San Francisco tour guide charged with carrying U.S. secrets to China

By Dan Whitcomb and Katie Paul

(Reuters) – A San Francisco tour guide has been charged with being an agent of the Chinese government, accused of picking up U.S. national security secrets from furtive locations and delivering them cloak and dagger style to Beijing, federal prosecutors said on Monday.

Xuehua Peng, also known as Edward Peng, was arrested on Friday in the San Francisco suburb of Hayward, California, and was denied bail during an initial court appearance by a U.S. magistrate judge that same day, federal prosecutors said at a Monday morning news conference.

“The conduct charged in this case alleges a combination of age-old spycraft and modern technology,” U.S. Attorney David Anderson said.

“Defendant Xuehua (Edward) Peng is charged with executing dead drops, delivering payments, and personally carrying to Beijing, China, secure digital cards containing classified information related to the national security of the United States,” Anderson said.

Peng, 56, is not accused of stealing secrets from the U.S. government himself, but is charged with acting as a courier who between October 2015 and June 2018 picked up classified information from the “dead drops” in Oakland and Newark, California, and Columbus, Georgia and delivering them to his handlers from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) in Beijing.

FBI agents began conducting surveillance on Peng after a double agent, referred to in court papers only as “the Source,” was told by MSS officers in March 2015 that “Ed”, who had family and business dealings in China, could be relied on.

“I believe that ‘Ed’ – who was later identified as Peng – had been instructed in spycraft, practiced it and knew that he was working for intelligence operatives of the PRC,” FBI Agent Spiro Fokas, said in a sworn affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

An MSS officer told the Source that the ministry “control(s) everything about Ed’s” company and would “cut him off” if he did not do as told.

According to Fokas’ affidavit, the double agent on several occasions passed information to Peng for delivery to Beijing, dropping them at the front desk of a hotel or in rooms reserved by Peng.

The dead drops sometimes involved Peng leaving $10,000 or $20,000 taped in white envelopes inside the drawer of a television stand and retrieving secure digital cards with the classified information, according to the court papers.

Peng then flew to Beijing with the digital cards, the affidavit alleges.

Peng, who works as a sight-seeing tour operator for Chinese tourists in the Bay Area, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, prosecutors said. He has been ordered to return to court in San Francisco on Oct. 2.

(Reporting by Katie Paul in San Franciso and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Andrea Ricci and Bill Berkrot)

Freed Australian denies North Korean spy charges, says no plans to return

An Australian student Alek Sigley, 29, who was detained in North Korea, departs from Beijing to Japan, at the Beijing international airport, China, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – The Australian student released last week after being detained in North Korea said on Tuesday Pyongyang’s accusation that he was a spy was “pretty obviously” false, but that his work in the country was probably over.

Alek Sigley, 29, who was studying in the North Korean capital, had been missing since June 25 before he was abruptly expelled from the country on July 4 after Swedish officials helped broker his release.

North Korean state media later issued a statement saying Sigley had admitted to committing “spying acts” by working with foreign media, including NK News, a website that specializes in North Korea.

“The allegation that I am a spy is (pretty obviously) false. The only material I gave to NK News was what was published publicly on the blog, and the same goes for other media outlets,” Sigley said in a Tweet on Tuesday.

Sigley went on to say “the whole situation makes me very sad”, since he would be unable to complete the master’s degree he had been pursuing at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung University.

“I am still very interested in North Korea and want to continue academic research and other work related to the country,” he said in another tweet. “But I currently have no plans to visit the country again, at least in the short term.”

His company, Tongil Tours, would be canceling all tours to North Korea until further notice, Sigley added.

“I may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart,” he wrote. “I may never again see my teachers and my partners in the travel industry, whom I’ve come to consider close friends. But that’s life.”

(Reporting by Josh Smith; editing by Nick Macfiem, Larry King)

Putin calls poisoned ex-spy Skripal a scumbag and traitor

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 12, 2018. Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS

By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent poisoned in Britain, a scumbag who had betrayed Russia.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury in March. Britain says they were poisoned with a nerve agent administered by Russian intelligence officers.

Russia denies involvement in the affair, which has deepened its international isolation.

“I see that some of your colleagues are pushing the theory that Mr Skripal was almost some kind of human rights activist,” Putin said at an energy forum in Moscow when asked about the case.

“He was simply a spy. A traitor to the motherland. He’s simply a scumbag, that’s all,” Putin added, in remarks that drew applause from parts of the audience.

The Russian leader, a former intelligence officer himself, said the Skripal scandal had been artificially exaggerated, but said he thought it would fade from the headlines at some point and that the sooner it quietened down the better.

Putin said Moscow was still ready to cooperate with Britain when it came to investigating what happened, an offer London has so far declined to take up.

British officials say the poisoning was carried out by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency almost certainly acting with the approval of Russian officials. Russia has denied that.

‘ONE OF OLDEST PROFESSIONS’

Putin also dismissed the allegation that Russia was responsible for the accidental poisoning of Dawn Sturgess, a Salisbury-area woman who British police said died after coming into contact with the nerve agent Novichok which her partner had found in a discarded perfume bottle.

“What, did some guys rock up and start poisoning homeless people over there?” said Putin, repeating a description of Sturgess and her partner used by some Russian state media. “What rubbish.”

Skripal had served time in a Russian prison for selling information to Britain, and Moscow had agreed to release him as part of a spay swap, said Putin, suggesting Russia therefore had no motive to kill him.

“We didn’t need to poison anyone over there. This traitor Skripal was caught, he was punished and did five years in prison. We let him go, he left the country and he continued to cooperate there and consult some intelligence services. So what?”

The two Russian men Britain accuses of jetting to England to try to murder Skripal said in a TV interview last month that they were innocent tourists who had visited the city of Salisbury to see its cathedral.

London says their explanation is so far-fetched as to all but prove Russia’s involvement, while investigative website Bellingcat has published a picture of a decorated Russian military intelligence colonel it named as Anatoliy Chepiga who resembles one of the two men Britain caught on CCTV.

Putin said spy scandals were nothing new.

“Did problems between intelligence services start yesterday?” quipped Putin.

“As is well known, espionage, like prostitution, is one of the world’s oldest professions.”

(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe and)

Russia says photos don’t prove its spy was linked to Skripal case

FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov looks on during a visit to the Mazda Sollers Manufacturing Rus joint venture plant of Sollers and Japanese Mazda in Vladivostok, Russia September 10, 2018. Valery Sharifulin/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrey Ostroukh and Andrey Kuzmin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday a likeness between a Russian intelligence colonel and a suspect in the Skripal poisoning case does not prove they are the same person, comparing the resemblance to that of impersonators posing as Lenin.

Former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury in March. Britain says they were poisoned with a nerve agent administered by Russian intelligence officers. A woman later died from what British police say was contact with the poison which her partner found in a discarded perfume bottle.

Russia denies any involvement in the affair, which has deepened its international isolation.

Moscow says two Russian men captured on surveillance footage near the scene of the poisoning were tourists visiting Salisbury twice during a weekend trip to Britain, an explanation London says is so far-fetched as to all but prove Russia’s involvement.

Investigative website Bellingcat this week published a picture of a decorated Russian military intelligence colonel it named as Anatoliy Chepiga who resembles one of the men spotted in the surveillance footage.

“We don’t know to what extent we can make any formal conclusions about who looks like whom, are they alike, where they lived, where they grew up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“On Red Square there are still 10 Stalins and 15 Lenins running around, and they look remarkably like the originals,” he said, referring to people who dress up as Soviet leaders to pose for photographs with tourists.

Peskov said in order to draw any conclusions, the Russian authorities needed verified information from British officials about the Skripal case, something he said London has been consistently withholding.

“We do not want to participate anymore in the propagation of this issue as a partner of the media,” said Peskov.

(Reporting and writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Christian Lowe and Peter Graff)

German spy scandal exposes deep divisions in Merkel government

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hans-Georg Maassen, the President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic security agency in Cologne, Germany October 31, 2014. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

By Paul Carrel

BERLIN (Reuters) – A scandal over migrants being chased through the streets has exposed a rift between Angela Merkel and Germany’s security establishment that is dividing her coalition and hindering efforts to contain the fall-out from her “open door” refugee policy.

The crisis blew up when Hans-Georg Maassen, chief of the BfV intelligence agency, said he was not convinced far-right extremists had attacked migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz last month and a video said to show the violence may be fake.

That put Maassen at odds with Merkel, who said the pictures “very clearly revealed hate” which could not be tolerated.

“For a more decisive chancellor, this would have been enough to fire him,” said Carsten Nickel at political consultancy Teneo Intelligence, adding that support for Maassen from Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies was staying her hand.

Now, Merkel is caught between her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which backs Maassen, and her other coalition partner, the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), who say he has lost credibility and must go.

The upshot is that the chancellor looks weak, her coalition is in crisis and she is less able to deal with pressing issues such as Brexit, European Union reform and trade problems with the United States.

“The migration issue will certainly continue to haunt Merkel until the end of her term,” said Nickel.

The Maassen row has its roots in Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders to refugees fleeing war in the Middle East. More than one million came in total.

“Maassen is not an isolated case. Maassen is part of the security community,” said Robin Alexander, author of ‘Die Getriebenen, or ‘Those Driven by Events’, an account of how Merkel and her lieutenants handled the refugee crisis.

“For this security community, autumn 2015 was a disaster – not just for Maassen, but for all of them,” he added. “There is a deep alienation of the whole security community from the chancellor, and that was not the case in Germany previously.”

FRUSTRATED SPIES

The rift opened up in October 2015, when Merkel put her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, in charge of Germany’s response to the refugee crisis, with Emily Haber – a diplomat – acting as point person in the Interior Ministry.

That chain of command effectively shut out the security services, which couldn’t get face time with Merkel.

“That totally frustrated these people … they were horrified,” said Alexander.

In private, Maassen complained about the difficulty of keeping tabs on the refugees and assessing whether they posed a security risk.

His cause got a boost with the 2017 election, when the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged into parliament for the first time and Merkel had to reshuffle her government.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who had called Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis a “reign of injustice”, was made interior minister. He gave Maassen political cover to push his security agenda, which he duly did.

In an interview with Reuters in January, Maassen, 55, called for a review of laws restricting the surveillance of minors to guard against the children of Islamist fighters returning to Germany as “sleeper agents” who could carry out attacks.

Maassen also clashed with other more circumspect government officials when he said Russia was the likely culprit behind cyber attacks on Germany.

SPOKE TOO SOON

Then came Chemnitz. This time, Maassen publicly questioned the authenticity of the video before his agency had finished its work on the incident.

“The bottom line is that he spoke before the agency finished its assessment,” said one source familiar with the issue.

In a Sept. 10 letter to the Interior Ministry, seen by Reuters, in which he explained his comments on Chemnitz, Maassen said he wanted to shed light on events after the state premier of Saxony, where the city is located, denied migrants had been hounded.

But the letter failed to draw a line under a scandal that has also revived questions about Maassen’s ties to the far-right AfD.

A former leader of the AfD’s youth wing, Franziska Schreiber, wrote in a book she published this year – “Inside AfD: The report of a drop-out” – that Maassen had advised ex-AfD leader Frauke Petry on how the party could avoid being put under surveillance by his agency. He has denied giving such counsel.

Fresh allegations arose on Thursday, when the BfV was forced to deny a report by public broadcaster ARD that Maassen had told an AfD lawmaker about parts of a report from his agency before it was published.

But Maassen has the backing of Seehofer, who said the intelligence chief “gave a convincing explanation of his actions” to a committee of lawmakers on Wednesday.

The SPD nonetheless called a crisis meeting of governing party leaders on Thursday.

Coalition sources said the decision by the leaders of the three ruling parties to adjourn the Thursday meeting until next Tuesday could mean they hope Maassen will voluntarily step down.

However, the situation could be complicated by a meeting of the CSU on Saturday. If it supports Seehofer’s decision to back Maassen and he does not quit, coalition leaders will be under pressure to take a decision on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Two-thirds of U.S. Senate pushes Turkey to release pastor

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina, U.S. who has been in jail in Turkey since December 2016, is seen in this undated picture taken in Izmir, Turkey. Depo Photos via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sixty-six U.S. senators signed a letter released on Friday urging Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan to release an American pastor on trial in Turkey on charges he was linked to a group accused of orchestrating a failed military coup.

Andrew Brunson, a Christian pastor who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara holds responsible for a failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

The letter, led by Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who represents Brunson’s home state North Carolina, and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, said the Senate backs efforts to strengthen cooperation between U.S. and Turkish law enforcement.

“However, we are deeply disturbed that the Turkish government has gone beyond legitimate action against the coup plotters to undermine Turkey’s own rule of law and democratic traditions,” it said.

U.S. President Donald Trump also voiced his support for Brunson on Twitter this week, writing, “They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is.”

The senators warned that unspecified measures might be necessary to ensure the Turkish government “respects the rights of law-abiding citizens” of the United States to be in Turkey without the fear of prosecution.

Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.

Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.

Overall, the letter was signed by 43 Republicans and 23 Democrats.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Tom Brown)

Russia orders out 60 U.S. diplomats over spy poisoning affair

A view through a fence shows the building of the consulate-general of the U.S. in St. Petersburg, Russia March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia expelled 60 U.S. diplomats on Thursday and announced it would eject scores from other countries that have joined London and Washington in censuring Moscow over the poisoning of a spy.

The U.S. ambassador was also ordered to shut the consulate in St Petersburg, in Russia’s retaliation for the biggest expulsion of diplomats since the Cold War.

However, the response, which precisely mirrored steps taken by Western governments against Russian diplomats, appeared to show Moscow was not seeking to escalate the standoff over the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in an English city.

Britain has blamed Russia for the poisoning, and has been backed up by dozens of Western countries which have ordered Russian diplomats to leave. Moscow denies involvement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing a stuttering economy and an unusual show of Western unity that included even states traditionally friendly towards Moscow, appeared to have stuck to the diplomatic playbook with the symmetrical response.

Ambassador Jon Hunstman was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, a gothic skyscraper built under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and told that 60 diplomats from U.S. missions had a week to leave Russia, as Washington had expelled 60 Russians.

At a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Huntsman was also told that the U.S. consulate in St Petersburg would be closed — a like-for-like retaliation for the U.S. closure of Russia’s consulate in the U.S. city of Seattle.

“As for the other countries, everything will also be symmetrical in terms of the number of people from their diplomatic missions who will be leaving Russia, and for now that’s pretty much it,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

That approach will mean that, among other countries affected, France, Germany and Poland would each have four of their diplomats in Moscow sent home, Ukraine would forfeit 13 diplomats, and Denmark, Albania and Spain would each have two of their embassy staff expelled.

Russia has already retaliated in kind after Britain initially expelled 23 diplomats.

DAUGHTER BETTER

Skripal, 66, a double agent who was swapped in a spy exchange deal in 2010 and went to live in England, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, were found unconscious on a public bench in a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4.

Former Russian military intelligence officer Skripal remains in a critical condition but his daughter is getting better, the hospital where they are being treated said on Thursday.

British authorities say a Soviet-era nerve toxin called Novichok was used in an attempt to murder the pair.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Russia was culpable for the attack and urged allies to join in condemning Moscow for the first known offensive use of a chemical weapon on European soil since World War Two.

Russia says Britain has failed to produce any persuasive evidence of Russia’s guilt. Officials in Moscow accused London and Washington of pressuring other nations to sign up to an international campaign of “Russophobia” which, they said, could drag the world into a new Cold War.

Announcing the expulsions of Western diplomats on Thursday, Lavrov said the Skripal poisoning was being exploited by an “Anglo-Saxon axis forcing everyone to follow an anti-Russian path.”

British counter-terrorism police said they believed the military-grade nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals had been left on the front door of Sergei Skripal’s home, on a quiet street in Salisbury, southern England.

“Specialists have identified the highest concentration of the nerve agent, to date, as being on the front door of the address,” Scotland Yard said in a statement.

Police said they had placed a cordon around a children’s play area near the Skripals’ house as a precaution.

Christine Blanshard, Medical Director for Salisbury District Hospital, where the two victims are being treated, said in a statement that Yulia Skripal’s condition had improved after three week in a critical condition.

“She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day,” said Blanshard.

(This version of the story corrects spelling of U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman’s first name in paragraph 6)

(Editing by Peter Graff)

Britain warns Russia over double agent’s mysterious illness

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants' cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia August 9, 2006. Picture taken August 9, 2006. Kommersant/Yuri Senatorov via REUTERS

By Toby Melville and Emily G Roe

SALISBURY, England (Reuters) – Britain warned Russia on Tuesday of a robust response if the Kremlin was behind a mysterious illness that has struck down a former double agent convicted of betraying dozens of spies to British intelligence.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson named Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his daughter Yulia as the two people who were found unconscious on Sunday on a bench outside a shopping center in southern England.

Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were exposed to what police said was an unknown substance in the English city of Salisbury. Both are still critically ill in intensive care, police said.

“We don’t know exactly what has taken place in Salisbury, but if it’s as bad as it looks, it is another crime in the litany of crimes that we can lay at Russia’s door,” Johnson told the British parliament.

“It is clear that Russia, I’m afraid, is now in many respects a malign and disruptive force, and the UK is in the lead across the world in trying to counteract that activity.”

If Moscow was shown to be behind Skripal’s illness, Johnson said, it would be difficult to see how UK representation could go to the World Cup in Russia in a normal way. A government source said that meant attendance of ministers or dignitaries.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Johnson’s comments were “wild”.

A previous British inquiry said President Vladimir Putin probably approved the 2006 murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210 in London. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s killing.

Litvinenko, 43, an outspoken critic of Putin who fled Russia for Britain six years before he was poisoned, died after drinking green tea laced with the rare and very potent radioactive isotope at London’s Millennium Hotel.

It took weeks for British doctors to discern the cause of Litvinenko’s illness.

His murder sent Britain’s ties with Russia to what was then a post-Cold War low. Relations suffered further from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels trying to topple him.

A police car is parked next to crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A police car is parked next to crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

RUSSIAN DOUBLE AGENT

British authorities said there was no known risk to the public from the unidentified substance, but they sealed off the area where Skripal was found, which included a pizza restaurant and a pub, in the center of Salisbury.

Counter-terrorism police are now leading the investigation though they said they believe there no risk to the public. Samples from the scene are being tested at Porton Down, Britain’s military research laboratory, the BBC said.

Skripal, who passed the identity of dozens of spies to the MI6 foreign intelligence agency, was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged in 2010 for Russian spies caught in the West as part of a Cold War-style spy swap at Vienna airport.

The Kremlin said it was ready to cooperate if Britain asked it for help investigating the incident with Skripal.

Calling it a “tragic situation,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had no information about the incident.

Asked to respond to British media speculation that Russia had poisoned Skripal, Peskov said: “It didn’t take them long.”

Russia’s embassy in London said the incident was being used to demonize Russia and that it was seriously concerned by British media reporting of the Skripal incident.

Russia’s foreign spy service, the SVR, said it had no comment to make. Russia’s foreign ministry and its counter-intelligence service, the Federal Security Service (FSB), did not immediately respond to questions submitted by Reuters about the case.

FROM MOSCOW TO SALISBURY

Skripal was arrested by the FSB in 2004 on suspicion of betraying dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006 after a secret trial.

Skripal, who was shown wearing a track suit in a cage in court during the sentencing, had admitted betraying agents to MI6 in return for money, some of it paid into a Spanish bank account, Russian media said at the time.

But he was pardoned in 2010 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as part of a swap to bring 10 Russian agents held in the United States back to Moscow.

The swap, one of the biggest since the Cold War ended in 1991, took place on the tarmac of Vienna airport where a Russian and a U.S. jet parked side by side before the agents were exchanged.

One of the Russian spies exchanged for Skripal was Anna Chapman. She was one of 10 who tried to blend into American society in an apparent bid to get close to power brokers and learn secrets. They were arrested by the FBI in 2010.

The returning spies were greeted as heroes in Moscow. Putin, himself a former KGB officer, sang patriotic songs with them.

Skripal, though, was cast as a traitor by Moscow. He is thought to have done serious damage to Russian spy networks in Britain and Europe.

The GRU spy service, created in 1918 under revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky, is controlled by the military general staff and reports directly to the president. It has spies spread across the world.

Since emerging from the John le Carre world of high espionage and betrayal, Skripal lived modestly in Salisbury and kept out of the spotlight until he was found unconscious on Sunday at 1615 GMT.

Wiltshire police said a small number of emergency services personnel were examined immediately after the incident and all but one had been released from hospital.

Skripal’s wife died shortly after her arrival in Britain from cancer, the Guardian newspaper reported. His son died on a recent visit to Russia.

A white and yellow police forensics tent covered the bench where Skripal was taken ill.

(Reporting by Toby Melville; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout, William Schomberg, Andy Bruce and Michael Holden in LONDON, Andrew Osborn, Polina Nikolskaya and Margarita Popova in MOSCOW and Mark Hosenball in WASHINGTON; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Gareth Jones)

U.S. judge extends deadline for bank records of firm behind Trump dossier

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge has given an unnamed bank more time to respond to a congressional subpoena for financial records of the Washington research firm that hired a former British spy to compile a dossier on presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Trump and other Republicans have alleged that Russians paid Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, for research on their own dealings with Trump and his campaign. The Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has sought Fusion’s bank records in an effort to pursue those allegations.

In a closed-door hearing with Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson said there was no connection between the firm’s work on the dossier and its legal research on a lawsuit involving Russians who attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law and close aide, Jared Kusher, and former campaign chief Paul Manafort, sources familiar with the hearing said.

It has been widely reported that supporters of Republican Jeb Bush, a primary opponent of Trump, initially paid for the firm’s research, and the law firm Perkins Coie, which represented Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, confirmed on Tuesday that it hired Fusion GPS in April 2016.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan had set a Thursday evening deadline for the unnamed bank to give the committee its last two years of records on Fusion GPS. But in an order posted on the court docket late on Thursday, she extended the deadline until Monday morning.

The decision indicates that lawyers for Fusion and the House committee are negotiating in an effort to settle their dispute out of court, sources familiar with the matter said.

Joshua Levy, a lawyer for Fusion, declined to comment, and the House of Representatives lawyer on the case did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by John Walcott and Tom Brown)

Snowden continues contacts with Russian intel services

Edward Snowden speaks via video link during a conference at University of Buenos Aires Law School, Argentina,

By Mark Hosenball and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden “has had and continues to have contact” with Russian intelligence services, according to newly declassified portions of a House Intelligence Committee report released on Thursday.

The Pentagon found 13 undisclosed “high risk” security issues caused by Snowden’s disclosure to media outlets of tens of thousands of the U.S. eavesdropping agency’s most sensitive documents, according to the new material.

If the Chinese or Russians obtained access to materials related to these issues, “American troops will be at greater risk in any future conflict,” the report said.

“The committee remains concerned that more than three years after the start of the unauthorized disclosures, NSA, and the IC (Intelligence Community) as a whole, have not done enough to minimize the risk of another massive unauthorized disclosure,” the report said.

Snowden lives in Moscow under an asylum deal that was made after his leaks of classified information in 2013 triggered an international furor over the reach of U.S. spy operations.

Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, declined to immediately comment to Reuters on the newly released material.

But in a Twitter post, Wizner called the newly declassified portions of the report “petulant nonsense.”

(Editing by Frances Kerry and Jeffrey Benkoe)