US sent troops to OPEC member Gabon just days before military coup

Libreville, GabonThe United States deployed troops to the Central African nation of Gabon just days before a group of military officers staged tried to take over power in the oil-rich nation on Monday. Situated on the Atlantic coastline of Central Africa, Gabon is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). However, despite producing of 176,000 barrels of oil per day, making it one of Africa’s most significant oil producers, over a third of its 2 million inhabitants live below the official poverty line. The country has been ruled by the Bongo family for over a century with its current President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, having led the country since his father’s death a decade ago. In October of last year, however, Bongo went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after suffering a stroke, and has yet to return. In a televised message aired on New Year’s Day, Bongo told the citizens of Gabon that he was recovering and would soon be returning to his duties.

But in the early hours of Monday gun shots were reported in the vicinity of the studios of Radio Télévision Gabonaise (RTG), the country’s state-owned national broadcaster in the capital city, Libreville. A few hours later, regular broadcasting was suspended. A message was transmitted on the national radio station frequency by troops claiming to be members of a group calling itself the Patriotic Movement of the Defense and Security Forces of Gabon. Its leader, a man identifying himself as Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, said that the armed forces had “doubts” about President Bongo’s “ability to perform the responsibilities of his office”. He also announced the formation of a “Council of National Restoration” that would “ensure the smooth operation of the state and guarantee a transition to democracy”. However, a few hours later a government spokesman told international media that the coup had been defeated and that Lieutenant Obiang was under arrest. Two of his co-conspirators had been killed, said the spokesman.

Interestingly, the US deployed 80 American soldiers to Gabon on January 2, less than a week before the coup unfolded. In a letter sent to Congress on January 4, US President Donald Trump said that the troops would be stationed in Libreville and would carry with them “appropriate combat equipment”. Their purpose, said President Trump, would be to provide security protection for US “citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities” in Kinshasa, capital of the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Security analysts fear that the pending announcement of the delayed election results in the DRC may spark widespread riots in the country of 81 million people. On Monday, a spokesman for the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) told reporters that there was “no change in the status of our forces in Gabon” and that they would not be involved in the domestic political situation. The US troops were “not currently tasked with securing [US] diplomatic assets [in Gabon]”, added the AFRICOM spokesman. However, AFRICOM said that additional US troops may deploy to Gabon, the DRC or the Republic of the Congo, should the need arise.

It is not known whether the coup plotters were aware of the presence of the 80 US troops in Libreville when they tried to take over power on Monday.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 08 January 2019 | Permalink

Envelopes containing deadly ricin poison intercepted at US Pentagon

PentagonAn investigation was opened in the United States on Tuesday, after two envelopes containing the deadly poison ricin were intercepted at the Pentagon. The envelopes were reportedly intercepted at a mail screening facility located in the vicinity of the headquarters of the US Department of Defense in Washington, DC. One of the envelopes was addressed to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, while the other was addressed to Admiral John Richardson, who serves as Chief of Naval Operations. According to US news media, the envelopes were found to contain a powder-like substance. Upon discovery, the envelopes were secured by members of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, the US Department of Defense’s law enforcement body that is responsible for safeguarding the Pentagon complex.

On Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that the substance inside the envelopes had been examined by its technicians and had tested positive for the deadly poison ricin. Ricin is a naturally occurring toxin found inside the seeds of castor oil plants, known commonly as castor beans. Though mostly harmless in its natural state, the toxin can be processed and effectively weaponized in the form of pellets, liquid acid, mist or powder. If it finds its way into the human body, through ingestion, inhalation or injection, it can kill in fewer than 48 hours. Death usually occurs as a result of organ failure and internal bleeding, which lead to a collapse of the circulatory system. There is no known antidote for ricin poisoning.

On Tuesday afternoon, parts of the Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign office in Houston, Texas, were shut down, after two staff members came in contact with what was described as a “white powdery substance” inside an envelope. The staff members were rushed to the hospital, but tests carried out later that day showed that the substance was non-toxic.

The FBI said on Tuesday that its technicians would carry out further tests on the substances found at the Pentagon and at Senator Cruz’s office, in order to confirm the initial findings. It also said that there would be no further announcements until the tests are completed. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s mail screening facility remains under quarantine.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 03 October 2018 | Permalink

White House weighs increased CIA involvement in Syrian war

Syrian rebelsBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of the United States is considering plans to augment the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine role in Syria, amid fears that similar efforts by the US Department of Defense are failing. The CIA’s involvement in the Syrian civil war began in 2012, when US President Barack Obama issued a classified presidential finding that authorized Langley to arm and train opposition militias. The clandestine program was initially based in training camps in Jordan before eventually expanding to at least one location in Qatar. The CIA currently vets and trains approximately 400 opposition fighters every month with the help of commandos detailed to the Agency from the Pentagon. But the program may be about to escalate considerably, according to The Washington Post. The paper said last week that the option of expanding CIA arming and training operations in Syria was on the agenda at a recent meeting of senior national-security officials in Washington. The paper said that the proposed escalation of CIA operations in the region “reflects concern” about the slow pace of similar programs run by the US Department of Defense, which aim to train and arm anti-government militias. The latter have so far proved unable to counter the dominance of a host of al-Qaeda-inspired groups operating along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Earlier this month, a major CIA-backed armed group, known as Harakat Hazm, abandoned many of its positions in northern Syria, after it came under attack by Jabhat al-Nusra, an official al-Qaeda affiliate. Along with territory, Harakat Hazm left behind significant amounts of war material supplied to it by the US Pentagon. The Post said that other moderate opposition militias are beginning to view al-Qaeda-linked groups as their most viable option in defeating the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, something which is worrying the White House. Spokesmen for the US government refused to comment on the report of a possible increase of CIA operations in Syria, or on whether the White House had reached a decision on the matter.

Are America’s most senior military intel officers being forced out?

The US Department of DefenseBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
There are rumors that the two most senior military intelligence officers in the United States, who have announced their intention to step down in the coming months, are being forced out by the White House. Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, who directs the Defense Intelligence Agency, and his Deputy Director, David R. Shedd, both said on Wednesday that they intend to quit their jobs before the end of the summer. The Department of Defense said later on Wednesday that the two officials had been scheduled to step down “for some time” and that the leadership of the DoD “appreciates the service of these two dedicated and professional leaders”. But the announcement does not change the fact that America’s two leading military intelligence administrators have suddenly decided to quit their jobs. Shedd entered his current post in 2010, while Flynn rose to the DIA’s top position in 2012. If he does indeed step down in the coming months, he will be doing so at least a year before he was officially scheduled to depart from the DIA. The Washington Post claimed on Wednesday that Flynn “faced pressure” to step down, from senior US government officials, including James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence. According to the paper, Clapper, whose main job is to coordinate the activities of America’s intelligence agencies, approached Flynn several weeks ago and told him that the administration of US President Barack Obama had decided that “a leadership change was necessary” at the DIA. As the so-called “global war on terrorism” has been winding down, the DIA has been faced with calls for significant changes in both operations and scope. The latter have included plans to expand the agency’s human intelligence operations abroad, as was seen in the Pentagon’s recent effort to launch a new intelligence agency, called Defense Clandestine Service. But in late 2012 the US Senate blocked the plan, citing gross mismanagement of the Pentagon’s existing intelligence operations. The failed plan had been strongly supported by both Flynn and Shedd, who had vowed to increase the DIA’s intelligence-collection operations abroad, and had campaigned in favor of turning the agency’s attention to locations other than Iraq and Afghanistan. Read more of this post