U.S. government extends deadline to sign up for Obamacare insurance plans

(Reuters) – The U.S. government said on Monday the deadline for signing-up for 2020 insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been extended by three days to Dec. 18 to accommodate those who experienced issues while attempting to enroll.

There were website glitches and call center delays reported on Sunday, the earlier deadline for the 2020 open enrollment, and the extension should help the final enrollment tally, said Evercore ISI analyst Michael Newshel.

“The post-Thanksgiving ramp-up in sign-ups was better than expected, and the momentum bodes well for the key final surge into the deadline this Sunday, December 15,” Newshel said in a note last week.

Last year, the number of people who signed up for 2019 health plans fell 4% to 8.5 million people from 2018, but saw a typical trend of last-minute shopping in the final week.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services runs enrollment for insurance plans created by the ACA, often called Obamacare, through the online marketplace, HealthCare.gov, for 38 states.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Domestic online interference mars global elections: report

Domestic online interference mars global elections: report
By Elizabeth Culliford

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Domestic governments and local actors engaged in online interference in efforts to influence 26 of 30 national elections studied by a democracy watchdog over the past year, according to a report released on Monday.

Freedom House, which is partly funded by the U.S. government, said that internet-based election interference has become “an essential strategy” for those seeking to disrupt democracy.

Disinformation and propaganda were the most popular tools used, the group said in its annual report. Domestic state and partisan actors used online networks to spread conspiracy theories and misleading memes, often working in tandem with government-friendly media personalities and business figures, it said.

“Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“Authoritarians and populists around the globe are exploiting both human nature and computer algorithms to conquer the ballot box, running roughshod over rules designed to ensure free and fair elections.”

Some of those seeking to manipulate elections had evolved tactics to beat technology companies’ efforts to combat false and misleading news, the report said.

In the Philippines, for example, it said candidates paid social media “micro-influencers” to promote their campaigns on Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc.  and Instagram, where they peppered political endorsements among popular culture content.

Online disinformation was prevalent in the United States around major political events, such as the November 2018 midterm elections and the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the report said.

Freedom House also found a rise in the number of governments enlisting bots and fake accounts to surreptitiously shape online opinions and harass opponents, with such behavior found in 38 of the 65 countries covered in the report.

Social media was also being increasingly used for mass surveillance, with authorities in at least 40 countries instituting advanced social media monitoring programs.

China was ranked as the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for a fourth consecutive year, after it enhanced information controls in the face of anti-government protests in Hong Kong and ahead of the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

For instance, Beijing blocked individual accounts on WeChat for “deviant” behavior, which encouraged self-censorship, the report said.

The Philippine and Chinese embassies in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside of normal business hours.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; editing by Richard Pullin)

Exclusive: U.S. opens national security investigation into TikTok – sources

Exclusive: U.S. opens national security investigation into TikTok – sources
By Greg Roumeliotis, Yingzhi Yang, Echo Wang and Alexandra Alper

NEW YORK/BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, according to two people familiar with the matter.

While the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, U.S. lawmakers have been calling in recent weeks for a national security probe into TikTok, concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data.

TikTok has been growing more popular among U.S. teenagers at a time of growing tensions between the United States and China over trade and technology transfers. About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said earlier this year.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks, has started to review the Musical.ly deal, the sources said. TikTok did not seek clearance from CFIUS when it acquired Musical.ly, they added, which gives the U.S. security panel scope to investigate it now.

CFIUS is in talks with TikTok about measures it could take to avoid divesting the Musical.ly assets it acquired, the sources said. Details of those talks, referred to by CFIUS as mitigation, could not be learned. The specific concerns that CFIUS has could also not be learned.

The sources requested anonymity because CFIUS reviews are confidential.

“While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so,” a TikTok spokesperson said. ByteDance did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which chairs CFIUS, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Tom Cotton asked for a national security probe. They said they were concerned about the video-sharing platform’s collection of user data, and whether China censors content seen by U.S. users. They also suggested TikTok could be targeted by foreign influence campaigns.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” Schumer and Cotton wrote to Joseph Macguire, acting director of national intelligence.

TikTok allows users to create and share short videos with special effects. The company has said U.S. user data is stored in the United States, but the senators noted that ByteDance is governed by Chinese laws.

TikTok also says China does not have jurisdiction over content of the app, which does not operate in China and is not influenced by any foreign government.

Last month, Musical.ly founder Alex Zhu, who heads the TikTok team, started to report directly to ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming, one of the sources said. He previously reported to Zhang Nan, the head of ByteDance’s Douyin, a Chinese short video app. It was not clear whether this move, which separates TikTok organizationally from ByteDance’s other holdings, was related to the company’s discussions with CFIUS over mitigation.

In October, U.S. senator Marco Rubio asked CFIUS to review ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly. He cited questions about why TikTok had “only had a few videos of the Hong Kong protests that have been dominating international headlines for months.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose product competes with TikTok particularly for younger users, has also criticized the app over censorship concerns.

The United States has been increasingly scrutinizing app developers over the safety of personal data they handle, especially if some of it involves U.S. military or intelligence personnel.

Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd said in May it would seek to sell its popular gay dating app Grindr after it was approached by CFIUS with national security concerns.

Last year, CFIUS forced China’s Ant Financial to scrap plans to buy MoneyGram International Inc over concerns about the safety of data that could be used to identify U.S. citizens.

The panel also compelled Oceanwide Holdings and Genworth Financial Inc to work through a U.S. third party data administrator to ensure the Chinese company could not access the insurer’s U.S. customers’ personal private data.

BYTEDANCE’S RISE

ByteDance is one of China’s fastest growing startups. It owns the country’s leading news aggregator, Jinri Toutiao, as well as TikTok, which has attracted celebrities like Ariana Grande and Katy Perry.

ByteDance counts Japanese technology giant SoftBank, venture firm Sequoia Capital and big private-equity firms such as KKR, General Atlantic and Hillhouse Capital Group as backers.

Analysts have called ByteDance a strong threat to other Chinese tech industry firms including social media and gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd and search engine leader Baidu Inc. Globally, ByteDance’s apps have 1.5 billion monthly active users and 700 million daily active users, the company said in July.

The seven-year-old Chinese start-up posted a better-than-expected revenue for the first half of 2019 at over $7 billion, and was valued at $78 billion late last year, sources have told Reuters.

(Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and Echo Wang in New York, Yingzhi Yang in Beijing and Alexandra Alper in Washington, D.C.; Editing by David Gregorio)

Charleston mass shooting victims can sue U.S. over gun purchase: court

FILE PHOTO: Dylann Roof sits in the court room at the Charleston County Judicial Center to enter his guilty plea on murder charges in state court for the 2015 shooting massacre at a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Grace Beahm/Pool/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Survivors of a 2015 mass shooting at a South Carolina church can sue the U.S. government over its alleged negligence in allowing Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine African-Americans, a federal appeals court said on Friday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government was not immune from liability under either the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) or the Brady Act to prevent handgun violence.

Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel revived 16 lawsuits that challenged lapses in how the government vetted prospective gun purchasers, including the FBI’s management of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

William Wilkins, a former chief judge of the 4th Circuit representing the victims, said Congress had charged the FBI with adopting procedures “to stop people like Roof who could obtain assassins’ weapons” from doing so.

“The government has to do what the law requires,” Wilkins said in an interview. “It failed to do that in this case.”

Roof, a white supremacist, had been admitted to a Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, where he then used his .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol in the shooting.

Victims said a proper background check would have shown that Roof had recently admitted to drug possession, which would have disqualified him from buying the gun from a federally licensed dealer two months earlier.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court that no one disputed that a proper check would have stopped Roof.

But he said U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston was wrong to dismiss the lawsuits on immunity grounds in June 2018, even as Gergel faulted the government’s “abysmally poor policy choices” in managing the background check system.

Gregory said the case turned on the NICS examiner’s alleged negligence in disregarding mandatory procedures. “The government can claim no immunity in these circumstances,” he wrote.

Circuit Judge G. Steven Agee partially dissented, saying the government was not immune from Brady Act claims, but that Gergel properly dismissed the FTCA case.

Roof, now 25, was sentenced to death in January 2017 after being convicted on 33 federal counts related to the shooting, including hate crimes. He pleaded guilty three months later to state murder charges, and was sentenced to nine consecutive life terms without parole.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

Deputy of Venezuela’s Guaido arrested and dragged away by tow truck

FILE PHOTO: Juan Guaido (R), new President of the National Constituent Assembly and lawmaker of the Venezuelan opposition party Popular Will (Partido Voluntad Popular), and lawmaker Edgar Zambrano of Democratic Action party (Accion Democratica), leave the congress after Guaido's swearing-in ceremony, in Caracas, Venezuela January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

By Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan intelligence agents detained opposition leader Juan Guaido’s congressional deputy on Wednesday, using a tow truck to drag his vehicle away with him inside, prompting the U.S. government to warn of “consequences” if he was not released.

The SEBIN intelligence agency seized Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which Guaido heads, in the first arrest of a lawmaker since Guaido tried to spark a military uprising last week to bring down President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Venezuela’s pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly agreed on Tuesday to strip Zambrano and six other lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity to allow their future prosecution. The opposition does not recognize the assembly’s decisions.

The Supreme Court had earlier accused those lawmakers of conspiracy, rebellion and treason, and accused another three opposition legislators of the same crimes on Wednesday.

The opposition says Maduro has stacked the court with his own supporters, while the U.S. government this week threatened to sanction all its members.

The U.S. government’s Venezuelan embassy, now based in Washington, said Zambrano’s “arbitrary detention” was “illegal and inexcusable.”

“Maduro and his accomplices are those directly responsible for Zambrano’s security. If he is not immediately freed, there will be consequences,” the embassy said on Twitter.

An attempted uprising last week led by Guaido, recognized by the United States and other Western countries as the rightful head of state, failed to dislodge Maduro, as have a series of U.S. sanctions against his government. Maduro decried the events as an attempted coup.

“One of the principal conspirators of the coup has just been arrested,” Diosdado Cabello, head of the Constituent Assembly, said in comments broadcast on state television.

“They will have to pay before the courts for the failed coup that they attempted,” he said.

‘KIDNAPPED’

Zambrano said on Twitter at about 6.40 pm local time (2240 GMT) SEBIN agents had surrounded his vehicle outside the headquarters of his Democratic Action party in Caracas’ La Florida district.

“We were surprised by the SEBIN, and after refusing to let us leave our vehicle, they used a tow truck to forcibly transfer us directly to the (SEBIN headquarters) Helicoide,” he said. It was not yet clear if Zambrano was already at the Helicoide.

Guaido said on Twitter: “The regime has kidnapped the first vice president.”

Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume an interim presidency, denouncing Maduro as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent. Maduro has overseen the collapse of Venezuela’s economy, which has shrunk by half over the past five years, forcing more than 3 million Venezuelans to emigrate.

The Constituent Assembly removed Guaido’s parliamentary immunity in early April. Authorities have not tried to arrest him since then, but Maduro has said he will “face justice.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has threatened Maduro’s government with a harsh response should it ever detain Guaido.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s head, Maikel Moreno, rebuffed the U.S. government’s threats to sanction his court’s members if they did not reject Maduro’s government and Guaido.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Moreno and the seven principal members of the court’s constitutional chamber in 2017 for rulings that “usurped the authority” of the National Assembly.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the Trump administration would soon sanction the 25 remaining members of the court. Pence said the United States was lifting economic sanctions on a former Venezuelan general who turned against Maduro in order to encourage other Maduro allies to follow suit.

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said: “We demand the SEBIN stop the intimidation, respect the lawmakers’ parliamentary immunities, and immediately release Edgar Zambrano.”

(Reporting by Angus Berwick and Mayela Armas; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

U.S. names three killed in Syria blast claimed by Islamic State

American flags fly on National Mall with U.S. Capitol on background as high-wind weather conditions continue in Washington, U.S. March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

(Reuters) – The United States on Friday identified three Americans killed in a suicide attack in northern Syria this week that the U.S. government said was likely carried out by the Islamic State militant group.

Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent, 35, identified as being from upstate New York, and Scott Wirtz, a civilian Department of Defense employee from St. Louis, died during the Wednesday attack in Manbij, Syria, the Department of Defense said in a statement.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S. Army, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S. Army, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

The Pentagon did not identify the fourth person killed, a contractor working for a private company.

The Manbij attack on U.S. forces in Syria appeared to be the deadliest since they deployed on the ground there in 2015. It took place in a town controlled by a militia allied with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

Two U.S. government sources told Reuters on Thursday that the United States views the Islamic State militant group as likely responsible for the attack. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

The attack occurred nearly a month after President Donald Trump confounded his own national security team with a surprise decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring Islamic State had been defeated there.

U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, 35, is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S Navy, in Washington, DC, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Shannon M. Kent, 35, is pictured in an undated photo released by the U.S Navy, in Washington, DC, U.S., January 18, 2019. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

If Islamic State carried out the attack, that would undercut assertions, including by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence several hours after the blast on Wednesday, that the militant group has been defeated.

Experts do not believe Islamic State has been beaten despite its having lost almost all of the territory it held in 2014 and 2015 after seizing parts of Syria and Iraq and declaring a “caliphate.”

While the group’s footprint has shrunk, experts say it is far from a spent force and can still conduct guerilla-style attacks. An Islamic State statement on Wednesday said a Syrian suicide bomber had detonated his explosive vest in Manbij.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. expands medical checks after Guatemala boy dies

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in San Diego County, U.S., are seen through a hole on the metallic border wall between United States and Mexico, photographed through the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

By Sofia Menchu and Yeganeh Torbati

NENTON, Guatemala/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Migrant children will receive more thorough medical checks after an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died in U.S. custody this week, the U.S. government said on Wednesday, and his mother expressed grief and despair over his death.

Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who died on Monday, and his father, Agustin, 47, came from the western municipality of Nenton in Huehuetenango province, Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra said. The pair trekked to the Mexico-U.S. border, joining thousands of others who have left their remote area.

Gomez, belonged to a family of indigenous Maya, was the second child to die this month in U.S. custody after crossing from Mexico, following the Dec. 8 death of Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old girl also from Guatemala.

“I’m sad and in despair over the death of my son,” the boy’s 32-year-old mother, Catarina Alonzo, told Reuters by phone from her home in the tiny village of Yalambojoch, speaking through a translator because of her limited Spanish.

The latest fatality prompted sharp criticism from some Democrats, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced policy changes on Wednesday aimed at preventing future deaths of children in custody.

All children in Border Patrol custody have been given a “thorough medical screening,” and moving forward all children will receive “a more thorough hands on assessment” as soon as possible after being apprehended, whether or not the adult with them asks for one, Nielsen said in a statement.

Gomez’s parents, who speak a Maya language called Chuj and little Spanish, have requested an autopsy be done as quickly as possible so their son’s body can be repatriated to Guatemala, Larra said. The results are expected in about a week, she added.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has not released an official cause of death.

Most families in Nenton, a mountainous area near the Mexican border, are of indigenous origin and subsist on corn and beans, as well as money sent back from relatives working in the United States and Mexico, according to a local government report.

Huehuetenango sends the highest number of migrants abroad from Guatemala every year, Larra at the foreign ministry said.

Nielsen said the death of migrant children in U.S. custody is rare, noting that in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, six migrants died under the CBP’s auspices, none of whom were children. It had been more than a decade since a child died in CBP custody, she added.

“It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey,” Nielsen said, noting she would travel to the border later this week to observe the medical screenings and conditions at Border Patrol stations.

She placed some blame for the risks faced by migrant children on their families. “Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north,” Nielsen said.

INVESTIGATION DEMANDED

Gomez and his father were detained on Dec. 18 in El Paso, Texas, for illegally entering the country, the agency said.

They were given hot food, snacks, juice and water, and two days later, were transferred to the El Paso Border Patrol Station, CBP said. On Dec. 23, they were moved to the Alamogordo Border Patrol Station in New Mexico.

On the morning of Dec. 24, an agent noticed Gomez “was coughing and appeared to have glossy eyes,” CBP said, and the father and son were transferred to a nearby hospital.

The boy was found to have a fever and cold and was released with a prescription for an antibiotic and Ibuprofen. That evening, Gomez started vomiting, and his father declined medical help because his son had been feeling better, CBP said.

A few hours later, Gomez again began feeling nauseous and was taken back to the hospital, where he died just before midnight. CBP previously said he had died early on Tuesday.

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called on Wednesday for the DHS internal watchdog, the Inspector General’s office, to investigate Gomez’s death.

Other Democrats expressed outrage.

U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz of California said on a conference call that CBP facilities he had visited last week near El Paso were “dehumanizing” and not equipped to handle emergencies in remote areas of the Mexico-U.S. border.

“This is under the care and the responsibility and the custody of the United States government, and they do not meet the most minimal basic standards of humanitarian health,” he said.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Nenton, Guatemala, and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington Additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and David Morgan in Washington, Editing by Dave Graham, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

Top Trump aide says government shutdown may go into New Year

FILE PHOTO: White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks about of U.S. President Donald Trump's budget in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget director and chief of staff on Sunday said the partial U.S. government shutdown could continue to Jan. 3, when the new Congress convenes and Democrats take over the House of Representatives.

“It’s very possible this shutdown will go beyond (December) the 28th and into the new Congress,” Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday.

“I don’t think things are going to move very quickly here for the next few days” because of the Christmas holiday, added Mulvaney, who serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget and was named acting White House chief of staff 10 days ago.

The U.S. Senate adjourned on Saturday, unable to break an impasse over Trump’s demand for more funds for a wall on the border with Mexico that Democrats are unwilling to accept.

Mulvaney said the White House made a “counter-offer” to Democrats on funding for border security that fell between the Democratic offer of $1.3 billion and Trump’s demand for $5 billion.

As part of those talks on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence offered to drop the demand for $5 billion for a border wall, substituting instead $2.1 billion, ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources.

A Democratic source familiar with the negotiations said real discussions have been happening between Democratic lawmakers and Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who has been talking to the White House. It was unclear what Democrats had offered.

Mulvaney sought to shift blame for the partial shutdown to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic nominee for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, saying she might hold up negotiations to ensure she secures the position.

“I think she’s in that unfortunate position of being beholden to her left wing to where she cannot be seen as agreeing with the president on anything until after she is speaker,” Mulvaney said. ”If that’s the case, again, there’s a chance we go into the next Congress.”  

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill disputed that account, saying in a statement: “As Mr. Mulvaney well knows, House Democrats are united in their opposition to the President’s immoral, expensive and ineffective wall.”

The White House should “stop the posturing and start serious bipartisan talks,” Hammill said.

Financing for about a quarter of federal government programs – including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Agriculture – expired at midnight on Friday. More than 400,000 “essential” employees in those agencies will work without pay until the dispute is resolved. Another 380,000 will be “furloughed,” meaning they are put on temporary leave.

Law enforcement efforts, border patrols, mail delivery and airport operations will keep running.

Building a wall to try to prevent migrants from entering the United States illegally was a central plank of Trump’s presidential campaign, but Democrats are vehemently opposed and have rejected his funding request.

Trump reiterated his push for border security on Sunday, saying on Twitter that “the only way” to stop drugs, gangs, and human trafficking at the border was with a wall or barrier.

“Drones and all of the rest are wonderful and lots of fun, but it is only a good old fashioned Wall that works!,” the president said in the tweet.

Earlier in the week, leaders in both the Senate and House thought they had reached a deal that Trump would sign that contained less money for border security, only to watch the president, under pressure from conservatives, re-assert his demand for $5 billion at the last minute.

Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia on the Senate Banking Committee, said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that he thought a deal this week was possible.

“I spoke to the president last night, he wants that,” Purdue said, adding: “I’m hopeful that cooler heads will prevail and we’ll get to some number between $1.6 (billion) and $5 billion on that.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Mary Milliken, Daniel Wallis and Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump signs measure keeping U.S. government open until Dec. 21

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a budget extension on Friday that will keep the U.S. government open for two more weeks, according to the White House.

Congress on Thursday approved the two-week stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown, setting up a potential standoff over Trump’s proposed border wall later this month.

Before the extension expires on Dec. 21, the Republican-led Congress is expected to consider a $450 billion bill to fund government agencies through the fiscal year that ends next Sept. 30.

Trump has demanded $5 billion this year as part of his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico and has threatened to force a partial government shutdown if Congress does not provide the money. Democrats, who will take control of the House of Representatives in January and have greater say over federal spending, argue the wall would be ineffective at keeping out illegal immigrants and illicit drugs.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Pentagon creating software ‘do not buy’ list to keep out Russia, China

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is working on a software “do not buy” list to block vendors who use software code originating from Russia and China, a top Defense Department acquisitions official said on Friday.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters the Pentagon had been working for six months on a “do not buy” list of software vendors. The list is meant to help the Department of Defense’s acquisitions staff and industry partners avoid buying problematic code for the Pentagon and suppliers.

“What we are doing is making sure that we do not buy software that has Russian or Chinese provenance, for instance, and quite often that’s difficult to tell at first glance because of holding companies,” she told reporters gathered in a conference room near her Pentagon office.

The Pentagon has worked closely with the intelligence community, she said, adding “we have identified certain companies that do not operate in a way consistent with what we have for defense standards.”

Lord did not provide any further details on the list.

Lord’s comments were made ahead of the likely passage of the Pentagon’s spending bill by Congress as early as next week. The bill contains provisions that would force technology companies to disclose if they allowed countries like China and Russia to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military.

The legislation was drafted after a Reuters investigation found that software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software used by some agencies of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Security experts said allowing Russian authorities to look into the internal workings of software, known as source code, could help adversaries like Moscow or Beijing to discover vulnerabilities they could exploit to more easily attack U.S. government systems.

Lord added an upcoming report on the U.S. military supply chain will show that the Pentagon depends on foreign suppliers, including Chinese firms, for components in some military equipment.

She said the Pentagon also wants to strengthen its suppliers’ ability to withstand cyber attacks and will test their cybersecurity defenses by attempting to hack them.

The Pentagon disclosed the measures as the federal government looks to bolster cyber defenses following attacks on the United States that the government has blamed on Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China.

The Department of Homeland Security this week disclosed details about a string of cyber attacks that officials said put hackers working on behalf of the Russian government in a position where they could manipulate some industrial systems used to control infrastructure, including at least one power generator.

(Reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)