Twitter hack raises concern in Washington

(Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers sought an explanation from Twitter Inc after hackers gained access to the social media company’s internal systems to hijack accounts of several politicians, billionaires, celebrities and companies.

The company’s shares fell nearly 3% in early trade on Thursday after hackers infiltrated the twitter handles of U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, former U.S. President Barack Obama and billionaire Elon Musk, among others, to solicit digital currency.

Twitter said hackers had targeted employees with access to its internal systems and “used this access to take control of many highly-visible (including verified) accounts and Tweet on their behalf.”

In an extraordinary step, it temporarily prevented many verified accounts from publishing messages as it investigated the breach.

The hijacked accounts tweeted out messages telling users to send bitcoin and their money would be doubled. Publicly available blockchain records show that the apparent scammers received more than $100,000 worth of cryptocurrency.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley, a tech critic, sent a letter to Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, urging him to get in touch with the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to secure the site.

“A successful attack on your system’s servers represents a threat to all of your users’ privacy and data security,” Hawley told Dorsey in the letter, demanding more answers on the impact and scope of the breach.

Frank Pallone, a Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees a sizable portion of U.S. tech policy, said in a tweet the company “needs to explain how all of these prominent accounts were hacked.”

Dorsey said in a tweet on Wednesday that it was a “tough day” for everyone at Twitter and pledged to share “everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened”.

Other high profile accounts that were hacked included rapper Kanye West, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, investor Warren Buffett, Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates, and the corporate accounts for Uber and Apple Inc.

Some analysts said hacks of this nature will not have any material impact on Twitter’s financials, others expect it to spend more on platform security to address such incidents.

The hack “certainly doesn’t help,” Joe Wittine, Edgewater Research analyst, told Reuters in an email. It will pose more of a “reputational risk”, versus “material near-term risk to advertising revenues.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Bernstein analyst Mark Shmulik said in the long-term, “maybe if a few of the ‘blue check mark’ accounts decide to leave the platform that could have a minor impact on usage.”

(Reporting by Ayanti Bera, Aakash Jagadeesh Babu and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Nandita Bose in Washington DC; Editing by Bernard Orr and Peter Graff)

Federal judge blocks Trump administration’s easing of rule on methane emissions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge in California late on Wednesday blocked a rollback by the Trump administration of a rule on slashing emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Rogers of the Northern District of California said in her ruling that the administration’s easing of the Waste Prevention Rule was contrary to the Interior Department’s mandate to ensure safe and responsible drilling on public lands, and failed to consider scientific findings relied upon by previous presidential administrations.

The Obama-era rule was meant to curb emissions from flaring and venting of natural gas and to reduce leaks. The Obama administration said the rule would fight climate change and wasted fuel costs.

The ruling was the latest blow to the Trump administration, which has pursued a policy of energy dominance, or maximizing fossil-fuel production while slashing regulations that protect the environment. The courts have also recently blocked pipelines, Keystone XL and Dakota Access.

Methane, an invisible gas, is more efficient in trapping heat than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. But it lingers for less time in the atmosphere, so reducing methane emissions could help rein in the worst impacts from climate change and warming.

The Interior Department eased the rule in September 2018, by reducing the amount of methane required to be captured at drilling locations and relaxing measures on well completions and leak detections. David Bernhardt, now secretary of the interior, said at the time the rule would “encumber energy production” and prevent creation of jobs.

Leaks from U.S. oil and gas drilling, along with a boom in agricultural production worldwide, are driving up global emissions of methane, two studies showed this week.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the ruling was crucial to addressing air pollution generated from his state’s public lands.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Trump says Congress would act if top court rejects ‘Dreamers’

By Susan Heavey and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. Congress could step in to protect the immigrants known as “Dreamers” if the Supreme Court endorses his plan to end a program protecting hundreds of thousands of these young adults who were brought into the country illegally as children.

“Republicans and Democrats will have a deal to let them stay in our country, in very short order,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Nov. 12 over Trump’s 2017 plan to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama in 2012. The immigrants protected under the program often are called “Dreamers.”

Trump and Congress have been unable to agree on legislation that would protect the “Dreamers,” with deep differences between the president’s fellow Republicans and Democratic lawmakers. The failure of Congress to pass a bipartisan immigration package is what prompted Obama to create DACA.

The DACA program currently shields about 700,000 immigrants, mostly Hispanic young adults, from deportation and provides them work permits, though not a path to citizenship.

Trump’s move to rescind DACA was blocked by lower courts.

A ruling by the Supreme Court is due by the end of June.

Trump said on Twitter that if the Supreme Court upholds DACA – which is not the legal question in the case before the justices – it would give the president “extraordinary powers.”

The Trump administration has argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers when he bypassed Congress and created DACA.

Trump himself has sought to exercise broad presidential powers over immigration, including his travel ban on people entering the United States from several Muslim-majority countries. The Supreme Court upheld that policy in 2018, recognizing wide presidential authority in this area. Trump bypassed Congress in imposing the travel ban.

The legal question before the Supreme Court is whether Trump’s administration properly followed a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act in the president’s plan to end DACA. The Supreme Court does not have to decide whether the DACA program itself was lawful.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Alison Williams and Will Dunham)

Pompeo delivers blistering critique of Obama’s Middle East policies

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry during their joint press conference following their meeting at the ministry of foreign affairs in Cairo, Egypt, January 10, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS

By Lesley Wroughton and Lena Masri

CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Barack Obama on Thursday of sowing chaos in the Middle East by failing to adequately confront Islamist militants in a blistering critique of the policies of President Donald Trump’s predecessor.

Speaking in Cairo, the site of a major speech Obama gave in 2009 in the first year of his presidency, Republican Trump’s chief diplomat took on Obama by arguing that the Democratic former president had in effect misread and abandoned the Middle East.

The comments raised eyebrows in the United States and abroad not the least because Trump himself is being criticized for his ambiguous plan announced last month to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. While that decision’s timing is unclear, it is widely seen as abandoning the region and favoring U.S. rivals Russia and Iran.

“When America retreats, chaos follows,” Pompeo said in a speech at the American University in Cairo in which he did not mention Obama by name but referred to him as “another American” who gave a speech in the capital of the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Pompeo is touring the region to explain U.S. strategy after Trump’s surprise announcement of an abrupt withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, which rattled allies and shocked top U.S. officials, prompting U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.

Describing the United States as a “force for good” in the Middle East, Pompeo sought to reassure allies that it remained committed to the “complete dismantling” of the threat posed by the Islamic State militant group despite Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Lena Masri; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Will Dunham)

Authorities probing suspicious packages sent to Hillary Clinton, Obama

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stands onstage with her husband former President Bill Clinton (L) after speaking during her California primary night rally held in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., June 7, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Makini Brice and Gabriella Borter

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal authorities are investigating suspicious packages sent to the White House, former U.S. President Barack Obama and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secret Service and a person familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

A suspicious package addressed to the White House was intercepted at an off-site facility, the source told Reuters.

The suspicious packages sent to the two top Democrats as well as a bomb sent to one of their major donors came roughly two weeks ahead of the high-stakes Nov. 6 election that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of Congress in a nation that has become deeply polarized.

The package to Clinton was found late Tuesday while the one addressed to Obama was found early Wednesday, both during routine mail screenings, the Secret Service said. Both Obama and Clinton were not at risk, they added.

The White House, in a statement, condemned the attempted attacks on Obama and Clinton.

“These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. “The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards.”

The FBI said it was investigating the packages.

“The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such,” the Secret Service said in a statement.

The package addressed to Clinton at her home in the New York suburb of Chappaqua was an explosive device, the New York Times reported.

The discovery of the packages came after a small bomb was found earlier this week at the home of billionaire liberal donor George Soros in the New York City suburb of Katonah, about 10 miles from the Clintons’ home.

“Nothing made it to their home,” Bill Clinton’s spokesman said in an email. A spokesman for Hillary Clinton referred queries to the Secret Service statement.

A spokeswoman for the Obamas declined to comment.

Chappaqua police said authorities in New Castle assisted the FBI, the Secret Service and Westchester County police with the investigation into the package sent to Clinton.

“The matter is currently under federal investigation,” the police said in a statement, referring questions to the FBI.

The device sent to Clinton was similar to the one found on Monday at Soros’ home, the Times reported, citing a law enforcement official.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Steve Holland in Washington and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Israel presents Iran nuclear files, putting pressure on U.S. to scrap deal

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

By Stephen Farrell

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up pressure on the United States to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, holding a primetime address on Israeli TV to present what he called evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Intelligence experts and diplomats said he did not seem to have presented a “smoking gun” showing that Iran had violated the agreement, although he may have helped make a case on behalf of hawks in the U.S. administration who want to scrap it.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Most of the purported evidence Netanyahu unveiled dated to the period before the 2015 accord was signed, although he said Iran had also kept important files on nuclear technology since then, and continued adding to its “nuclear weapons knowledge”.

Tehran dismissed Netanyahu as “the boy who cried wolf”, and called his presentation propaganda.

President Donald Trump has threatened to pull the United States out of the international deal unless it is renegotiated by May 12. After Netanyahu spoke, Trump repeated his criticism of the deal, suggesting he backed the Israeli leader’s remarks.

“Iran’s leaders repeatedly deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said at Israel’s Defence Ministry, standing in front of stacks of files representing what he described as a vault full of Iranian nuclear documents obtained weeks before.

“Tonight I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied.”

“Iran lied about never having a nuclear weapons program,” he said. “One hundred thousand secret files prove it did. Second, even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowledge for future use.”

Although the presentation was live on Israeli television, Netanyahu made clear that his audience was abroad: he delivered most of his speech in English, before switching to Hebrew.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Netanyahu said he had already shared the new intelligence with the United States and would dispatch envoys to France and Germany to present it. He also spoke by phone to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tehran has denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and accuses its arch-foe Israel of stirring up world suspicions against it.

However, much of what Netanyahu presented is unlikely to surprise world powers, which have long concluded that Iran was pursuing atomic weapons before the agreement was signed in 2015: that is why they imposed sanctions in the first place. The agreement lifted those sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear work.

The French ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, tweeted that information about past Iranian nuclear activity was in fact an argument in favor of the nuclear deal, not against it.

Washington’s European allies say Tehran has generally abided by the terms of the deal since then, and have urged Trump not to scrap it. Some independent analysts and diplomats said Netanyahu appeared to be presenting old evidence.

Eran Etzion, former deputy Israeli national security adviser who now heads the Israeli-European think-tank Forum of Strategic Dialogue, said on Twitter: “No ‘smoking gun’ was revealed this evening, nor was it proven that Iran is today developing nuclear weaponry or violating the (nuclear deal) in any other way.”

A senior European diplomat told Reuters: “We knew all of this and what especially stands out is that Netanyahu doesn’t speak of any recorded violations” of the deal itself.

Speaking after Netanyahu’s presentation, Trump told a White House news conference the nuclear deal was “a horrible agreement for the United States”. He said it would let Tehran develop nuclear arms after seven years and had “proven right what Israel has done today” with Netanyahu’s disclosures.

However, Washington itself has concluded that Iran has not violated the deal’s terms. Two U.S. intelligence officials who have monitored Iran’s nuclear weapons program for years said nothing in Netanyahu’s remarks appeared to contradict that view.

“We have seen no new and credible evidence that Iran is violating the agreement, wither in the Prime Minister’s remarks today or from other sources,” said one of the officials, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Moments before Netanyahu spoke Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again”.

Abbas Araqchi, a senior Iranian foreign ministry official, was quoted by Iran’s Tasnim news agency as calling Netanyahu’s presentation “a childish and ridiculous game” with the goal of influencing Trump’s decision ahead of the May 12 deadline.

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, though it neither confirms nor denies possessing atomic weapons.

(Reporting by Rami Amichay, Stephen Farrell, Ori Lewis, Ari Rabinovitch, Dan Williams, Arshad Mohammed, John Irish, John Walcott, Parisa Hafezi, Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Graff)

Attorney General Sessions sets up Hezbollah investigation team

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has set up a team to investigate individuals and organizations providing support to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Islamist group in Lebanon that the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday.

Republicans have criticized former President Barack Obama following a December Politico report that the Obama administration hindered a Drug Enforcement Administration program targeting Hezbollah’s trafficking operations during its negotiation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Republican President Donald Trump says Obama gave away too much to Iran to secure the agreement, which gives Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Sessions said the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors for the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team to ensure all investigations under the DEA program, called Project Cassandra, will be completed.

“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” Sessions said.

(Reporting by Blake Brittain; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Bernadette Baum)

Houston-area woman charged with mailing explosives to Obama, Texas governor

Houston-area woman charged with mailing explosives to Obama, Texas governor

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A Houston-area woman has been charged with mailing booby-trapped packages designed to explode to former U.S. President Barack Obama, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and a federal office in Maryland.

Julia Poff, 46, was ordered held in jail last week ahead of trial after she was indicted on charges of mailing packages last year that were designed to kill, transporting explosives and other criminal counts, court documents showed.

“Poff presents a real safety risk to witnesses and others in the community,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy wrote in a five-page order outlining the case.

Poff, who was charged earlier this month and pleaded not guilty last week, reached out to the Houston Chronicle to defend herself, the newspaper reported on its website on Thursday.

Poff told the Chronicle that investigators had taken trash from her home. The trash was “used in some serious crimes that we did not commit and know nothing about,” she was quoted as saying.

It was not clear whom Poff was referring to as “we.”

An explosive-laden package mailed to Obama in October 2016, while he was still in office, contained hair that an FBI crime lab matched to one of Poff’s cats, the judge wrote in the detention order.

Poff is said to have expressed dislike for Obama, who is a Democrat, according to the order. Packages sent to Obama and the U.S. Social Security Administration in Maryland were both stopped in screening, according to Houston TV station KPRC.

In October 2016, Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, opened a third package that also was rigged to explode, but it failed to detonate.

The judge’s detention order said Poff was upset with Abbott because she believed that in his previous role as state attorney general, he played a part in her inability to receive support from her ex-husband.

It was unclear what type of support Poff might have sought. The state attorney general’s office has a division that handles requests for child support after a divorce or separation.

The packages sent to Obama, the Social Security Administration and Abbott contained pyrotechnic powder, and investigators found a large amount of fireworks at Poff’s home in Brookshire, west of Houston, the court order said.

Poff is represented by a public defender, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

She is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on Jan. 2.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney)

Russia pledges ‘harsh response’ to U.S. tit-for-tat measures

A sign outside the entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia is shown in San Francisco, California, U.S., August 31, 2017.

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it would respond harshly to any U.S. measures designed to hurt it, a day after the United States told Moscow to close its San Francisco consulate and buildings in Washington and New York.

The warning, from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, came as Russia said it was weighing a response to the U.S. move that will force it to shutter two trade missions in the United States as well as the San Francisco consulate by Sept. 2.

“We’ll react as soon as we finish our analysis,” Lavrov told students in Moscow. “We will respond harshly to things that damage us.”

Separately, a top Kremlin aide complained the U.S. demarche pushed bilateral ties further into a blind alley and fuelled a spiral of tit-for-tat retaliatory measures.

U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, saying he wanted to improve U.S.-Russia ties which were at a post-Cold War low. But since then, ties have frayed further after U.S. intelligence officials said Russia had meddled in the presidential election, something Moscow denies.

Trump, himself battling allegations his associates colluded with Russia, grudgingly signed new sanctions on Moscow into law this month which had been drawn up by Congress.

When it became clear those measures would become law, Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people.

Lavrov hinted on Friday that Russia might look at ordering further reductions in U.S. embassy staff, suggesting Moscow had been generous last time by allowing Washington to keep “more than 150” extra people.

He said Russia had cut the U.S. numbers to tally with the number of Russian diplomats in the United States, but that Moscow had generously included more than 150 Russian staff who work at Russia’s representation office at the United Nations.

Lavrov said Moscow still hoped for better relations and blamed Trump’s political foes for the deteriorating situation.

“I want to say that this whole story with exchanging tit-for-tat sanctions was not started by us,” Lavrov said.

“It was started by the Obama administration to undermine U.S.-Russia relations and to not allow Trump to advance constructive ideas or fulfil his pre-election pledges.”

Barack Obama, then outgoing president, expelled 35 suspected Russian spies in December and seized two Russian diplomatic compounds. President Vladimir Putin paused before responding, saying he would wait to see how Trump handled Russia.

“We thought this administration could exercise common sense, but unfortunately the Russophobes in Congress are not allowing it to,” said Lavrov, who complained that the United States had only given Moscow 48 hours to comply with its latest demands.

 

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

 

Russia to decide next week on retaliation against U.S. over compound seizures

Killenworth, an estate built in 1913 for George du Pont Pratt and purchased by the former Soviet Union in the 1950's, is seen in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, U.S., on December 30, 2016. REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will next week take a decision about if and how it will retaliate against the United States over the seizure of its diplomatic compounds on U.S. soil, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The outgoing Obama administration expelled 35 suspected Russian spies late last year and seized two diplomatic compounds over what it said was the hacking of U.S. political groups during the 2016 presidential election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to retaliate immediately, saying he would wait to see what the new administration of Donald Trump would do.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, told a news briefing on Friday that “time was running out” for the problem to be resolved.

She said Moscow’s course of action would depend on the outcome of a meeting in Washington on July 17 between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon.

Russia expected U.S. officials to set out proposals aimed at resolving the issue at that meeting, she added.

One possible retaliatory measure would be to reduce staff levels at the U.S. embassy in Moscow to those of the Russian embassy in Washington, she said.

(Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)