Warning of ‘serious threats’ Virginia governor bans weapons at gun-rights rally

(Reuters) – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday said he would ban all firearms and other weapons around the state capitol building this weekend, ahead of a major gun-rights demonstration expected to draw thousands of people.

Northam, who is leading the push for stronger gun laws in his state, said he wants to avoid a repeat of violence that erupted at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when a march by white nationalists erupted and led to the death of a counterprotester.

Gun-rights advocates, including militia groups and ultraconservative activists, are planning a “Lobby Day” rally on Monday, seeking to block gun control legislation backed by Northam, a Democrat, whose party recently won majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

“We’re seeing threats of violence. We’re seeing threats of armed confrontation and assault on our capitol,” Northam said. “These are considered credible, serious threats from our law enforcement agencies.”

Several measures – including universal background checks and “red flag” laws – that would toughen gun laws in the state are quickly making their way through the Senate and House, and could be passed before the end of the month.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, which is organizing the rally, hopes that a large turnout by gun-rights proponents, most of whom will be openly carrying weapons as allowed by state law, will persuade lawmakers not to back the measures, according to materials posted online by the group.

“A substantial crowd will be here in Richmond,” State Police Superintendent Colonel Gary Settle told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re talking several thousands of people.”

Everyone attending Monday’s rally will be required to enter through a security checkpoint, authorities said.

Last week, Virginia lawmakers approved a new gun policy prohibiting firearms inside the Capitol and a nearby office building. But they did not extend the ban to Capitol Square, the public space outside that includes monuments to prominent Virginians and the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Netanyahu warns Iran it is within range of Israeli air strikes, citing Iranian threats

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem July 7, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Iran on Tuesday that it is within range of Israeli airstrikes, citing what he described as Iranian threats to destroy Israel.

“Iran recently has been threatening Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said at an Israeli air force base, where he viewed a squadron of advanced U.S.-built F-35 warplanes.

“It should remember that these planes can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran, and certainly Syria,” he said in a YouTube video clip filmed at the base, with an F-35 in the background.

Last week, a senior Iranian parliamentarian was quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency as saying that if the United States attacked Iran, Israel would be destroyed in half an hour.

Israel has long said that every option is on the table in ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon, and has backed pledges to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria by carrying out airstrikes there.

Tehran denies seeking nuclear arms.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. border patrol faces probe; White House bashes asylum ruling

U.S. Border Patrol agents stand at attention during a 'Border Safety Initiative' media event at the U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, U.S., July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Makini Brice and Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ordered an investigation into reports that border patrol agents have been posting offensive anti-immigrant comments and threats against lawmakers on a private Facebook group.

The move was announced amid mounting criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of a humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, with lawmakers and government investigators warning of dangerous conditions in migrant detention centers.

“Reporting this week highlighted disturbing and inexcusable social media activity that allegedly includes active Border Patrol personnel,” acting DHS head Kevin McAleenan said on Twitter on Wednesday, calling the reported comments “completely unacceptable.”

He said any employee found to have “compromised the public’s trust in our law enforcement mission will be held accountable.”

The Facebook posts, first reported by the non-profit news site ProPublica included jokes about the deaths of migrants and sexually explicit content referring to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who was highly critical of the detention facilities after a tour this week.

The White House also criticized a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle who on Tuesday blocked an administration move to keep thousands of asylum seekers in custody while they pursued their cases.

“The district court’s injunction is at war with the rule of law,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “The decision only incentivizes smugglers and traffickers, which will lead to the further overwhelming of our immigration system by illegal aliens.”

Acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan attends a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan attends a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights groups sued the government in April after Attorney General William Barr concluded that asylum seekers who entered the country illegally were not eligible for bond.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman on Tuesday ruled that people detained after entering the country to seek asylum were entitled to bond hearings.

MIGRATION FLOWS

The record surge of mostly Central American families at the U.S. southwestern border has begun to ease after tougher enforcement efforts in Mexico, although the situation remains dire, according to Mexican and U.S. officials.

The U.S. government’s internal watchdog on Tuesday said migrant-holding centers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley were dangerously overcrowded, publishing graphic pictures of cells holding twice as many people as they were built for.

Mexico’s government, citing unpublished U.S. data, said migrant arrests at the border fell 30% in June from the previous month after it started a migration crackdown as part of a deal with the United States to avoid possible trade tariffs.

The Mexican government said it was now busing home dozens of Central American migrants from Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, who were forced to wait in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed under a U.S. policy known as “Remain in Mexico.”

“Mexico’s effort to control the flow of migrants appears to have broken a growing trend,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

After migrant arrests reached a 13-year monthly high in May, immigration has arguably become the biggest issue for President Donald Trump and the Democratic contenders vying for the chance to face him in the 2020 presidential election.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker would “virtually eliminate immigration detention” if he wins the White House, his campaign said on Tuesday.

Presidential hopeful Julian Castro last week proposed decriminalizing border crossings as a step toward freeing up federal resources and eliminating thousands of cases clogging criminal courts – an initiative favored by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is also running for the Democratic nomination.

Trump, meanwhile, looked to stir up support for his policies, promising immigration raids after the July 4 U.S. holiday to arrest migrants with deportation orders.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Diego Ore and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City, Jonathan Allen in New York and David Alexander and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Andrew Hay and Paul Simao; Editing by Michael Perry and Bill Trott)

U.S. top security adviser says threat from Iran is not over

FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin

LONDON (Reuters) – The threat from Iran is not over but quick action from the United States has helped deter it, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Thursday.

The U.S. military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East in a move that U.S. officials said was made to counter “clear indications” of threats from Iran to American forces in the region.

“I don’t think this threat is over, but I do think you can make at least a conditional claim that the quick response and the deployment and other steps that we took did serve as a deterrent,” Bolton told reporters during a visit to London.

Asked whether he was at odds with President Donald Trump, who said earlier this week that the U.S. was not looking for regime change in Iran, he said: “The policy we’re pursuing is not a policy of regime change. That’s the fact and everybody should understand it that way.”

Bolton said there was some prospect that evidence Iran was behind attacks this month on oil tankers in the Gulf would be presented to the United Nations Security Council next week.

“I don’t think anybody who is familiar with the situation in the region, whether they have examined the evidence or not, has come to any conclusion other than that these attacks were carried out by Iran or their surrogates,” he said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and William James, Writing by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Alistair Smout)

U.S. pulls staff from Iraq amid concerns over Iran

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. To match Analysis USA-ELECTION/IRAN

By John Davison and Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Washington ordered the departure of non-emergency American employees from its diplomatic missions in Iraq on Wednesday in another show of concern about alleged threats from Iran.

President Donald Trump’s administration is applying new sanctions pressure on Tehran and sending additional forces to the Middle East to counter what it says is a heightened threat from Iran to U.S. soldiers and interests in the region.

Iran calls that “psychological warfare”, and a British commander cast doubt on U.S. military concerns about threats to its roughly 5,000 soldiers in Iraq, who have been helping local security forces fight Islamic State jihadists.

The U.S. State Department said employees at both the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, capital of semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, were being pulled out immediately due to safety concerns.

It was unclear how many personnel were affected, and there was no word on any specific threat. Visa services were suspended at the heavily-fortified U.S. missions.

“Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and citizens is our highest priority … and we want to reduce the risk of harm,” a State Department spokesman said.

Also on Wednesday, Germany, which has 160 soldiers in Iraq, suspended military training operations, citing increasing regional tensions. And the Netherlands suspended a mission providing assistance to Iraqi local authorities, Dutch news agency ANP said.

“DANGEROUS SITUATION”

Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he had indications “things will end well” despite the rhetoric.

Iraq has said it will keep strong ties with Iran, but also with the United States and regional neighbors, some of whom, like Saudi Arabia, consider Tehran an arch-rival.

“I think we are now in a quite dangerous situation where a miscalculation by either side could lead us into conflict,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN in an interview on Wednesday.

“When you project force into a very volatile region and you’ve got real tension between Iran and the Saudis — we have to be careful. We need a strategy,” Coons said, echoing a call by Congress for the government to brief lawmakers.

The State Department reissued travel advisory for Iraq saying U.S. citizens were at high risk of violence and kidnapping. “Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq,” it said.

A senior Iranian official said on Wednesday that any conflict in the region will have “unimaginable consequences.”

(Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Additional reporting by Susan Heavy and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Raya Jalabi and John Davison; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)

Pompeo urges NATO allies to adapt to new threats from Russia, China

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (3rd L) speaks at the meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Foreign Ministers at the State Department in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday called on NATO allies to adapt to confront a wide variety of emerging threats, including Russia’s increased aggression, Chinese strategic competition and uncontrolled migration.

Pompeo made the call at the start of a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers in Washington marking the 70th anniversary of the transatlantic military alliance.

“We must adapt our alliance to confront emerging threats … whether that’s Russian aggression, uncontrolled migration, cyber attacks, threats to energy security, Chinese strategic competition, including technology and 5G, and many other issues,” Pompeo said.

In a 2018 strategy document, the U.S. military put countering China and Russia at the heart of a new national defense strategy.

The meeting’s first session focused on ways to deter Russia, including in the Black Sea where it seized three Ukrainian naval vessels last year.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to release the ships and their crews.

He said Russia’s breach of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was part of a “pattern of destabilizing behavior.”

Washington has said it will withdraw from the treaty this summer unless Moscow ends its alleged violations of the pact, which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles.

“We will not mirror what Russia is doing,” said Stoltenberg. “We will be measured and coordinated, and we have no intention of deploying ground-launched nuclear missiles in Europe.”

In his remarks, Pompeo said NATO should also confront increased cyber warfare, including from China.

Washington has warned it will not partner with countries that adopt China’s Huawei Technologies systems but has been at odds on the issue with the European Union, which has shunned U.S. calls to ban the company across the bloc. The bulk of NATO members are EU countries.

Huawei is under scrutiny from Western intelligence agencies for its perceived ties to China’s government and the possibility its equipment could be used for espionage. Huawei has repeatedly denied engaging in intelligence work for any government.

The United States has also been at odds with European countries over the failure of many of them to meet NATO defense spending guidelines of 2% of GDP.

Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO allies should commit to increased defense spending to improve burden-sharing in NATO.

“All NATO allies made a pledge to invest more in defense to improve burden sharing in our alliance, and I expect all allies, including Germany, of course, to make good on the pledge we made together,” the NATO secretary general said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called on NATO countries to pay even more than 2% of their gross domestic product for defense. He told NATO leaders last year to increase defense spending to 4% of GDP. He said the United States pays 4.3% of its GDP to NATO.

Trump has singled out Germany for not doing enough.

Stoltenberg said Germany was now making progress, but all allies needed to do more.

“We didn’t make this pledge to please the United States. We made it because we live in a more unpredictable and uncertain world,” Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief said disagreement between NATO members Turkey and the United States over Turkey’s plan to buy S-400 missile defense systems from Russia was not part of the formal agenda of the Washington meeting but would be discussed on the margins.

The United States has halted delivery of equipment related to its advanced F-35 fighter jets to Turkey over its S-400 plans.

The United States says Turkey’s purchase of the Russian air defense system would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft, which is built by Lockheed Martin Corp and uses stealth technology.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish)

Trump threatens to close U.S. border with Mexico next week

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON/LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump threatened on Friday to close the U.S. border with Mexico next week, potentially disrupting millions of legal border crossings and billions of dollars in trade if Mexico does not stop immigrants from reaching the United States.

“We’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games. Mexico has to stop it,” Trump said on a visit to Florida. Asked if he would close the Mexican border to all trade, Trump told reporters: “It could be to all trade.”

Trump has repeatedly vowed to close the U.S. border with Mexico during his two years in office and has not followed through. But this time the government is struggling to deal with a surge of asylum seekers from countries in Central America who travel through Mexico.

Department of Homeland Security officials warned that traffic with Mexico could slow as the agency shifts 750 border personnel from ports of entry to help process asylum seekers who are turning up between official crossing points.

“Make no mistake: Americans may feel effects from this emergency,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. Nielsen said the personnel shift would lead to commercial delays and longer wait times at crossing points.

Nielsen and other U.S. officials say border patrol officers have been overwhelmed by a dramatic increase in asylum seekers, many of them children and families, fleeing violence and economic hardship in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, the highest monthly number in more than a decade, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said on Wednesday. Some 90,000 will be able to remain in the United States while their asylum claims are processed, he said.

Mexico played down the possibility of a border shutdown.

“Mexico does not act on the basis of threats. We are a great neighbor,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter.

It is not clear how shutting down ports of entry would deter asylum seekers, as they are legally able to request help as soon as they set foot on U.S. soil.

But a border shutdown would disrupt tourism and commerce between the United States and its third-largest trade partner, which totaled $612 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We’d be looking at losses worth billions of dollars,” said Kurt Honold, head of CCE, a business group in Tijuana, Mexico, in response to Trump’s threat. “It’s obvious he’s not measuring what he says.”

U.S. ports of entry recorded 193 million pedestrian and vehicle-passenger crossings last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

As president, Trump has legal authority to close particular ports of entry, but he could be open to a legal challenge if he decided to close all of them immediately, said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Trump is trying to convince Congress to sign off on a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that his administration negotiated last year.

“Mexico has for many years made a fortune off of the U.S., far greater than Border Costs. If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States through our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week,” he said on Twitter.

Trump launched his presidential bid in June 2015 with a promise to crack down on illegal immigration, saying Mexico was sending rapists and drug runners into the United States.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that tackling illegal immigration is an issue chiefly for the United States and the Central American countries to address.

Trump has so far been unable to convince Congress to tighten asylum laws or fund a proposed border wall, one of his signature policies. Trump has declared a national emergency to justify redirecting money earmarked for the military to pay for its construction.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by David Alexander, Anthony Esposito, Lizbeth Diaz and Andy Sullivan; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Grant McCool)

Teen arrested over racist threat that closed Charlottesville schools

FILE PHOTO: Messages are left on a chalkboard wall ahead of the one-year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

(Reuters) – Police arrested a 17-year-old boy on Friday over a racist threat of violence posted online that prompted authorities to close all the schools in Charlottesville, Virginia, for two days.

The boy, who has not been publicly identified, was charged with threatening to cause bodily harm on school property, a felony, and harassment by computer, a misdemeanor, police said in a statement.

City leaders have worked to ease racial tensions in the city since a white nationalist rally in August 2017 descended into violence, with a white nationalist killing a counter-protester and injuring others after he drove into a crowd.

The threat against Charlottesville High School was reported to the police on Wednesday afternoon, according to the police department.

School officials then quickly decided to close all schools in the city. According to U.S Census Bureau data, African Americans make up around 19 percent of Charlottesville’s population of nearly 50,000 people.

“We would like to acknowledge and condemn the fact that this threat was racially charged,” Charlottesville City Schools said in a letter sent to parents and posted on its website on Thursday evening notifying them of Friday’s closures. “The entire staff and School Board stand in solidarity with our students of color.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that a person claiming to be a student at Charlottesville High School, one of the region’s largest schools, warned white students to stay at home so they could shoot dead non-white students in an act of “ethnic cleansing.”

The boy arrested on Friday is not a student at any of the city’s schools, the Times-Dispatch reported, citing the schools superintendent.

There was widespread condemnation for the white nationalists involved in the violence in Charlottesville in 2017.

But U.S. President Donald Trump drew strong criticism in the days after the Charlottesville rally for equating white supremacists with counter-protesters and saying he thought there were “fine people” on both sides.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Nick Carey and Susan Thomas)

U.S. spy chiefs warn Senate on many threats to the United States

FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Gen. Robert Ashley, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about "worldwide threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China and Russia pose the biggest risks to the United States, and are more aligned than they have been in decades as they target the 2020 presidential election and American institutions to expand their global reach, U.S. intelligence officials told senators on Tuesday.

The spy chiefs broke with President Donald Trump in their assessments of the threats posed by North Korea, Iran and Syria. But they outlined a clear and imminent danger from China, whose practices in trade and technology anger the U.S. president.

While China and Russia strengthen their alliance, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said some American allies are pulling away from Washington in reaction to changing U.S. policies on security and trade.

The directors of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies flanked Coats at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. They described an array of economic, military and intelligence threats, from highly organized efforts by China to scattered disruptions by terrorists, hacktivists and transnational criminals.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Gen. Robert Ashley, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about "worldwide threats" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Gen. Robert Ashley, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about “worldwide threats” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways – to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure,” Coats said.

“Moscow’s relationship with Beijing is closer than it’s been in many decades,” he told the panel.

The intelligence officials said they had protected the 2018 U.S. congressional elections from outside interference, but expected renewed and likely more sophisticated attacks on the 2020 presidential contest.

U.S. adversaries will “use online influence operations to try to weaken democratic institutions, undermine alliances and partnerships, and shape policy outcomes,” Coats said.

The intelligence chiefs’ assessments broke with some past assertions by Trump, including on the threat posed by Russia to U.S. elections and democratic institutions, the threat Islamic State poses in Syria, and North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize.

Coats said North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. Trump has said the country no longer poses a threat.

Coats also said Islamic State would continue to pursue attacks from Syria, as well as Iraq, against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States. Trump, who plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, has said the militant group is defeated.

The intelligence officials also said Iran was not developing nuclear weapons in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement, even though Tehran has threatened to reverse some commitments after Trump pulled out of the deal.

Senators expressed deep concern about current threats.

“Increased cooperation between Russia and China – for a generation that hasn’t been the case – that could be a very big deal on the horizon in terms of the United States,” said Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

CHINA BIGGEST COUNTERINTELLIGENCE THREAT

The officials painted a multifaceted picture of the threat posed by China, as they were questioned repeatedly by senators about the No. 2 world economy’s business practices as well as its growing international influence.

“The Chinese counterintelligence threat is more deep, more diverse, more vexing, more challenging, more comprehensive and more concerning than any counterintelligence threat I can think of,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

He said almost all the economic espionage cases in the FBI’s 56 field offices “lead back to China.”

Coats said intelligence officials have been traveling around the United States and meeting with corporate executives to discuss espionage threats from China.

He said China has had a meteoric rise in the past decade, adding, “A lot of that was achieved by stealing information from our companies.”

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he hoped the United States would abandon its zero-sum thinking and work with China, Russia and the rest of the international community to ensure global security.

Tuesday’s testimony came just a day after the United States announced criminal charges against China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], escalating a fight with the world’s biggest telecommunications equipment maker and coming days before trade talks between Washington and Beijing.

Coats also said Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities and criticizing politicians perceived to be anti-Russia.

Senator Mark Warner, the panel’s top Democrat, said he was particularly concerned about Russia’s use of social media “to amplify divisions in our society and to influence our democratic processes” and the threat from China in the technology arena.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is one of several congressional panels, along with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigating whether there were any connections between Trump’s 2016 and Russian efforts to influence the election.

Russia denies attempting to influence U.S. elections, while Trump has denied his campaign cooperated with Moscow.

Coats declined to respond when Democratic Senator Ron Wyden asked whether Trump’s not releasing records of his discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin put U.S. intelligence agencies at a disadvantage.

“To me from an intelligence perspective, it’s just Intel 101 that it would help our country to know what Vladimir Putin discussed with Donald Trump,” Wyden said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump tells Iran ‘never, ever threaten’ U.S. or suffer consequences

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he begins a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Warren Strobel and Parisa Hafezi

WASHINGTON/ANKARA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump told Iran it risked dire consequences “the like of which few throughout history have suffered before” if the Islamic Republic made more threats against the United States.

His words, spelled out in capital letters in a late night Twitter message, came hours after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told Trump that hostile policies toward Tehran could lead to “the mother of all wars.”

Despite the heightened rhetoric, both sides have reasons to want to avoid starting a conflict that could easily escalate.

Trump’s comments come in the context of a barrage of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, according to U.S. officials.

Iran has faced increased U.S. pressure and possible sanctions since Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.

In his message directed at Rouhani, Trump wrote: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious!”.

Earlier on Sunday, Rouhani had told a gathering of Iranian diplomats: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret.”

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” said Rouhani, quoted by the state news agency IRNA.

Rouhani left open the possibility of peace between the two countries, at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But Iran’s most powerful authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday negotiations with the United States would be an “obvious mistake”.

Rouhani also scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway.

A senior commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards reacted angrily to Trump’s threats by saying Tehran would continue to resist its enemies, Iran’s Students news Agency ISNA reported.

“We will never abandon our revolutionary beliefs … we will resist pressure from enemies … America wants nothing less than (to) destroy Iran … (but) Trump cannot do a damn thing against Iran,” Brigadier General Gholamhossein Gheybparvar said.

“WAR OF WORDS”

Trump’s warning to Iran came hours after a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who denounced Iran’s clerical leadership as a “mafia” and promised unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government.

Tehran reacted to Pompeo’s speech as an interference in Tehran’s affairs, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

“Such policies will unite Iranians who will overcome plots against their country,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s “strong stance” on Iran.

At the same time, Germany said threats of war were “never helpful”.

There is limited appetite in Washington for a conflict with Iran, not least because of the difficulties the U.S. military faced in Iraq after its 2003 invasion but also because of the impact on the global economy if conflict raised oil prices.

Many ordinary Iranians are worried that the war of words might lead to a military confrontation but insiders in Tehran told Reuters that the U.S. administration would not drag the country into another quagmire in the Middle East.

With popular discontent over Iran’s faltering economy and sliding currency, and the prospect of tough new U.S. sanctions, Iran’s leaders have called for unity.

Many ordinary Iranians are largely skeptical of the Trump administration’s support for Iranian citizens because of the harsh U.S. sanctions on the country and a visa ban imposed on Iranians barring them from entering the United States.

Iran’s faction-ridden religious and political elites have closed ranks against Trump’s hawkish approach to Tehran.

However, growing strains with the U.S. will eventually boost Rouhani’s anti-Western hardline rivals who fear losing power if the nuclear deal, championed by Rouhani, ended the country’s political and economic isolation.

Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

Washington initially planned to shut Iran out of global oil markets completely after Trump abandoned the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions, demanding all other countries stop buying Iranian crude by November.

But the United States has somewhat eased its stance, saying it may grant sanction waivers to some allies that are particularly reliant on Iranian supplies.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Washington, Dubai newsroom, Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)