GOP’s Graham threatens to flee DC to block budget. Biden releases 1st Guantanamo inmate. Spyware targeted global dissidents, journalists. Havana Syndrome strikes in Vienna.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “Hell yeah I would leave”
GOP Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) has threatened to leave Washington D.C block a reconciliation vote on the Democrats’ (still hypothetical) $3.5 trillion budget. If Graham and other Republicans were to make good on this threat, they would be following the lead of Democratic Texas lawmakers who recently left the state to block new voting restrictions. The US Senate requires a quorum of 51 senators to be present in order to conduct business.
Graham is no stranger to grandstanding. However, it’s far from certain that all his Republican colleagues would be willing to die on this hill with him. The proposals in the budget so far would vastly improve the lives of millions of Republican voters. Notably, the proposals include making the new monthly child tax credits permanent and expanding Medicare to cover hearing, vision and dental care. Nor is it certain such a gesture would be necessary. Senate Democrats themselves remain divided on the price tag, scope and content of the budget proposals.
What’s more interesting is the double standard inherent in Graham’s pre-emptive threat. Since the Texas lawmakers departed the state, prominent Republicans, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, have variously accused them of cowardice, obstruction and “running away from a fight”. Abbott has vowed to arrest the Democratic legislators as soon as they return to the state.
First Guantanamo prisoner repatriated under Biden
Many of the inmates still housed in the US’ most controversial detention center have been there since the George W. Bush administration. The inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are from countries all around the world and are suspected of taking part in terrorist activities. None of them have ever been convicted, and most haven’t even been formally charged. Some have been cleared for release or repatriation to their home countries since 2016, or longer.
That was the case for Abdul Latif Nassir, a now-59-year-old Moroccan national, who is now heading home in a first under the Biden administration. Nassir had been in Guantanamo since 2002 on suspicion of terrorist activities. In 2016, the Obama administration had cleared Nassir and other Guantanamo inmates for release or repatriation in 2016. But Obama’s successor Donald Trump quickly put those releases on hold.
Like Obama, Biden vowed to close Guantanamo during his presidential campaign. Unlike Obama, Biden is not leaving it till the last minute to do anything about it. The White House says that Nassir’s release is a first step towards finally closing the facility. There are still 39 other inmates in Guantanamo, most of whom have long been cleared for release or repatriation.
Nassir will now return to Morocco, where local authorities will immediately arrest him. Nassir will then finally face the terrorism charges he was never able to defend himself against during his two decades in US custody.
Spyware from Israeli tech firm used to spy on 1000s of dissidents, journalists
A collaborative investigation by 17 international media groups has revealed the massive role that an Israeli spyware company has played in helping oppressive regimes crack down on dissidents and journalists. NSO Group first came into the media spotlight for its role in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In 2020, we learned that NSO had sold its Pegasus spyware to Saudi officials, who used it to target Khashoggi.
The new investigation has now revealed the extent of that involvement. Investigating journalists found that Pegasus had infected the cell phone of one woman close to Khasshoggi. The phone of another woman in Khashoggi’s circle was not affected, but did show multiple attempts to hack the phone.
How does it work?
The Pegasus software can infiltrate a target’s phone through text message. Often, the owner is unaware that anything is amiss. Once the program downloads, it can essentially take control of the phone. It can monitor texts, social media posts, access photos, files, and contacts. It can even activate the phone’s microphone or camera in real-time to spy on the owner and record conversations.
Who is at risk?
Using a leaked list of 50,000 cellphone numbers, the investigators were able to identify more than 1000 individuals in 50 countries who were targeted for surveillance by NSO’s clients. These include journalists, academics, dissidents, politicians, human rights advocates and prominent business executives. According to Washington Post reporter Craig Timberg, who collaborated in the investigation, many of the investigators themselves found that they and their family members were on the list.
What has NSO said?
Timberg says the investigating journalists have received numerous angry letters from NSO’s lawyers. The company has previously denied the allegations or any connection to the Khasshoggi murder.
Somewhat ominously, Timberg says NSO CEO Shalev Hulio recently called Timberg on his cellphone, quite out of the blue. In the conversation, Timberg says that Hulio once again denied the accuracy of the reports. However, Hulio also expressed concern at the allegation that his company’s spyware was being used to target journalists, and promised to investigate the matter himself.
Havana Syndrome strikes again – in Vienna
In Vienna, Austria, up to two dozen members of US diplomatic staff have reported “Havana Syndrome” attacks since the beginning of the Biden administration. Vienna is currently hosting talks among representatives from several countries to reinstate the Iranian nuclear deal.
Regular readers are already aware of recent reports of the mysterious Havana Syndrome which has afflicted numerous members of the US government, mostly those working abroad. The first reports of the syndrome emerged among US diplomatic staff in 2016. Since then, diplomatic staff working in various other countries have reported similar symptoms. Last year, some White House staffers suffered attacks in the D.C. area. Two members of Trump’s National Security Council also reported attacks on the grounds of the White House itself.
Symptoms vary, but in the moment of the attacks, victims report sudden powerful headaches, dizziness and a sensation of piercing “directional noise”. After effects include vertigo, memory problems, and “cognitive fog”. Studies by US scientists claim to have identified long-term brain damage among sufferers.
No one knows what causes the attacks, but some theories suggest a high-powered directed microwave weapon of some sort, perhaps some type of surveillance equipment. However, many scientists have criticized these conclusions and believe that some form of mass hysteria is a more likely explanation.Democrats, federal budget, GOP, Havana syndrome, Infrastructure, international news, Iran nuclear deal, Israel, Jamal Khashoggi, Lindsey Graham, national news, New Albany MS, Northeast Mississippi news, NSO Group, Saudi Arabia, senate, spyware, US news, Vienna, world news