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US says cryptocurrency expert violated NKorea sanctions
By JIM MUSTIAN and JENNIFER PELTZ | Fri, November 29, 2019 04:41 EST
NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged a cryptocurrency expert with violating economic sanctions against North Korea by presenting at a conference there this year after the U.S. government denied his request to travel to Pyongyang.
Virgil Griffith, 36, was awaiting a federal court appearance Friday in Los Angeles, a day after he was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport.
Griffith is an American citizen but lives in Singapore. Messages were sent to Griffith’s defense attorney seeking comment.
Federal prosecutors said Griffith secured a visa through “a (North Korean) diplomatic mission facility” in Manhattan for 100 euros and then traveled to the country through China in April.
A request for comment was sent to North Korea’s United Nations mission in New York.
At the conference, Griffith talked about how North Korea could use cryptocurrency to “achieve independence from the global banking system,” according to a criminal complaint.
The conference was attended by 100 people, prosecutors said, including several who appeared to work for the North Korean government.
The criminal complaint says Griffith showed the FBI photographs of himself in North Korea and provided agents with propaganda from the country. It said Griffith planned to facilitate the exchange of cryptocurrency between North and South Korea and encouraged other U.S. citizens to attend the same conference next year.
“Griffith announced his intention to renounce his U.S. citizenship and began researching how to purchase citizenship from other countries,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said in a news release.
Prosecutors say another person involved in the alleged conspiracy was to be brought to New York and arrested. That person is not named in the criminal complaint against Griffith.
The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, said Griffith “provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions.”
Griffith has contributed to the hacker magazine 2600, which tweeted Friday that Griffith’s arrest amounted to “an attack on all of us.”
“I kept warning him it was a trap,” the magazine’s editor, Emmanuel Goldstein said in a separate Twitter post, adding Griffith “insisted on” speaking to the FBI without a lawyer. “What’s ironic is that afterwards, he was convinced they totally got where he was coming from.”
The U.S. and the U.N. Security Council have imposed increasingly tight sanctions on North Korea in recent years to try to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang says it wants the U.S. to get the sanctions lifted and provide security guarantees before North Korea will abandon its advancing nuclear arsenal; the U.S. has said the North has to take substantial steps toward denuclearization before the sanctions will come off.
The U.S. government amended sanctions against North Korea in 2018 to prohibit “a U.S. person, wherever located” from exporting technology to North Korea. Prosecutors said Griffith acknowledged that his presentation amounted to a transfer of technical knowledge to conference attendees.
A self-described former hacker who went on to get a doctorate in computer science, Griffith became something of a tech-world enfant terrible in the early 2000s. He told The New York Times in 2008 that he considered himself a “disruptive technologist.”
In 2007, he created WikiScanner, a tool that aimed to unmask people who anonymously edited entries in Wikipedia, the crowdsourced online encyclopedia. WikiScanner essentially could determine the business, institutions or government agencies that owned the computers from which some edits were made.
It quickly identified businesses that had sabotaged competitors’ entries and government agencies that had rewritten history, among other findings.
“I am quite pleased to see the mainstream media enjoying the public-relations disaster fireworks as I am,” Griffiths told The Associated Press in 2007. (Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales, for his part, said he welcomed WikiScanner as a tool of transparency.)
Four years earlier, as a college student at the University of Alabama, Griffith and a student at another university were about to tell a hacker conference about purported security flaws in a widely used campus debit card system when the manufacturer sued the two. They had posted online about ways to exploit the alleged flaws to get free vending-machine sodas, laundry machine use and more.
A judge barred the students from discussing the card-swiping system. In a settlement a few months later, they apologized to the company, promised to never actually build a transaction-processing device and agreed to complete 40 hours of community service.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Hong Kong elders, youths vow to keep up pro-democracy fight
By EILEEN NG | Sat, November 30, 2019 06:45 EST
HONG KONG (AP) — Hundreds of silver-haired activists joined young Hong Kong protesters for a unity rally Saturday, vowing that their monthslong movement will not fade away until there is greater democracy in the Chinese territory.
The rally at a park downtown was among several peaceful gatherings by protesters this week to keep up pressure on the government amid a lull in violence following a local election victory by the pro-democracy bloc and the gaining of U.S. support for their cause.
A local boys’ band belted out songs to tell protesters that “the whole Hong Kong is supporting you.” Speakers reminded the crowd that it wasn’t time to celebrate and that the fight for real autonomy must persist.
The protesters are angry over creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong that they say is eroding their rights promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“The government wants us to desert the front-liners and young protesters, but we will stick with them,” rally organizer Tam Kwok-sun, 64, said to loud cheers from the crowd. “Sometimes their actions are violent and aggressive, but we are more unhappy with the government’s behavior.”
Since the unrest broke out in June, protesters have disrupted traffic, smashed public facilities and pro-China shops, and hurled gasoline bombs in pitched battles with riot police who have responded with volleys of tear gas and water cannons.
The occupation of several universities by protesters earlier this month after fiery clashes with police capped one of the most violent chapters in the turmoil, which has contributed to the city’s first recession in a decade.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has appealed for the current calm to continue but has refused to bow to protesters’ demands, which include free elections for her post and the legislature as well as an independent probe into alleged police brutality.
“It’s still a very early stage of the revolution,” a masked activist, who gave her name as Mai, 26, said Saturday. “People are tired physically and mentally, so we are waiting for the right moment for a fightback.”
Hong Kong police have arrested 5,890 people as a result of the protests.
“The government is still stubborn. Every one of us, young and old, must contribute in our own way. The movement will not stop,” a woman, 63, who identified herself as Mrs. Tam, said as she distributed Japanese honey candies to slogan-chanting young activists at the park.
Protesters this week have urged Britain and other countries to follow U.S. footsteps in legislating laws to support its cause.
A new U.S. law prescribes sanctions on officials found guilty of human rights abuses and requires an annual review of a special trade status for Hong Kong. Another bans the export of certain nonlethal munitions to Hong Kong police.
China has warned of strong countermeasures and Hong Kong’s government has slammed the U.S. move as unwarranted meddling in its affairs.
Chinese state media reported Saturday that Lee Henley, also identified as Hu Xiang and a citizen of an unidentified foreign country, was arrested on suspicion of “funding activities threatening China’s national security, including allegedly conspiring with foreign forces to support Hong Kong riots.”
The reports also said a Taiwanese man, Lee Meng Chu, was held for “allegedly spying and leaking China’s national secrets” and backing the Hong Kong protests. Beijing had confirmed earlier that Lee was held after he went missing during a trip to mainland China in August, but didn’t give details.
In August, a British Consulate employee in Hong Kong was arrested during a trip to the mainland and was freed 15 days later after confessing to soliciting prostitution. But Simon Cheng says it was a forced confession and that he was tortured by Chinese police and pressed for information about Hong Kong’s activists.
More rallies are being planned in Hong Kong for Sunday, including an anti-tear gas protest and a gratitude march to the U.S. Consulate.
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Approaching storm, snafus cast pall on Southeast Asian Games
By TATAN SYUFLANA and JIM GOMEZ | Fri, November 29, 2019 09:48 EST
CLARK, Philippines (AP) — An approaching typhoon is threatening to complicate the hosting by the Philippines of the largest biennial games in Southeast Asia, already marred by logistical foul-ups that the president vowed to investigate.
President Rodrigo Duterte is set to welcome on Saturday the first few thousand athletes, coaches and sports officials from the region in an opening ceremony to be lit by digital fireworks after nightfall in a huge indoor arena in Bocaue town north of Manila. The expected VIPs include Brunei leader Hassanal Bolkiah, whose son is a player on the sultanate’s polo team.
More than 8,000 athletes and officials were expected to fly in for the games, which started in 1959 in the Thai capital of Bangkok with just a dozen sports. In the Philippines, 56 sports will be featured in 529 events, the largest number in the 11-nation competition so far, which will be held in more than 40 venues including in the traffic-choked capital of Manila.
About 27,000 police have been deployed to secure the 11-day games.
A slow-moving typhoon was bearing down in the Pacific and forecasters expect it to blow into the main northern Luzon island early next week. The main sporting venues in Clark and Subic, former U.S. military bases turned into popular leisure and commercial hubs north and northwest of Manila, are in or near Typhoon Kammuri’s path.
Kammuri was packing sustained winds of 140 kilometers (87 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 170 kph (106 mph) as of late Friday but could still strengthen, forecasters said. The prospect of it becoming a super typhoon was unlikely but cannot be ruled out.
“The contingency plan involves delay of the competition, the cancellation of competition,” Ramon Suzara, executive director of the organizing committee, said in a news conference. Indoor competitions could proceed in bad weather if power is not cut but the entry of spectators may be restricted, he said.
The threat posed by the typhoon comes after widely publicized complaints of athletes who flew in early for training and preliminary matches over long hours of waiting for shuttles at Manila’s airport, getting stuck in the chaotic traffic, food and hotel accommodation issues and unfinished facilities in the city.
An early football match between the men’s teams of Malaysia and Myanmar proceeded despite the absence of a functioning scoreboard at Manila’s Rizal Stadium, which opened in the 1930s but has undergone renovations, according to an Associated Press photographer who covered the match.
Thailand’s football team, which was pressed for time to train and could not afford to plod through Manila’s traffic jams to a stadium, trained on the streets one night instead, its coach was Quote: d in local news reports as saying.
Duterte and his close political ally, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who heads the organizing committee, separately apologized for the troubles.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief who supports Duterte’s anti-crime campaign, questioned the transfer of a huge amount of government funds to the organizing committee, which is a private foundation, comparing it to a past corruption scandal where state funds were funneled to nongovernment groups before allegedly being pocketed by some lawmakers.
Suzara denied there was any irregularity, saying government auditors scrutinized how money was spent. He blamed the monthslong delay in the passage earlier this year of the national budget for failure to complete the construction and renovation of some sports facilities on time.
Opposition Sen. Franklin Drilon questioned the propriety of spending about 50 million pesos (nearly $1 million) for the construction of a tower with a cauldron, which would be lit in flames during the games, saying the money for such extravagance could have been used to build classrooms for impoverished children.
“I ignore them because my stomach is titanium,” Suzara told the AP in an interview, explaining how he has endured criticism to focus on preparations.
Cayetano said certain groups opposed to Duterte were trying to sabotage the Philippines’ hosting of the games. He did not elaborate.
Duterte pledged to investigate the mess and Cayetano expressed readiness to face a Senate investigation after the games.
“There was a lot of money poured into this activity and I suppose that with that kind of money, you can run things smoothly,” Duterte said. But he admonished critics: “Do not create a firestorm now because we are in the thick of preparation … I assure you I will investigate.”
Gomez reported from Manila, Philippines. Associated Press journalist Aaron Favila contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Dutch police continue hunt for attacker who stabbed 3
By MIKE CORDER | Sat, November 30, 2019 06:34 EST
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch police on Saturday continued looking for an attacker who stabbed three teens on a street in The Hague that was crowded with Black Friday shoppers.
The victims, two 15-year-old girls and a 13-year-old boy, were treated in a hospital and released late Friday. Police said in a statement that they did not know one another.
The victims have spoken to detectives.
“We are using all our available means — visible and unseen — to find the suspect in this stabbing as soon as possible,” police said in a statement, as they appealed again for witnesses.
That included studying video footage from the area, where many surveillance cameras are located.
The attack in the Netherlands came hours after a man wearing a fake explosive vest stabbed several people in London, killing two, before he was fatally shot by officers. Police are treating it as a terrorist attack.
Dutch police say the motive for the stabbing in The Hague remains unknown. “We are keeping all scenarios open,” their statement said.
The stabbing occurred around 7:45 p.m. in an area teeming with shoppers and close to the city’s most popular nightlife centers.
Police cordoned off the area until deep into the night as forensics experts combed the street for clues.
The street was opened again Saturday.
EarthLink – News
UK police: Suspect in attack had served time for terrorism
By GREGORY KATZ, JILL LAWLESS and DANICA KIRKA | Sat, November 30, 2019 06:39 EST
LONDON (AP) — UK counterterrorism police on Saturday searched for clues into how a man imprisoned for terrorism offenses before his release last year managed to stab several people before being tackled by bystanders and shot dead by officers on London Bridge. Two people were killed and three wounded.
Neil Basu, London’s police counterterrorism chief, said 28-year-old Usman Khan was attending a program that works to educate prisoners when he launched Friday’s attack just yards from the site of a deadly 2017 van and knife rampage.
Basu said the suspect appeared to be wearing a bomb vest but it turned out to be “a hoax explosive device.” Police said they were treating the stabbings as a terrorist attack and were not actively looking for other suspects.
Health officials said one of the wounded was in critical but stable condition, one was stable and the third had less serious injuries. Police have not named the two who died.
The attack raises difficult questions for Britain’s government and security services. Police said Khan was convicted in 2012 of terrorism offenses and released in December 2018 “on license,” which means he had to meet certain conditions or face recall to prison. Several British media outlets reported that he was wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at the time of the attack.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “long argued” that it was a “mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early.” He said extra police patrols on the streets would be added “for reassurance purposes.”
Khan had been convicted as part of a group that denied plotting to target major sites including Parliament, the U.S. Embassy and individuals including Johnson, then the mayor of London, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and two rabbis.
Khan admitted to a lesser charge of engaging in conduct for the preparation of acts of terrorism.
He had been secretly taped plotting attacks and talking about martyrdom as a possibility.
Police on Saturday were searching an apartment block in Stafford, 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of London, for clues. Khan was believed to have lived in the area after his release from prison.
Britain’s Parole Board said in a statement it had no role in releasing Khan, who “appears to have been released automatically on license (as required by law), without ever being referred to the board,” it said.
The violence erupted less than two weeks before Britain holds a national election Dec. 12. The main political parties suspended campaigning in London as a mark of respect.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cressida Dick said officers were called just before 2 p.m. Friday to Fishmongers’ Hall, a conference venue at the north end of London Bridge.
Learning Together, a Cambridge University-backed prison education program, was holding a conference at the hall. Cambridge Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope said he was “devastated” to learn that the attack may have targeted people attending an event organized by the university’s Institute of Criminology.
Minutes after the stabbings, witnesses saw a man with a knife being wrestled to the ground by members of the public on the bridge before officers shot him dead.
One video posted on social media showed two men struggling on the bridge before police pulled a man in civilian clothes off a black-clad man on the ground. Gunshots followed. Another depicted a man in a suit holding a long knife that apparently had been taken from the attacker.
Karen Bosch, who was on a bus crossing the bridge, said she saw police “wrestling with one tall, bearded man” and then heard “gunshots, two loud pops.”
She said the man “pulled his coat back which showed that he had some sort of vest underneath, whether it’s a stab vest, or some sort of explosive vest, the police then really quickly moved backwards, away.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan praised the “breathtaking heroism of members of the public who literally ran towards danger not knowing what confronted him.”
Security officials earlier this month had downgraded Britain’s terrorism threat level from “severe” to “substantial,” which means an attack is seen as “likely” rather than “highly likely.” The assessment was made by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent expert body that evaluates intelligence, terrorist capability and intentions.
It was based in part on a judgment that the threat of extremists returning from Syria to launch attacks in Britain had been slightly reduced.
The U.K.’s terror threat was last listed as “substantial” in August 2014; since then it has held steady at “severe,” briefly rising to “critical” in May and September 2017.