ahmann, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Susan Cornwell in Washington; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and James Dalgleish)

Idaho and California Hit With Quakes

Weekend earthquakes shook California and caused rock slides in Idaho.

Two back-to-back quakes struck southern California Saturday night with the strongest a magnitude 4.2 according to the U.S. Geological Survey.  That quake was centered around 8 miles north of Castaic, California.

“All of the sudden it was two big rattles and little rumbles afterwards,” Castaic resident Jessica Shickle told NBC Los Angeles. “It was like the Lord literally just took our house and just kind of gave it a couple shakes, and that was it and it went away.”

USGS seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones told NBC the quake was basically small.

“This really is a very small earthquake,” Dr. Jones said. “It’s a size that’s relatively common in Southern California. I did a check and there were eight earthquakes 4.2 and larger in 2014.”

On Sunday, a 4.9 magnitude quake rocked Challis, Idaho and surrounding areas.  The quake was followed by aftershocks of 4.0 and 3.6 a few hours later.

The 4.9 quake caused rock slides that blocked roadways but officials say there were no serious injuries.

NBC Cameraman Free Of Ebola

Ashoka Mukpo, the NBC freelance cameraman who contracted Ebola while working with NBC’s medical reporter in Africa, has been declared free of the virus.

Mukpo announced the news via Twitter.

“Just got my results. 3 consecutive days negative. Ebola free and feeling so blessed. I fought and won, with lots of help. Amazing feeling,” Mukpo tweeted. “Recovering from Ebola is a truly humbling feeling. Too many are not as fortunate and lucky as I’ve been. I’m very happy to be alive.”

Mukpo spent two weeks in a biocontainment unit.  He said despite his ordeal he had no regrets about covering the outbreak in Liberia.

“For the record – no idea how I got it. It was something fluky. My best guess is I touched a surface and didn’t chlorinate fast enough,” he tweeted. “I was around a lot of sick people the week before I got sick. Thought I was keeping a good distance, wish I knew exactly what went wrong.”

Two other Americans with the virus are still fighting the disease.  The National Institutes of Health is treating nurse Nina Pham and upgraded her condition from fair to good.

NBC Says Planned Parenthood Lying About Denying Commercial Buy

Planned Parenthood has been launching a social media campaign attacking NBC, claiming the network refused a commercial for a movie that contains the word “abortion”.

However, NBC says the representatives of the movie never contacted them regarding any interest in buying spots to promote their movie.

Planned Parenthood’s president released a statement slamming the network with the propaganda claim that the “vast majority” of Americans support abortion and that the network “belongs in another decade” for not running commercials for the movie Obvious Child.  They ran a campaign on twitter telling NBC to “stop the stigma” of abortion.

NBC released a statement saying that the claims of the pro-abortion group are false.

“No final spots were submitted to NBC broadcast standards for on-air consideration and NBC broadcast advertising sales was never contacted about a media buy on NBC for spots related to this movie,” explained an NBC spokesperson. “Moreover, initial feedback from our broadcast standards group did not include any suggestion to remove a specific word.”

The movie, which Newsbusters’ Katie Yoder reviewed as “little more than slick pro-abortion” political propaganda, is being presented as a romantic comedy about a character who gets an abortion after becoming pregnant from a one night stand.