Beyond the county: US draws back on support for CIA-backed Syrian rebels, Playboy goes no nude | TheUnion.com
YOUR AD HERE »

Beyond the county: US draws back on support for CIA-backed Syrian rebels, Playboy goes no nude

FILE - In this June 17, 2015 file photo, smoke and explosions from fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels in the Quneitra area of Syria are seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Russian military intervention to prop up the Syrian government has put new scrutiny on the CIA’s secret support to Syrian rebels fighting Bashar Assad, raising questions about how far the U.S. is willing to go in empowering its proxies to take on Vladimir Putin’s allies. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
AP | AP

US draws a line on protecting CIA-backed rebels in Syria

WASHINGTON — The Russian military intervention to prop up Syria’s government has brought new scrutiny of the CIA’s secret support to Syrian rebels fighting Bashar Assad. But how far is the U.S. willing to go to empower its proxies to take on Vladimir Putin’s allies?

The answer seems to be: Not very far.



“Countering Russia’s involvement in Syria doesn’t rate nearly as high on the scale” as battling the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday.

After the CIA spent more than two years secretly working with Arab allies to arm, train and fund thousands of so-called moderate rebels to oppose Assad, American officials have watched in recent days as Russian bombs and missiles have targeted those groups.




U.S. officials and outside experts say the Obama administration is unlikely to protect CIA-backed rebels from Russian air strikes — by providing them with surface-to-air missiles, for example — for fear they could fall into the wrong hands and be used against passenger jets in a terrorist attack. There is also little appetite in the White House for a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone in Syria, officials say.

Instead, the U.S. has been continuing its delivery to rebels of American-made TOW anti-tank missiles. Rebels have deployed the missiles to great effect over the last six months, and even more so in the last week, destroying dozens of Russian-made Syrian armored vehicles.

The CIA requires the vetted rebel groups it supports to take a video of every use of a TOW missile and to send the empty canisters back to American operatives in Turkey, according to Charles Lister, a Syrian expert at the Brookings Doha Center, a U.S. think tank branch in Qatar. A U.S. official confirmed the arrangement, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The TOWs have “some potential if they can put enough in and the rebels are clever,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“They can cause the regime forces to either fail or have a difficult time making advances. That’s at least indirect pressure on the Russians to either stop or do more.”

But TOW missiles aren’t designed to shoot down Russian jets and helicopters. And if Russian air power continues to blast away at CIA-trained rebels, a chilling message will be sent, White said.

“We’ve aligned ourselves to these guys, we trained them and paid them and sent them off to battle, and when the going gets tough, we’re not there.”

President Barack Obama has not spoken about the CIA program publicly, but he has said that Russia risks slipping into a quagmire in Syria and is operating from a position of weakness.

Obama also faces a vexing dilemma. On the one hand, the chief American goal in Syria is to destroy the Islamic State, an extremist army with billions of dollars at its disposal. Yet American officials also believe that getting Assad out of Syria is a key precursor to defeating the Islamic State movement, which is driven in part by Sunni disaffection with the Alawite governing class. And the Russians are working to keep Assad in power.

The CIA effort, which has trained and funded as many as 10,000 Syrian rebels over the last two years, is separate from the failed Defense Department training program that the Pentagon ended last week. The Pentagon program required fighters to promise to take on only the Islamic State, not the Syrian government, and managed to put into action fewer than 80 men.

Technically secret, the CIA program funnels money, weapons and training to so-called moderate rebels who are fighting Assad. After some early failures, the CIA-backed rebels began over the summer to put serious pressure on the Assad government, U.S. officials say, though Lister and other analysts say extremist militias were key to those engagements.

The relationship between the CIA-backed rebels and extremists has been an ongoing point of controversy. Some lawmakers who have been briefed on the program are deeply concerned about whether the CIA can control the militants and keep track of the weapons it is providing.

More than 550 TOW missiles have been provided to the rebels, Lister said, citing rebel sources who track the shipments. But only four are known to have gotten into the hands of al Qaida fighters, he added.

If the Assad government ultimately collapses, the U.S. will need allies amid what will likely be a protracted struggle for power in that country, White said. Terrorism concerns should not prevent American engagement with anti-Assad rebels.

“If we don’t have somebody there now that is beholden to the United States,” he said, “then we’re going to have nobody in that post Assad game.”

— Associated Press

Showing less skin: Playboy to stop running nude photos

LOS ANGELES — For generations, teenage boys got their first look at a naked woman from Playboy, often from a copy swiped from Dad’s sock drawer or filched from a newsstand.

These days, however, you can see far more explicit photos on your phone than anything Hugh Hefner probably imagined when he launched his pioneering skin magazine 62 years ago with a centerfold of Marilyn Monroe.

Which is why, Playboy announced this week, it will stop running nude photos in its U.S. print edition.

“You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture,” Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders told The New York Times, which first reported the change.

In a move Playboy said had the blessing of the 89-year-old Hefner, the magazine will continue to publish what it called “sexy, seductive pictorials of the world’s most beautiful women.” But those women will presumably have some clothes on.

It’s the end of an era, many said Tuesday, among them author Gay Talese, who wrote about Playboy and Hefner in his 1981 book about the sexual revolution, “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.”

“Playboy was important enough to be the first magazine in the mainstream that could both be called a literary magazine and a magazine for masturbation,” he told The Associated Press.

During the magazine’s heyday, subscribers could plausibly, if not always convincingly, claim they read it for the articles.

It published the work of such writers as John Updike, Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury and Joseph Heller and interviewed the likes of Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan.

It also published nude photos of celebrities such as Drew Barrymore and Daryl Hannah and made stars of Playmates of the Month like Anna Nicole Smith.

The magazine that helped trigger the sexual revolution has seen its circulation plunge in recent decades, however, because of some of the very forces it set in motion.

First it had to deal with competition from more sexually explicit magazines like Penthouse and Hustler. Now it’s up against the Internet, which is awash in high-definition porn.

So beginning in March, Playboy’s U.S. print edition will look more like Esquire or GQ, magazines that carry PG-13-type pictures. Its international editions will still contain nude photos.

Playboy already took a similar step online more than a year ago. It banned full nudity on its website in August 2014 in a move that made the site safer for people to visit at work.

The company said the site saw the number of monthly unique visitors soar 400 percent. At the same time, it said, the median age of visitors fell from 47 to 30, a far more desirable demographic for advertisers.

One of the magazine’s veteran contributors, celebrity interviewer David Rensin, praised the end of full nudity as something Playboy should have done years ago.

“It’s a good business move. The magazine’s got to keep up with the times,” said Rensin, whose list of interview subjects includes Bill Gates, Jerry Seinfeld and Martin Scorsese. More recently he interviewed Scarlett Johansson and also Lena Dunham, whom people can see nude simply by watching her TV show “Girls.”

But for every newsmaker or celebrity who said yes to a Playboy interview, Rensin told the AP on Tuesday, there were others who said no because they didn’t want their words to appear close to photographs of naked women.

One of those naked women, actress Kristy Swanson, also praised the change, although she added she’ll always fondly remember posing nude for her November 2002 pictorial.

“I just think that change can be a good thing,” she said.

Burlesque queen and former Playboy covergirl Dita Von Teese said she lamented “the end of Playboy’s Golden Age” when master photographers glorified models and movie stars.

“But truthfully, I think it was over a while ago as the (cachet) of posing for Playboy diminished the last several years,” she said.

Others questioned whether the change comes too late to make much difference for the magazine, which has seen circulation fall from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000 today, according to the Times, which cited the Alliance for Audited Media.

“The perception of what Playboy is is never going to change,” said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism in Oxford.

“What’s hurting Playboy today is, one, its name,” he continued. “What gentleman today wants to consider himself a Playboy? And the competition. I mean, GQ is doing such a great job and Esquire is doing such a great job, so for men who want that combination of fun and real good solid content, they go elsewhere.”

— Associated Press

Freddie Gray hearing: Officer’s 2 statements admissible

BALTIMORE — The statements two Baltimore police officers made to investigators probing the death of Freddie Gray can be used at the officers’ trials, a judge ruled Tuesday.

All six officers appeared before Judge Barry Williams, who considered whether statements by two of the six officers would be admissible. The contents of the statements have not been publicly disclosed.

Officer William Porter, the sole officer to waive his appearance at a hearing last month, was in court Tuesday. His trial, the first, is to begin Nov. 30.

The others facing charges are officers Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Caesar Goodson; Lt. Brian Rice; and Sgt. Alicia White.

All face assault and reckless endangerment and misconduct in office charges. Porter, Rice, White and Goodson also face manslaughter charges. Goodson, who drove the police van in which Gray was critically injured, faces an additional charge of “depraved-heart” murder.

— Associated Press

US reports sharp drop in use of force by border agents

SAN DIEGO — U.S. Border Patrol agents and border inspectors used physical force far less frequently in the last year compared with previous years, even as the number of assaults on authorities rose, according to figures released Tuesday.

The numbers come amid intense scrutiny from critics who say Border Patrol agents and inspectors who work at ports of entry have been too quick to draw guns and other weapons. Some advocacy groups welcomed the data as a step toward increased transparency but also called for additional measures.

Customs and Border Protection reported 768 incidents in which authorities used force during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, down about 26 percent from 1,037 incidents the previous year and down about 37 percent from 1,215 incidents in 2013.

Authorities were assaulted 390 times during the last fiscal year, up about 5 percent from 373 attacks the previous year but down about 17 percent from 468 attacks in 2013, the agency said.

Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske pointed to revamped training, new internal protocols for reviewing cases and greater transparency, which includes releasing a basic account of a violent incident immediately after it happens.

“I am encouraged by the progress and dedication that CBP officers and agents have shown this year. However, there is always more that can be done, and we remain committed to strengthening our agency,” Kerlikowske said.

Most of the decline in force in the last year was in a category the agency calls “less lethal” weapons, such as pepper-ball guns, stun guns and batons. Those incidents fell to 740 incidents during the last fiscal year from 1,008 the previous year and 1,167 in 2013. Authorities used firearms 28 times during the last year, down from 29 times the previous year and 48 times in 2013.

Critics say agents have often been too quick to use force — including when responding to people throwing rocks or when trying to stop moving vehicles — and have pressed for more speed and transparency in investigations of violent incidents. Customs and Border Protection revised its use-of-force guidelines in May 2014 following a highly critical assessment by a group of police experts.

Some advocacy groups said the agency’s definition of force was too narrow, making the numbers incomplete.

“Without more accurate statistics, proper investigation of numerous past cases involving deadly and abusive force, and the addition of civilian oversight, CBP will fail to build trust in border communities about its reforms,” said Chris Rickerd, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office.

Shawn Moran, spokesman for the union that represents Border Patrol agents, said he didn’t know why the numbers fell but that it may be because agents are second-guessing themselves, even when force is justified.

“We believe it’s more politics and a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Moran, of the National Border Patrol Council. “We don’t believe (force) was used aggressively. We believe it was used reluctantly.”

— Associated Press

California girl shoots hand with gun found at school

ANTIOCH, Calif. — Authorities say a 13-year-old San Francisco Bay area girl was arrested on suspicion of weapons-related charges after she accidently shot herself in the hand with a gun she said she found in a school bathroom.

She is recovering from her injury.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/1LIvH5c ) Monday that the teen told officers she found the revolver in a school bathroom last week and placed it in her backpack, where she kept it all day. A report from the city of Antioch did not name the middle school.

When she returned home, “she was going to show the firearm to her grandmother and accidently shot herself in the hand,” according to the report.

Officers recovered the gun from her home and booked her at a juvenile hall. The girl has an unspecified arrest record.

— Associated Press

300-acre wildfire uncontrolled south of Hollister

HOLLISTER, Calif. — More than 250 firefighters are on the scene of a wildfire burning out of control through thick brush in San Benito County.

Cal Fire said Tuesday that no structures were threatened by the blaze about 10 miles south of Hollister.

No injuries were reported.

Crews using bulldozers began battling the fire around 4 p.m. Monday when it was 30 acres. It has now charred about 300 acres.

It was completely uncontained Tuesday.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Hollister is about 40 miles northeast of Monterey.

— Associated Press

JPMorgan earns $6.27 billion, misses analysts’ estimates

NEW YORK — JPMorgan Chase & Co. saw its third-quarter profits rise 22 percent from a year earlier, helped by a significant one-time tax benefit. But the bank’s results still missed analysts’ expectations as revenue declined in all of its core businesses.

The largest U.S. bank by assets said Tuesday it earned $6.27 billion after payments to preferred shareholders, up from a profit of $5.13 billion a year earlier.

On a per share basis, the bank earned $1.68, compared with $1.35 per share a year earlier.

Removing one-time items, including a $2.2 billion tax benefit from issues related to the financial crisis, New York-based JPMorgan said it earned $1.32 a share, which missed analysts’ estimates of $1.37 per share.

The turbulent markets over the summer, and a slowing housing market, weighed down JPMorgan’s results in the quarter. While the bank has been cutting costs through layoffs and other measures, it wasn’t enough to offset the issues the bank experienced during the quarter.

Net revenue was $23.54 billion in the quarter compared with the $24.04 billion analysts were looking for. After accounting adjustments, revenue in the quarter was $22.8 billion.

Revenue in JPMorgan’s corporate and investment bank was down 10 percent from a year earlier. While banks’ results can get a boost from some measure of market volatility, when markets are highly turbulent it can hurt a bank’s results.

JPMorgan Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake said the summer’s “generally quite challenging” market conditions led to a decline in revenue in the division. Lower commodity prices also impacted the results.

Lower commodity prices also had another indirect effect on the bank. The bank had to set aside $232 million, partly to cover loans made to some oil and gas companies. Lake said the reserves were in line with the bank’s expectations and were “relatively modest.”

JPMorgan’s consumer bank, its largest business by revenue and profit, was able to post a 4 percent increase in net income even though revenues fell 4 percent. The decline in revenues was primarily tied to lower mortgage income. Like other banks, JPMorgan has seen flat interest income since the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates near zero.

“We saw the impact of a challenging global environment and continued low rates reflected in the wholesale businesses’ results,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a statement.

JPMorgan has been aggressively cutting costs in its Chase consumer bank through layoffs, attrition, branch closures and lower staffing levels. The consumer bank’s headcount is down roughly 10,000 workers year-to-date. The bank previously has said it was reducing the number of branches as more customers do business online and through mobile phones.

The bank had another round of legal expenses this quarter, roughly $1.3 billion.

JPMorgan is the first big bank to release its results this quarter. Bank of America and Wells Fargo report on Wednesday. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup will report on Thursday.

JPMorgan shares were down 1.7 percent to $60.49 in after-market trading.

— Associated Press

Prosecutor: More charges in San Francisco Chinatown probe

SAN FRANCISCO — A man set to go on trial in a money laundering and racketeering probe centered on San Francisco’s Chinatown will face additional charges related to two slayings, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen said during a court hearing Tuesday that Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow will face additional charges in a new indictment on Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/1LMvnZE) . He did not specify the charges.

But in a court filing on Monday, prosecutors said they would be linking Chow to soliciting the 2006 murder of Allen Leung, the previous leader of the Chinese fraternal group known as the Ghee Kung Tong, and the 2013 murder of Jim Tat Kong, a San Francisco street gang member.

Chow’s attorney, Curtis Briggs, has disputed that prosecutors have any evidence linking his client to the slayings.

Chow, the elected “dragonhead” of the Ghee Kung Tong, was arrested after a yearslong investigation that also ensnared state Sen. Leland Yee. The FBI alleges Ghee Kung Tong was a racketeering enterprise, and that undercover agents laundered $2.6 million in cash from illegal bookmaking through the organization.

Yee pleaded guilty to racketeering in July.

Chow has pleaded not guilty to racketeering and money laundering charges and is scheduled to go on trial next month.

In Monday’s filings, prosecutors said that two of Chow’s former co-defendants, Kongphet Chanthavong and Andy Li, would implicate Chow in the murder plots.

Briggs said Chanthavong and Li had shared a jail cell after their arrests and had “plenty of time to coordinate their stories,” according to the Chronicle.

— Associated Press


Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

 

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User




See more