A German Terrorist Suspect With a Refugee Disguise: The Tale of Franco A. – The New York Times

“OFFENBACH, Germany — At the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, a bearded man in sweatpants walked into a police station. His pockets were empty except for an old cellphone and a few foreign coins.

In broken English, he presented himself as a Syrian refugee. He said he had crossed half the continent by foot and lost his papers along the way. The officers photographed and fingerprinted him. Over the next year, he would get shelter and an asylum hearing, and would qualify for monthly benefits.

His name, he offered, was David Benjamin.

In reality, he was a lieutenant in the German Army. He had darkened his face and hands with his mother’s makeup and applied shoe shine to his beard. Instead of walking across Europe, he had walked 10 minutes from his childhood home in the western city of Offenbach.”

Opinion | I Was the Homeland Security Adviser to Trump. We’re Being Hacked. – The New York Times

Mr. Bossert was the homeland security adviser to President Trump and deputy homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush.

Credit…Illustration by Frank Augugliaro; flag: Wolfgang Deuter/Getty Images

“At the worst possible time, when the United States is at its most vulnerable — during a presidential transition and a devastating public health crisis — the networks of the federal government and much of corporate America are compromised by a foreign nation. We need to understand the scale and significance of what is happening.

Last week, the cybersecurity firm FireEye said it had been hacked and that its clients, which include the United States government, had been placed at risk. This week, we learned that SolarWinds, a publicly traded company that provides software to tens of thousands of government and corporate customers, was also hacked.

The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates of that software were made available to its customers. Unsuspecting customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software, which included a hidden back door that gave hackers access to the victim’s network.”

Biden Plans to Tap Lloyd Austin, Former Iraq Commander, as Defense Secretary – The New York Times

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“. . . General Austin became the top commander of American forces in Iraq in 2010, when the United States still had roughly 50,000 service members there. Much of the attention had moved on to other hot spots in the Middle East, but major questions still existed about the direction of Iraq, including whether any American forces would remain in the country beyond 2011. General Austin and his commanders were convinced that a sizable force of over 5,000 troops needed to remain to help the fledgling Iraqi military. But the commanders on the ground were ultimately overruled by the Obama administration, which pulled out all American forces by the end of 2011.

Years later that decision would be blamed for the Islamic State’s ability to seize wide swaths of the country.

General Austin’s style was far more reserved than some of the officers with marquee names who spent considerable time cultivating their public image and using the news media to maneuver policy fights with the administration.” . . .

Opinion | So, Russia, You Want to Mess With Our Voting Machines? -By Tim Wu- The New York Times

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Mr. Wu is a co-author of “Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World.”

Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

“Put yourself in the shoes of Russian or Iranian leadership for a moment. Why not interfere with the voting in the U.S. presidential election? What could be more advantageous than catalyzing a bitter and protracted battle over the results of the election, with a chance of igniting civil unrest throughout the country? Sure, it might not work — but with little to lose and so much to gain, why not try?

When it comes to foreign election meddling in elections, disinformation is a serious threat, but the most disruptive form of intrusion is electoral cyber-interference: the freezing of voting systems, the mass deletion of voter registration information, altering vote counts and so on. Such feats may not be easily accomplished, but if they were successful, they could throw the United States into chaos.

The risk is not hypothetical. American intelligence agencies, having hacked into Russian computer networks, report that Russia recently infiltrated some voting systems in the United States. If Russia or another country were to alter tallies or voter information in just a few swing states, it could threaten our confidence in the results of the election.

That is why this week, Joe Biden and President Trump should threaten punishing retaliation should another nation attempt such forms of electoral interference. They should stress that by “interference” they do not mean propaganda or influence campaigns, but rather direct attacks on the election, which are attacks on political independence and thus a form of illegal aggression. And they should warn that such attacks will lead to destructive consequences — as permitted by international law — for the offending nation and its leadership.”

Opinion | The Biggest Risk to This Election Is Not Russia. It’s Us. – By Fiona Hill – The New York Times

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Ms. Hill was senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council from 2017 to 2019.

Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

“Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, revealed this week that he had recently met his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Geneva and warned him that “there would be absolutely no tolerance for any interference” in the November election.

This was a pointless exchange. It misrepresents how Russia actually interferes in our affairs. The Russian state does not meddle directly. It delegates to proxies, who amplify our divisions and exploit our political polarization.

And the truth is, Americans must recognize that the United States is ripe for manipulation. With a month to go before Election Day, we are ripping ourselves apart.

When I was at the National Security Council, I had similar meetings with Mr. Patrushev and other Russian officials; we met in Geneva, in Moscow and in side rooms at international summits. With the national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, we called them out for intervening in our 2016 elections. We warned them not to repeat their operations in 2018 and 2020.

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Our Russian counterparts never admitted to anything. They professed surprise at the uproar in American politics. They had done nothing. The United States, they said, had “gone mad.”

ImageNikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council.
Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

The uproar, we countered, was their fault. They had lost the entire American political class. Their actions pushed our bilateral relationship into a destructive spiral.

We would then run through the now widely reported facts about what Russian operatives had done. Russia’s 2016 campaign was a creative mix of old-style propaganda techniques and new cybertools. On the one hand, Russia state-backed media outlets magnified the most divisive U.S. political conflicts. On the other, Twitter bots and WikiLeaks spread disinformation and revealed hacked emails. Russia’s Internet Research Agency analyzed U.S. public opinion and hired individuals to pose as Americans on Facebook.

Mattis Accuses Trump of Dividing the Nation in a Time of Crisis – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, breaking months of public silence on President Trump since resigning in protest in December 2018, on Wednesday offered a withering critique of the president’s leadership amid growing protests across the country.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mr. Mattis wrote in a statement issued late Wednesday. “Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, also criticized comments by the current defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, who in recent days has described protest sites across the nation as a “battle space” to be cleared.

“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battle space’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate,’” Mr. Mattis wrote. “At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society.” “

“. . .  In his statement on Wednesday, Mr. Mattis sounded a call to arms of a different sort than have resounded in the streets near the White House, and across the country.

“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square,” Mr. Mattis said. “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.” “

Chinese Agents Spread Messages That Sowed Virus Panic in U.S., Officials Say – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — The alarming messages came fast and furious in mid-March, popping up on the cellphone screens and social media feeds of millions of Americans grappling with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spread the word, the messages said: The Trump administration was about to lock down the entire country.

“They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters,” warned one of the messages, which cited a source in the Department of Homeland Security. “He said he got the call last night and was told to pack and be prepared for the call today with his dispatch orders.”

The messages became so widespread over 48 hours that the White House’s National Security Council issued an announcement via Twitter that they were “FAKE.”

Putin’s Long War Against American Science – The New York Times

On Feb. 3, soon after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be a global health emergency, an obscure Twitter account in Moscow began retweeting an American blog. It said the pathogen was a germ weapon designed to incapacitate and kill. The headline called the evidence “irrefutable” even though top scientists had already debunked that claim and declared the novel virus to be natural.

As the pandemic has swept the globe, it has been accompanied by a dangerous surge of false information — an “infodemic,” according to the World Health Organization. Analysts say that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has played a principal role in the spread of false information as part of his wider effort to discredit the West and destroy his enemies from within.

The House, the Senate and the nation’s intelligence agencies have typically focused on election meddling in their examinations of Mr. Putin’s long campaign. But the repercussions are wider. An investigation by The New York Times — involving scores of interviews as well as a review of scholarly papers, news reports, and Russian documents, tweets and TV shows — found that Mr. Putin has spread misinformation on issues of personal health for more than a decade.

His agents have repeatedly planted and spread the idea that viral epidemics — including flu outbreaks, Ebola and now the coronavirus — were sown by American scientists. The disinformers have also sought to undermine faith in the safety of vaccines, a triumph of public health that Mr. Putin himself promotes at home.

Exclusive: Captain of aircraft carrier with growing coronavirus outbreak pleads for help from Navy – SFChronicle.com

Note: This story has been updated with comments from the U.S. Navy and other developments.

“The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier with more than 100 sailors infected with the coronavirus pleaded Monday with U.S. Navy officials for resources to allow isolation of his entire crew and avoid possible deaths in a situation he described as quickly deteriorating.

The unusual plea from Capt. Brett Crozier, a Santa Rosa native, came in a letter obtained exclusively by The Chronicle and confirmed by a senior officer on board the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been docked in Guam following a COVID-19 outbreak among the crew of more than 4,000 less than a week ago.

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”

In the four-page letter to senior military officials, Crozier said only a small contingent of infected sailors have been off-boarded. Most of the crew remain aboard the ship, where following official guidelines for 14-day quarantines and social distancing is impossible.

“Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this,” Crozier wrote. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”

He asked for “compliant quarantine rooms” on shore in Guam for his entire crew “as soon as possible.”

“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. … This is a necessary risk,” Crozier wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.” “

Source: Exclusive: Captain of aircraft carrier with growing coronavirus outbreak pleads for help from Navy – SFChronicle.com

Opinion | For Coronavirus, Trump Is Not the Wartime President We Need – The New York Times

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Ms. Rice is a contributing Opinion writer.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

“Donald Trump declared himself a “wartime president” just three weeks ago. On Twitter, he proclaimed “WE WILL WIN THIS WAR.” At last, he seemed to grasp the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis facing the world. Bluster aside, Mr. Trump is correct: This is war, the most consequential since World War II, and he is in charge.

Unfortunately, few of his actions display the leadership we need from a wartime commander in chief who is confronting a viral version of World War III.

The United States military develops detailed war plans for combat scenarios and exercises regularly to prepare for contingencies. The Defense Department gathers intelligence, scans the globe for impending threats, pre-positions forces and equipment, stockpiles supplies and trains its forces. Maintaining readiness is the military’s most prized prerequisite for battlefield success.

In the case of coronavirus, the Trump administration shelved the war plan, or pandemic “playbook,” prepared by the Obama administration. It disbanded the National Security Council office established to provide early warning and ensure preparedness, and disregarded the intelligence community’s warnings that a global pandemic was likely.”