WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James N. Mattis condemned Russia’s attempts to “redraw international borders by force” and pledged support for Ukraine on Thursday but stopped short of promising U.S. weapons for Ukraine’s fight against pro-Russian separatists.

Mattis is the first Pentagon chief in a decade to visit Ukraine, which has been on the front lines of Russian aggression since Moscow’s annexed Crimea in 2014 and began supporting armed insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

Deliberations in the Trump administration have heated up in recent months over whether to provide lethal defensive weapons, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, to Ukrainian forces that are battling the separatist insurgency.

The debate has been awkward for President Donald Trump, who continues to face multiple investigations into whether his 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Moscow to interfere in the election.

—Tribune Washington Bureau


More US diplomats hurt by mystery sonic device in Cuba

WASHINGTON — The controversy surrounding the bizarre attack against United States and Canadian diplomats in Cuba is expanding rapidly.

The U.S. State Department on Thursday said as many as 16 people from the “embassy community” in Havana were affected by the use of some alleged sonic device. Some of them still remain in Cuba. The State Department didn’t say Thursday whether those affected included the family members of U.S. officials.

It is just the latest chapter in the still-unraveling drama that has included two Cuban officials being expelled from the United States and reports by CBS News that some of the U.S. diplomats affected had symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury. Canadian diplomats have reported experiencing similar incidents.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday the activity that caused the alleged hearing loss is no longer happening, but emphasized that U.S. authorities have not located any device nor do they know the specific cause of the incident.

She said the United States also doesn’t know who is responsible.

“We take this situation extremely seriously,” Nauert said. “We’re trying to provide them the help, medical care, the treatment and the support that they need and the support they deserve.”

—McClatchy Washington Bureau


Judge approves limited search warrant for data on anti-Trump protesters

WASHINGTON — A District of Columbia judge ruled Thursday that a Los Angeles-based web host provider must provide the government with digital data from a website widely used to help organize protests against President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.

The ruling by District of Columbia Superior Court Chief Judge Robert E. Morin marked a win for the government, although Morin said he would supervise the government’s use of the data it collects from web host DreamHost.

Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost, said the company needed to review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

The Department of Justice initially filed a search warrant in July to obtain data from DreamHost about disruptj20.org, a website associated with organizing demonstrations on Inauguration Day that resulted in about 200 arrests.

The government said it needs the data to gather evidence for prosecutions of those involved in violence. The case was filed in a local court because the rioters were charged under District of Columbia law.

DreamHost refused to turn over the data, arguing that the warrant was overly broad in scope and thus unconstitutional. It said the website had registered more than 1 million visits, including people who did not take part in violent protests.

The government amended its search warrant request Tuesday to omit the digital addresses of visitors to disruptj20.org, or any material that was written on the site but not posted online.

In a 90-minute hearing Thursday, Morin ruled from the bench that DreamHost must provide the government with all other data from disruptj20.org that it sought under the search warrant.

—Tribune Washington Bureau


Should NASA keep flying flagship missions? A new report weighs in

NASA’s biggest, most ambitious missions may cost billions — but they’re well worth it, according to a report published Thursday.

The findings, released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, may help settle the question of whether the agency should be investing in missions of this size.

Before he retired last year, John Grunsfeld, then associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, commissioned the outside report. The goal: to assess the role of NASA’s large strategic missions — projects like the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, or the Mars Science Laboratory rover (a.k.a. Curiosity), which has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012.

“These missions typically are billion-dollar class missions, the most costly, the most complex, but also the most capable of the fleet of scientific spacecraft developed by NASA,” the report’s authors wrote. “They produce tremendous science returns and are a foundation of the global reputation of NASA and the U.S. space program.”

In recent years, some of these large missions had come under scrutiny. The Webb telescope, for example, had been criticized for delays and cost increases. Even Curiosity, considered a very successful flagship mission, was critiqued for being two years late and over budget. And in 2013, former Administrator Charles Bolden reportedly went so far as to tell scientists that they had to “stop thinking about … flagship missions.”

—Los Angeles Times


Sept. 11 prosecutors propose 2019 trial date, can’t get funds for second Guantanamo court

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — In a just unsealed document, the Pentagon prosecutor of the Sept. 11 mass murder case is asking the military judge to set a series of deadlines for court filings and rulings to start the trial with jury selection on Jan. 7, 2019.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins includes the timetable in a July 31 unclassified court filing in response to a request by the judge to explain how the crude war court compound at Camp Justice with a single functioning courtroom could hold two national security trials or hearings at once. The USS Cole capital terror case is in pretrial proceedings as well.

The prosecutors say it would take $4.5 million to $6 million to build a smaller, national security court — and there’s no government-wide agreement to spend the money. Instead they propose a seven-day-a-week court with one trial or hearing held for four days, and another held on the other three days.

Judge Army Col. James Pohl bluntly told the prosecution earlier this year that he would not hold “night court,” essentially a second session in the courtroom run by a revolving staff of mostly national guard soldiers. It would burden the guard force and it “takes away from the seriousness of the case,” he said.

Curiously, the 11-page prosecution unclassified filing — which took 23 days for intelligence agencies to clear for the public to see — also suggests that, were the defense not to invoke Top Secret information at the death-penalty trial, a Top Secret courthouse would not have been needed for the trial of the alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-accused.

—Miami Herald

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