Santiago, Apr 13 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that China's financing of President Nicolás Maduro's government is prolonging the crisis in Venezuela.
Pompeo kicked off a four-country tour of Latin America in Chile, where he met with President Sebastián Piñera to discuss the U.S.-China trade war and the Venezuelan crisis. Hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine and other hardships have forced more than 3 million Venezuelans — about one-tenth of the population — to flee the country in the last few years.
"China's bankrolling of the Maduro regime helped precipitate and prolong the crisis in that country," Pompeo said, adding that China invested over $60 billion, "with no strings attached."
"It's no surprise that Maduro used the money to use for tasks like paying off cronies, crushing pro-democracy activists, and funding ineffective social programs," he said.
"I think there's a lesson, a lesson to be learned for all of us: China and others are being hypocritical calling for non-intervention in Venezuela's affairs. Their own financial interventions have helped destroy that country."
Pompeo said China is a major U.S. trading partner, but that its "trade activities often are deeply connected to their national security mission, their technological goals, their desire to steal intellectual property, to have forced technology transfer, to engage in activity that is not economic."
He also criticized Russia's links with leaders in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
"Flying in troops and opening a training center in Venezuela are obvious provocations," he said. "We shouldn't stand for Russia escalating an already very precarious situation in that country."
Caracas, Apr 13 (AP/UNB) — An ace Swedish programmer who was an early, ardent supporter of Wikileaks has been arrested in Ecuador in an alleged plot to blackmail the country's president over his abandonment of Julian Assange.
But friends of Ola Bini say the soft-spoken encryption expert is being unfairly targeted for his activism on behalf of digital privacy.
Bini, 36, was arrested Thursday at the airport in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito as he prepared to board a flight to Japan. The arrest came just hours after Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Bini was carrying at least 30 electronic storage devices.
His lawyers said they have not been notified whether he's been charged. Authorities said the plot hatched with two unidentified Russian hackers living in Ecuador involved threatening to release compromising documents about President Lenin Moreno as he toughened his stance against the Wikileaks founder.
"It's up to the justice system to determine if he committed a crime," Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said Friday. "But we can't allow Ecuador to become a center for piracy and spying. That period in our history is over."
Romo said Bini had traveled at least 12 times to meet with Assange at the London embassy. She said he was also in Venezuela earlier this year around the same time as a close aide to Moreno's ex-mentor turned arch enemy, Rafael Correa. The former president granted Assange asylum in 2012 and has been leading a campaign cheered on by Wikileaks to expose corruption by Moreno that has included the release of damaging personal documents and photos, including several that showed him eating lobster in bed.
While the extent of Bini's relationship with Assange is unclear, the Swede has defended the Wikileaks founder's free speech rights in an online blog he's kept over the years.
"Any official who has called for Assange to be treated as a terrorist or enemy combatant should be seriously considering stepping down from office," he wrote in December 2010.
In the same blog, Bini condemned Amazon for knocking WikiLeaks off its hosting services and credit card companies and PayPal for refusing to process payments to the secret-spilling site. He also described working on a January 2011 panel about Wikileaks put on by his then-employer, global software firm Thoughtworks, and including Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.
An expert on secure communications, Bini arrived in Quito in 2013 after being transferred from Chicago to the Ecuador office of Thoughtworks, which has guiding principles that stress social activism. Around the same time, he started to rethink his online habits and at one point gave up his Gmail account in favor of self-hosted email.
"I am not a huge fan of having all my electronic life hosted under the auspices of U.S. legislation, especially not in light of recent events," he wrote in a 2013 post.
Friends and loved ones describe Bini as a computer geek who felt most at ease solving complex programming problem for days at a time. At the time of his arrest, he was traveling to Japan, his former wife Malin Sandell told The Associated Press, for two weeks of jujitsu training — one of the few hobbies he indulged in outside of his all-consuming work as a code developer.
His Ecuadorian girlfriend said that she did not recall Bini ever expressing strong support for Assange despite the fact that the WikiLeaks founder has deep ties in Sweden and would have been an obvious topic of conversation in the small Ecuadorian programming circles.
"Ola is not a hacker, if by that you mean a criminal, but he is someone trying to understand how computers work and protect people's privacy," Sofia Ramos said in an interview from Brussels.
Ramos worked with Bini on a project at the Center for Digital Autonomy for creating a more secure instant-messaging encryption protocol. In its statement Friday, the center said Computerworld had ranked him in 2010 as Sweden's No. 6 developer.
The center is a small nonprofit incorporated in Ecuador and Spain dedicated to private, secure and anonymous communication. Its website says it has contributed to well-known projects including Enigmail and the Tor privacy browser.
In the hours before he went to the airport Thursday, Bini sent a Tweet warning of a "witch hunt" by Ecuadorian authorities mopping up after Assange's forced departure from the embassy. Now that prophecy appears to have been true, said his friends.
"I didn't realize that knowing somebody is a crime," said Vijay Prashad, who runs a Marxist publishing house in India and last saw Bini a few months ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "He's the last person who would ever be involved in an attempt overthrow a government."
Washington, Apr 12 (AP/UNB) —President Donald Trump declared that "I know nothing about WikiLeaks" after its disheveled founder Julian Assange was hauled out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to face charges, a stark contrast to how candidate Trump showered praise on Assange's hacking organization night after night during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Asked about Thursday's arrest, Trump said at the White House, "It's not my thing. I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I've been seeing what's happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who's doing an excellent job. So, he'll be making a determination . I know nothing really about him."
"It's not my deal in life."
But WikiLeaks was Trump's deal in 2016 as he welcomed the political boost his campaign got and cheered on the release of Clinton campaign emails.
On the same October day that the "Access Hollywood" tape emerged, revealing that Trump had bragged in 2005 about groping women, WikiLeaks began releasing damaging emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta. Trump and his allies, facing a tough battle in the campaign's final month, seized on the illegal dumps and weaponized them.
"WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks," Trump said in Pennsylvania.
"This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump said in Michigan.
"Boy, I love reading WikiLeaks," Trump said in Ohio.
All told, Trump extolled WikiLeaks more than 100 times, and a poster of Assange hung backstage at the Republican's debate war room. At no point from a rally stage did Trump express any misgivings about how WikiLeaks obtained the emails from the Clinton campaign or about the accusations of stealing sensitive U.S. government information, which led to the charges against Assange on Thursday.
Assange for years has been under U.S. Justice Department scrutiny for WikiLeaks' role in publishing thousands of government secrets. He was an important figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails that were stolen from Democratic groups.
When asked about Assange in 2017, Trump said he did not "support or unsupport" WikiLeaks' move to release hacked emails and that he would not be involved in any decision for the U.S. government to arrest Assange.
"I am not involved in that decision," whether or not to arrest Assange, Trump told The Associated Press then, "but if they want to do it, it's OK with me."
The Justice Department now has charged Assange with taking part in a computer hacking conspiracy, accusing him of scheming with Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, to break a password for a classified government computer.
The single charge of computer intrusion conspiracy carries up to five years in prison, though the Justice Department can add additional charges depending on the evidence it gathers. Manning was ordered jailed last month for refusing to testify before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, suggesting that prosecutors are still at work.
It was unclear why the Assange charge, which was brought under seal last year, was made public at this time and why he was taken into custody now — weeks after Mueller's investigation had concluded. None of the allegations in the case relate to Russian election interference or WikiLeaks' role in publishing emails stolen from Democrats by Russian intelligence operatives.
An indictment against 12 Russians last year described WikiLeaks' role in publishing hacked emails in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Though the indictment said WikiLeaks had worked to coordinate the release of information, there was no allegation that the organization solicited the hacking of Democratic email accounts or worked with Russians.
Assange's arrest provoked passionate responses overseas, and from some who had expressed concern about whistleblower protections, but the initial bipartisan reaction in Washington was relief.
"I'm glad to see the wheels of justice are finally turning when it comes to Julian Assange," tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally. "In my book, he has NEVER been a hero. His actions - releasing classified information - put our troops at risk and jeopardized the lives of those who helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan."
And Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, said he hoped the British courts would quickly transfer Assange to U.S. custody "so he can finally get the justice he deserves."
Assange's lawyer has previously said he planned to fight any U.S. charges against him. Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 after he was released on bail in Britain while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped. British police said Assange had been arrested Thursday for breaching his bail conditions and in relation to the U.S. arrest request.
Philadelphia, Apr 12 (AP/UNB) — The handwritten notification of President Abraham Lincoln's death is being offered for sale by a Philadelphia documents dealer.
Nathan Raab, president of the Raab Collection, says the telegram was thought to be lost, and calls it "truly one of our great finds."
It was written inside the home where Lincoln was rushed after being shot at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Thomas Eckert, the chief telegraph officer, stood watch over Lincoln, who died April 15.
The telegram reads: "Abraham Lincoln died this morning at 22 minutes after seven."
Stanton dictated the telegram to Eckert, who gave it to a runner to take to War Department telegraphers.
The piece had been in the collection of a Civil War general's family for generations and is valued at $500,000.
The 154th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination is Monday.
Kabul, Apr 9 (AP/UNB) — Three American service members and a U.S. contractor were killed when their convoy hit a roadside bomb on Monday near the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, the U.S. forces said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
The U.S. and NATO Resolute Support mission said the four Americans were killed near the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, while three others were wounded in the explosion. The base in Bagram district is located in northern Parwan province and serves as the main U.S. air facility in the country.
The wounded were evacuated and are receiving medical care, the statement said. It added that in accordance with U.S. Department of Defense policy, the names of service members killed in action were being withheld until after the notification of next of kin.
In their claim of responsibility, the Taliban said they launched the attack and that one of their suicide bombers detonated his explosives-laden vehicle near the NATO base. The conflicting accounts could not be immediately reconciled.
The fatalities, which bring to seven the number of U.S. soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, underscore the difficulties in bringing peace to the war-wrecked country even as Washington has stepped up efforts to find a way to end the 17-year war, America's longest.
There are about 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, supporting embattled Afghan forces as they struggle on two fronts — facing a resurgent Taliban who now hold sway over almost half the country and also the Islamic State affiliate, which has sought to expand its footprint in Afghanistan even as its self-proclaimed "caliphate" has crumbled in Syria and Iraq.
Last year, 13 U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have continued to carry out daily attacks on Afghan security forces despite holding several rounds of peace talks with the United States in recent months. The Taliban have refused to meet with the Afghan government, which they view as a U.S. puppet.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have agreed to take part in an all-Afghan gathering later this month in Qatar, where the insurgents maintain a political office. But the Taliban say they will not recognize any government official attending the gathering as a representative of the Kabul government, only as an individual Afghan participant.