Pompeo to Urge Iranians Abroad to ‘Support’ Anti-Regime Protests

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans on Sunday to urge members of the Iranian diaspora to “support” protesters in Iran, as the Trump administration hints at a desire for regime change in Tehran after turning its back on the Iranian nuclear accord.

President Donald Trump – who has made the Islamic republic a favorite target since his unexpected rapprochement with North Korea – decided on May 8 to restore all the sanctions that had been lifted as part of the multi-nation agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Following the U.S. withdrawal that stunned even Washington’s closest European allies, Pompeo on May 21 unveiled a “new strategy” intended to force Iran to yield to a dozen stringent demands or else face the “strongest sanctions in history.”

The next U.S. step is due at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday (0100 UTC Monday) in the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California, when the secretary of state delivers a speech entitled “Supporting Iranian Voices.”

With the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 a year away, Pompeo plans to retrace “40 years of stealing from the Iranian people, the terrorism they have committed around the region, the brutal repression at home” as well as the “religious persecution” there, a senior State Department official told reporters ahead of the speech.

The venue for Pompeo’s address is significant, the official noted: some 250,000 Iranian-Americans live in Southern California.  

“He will be exposing some of the corruption” of a “kleptocratic regime,” the diplomat told reporters. “The regime has prioritized its ideological agenda over the welfare of the Iranian people.”

Pompeo launched his campaign against Iran on Twitter last month, saying the government in Tehran and the Revolutionary Guards – the regime’s elite armed corps – had “plundered the country’s wealth” in proxy wars “while Iranian families struggle.”

Exploiting growing tensions within

The Trump administration’s strategy appears simple: to exploit the already growing tensions within Iranian society that are being exacerbated by renewed U.S. sanctions that have forced some foreign firms to leave.  

There have been a series of anti-government protests in Iran in recent months, prompted by an array of different issues and concerns.

The State Department briefer said Pompeo plans to support “the legitimate demands of the Iranian people, especially their economic demands for a better life.”

But how far will he and the administration go?

“That’s the key question,” Behnam Ben Taleblu of the conservative pressure group Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told the French news agency AFP. “Pompeo and the administration can do more than just rhetorical support to the Iranian protester.”

Several Iranian dissidents have written to Pompeo to urge him to re-establish punitive measures against the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting network, which they accuse of abetting human rights violations.  

Word of Pompeo’s planned speech has fanned speculation on Washington’s precise intentions.

The State Department insists that the U.S. seeks merely a “change in behavior” by the regime.

But some senior members of the Trump administration – notably national security advisor John Bolton – have made it clear in the past that they would like to see the Tehran regime topple, and Pompeo himself said in May that “the Iranian people get to choose for themselves the kind of leadership they want.”

To Behnam Ben Taleblu, “genuine regime change can only come from inside.”

With an upsurge of “Iranians of all different social classes protesting,” he said, the Trump administration will have to decide whether it wants to “support elements that actually want to change the regime.”

Diplomats and experts in Washington are divided as to whether the protests and social tensions within Iran pose a true threat to the Islamic republic.

Nor is there agreement on what it would actually mean should the Iranian regime fall – but some find that uncertainty deeply worrying.

“The more likely result of regime collapse would be a military coup in the name of restoring order, led by the man Washington’s Iran hawks fear the most: Gen. Qasem Suleimani,” the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, according to Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Exerting maximum pressure on Iran could bring about America’s worst nightmare,” he added on Twitter.


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Mexico President-Elect Writes to Trump About Migration, NAFTA

Mexico’s President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, seeking to initiate “a new stage in the relationship” of the two countries and to make progress in the areas of “trade, migration, development and security.”

Lopez Obrador handed the seven-page letter to a U.S. delegation that visited the country on July 13.

Marcelo Ebrard, foreign minister-designate, read the letter to reporters on Sunday, and said Trump had received the letter.

In the letter, Lopez Obrador said Mexico is home to the largest number of Americans living outside the U.S. and “the United States is the largest home for Mexicans outside of our borders.”

“I believe that the understanding that I propose in this letter should lead us to a worthy and respectful treatment of these communities,” he said.

Lopez Obrador suggested creating a development plan that included other Central American countries, where migrants also live in poverty and lack job opportunities.

He suggested that if the U.S., Mexico and other Central American countries, “each one contributing according to the size of its economy. … We could gather a considerable amount of resources for the development of the region.”

The plan, according to the president-elect, would spend 75 percent of its funds on “projects to create jobs and fight poverty” and 25 percent on border control and security.

“In this way, I reiterate, we would be addressing the causes that originate the migration phenomenon,” he said in the letter.

Lopez Obrador said his government hopes to improve the economy and security of the country “to ensure that Mexicans do not have to migrate because of poverty or violence.”

He also urged that the U.S., Mexico and Canada resume North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations.

“Prolonging the uncertainty could slow down investments in the medium and long-term,” he said.

Lopez Obrador, who won the nation’s presidential election on July 1, will take office in December.

He also used his letter to explain some of his government’s plans, such as public investment and development in the agricultural, energy, education, cultural and health sectors.


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Defense Bill Would Curb US Cabinet Control of Nuclear Agency

The agency that supervises the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile would essentially lose direct Cabinet oversight under legislation that Congress is negotiating.

The little-noticed provision in a defense policy bill is opposed by the Trump administration and senior lawmakers from both parties, but efforts to scrap it have not overcome resistance from staffers on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

At issue in the Senate-approved bill is whether the National Nuclear Security Administration remains under the direct control of the Energy Department, where it’s been since its creation in 2000.

The bill would empower that agency to act nearly on its own, freed from what a report by the Senate committee calls a “flawed DOE organizational process” that has led to “weak accountability … insufficient program and budget expertise and poor contract management.”

That report cites a series of delays and cost overruns at the agency, including a contentious project to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium and uranium into fuel for commercial reactors. The cost of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina has ballooned from $1.4 billion in 2004 to more than $17 billion and completion is decades away. The Energy Department has moved to cancel the project, but it remains open amid a legal challenge by the state of South Carolina.

The White House and Energy Secretary Rick Perry strongly oppose the reorganization, saying it would usurp Perry’s authority to set policy in crucial areas and make the nuclear agency’s general counsel independent of the Energy Department’s legal division.

The White House said in a statement that the bill would block the energy secretary from directing civil and national security functions at the agency and “degrade” the secretary’s ability to protect the health, safety and security of employees and the public.

A Perry spokeswoman, Shaylyn Hynes, called the plan “misguided” and said it would “weaken national security efforts by limiting DOE’s critical role in managing America’s nuclear weapons capabilities.”

“It is in the best interest of the safety and security of all Americans to remove this provision from the bill and continue NNSA to be represented by a Cabinet-level official, allowing DOE and NNSA’s complementary relationship to remain strong,” Hynes said.

The NNSA said in a statement that while intended to improve efficiencies, “the changes put forward by the Senate committee would significantly limit the secretary’s ability to fulfill his nuclear security missions and … lead to unnecessary duplication of effort at NNSA for work already being carried out by DOE.”

The leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee said the plan was “a major step backward.”

“To reduce the secretary’s authority in such a sweeping way …. raises serious questions about the long-term consequences,” Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Murkowski and Cantwell supported Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provision during Senate debate on the defense bill last month. A later Cruz effort also failed on procedural grounds.

Criticism of the nuclear agency isn’t new.

A congressional commission led by a former Army undersecretary and retired Navy admiral concluded in 2014 that it had failed in its mission and relied too heavily on private contractors that had turned it into a massive jobs program with duplicative functions and a “dysfunctional management and operations relationship.”

The commission, however, did support the current oversight arrangement.

A Senate aide familiar with the reorganization plan contended it was “a straight-up power grab” by staffers at the nuclear agency and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Agency staffers, frustrated by delays that occur as the Energy Department’s general counsel and other officials review their work, took their case to Senate committee staffers, according to the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

The committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been away from the Capitol since December as he fights brain cancer. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has led the committee in McCain’s absence but has not played a role in the nuclear agency dispute.

In its staff-written report, the committee said the proposal was not “an indictment of the current Energy secretary” but rather an effort to “address a number of structural impediments” that have “damaged the NNSA’s ability to carry out its mission.”

A committee spokeswoman declined to comment, as did representatives for Inhofe and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s top Democrat. Spokesmen for leaders of the House Armed Service Committee also declined to comment.

Perry told Congress this year that there have been “historically questionable expenditures of dollars” on the MOX project and other NNSA contracts, but said officials were working to ensure taxpayers “are getting a good return on our investment.”

“We will give good oversight,” Perry told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in May, pledging to make the NNSA and other DOE agencies “as transparent as we can and try to get us the results that this committee wants.”

Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, a New Mexico-based watchdog group, said the proposed changes would begin “dismantling civilian control over the nuclear weapons enterprise.”

Corporate contractors “have already captured NNSA. These changes would gut what remaining oversight and external control there is,” Mello said.



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Jonathan Gold, Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Food Critic, Dies

Jonathan Gold, who became the first restaurant critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, has died. He was 57.

The Los Angeles Times, where Gold most recently worked, reported that he died Saturday after being diagnosed earlier this month with pancreatic cancer.

“I can’t imagine the city without him. It just feels wrong. I feel like we won’t have our guide, we won’t have the soul,” said Laura Gabbert, who directed City of Gold, a 2015 documentary about the critic. “It’s such a loss. I can’t wrap my head around it still.”

Gold’s reviews first appeared in L.A. Weekly and later in The Times and Gourmet. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 while at L.A. Weekly. He was a finalist again in 2011.

“There will never be another like Jonathan Gold, who will forever be our brilliant, indispensable guide through the culinary paradise that is Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “Jonathan earned worldwide acclaim as a food critic, but he possessed the soul of a poet whose words helped readers everywhere understand the history and culture of our city.”

The Times noted Gold’s reviews, appearing in his column called Counter Intelligence, focused on “hole-in-the-wall joints, street food, mom-and-pop shops and ethnic restaurants,” which he preferred to call traditional restaurants.

Known as J. Gold, he had a distinctive style, wearing suspenders, a slightly rumpled button-down shirt, moustache and mop of feathery strawberry blond hair.

Ruth Reichl, who edited Gold at The Times and at Gourmet, called him a trailblazer.

“Jonathan understood that food could be a power for bringing a community together, for understanding other people,” she told the newspaper. “In the early ’80s, no one else was there. He was a trailblazer and he really did change the way that we all write about food.”

Gold also won numerous James Beard Foundation journalism awards during this career. In May, he received the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award.

His reviews were compiled into a book, Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles, in 2000.

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Administration Releases Wiretap Documents on Ex-Trump Adviser

The Trump administration on Saturday released a set of documents once deemed top secret relating to the wiretapping of a onetime adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The New York Times reported that the documents involving former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page were released to the Times and several other media organizations that had filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to obtain them. The FBI later posted the documents to its FOIA website online.

The materials include an October 2016 application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap Page as well as several renewal applications, the Times reported. It is highly unusual for documents related to FISA wiretap applications to be released.

While the documents were heavily redacted in places, the Times reported that visible portions of the documents show the FBI telling the intelligence court that Page “has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.” The agency also told the court “the FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government.”

Page has denied being a Russian agent.

After a redaction, the Times reported that the application to wiretap Page included a partial sentence: “… undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”

The surveillance of Page became a contentious matter between Republican and Democratic lawmakers earlier this year.

Republicans alleged the FBI had abused its surveillance powers and improperly obtained the warrant, a charge that Democrats rebutted as both sides characterized the documents in different ways. The documents, meanwhile, remained out of public view.

House Democrats were quick to say that the documents bolstered their arguments.

“For more than a year, House Republicans have bullied the Department of Justice and FBI to release highly sensitive documents to derail the Special Counsel’s and other legitimate national security investigations and cover for the President,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “For the sake of our national security and our democracy, these vital investigations must be allowed to continue unhindered by Republican interference. The GOP must cease their attacks on our law enforcement and intelligence communities, and finally decide where their loyalty lies.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said the documents underscore the “legitimate concern” the FBI had about Page’s activities. 

Yet Schiff said the materials shouldn’t have been released during an ongoing investigation because of national security. He blamed Trump for making public House Republicans’ initial memo about the FISA applications, a move by Trump that the congressman called “nakedly political and self-interested, and designed to to (sic) interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation.”


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Revelations of US Cardinal Sex Abuse Will Force Pope’s Hand

Revelations that one of the most respected U.S. cardinals allegedly sexually abused both boys and adult seminarians have raised questions about who in the Catholic Church hierarchy knew — and what Pope Francis is going to do about it.

If the accusations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick bear out — including a new case reported Friday involving an 11-year-old boy — will Francis revoke his title as cardinal? Sanction him to a lifetime of penance and prayer? Or even defrock him, the expected sanction if McCarrick were a mere priest?

And will Francis, who has already denounced a “culture of cover-up” in the church, take the investigation all the way to the top, where it will inevitably lead? McCarrick’s alleged sexual misdeeds with adults were reportedly brought to the Vatican’s attention years ago.

The matter is now on the desk of the pope, who has already spent the better part of 2018 dealing with a spiraling child sex abuse, adult gay priest sex and cover-up scandal in Chile that was so vast the entire bishops’ conference offered to resign in May.

And on Friday, Francis accepted the resignation of the Honduran deputy to Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is one of Francis’ top advisers. Auxiliary Bishop Juan José Pineda Fasquelle, 57, was accused of sexual misconduct with seminarians and lavish spending on his lovers that was so obvious to Honduras’ poverty-wracked faithful that Maradiaga is now under pressure to reveal what he knew of Pineda’s misdeeds and why he tolerated a sexually active gay bishop in his ranks.

The McCarrick scandal poses the same questions. It was apparently an open secret in some U.S. church circles that “Uncle Ted” invited seminarians to his beach house, and into his bed.

While such an abuse of power may have been quietly tolerated for decades, it doesn’t fly in the #MeToo era. And there has been a deafening silence from McCarrick’s brother bishops about what they might have known and when.

Fraternal solidarity is common among clerics, but some observers point to it as possible evidence of the so-called “gay lobby” or “lavender mafia” at work. These euphemisms — frequently denounced as politically incorrect displays of homophobia in the church — are used by some to describe a perceived protection and promotion network of gay Catholic clergy.

“There is going to be so much clamor for the Holy Father to remove the red hat, to formally un-cardinalize him,” said the Rev. Thomas Berg, vice rector and director of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, the seminary of the archdiocese of New York.

Berg said the church needs to ensure that men with deep-seated same-sex attraction simply don’t enter seminaries — a position recently reinforced by the Vatican at large and by Francis in comments to Chilean and Italian bishops.

Berg said the church also needs to take action when celibacy vows are violated.

“We can’t effectively prevent the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults by clergy while habitual and widespread failures in celibacy are quietly tolerated,” he said.

McCarrick, the 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington and confidante to three popes, was ultimately undone when the U.S. church announced June 20 that Francis had ordered him removed from public ministry. The sanction was issued pending a full investigation into a “credible” allegation that he fondled a teenager more than 40 years ago in New York City.

The dioceses of Newark and Metuchen, New Jersey, simultaneously revealed that they had received three complaints of misconduct by McCarrick against adults and had settled two of them.

Another alleged victim, the son of a McCarrick family friend identified as James, came forward in a report in The New York Times and subsequently in an interview with The Associated Press. James said he was 11 when McCarrick first exposed himself to him. From there, McCarrick began a sexually abusive relationship that continued for another two decades, James told AP.

“I was the first guy he baptized,” James told AP. “I was his little boy. I was his special kid.”

McCarrick has denied the initial allegation of abuse against a minor and accepted the pope’s decision to remove him from public ministry.

Asked Friday about James, a spokeswoman said McCarrick hadn’t received formal notice of any new allegation but would follow the civil and church processes in place to investigate them.

Even now, Francis could take immediate action to remove McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, said Kurt Martens, a canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America.

He recalled the case of the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who recused himself from the 2013 conclave that elected Francis pope after unidentified priests alleged in newspapers that he engaged in sexual misconduct. In 2015, after a Vatican investigation, Francis accepted O’Brien’s resignation after he relinquished the rights and privileges of being a cardinal.

O’Brien was, however, allowed to retain the cardinal’s title and he died a member of the college.

“I think that is totally unsatisfactory,” Martens said, noting that just as the pope can grant the title of cardinal, he can also take it away. “O’Brien resigned, the pope accepted it. Isn’t that the world upside down that someone picks his own penalty?”

O’Brien was never accused of sexually abusing a minor, however, as McCarrick now stands.

The stiffest punishment that an ordinary priest would face if such an accusation is proven would be dismissal from the clerical state, or laicization.

The Vatican rarely if ever, however, imposes such a penalty on elderly prelates. It also is loath to do so for bishops, because theologically speaking, defrocked bishops can still validly ordain priests and bishops.

Not even the serial rapist Rev. Marcial Maciel was defrocked after the Vatican finally convicted him of abusing Legion of Christ seminarians. Maciel was sentenced to a lifetime of penance and prayer — the likely canonical sanction for McCarrick if he is found guilty of abusing a minor in a church trial.

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Estonia Spy Chief: Network of Operatives Pushing Russian Agenda in West

For the past several months, intelligence and security officials in the U.S. government and private sector have cautiously marveled at the seemingly slow pace of Russian cyberattacks and influence operations using social media.

Unlike in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, officials say so far there has been no frenzy of hacks, phishing attacks or use of ads and false news stories to penetrate voting systems, alter voter rolls or influence voters ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.

Some have suggested the slowdown is the result of better preparation and better cyber tools that have allowed social media companies to thwart Russian efforts. But among Western intelligence agencies, there is also concern that Russia may not be relying on bots and trolls because they have real people who can do the work instead.

“We [Estonian intelligence] have detected a network of politicians, journalists, diplomats, business people who are actually Russian influence agents and who are doing what they are told to do,” Mikk Marran, the director general of Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service said Friday, speaking of Moscow’s efforts in the West.

“We see clearly that those people are pushing Russia’s agenda,” Marran told an audience at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.

Marran’s comments come during a week that saw U.S. President Donald Trump casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, while standing alongside his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, following their meeting in Helsinki. 

Since returning from Europe, Trump has backtracked on his initial statement, reading a prepared statement during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting and in an interview Wednesday with CBS News.

Still, senior U.S. intelligence and security officials remain concerned, publicly asserting Russia did indeed meddle with the 2016 election. 

A U.S. special counsel, Robert Mueller, appointed to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign, on July 13 indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for hacking the computer networks belonging to the Democratic party, and has previously secured indictments against Trump campaign staffers, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Yet despite the publicity from the U.S. investigation and greater awareness across the West of Russia’s influence operations, Estonian intelligence officials assert Moscow has not been deterred. Instead they say the Kremlin has ratcheted up efforts to make use of “influence agents,” many of whom Moscow has been cultivating for years.

“Politicians that have been in the margins of local politics some years ago are actually right now in national parliaments or national governments,” Marran said. “They have made some bad investments but they have also made some very good investments.”

“What they [the Russians] have provided to those people is media support, political support. They have proposed or provided some exclusive business opportunities,” he added. “In some occasions we have also seen that they have provided financial aid.”

Marran declined to name any politicians, diplomats or journalists suspected of being in Moscow’s pocket. And while it is not the first time that Estonia, a U.S. ally and a NATO member, has warned of Russia’s cultivation of “influence agents” in Western Europe, there are growing concerns that such operations have taken hold in the United States.

Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested Thursday that Russian efforts may even have reached into the White House.

“I’ve been trying my best to give the president the benefit of the doubt and always expressed potential other theories as to why he behaves as he does with respect to Russia generally and Putin specifically,” Clapper told CNN when asked about Trump’s refusal to back the findings of the U.S. intelligence community during his joint news conference with Putin Monday in Helsinki.

“But more and more I come to a conclusion after the Helsinki performance and since, that I really do wonder if the Russians have something on him,” Clapper said.

There have also been persistent rumors that some members of Congress could also be doing Russia’s bidding  a notion reinforced Thursday by Bill Browder, the chief executive officer of Hermitage Capital and a driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington to withhold visas and freeze financial assets of Russian officials thought to be corrupt or human rights abusers.

“There’s one member of the U.S. Congress who I believe is on the payroll of Russia — it’s a Republican Congressmen from Orange County [California] named Dana Rohrabacher who is running around trying to overturn the Magnitsky Act,” Browder said at the Aspen Security Forum.

“I don’t have the bank transfers to prove it, but I believe that that’s the case,” Browder said when he was pressed on the accusation, citing Rohrabacher’s behavior.

VOA contacted Rohrabacher’s office regarding the accusation, but has not yet gotten any response.

U.S. intelligence and security agencies also declined comment on the allegations that Russian influence agents have infiltrated the U.S. government, though The New York Times reported in May that intelligence agents had warned Rohrabacher, long been considered to be one of the most Russia-friendly members of Congress, as far back as 2012 that Kremlin agents were actively trying to recruit him.

And during a private meeting in June 2016, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told fellow Republican lawmakers, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post.

“It was a bad joke,” McCarthy told reporters after the tape emerged. “That was all there was to it. Nobody believes it.”

Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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CIA: China Waging ‘Quiet Kind of Cold War’ Against US

China is waging a “quiet kind of cold war” against the United States, using all its resources to try to replace America as the leading power in the world, a top CIA expert on Asia said Friday.

Beijing doesn’t want to go to war, he said, but the current communist government, under President Xi Jinping, is subtly working on multiple fronts to undermine the U.S. in ways that are different than the more well-publicized activities being employed by Russia.

“I would argue … that what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war — a cold war not like we saw during THE Cold War (between the U.S. and the Soviet Union) but a cold war by definition,” Michael Collins, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s East Asia mission center, said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Rising U.S.-China tension goes beyond the trade dispute playing out in a tariff tit-for-tat between the two nations.

Stealing secrets, building islands

There is concern over China’s pervasive efforts to steal business secrets and details about high-tech research being conducted in the U.S. The Chinese military is expanding and being modernized and the U.S., as well as other nations, have complained about China’s construction of military outposts on islands in the South China Sea.

“I would argue that it’s the Crimea of the East,” Collins said, referring to Russia’s brash annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which was condemned throughout the West.

Collins’ comments track warnings about China’s rising influence issued by others who spoke earlier this week at the security conference. The alarm bells come at a time when Washington needs China’s help in ending its nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Other wary voices

On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China, from a counterintelligence perspective, represents the broadest and most significant threat America faces. He said the FBI has economic espionage investigations in all 50 states that can be traced back to China.

“The volume of it. The pervasiveness of it. The significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate,” Wray said.

National Intelligence Director Dan Coats also warned of rising Chinese aggression. In particular, he said, the U.S. must stand strong against China’s effort to steal business secrets and academic research.

Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said increasing the public’s awareness about the activities of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students or groups at U.S. universities could be one way to help mitigate potential damage.

“China is not just a footnote to what we’re dealing with with Russia,” Thornton said.

​Military upgrades

Marcel Lettre, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said China has the second-largest defense budget in the world, the largest standing army of ground forces, the third-largest air force and a navy of 300 ships and more than 60 submarines.

“All of this is in the process of being modernized and upgraded,” said Lettre, who sat on a panel with Collins and Thornton.

He said China also is pursuing advances in cyber, artificial intelligence, engineering and technology, counter-space, anti-satellite capabilities and hypersonic glide weapons. Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a congressional committee earlier this year that China is developing long-range cruise missiles — some capable of reaching supersonic speeds.

“The Pentagon has noted that the Chinese have already pursued a test program that has had 20 times more tests than the U.S. has,” Lettre said.

Franklin Miller, former senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, said China’s weapons developments are emphasizing the need to have a dialogue with Beijing.

“We need to try to engage,” Miller said. “My expectations for successful engagement are medium-low, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

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Suspected Annapolis Shooter Indicted on Murder Charges

The suspected shooter in the massacre at an Annapolis, Maryland, newsroom was indicted Friday on 23 charges, including five counts of first-degree murder.

Maryland prosecutors alleged that Jarrod Ramos, 38, was the one who opened fire on the Capital Gazette newsroom June 28, killing five.

The indictment also charges that Ramos attempted to kill a sixth staffer, photographer Paul Gillespie, who stated he believes Ramos shot at him as he was attempting to flee the newsroom.

“When I ran, I didn’t look back, but I did hear him chase me,” Gillespie told the Baltimore Sun. “I did hear a gunshot. I did feel a breeze blow past my right side.”

Four journalists with the newspaper — Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, and John McNamara — were killed, as was one sales associate, Rebecca Smith.

Ramos had a long-standing grudge with the Capital Gazette, dating back to a 2011 column the paper ran that detailed a criminal harassment charge against him. Ramos unsuccessfully sued the paper and the columnist for defamation.

“I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence,” said Thomas Marquardt, the paper’s former publisher, according to the Sun. “I even told my wife, ‘We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.’”

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