Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

The Russian government and media are casting doubt on a new report claiming to reveal the true identity of a Russian man Britain accuses of the nerve-agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in southern England.

The Sept. 26, 2018 report by the investigative website Bellingcat and its Russian partner, The Insider, claims to have conclusively demonstrated that the poisoning suspect known publicly as “Ruslan Boshirov” is, in fact, a decorated colonel in the Russian military whose real name is Anatoly Chepiga.

Russia has repeatedly denied and mocked British allegations that it is responsible for the March poisoning of Skripal and his daughter with the Soviet-developed toxin Novichok in the city of Salisbury.


Earlier September 2018, Britain announced charges against the man known as Boshirov and his associate, known as “Aleksandr Petrov.”

Both men publicly acknowledged being in Salisbury at the time of the poisoning but said they had arrived as tourists — a claim that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman called “an insult to the public’s intelligence.”

British officials have not publicly confirmed the details in the Sept. 26, 2018 report by Bellingcat and The Insider, though Reuters cited two unidentified “European security sources familiar with the investigation into the Skripal poisoning as saying that they were accurate.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

A CCTV image issued by London’s Metropolitan police showing Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station.

British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson, meanwhile, said on Twitter following the report that the “true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian colonel” but subsequently deleted the tweet without explanation.

Here’s a look at how Moscow has dismissed the alleged revelation of the poisoning suspect’s true identity — and how Russian media outlets have cast doubt on the new report.

‘Diverting attention’

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, suggested in a Facebook post late on Sept. 26, 2018, that the release of the report was deliberately timed to coincide with May’s address at the UN Security Council “during which she again aired accusations against Russia.”

During the address, May said Russia “recklessly deployed a nerve agent on our streets” and accused Moscow of seeking “to obfuscate through desperate fabrication” in connection with the poisoning.

“There is no proof, so an information campaign is continuing with the primary goal of diverting attention to the main question: WHAT HAPPENED IN SALISBURY?” Zakharova wrote.

She did not provide any substantive rebuttal of details reported by Bellingcat and The Insider.

‘Typical conspiracy theory’

A senior Russian lawmaker laughed off the report with a reference to Major Pronin, a fictional Soviet-era secret agent who successfully battled spies and generated scores of popular jokes revolving around the character’s incredible counterespionage abilities.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

A handout picture taken in Salisbury of Aleksandr Petrov (right) and Ruslan Boshirov.

“It’s a typical conspiracy theory,” Frants Klintsevich of the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. “You could just as easily say Ruslan Boshirov is named Major Pronin, if one recalls such a character from Soviet-era jokes.”

Klintsevich added: “What we warned about is continuing.”

“More and more details will accumulate so that the plot doesn’t get dull,” he was quoted as saying. “Interestingly, one gets the impression that the British media are working hand in glove with authorities. And that’s completely depressing.”

‘Complete nonsense’

A Russian news outlet owned by Klintsevich’s fellow lawmaker, Vitaly Bogdanov, published interviews with a retired major-general in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) who claimed documents used in the investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider could not have made their way into the public domain.

“It’s complete nonsense. How could secret documents become publicly available?” the retired officer, Aleksandr Mikhailov, told National Sluzhba Novostei (NSN).

Mikhailov said the British media “together with turncoats” will “spin tall tales” and suggested that the key piece of evidence in the report — a 15-year-old passport photo of Chepiga showing a man resembling Boshirov — could have been doctored.

‘Completely unprofessional’

NSN also published an interview with Andrei Vedyayev, a writer focusing on Russia’s security services, who said the poisoning suspects are unlikely to be officers for Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, as British authorities alleged.

The Bellingcat/Insider report said it had confirmed that Chepiga is actually a GRU colonel who was previously awarded Russia’s highest state medal: Hero of the Russian Federation.

“First of all, they don’t admit this,” Vedyayev said, referring to the interview with the two suspects on Russia’s state-funded network RT that May’s spokesman said was full of “lies and blatant fabrications.”

“Secondly, they don’t resemble [GRU officers] at all,” Vedyayev added. “From the perspective of security-service officers, if they carried out this task as has been told and described, then they acted completely unprofessionally: roaming around the city, being filmed by video cameras.”

Interpol

Other Russian media outlets published reports focusing on the fact that searching for the name “Chepiga” yields no results on the publicly available portion of Interpol’s database of “red notices.”

That appears to have first been reported by the Russian news agency Interfax and subsequently picked up by RIA Novosti and Kremlin-friendly outlets Life.ru and Ren-TV.

This is, in fact, no surprise. Interpol itself notes that most red notices — which alert police worldwide of at-large suspected criminals wanted by a particular government — “are restricted to law enforcement use only.”

“Some member countries choose to make an extract publicly available,” Interpol says on its website.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everything you need to know about the protests rocking Iran

Iran was rocked this week by the largest protests in the country since 2009.


Pro- and anti-government demonstrators took to the streets starting Dec. 28, 2017, and gradually moved from the outer cities into the capital, Tehran, and Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad.

At least 20 people were dead as of Jan. 2. As of Jan.1, six people were dead in the small city of Tuyserkan, two in the city of Dorud, two in the southwestern city of Izeh, and two in Lorestan province.

The protests have attracted global attention, and footage of the action has been shared hundreds of thousands of time on social media.

The demonstrations became so widely publicized that Iran blocked access to Instagram and a popular messaging app used by activists to organize and discuss the protests.

Here’s what you need to know about the demonstrations:

Demonstrators began taking to the streets on Dec. 28, 2017.

 

At first, they were protesting against Iran’s dire economic downturn and the skyrocketing prices of basic necessities like eggs and poultry.

As things gained steam, however, the demonstrations took on a more political edge, with activists accusing the Iranian government of corruption and calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

The protests drew global attention as activists began posting photos and videos of the demonstrations to social media.

 

Footage of the action has been shared hundreds of thousands of time on social media. Some videos showed protesters chanting “Death to the dictator!” and “Death to Rouhani,” the Iranian president.

Other footage showed activists shouting slogans like “We don’t want Islamic Republic!”

As the demonstrations escalated, pro-government protesters flooded the streets on Saturday to counter the anti-corruption activists.

Iranian hard-liners who support President Hassan Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the clerical establishment of the Islamic Republic came out in droves this weekend to retaliate against the demonstrators.

Demonstrations exploded after that.

 

Activists came out in full force after pro-government demonstrators rallied on Saturday.

The protests moved from outer cities into Iran’s capital city, Tehran. They also shook Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad.

Police officers used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds as the demonstrations grew rowdier.

Also Read: Iran threatens to drop missiles on US bases if White House imposes new sanctions

And when that happened, state media was also forced to acknowledge that it had not initially reported on the protests on the orders of security officials.

“Counterrevolution groups and foreign media are continuing their organized efforts to misuse the people’s economic and livelihood problems and their legitimate demands to provide an opportunity for unlawful gatherings and possibly chaos,” state TV said of the protests.

But Iranian officials and state media added that citizens had the right to protest and have their voices heard on social issues.

Two people were killed overnight, becoming the first deaths attributed to the rallies.

That number grew to 12 deaths by Monday and at least 20 by Tuesday.

In addition to the 20 reported deaths, hundreds of protesters have been arrested since Thursday. One Iranian, who requested anonymity, told Reuters there was a heavy police presence in Tehran.

“I saw a few young men being arrested and put into police van,” he said. “They don’t let anyone assemble.”

On Sunday, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said on Twitter that authorities had cut off access to the app.

 

“Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down … peacefully protesting channels,” he wrote.

Activists were using Telegram to organize and discuss the protests, and they also used Instagram to share photos and videos of the demonstrations.

State media confirmed that both Instagram and Telegram had been blocked, with a source saying it was done as a safety measure.

The Iranian government is denying responsibility for the deaths and unrest.

 

Authorities said Iranian security forces were not responsible for the deaths and instead blamed Sunni Muslim extremists and foreign actors.

Rouhani said demonstrators had the right to protest the government, and he also acknowledged that some of the protesters’ grievances were legitimate. He added, however, that the demonstrations should not devolve into violence or anti-government chants.

“The USA is watching very closely.”

US President Donald Trump weighed in on the unrest this weekend.

“The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most….” he tweeted. “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. The world is watching!”

“Big protests in Iran,” he later added. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

Trump continued tweeting about the Iran protests on Tuesday, writing, “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their “pockets.” The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

 

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said: “The Iranian government is being tested by its own citizens. We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day.”

Rouhani pushed back on Trump’s remarks, saying the US president had no right to sympathize with protesters because he “called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

74 years later, SEALs storm Normandy beaches for charity

On the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion next spring, up to three dozen athletes will wade ashore on Omaha Beach, scale the once-fortified cliffs of Normandy and march with heavy ruck packs into the French countryside.


The man re-creating the invasion route that changed the course of World War II is retired Navy SEAL Lance Cummings of Cardiff. The 58-year-old veteran is organizing the one-day biathlon-style athletic challenge to raise $175,000 for the Navy SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Fla.

The event on June 6, 2018, is the follow-up to last spring’s Sparta300 for Charity, where Cummings led 19 military veterans, reservists, and endurance athletes on an eight-day, 240-mile trek across Greece.

The team — 18 men and one woman — retraced the epic journey to battle of the ancient Spartan King Leonidas and his 300-man army in 480 BC. That event raised $300,000 for three Navy SEAL charities.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
A few Epic Charity Challenge members participating in the Sparta300 trek across Greece. Photo from Facebook.

Eight of those Sparta300 participants have already signed up for the D-Day event, which Cummings has billed as the Epic Charity Challenge. Among them is Jimmy Whited, 48, a Miami insurance industry executive who said he’d follow Cummings anywhere.

“The combination of having an endurance event that has significant historic importance with raising money for charity is incredible,” Whited said. “We became great friends in Sparta, enduring significant pain and immersing ourselves in history while laughing all the way.”

Cummings said the Greek trek was very emotional for him and for all the members of the Sparta300 team. But as a US military veteran, he thinks that following in the footsteps of the Allied forces who bravely landed on the heavily defended Normandy coastline in June 1944 will be even more powerful.

“I expect this will be one of the most daunting experiences of my life,” he said. “My family has watched so many videos on the History Channel of what happened that day. The ocean ran red with the blood of those men. We see this not as just a challenge to raise money, but as a way to honor their sacrifices.”

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
The Normandy invasion.

During his long career in Navy special operations, Cummings deployed overseas 16 times to the Middle East, Asia, and South America. Since his retirement in 2011, he’s been working part time training athletes in SEAL-style fitness skills and as a chiropractor for both people and animals.

Born and raised in Macon, Ga., Cummings joined the SEALS at age 22 after a year of Navy fleet service in Connecticut. He served on active duty until 1995, then joined the reserves for five years while he earned his chiropractic degree and started a practice in Georgia.

He was reactivated after 9/11 and sent to Afghanistan for a year. Then he became a private contractor, working first for Blackwater and then, after moving to San Diego in 2004, for the Navy, setting up its human performance initiative program for soon-to-deploy SEAL teams. The program assesses potential health problems and does preventive therapy to reduce the risk of injuries in the field.

Also Read: 7 crazy facts you didn’t know about the D-Day invasion

Cummings started doing charitable work in 2015 when he and his wife, Michele Grad, signed up for an arthritis charity event where they pedaled 525 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a tandem bicycle. Grad said that her husband found the fund-raising experience so addicting, he’s been looking for ways to do more ever since.

Because of his long military service, Cummings has gotten strong support for the events from the US government. Before the Sparta300 hike began, the US Embassy staff in Athens hosted a reception in the group’s honor. Cummings said the staff at the Normandy memorial site has also been very easy to work with.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Retired Navy SEAL Lance Cummings and others taking part in Epic Charity Challenge’s Sparta300. Photo from Facebook.

The Sparta300 event was especially appealing to military veterans because it recalled a famous battle that changed history. King Leonidas and his 300-man Spartan army all perished at Thermopylae, but they held off the much-larger Persian Army for several days, allowing the Greek forces time to retreat and regroup.

Like the Spartan army, the Sparta300 trekkers covered the same distance, from Sparta to Thermopylae in eight days, and they each carried 60-pound packs to simulate the weight of the Spartans’ battle kit. Hewes Hull, a 49-year-old investment company CEO from Birmingham, Ala., said the camaraderie of the group is what kept him going.

“It was 100 percent about the people,” said Hewes, who has also signed up for the D-Day event. “How many times can anyone say they’ve spent eight days rucking with 20 people 10 hours a day and enjoyed every minute of it?”

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Former SEAL Lance Cummings leads groups in extreme tests of endurance for charity.

Cummings conceived the idea for the D-Day event because he liked the idea of re-creating another battle plan that changed history, and he wanted to support the Navy SEAL Museum.

Opened in 1985, the museum commemorates the history of the SEALs, an elite Navy special forces unit that got its start during World War II at Ft. Pierce. Volunteers with strong swimming skills were recruited from the Navy ranks to serve as frogmen and underwater demolitions crews who cleared obstacles and reefs to allow landing craft to reach the beaches in both the Pacific and European theaters of the war.

For most of the past 15 years, Cummings has attended Veterans Day “muster” events at Ft. Pierce. The weekend program includes an ever-shrinking reunion of surviving Navy Combat Demolition Unit veterans from World War II, as well as a memorial ceremony, where Cummings and other SEALs honor those who’ve passed away by scattering their ashes offshore.

Rick Kaiser, executive director of the Navy SEAL Museum and a retired Navy SEAL master chief, said the Normandy event will help support SEALs and their families.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
A Navy SEAL points to members of the crowd during a capabilities demonstration as part of the 2009 Veterans Day Ceremony and Muster XXIV at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Fla. The annual muster is held at the museum, which is located on the original training grounds of the Scouts and Raiders. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph M. Clark.

“The monies raised at the Normandy event will directly benefit the Museum’s Trident House Charities Program,” Kaiser said in a statement. “As the only museum in the world dedicated solely to SEALs and their predecessors, we are passionate and committed to this mission, however, the true heart of the Museum is to support our Special Operations Forces and their families.

“The Museum does this through the Trident House Charities Program in a three-pillar approach, providing college scholarships to the children of US Special Operations Forces; offering direct family support where there is additional financial need; and with the help of the Renewal Coalition, providing respite homes and family retreats entirely complimentary to serve our Special Operations Forces and their families, including the Museum’s Trident House in Sebastian, Florida,” Kaiser said.

Related: If the battle of Thermopylae was fought today with 300 Marines

Compared to the week-long Sparta300 event, the Epic Charity Challenge in Normandy takes place on just one day, but Cummings said that, like the Sparta trek, it will be so difficult that participants need five to six months of training to succeed.

The morning of June 6 will begin at 5 a.m., when boats will take participants out into the notoriously turbulent English Channel. Up to 25 team members will swim 6.2 miles (or 10 kilometers) to Omaha Beach. For those without strong swimming skills, up to 10 people will have the option of paddling 10 to 12 miles back in a Zodiac-style boat. That should take about five hours.

Participants will climb ropes or ladders up the 120-foot cliffs, then participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery Memorial on the bluffs. Then they’ll pull on a 44-pound pack (in honor of the year 1944) and ruck 20 miles to the town of Saint-L”, which should take another five to seven hours. The event will conclude that night with a celebratory dinner.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Lance Cummings accepts a plaque from the Sparta Federation in Connecticut on behalf of the team at the Sparta 300 for Charity. Photo from Facebook.

Participants are each expected to raise $5,000 in donations. Cummings is also recruiting several corporate sponsors, including Aqua Lung in Carlsbad, which is donating the swimmers’ wetsuits and fins. Pelican Case has also donated items for an online auction.

Through a new website, Cummings said his goal is to raise additional money to pay for several World War II veterans, both American and French, to take part in the ceremonies. More information is available via email at Seacoasthealth@gmail.com.

Chicago real estate agent Sean Easton, 32, is another who did the Sparta300 and has registered for the D-Day event. He said he can’t wait to be “wet and cold” at Normandy after suffering in the dry heat of Greece.

“The Sparta300 was a once-in-a-lifetime event that introduced me to a group who have pushed me farther than I thought possible,” he said. “They’re like-minded individuals who are constantly helping each other push themselves to grow as humans.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russian shops test facial-payment technology, possible rollout in 2020

Russia is testing facial-payment technology at supermarkets and could roll it out on a large scale by the middle of the year.


VTB, Russia’s second-largest lender, is testing the technology in the Lenta supermarket chain, the head of the bank’s digital division told Izvestia.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

live.staticflickr.com

Promsvyazbank, another Russian lender, is holding talks to launch the technology in other supermarket chains next year, the paper said, citing a top manager at the bank.

The technology will enable shoppers who have linked an image of their face to a bank account to pay for goods by posing in front of point-of-sale machines equipped with cameras.

China, which has one of the most advanced mobile-payment systems, has already rolled out facial-recognition technology in many stores.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Security forces: our first line of defense

media.defense.gov

SnapPay, a Canadian company, announced in October it would offer the payment method in North America.

The popularity of the technology could receive a boost from the novel coronavirus, amid concerns that the virus can be transmitted through cash and cards, Finam analyst Aleksei Kornenev told Izvestia.

Advocates say it’s more convenient and speeds up the checkout process.

However, the use of facial-recognition technology has raised concerns over privacy, especially in countries with authoritarian governments.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia accuses the US of trying to ‘partition’ Syria

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations has accused the U.S.-led coalition in Syria of trying to partition the country by setting up local governing bodies in areas seized from the Islamic State extremist group, Russian news agencies reported.


Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on November 29 complained that the coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters that recently liberated Raqqa from IS was discussing setting up governing bodies and restoring the economy without the involvement of Russia’s ally, the Syrian government, Russia’s Interfax and RIA news agencies reported.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Syrian Democratic Forces march in Raqqa in 2016 (Image from VOA)

“We are receiving news that the coalition is directly involved in the creation of some local authorities in the areas freed from ISIL, with which they are discussing economic reconstruction measures,” Nebenzya was quoted as saying by Interfax.

“What the coalition is doing amounts to concrete steps to partition the country,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax and RIA Novosti.

Russia raised its complaint as representatives from Syria’s government and rebel groups gathered in Geneva for an eighth round of talks after more than six years of civil war.

Russia and Syria at the Geneva negotiations have trumpeted their recent success at reasserting government control over about 55 percent of Syrian territory, particularly by pushing IS out of some last remaining strongholds along with Syrian-Iraq border.

The key northern city of Raqqa, which was IS’s self-proclaimed capital and biggest bastion in Syria, fell to forces allied with the United States, however, not those allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Also Read: US Ambassador to UN calls Syrian president a ‘War Criminal’

The U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of mostly Kurdish as well as Sunni Arab fighters, has declared it wants to establish self-governing in the region it liberated. The Pentagon has tacitly backed that goal and has left U.S. forces in the area to support the coalition.

With Syria now trying to consolidate its recent military successes and regain control over lost territory, Nebenzya told the UN council on Nov. 29 that Russia will no longer accept the delivery of UN humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines because he said that “undermines the sovereignty of Syria.”

Nebenzya said the UN council’s previous authorization of cross-border aid convoys, which expires next month, “was an emergency measure which presently needs to be reassessed.”

Nebenzya said Russia is pushing for the change in aid delivery because “there needs to be order in the distribution of humanitarian assistance, for it not to fall into the hands of terrorists and for it not to then be resold to the Syrian people at higher prices.”

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
USAID Assistant Administrator Lindborg Interacts With Syrian Refugees. (USAID photo)

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock pressed the council to renew the aid deliveries, however, which he said are “essential to save lives.”

In the first 10 months of 2017, he said, “over 750,000 people on average each month were reached through UN cross-border activities.”

U.S. Deputy UN Ambassador Michele Sison said the aid program must be renewed.

“The consequences of this mandate are enormous,” she said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that renewing this mandate is a life or death question.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch Russia’s cutting-edge fighter prepare to fly in a victory parade

The Su-57 will partake in Russia’s annual Victory Day Parade, which celebrates the capitulation of Nazi Germany in World War II, for the first time in 2018, according to Russian state-owned media.

“A pair of Russia’s cutting-edge Su-57 fighter jets will fly for the first time over Moscow’s Red Square during the Victory Parade on May 9, 2018,” TASS reported in early April 2018.


The massive fly-over will include 63 Russian aircraft, including, among many others, the Su-30SM, Tu-160, and of course, the Su-57, according to The Aviationist.

Recent video shows Russian airmen prepping the Su-57s for the show. The video shows the airmen performing routine checks, flapping the fighter’s wings, moving the nozzle, and then taking off.

Although the Su-57 was recently deployed to Syria, the fighter has not yet been fitted with its newIzdeliye 30 engine. It’s currently still running on the Su-35’s AL-41F1 engine, which means it cannot yet be considered a fifth-generation fighter.

The Russian Air Force plans to purchase a dozen Su-57s fitted with the AL-41F1 engines in 2019, and over “the next eight years … will continue to purchase small numbers of these planes for testing,” CNA senior research scientist Dmitry Gorenburg recently wrote.

Production of the Su-57, which made its maiden flight in 2010, has not only been hampered by budgetary problems, according to The Drive, but also “delays, accidents, and rumors of massive design changes.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

After 16 years, family of fallen soldier presented with his Distinguished Service Cross

Hundreds of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, Army veterans, Pittsburgh-area officials, and Army leaders recognized U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his heroism April 5, 2019 — 16 years to the day after he was killed in action while serving in Iraq.

Booker’s mother and sister were presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor, during a ceremony at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood — near the University of Pittsburgh — as family, fellow soldiers, city officials and veterans watched.

“I am so honored … I am so proud of all my son accomplished,” said Freddie Jackson, Booker’s mother. “I didn’t realize how much my son did and how he inspired other people. Steve died for his country, not just for the Booker Family,” she said.


Booker died on April 5, 2003, while serving as a tank commander with Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 34-year-old Apollo, Penn., native was killed in action near Baghdad while serving in Iraq during the “Thunder Run” mission as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Booker attended Apollo-Ridge High School, near Pittsburgh, and enlisted in the Army in June 1987, at age 19, shortly after his high school graduation. He was promoted to Army staff sergeant in February 2001 and deployed in March 2003 to Iraq.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, left, deputy commanding general of Forces Command, speaks in Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, during the presentation of the Distinguished Service Cross to Freddie Jackson, right, the mother of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his 2003 heroism while serving in Iraq.

(Photo by Mr. Paul Boyce)

“We’re here to honor his service, his sacrifice and his heroism … as well as his Family” said U.S. Army Forces Command Deputy Commanding General Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson. “He gave his life for something bigger than himself; he gave his life for others. He’s a Pittsburgh hero, an Army hero and an American hero.”

Richardson attended Friday’s ceremony along with 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, the 3rd Infantry Division Band and two retired Army generals. Army and Air Force cadets from the University of Pittsburgh’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program participated and attended as well.

Veterans of Booker’s unit also travelled from across the United States to attend the medal-presentation ceremony, organized by the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. The Army ceremony honored Booker for his heroic actions, personal dedication, and commitment to his fellow soldiers.

Booker’s platoon led a task force on April 5, 2003, along Highway 8 towards Bagdad International Airport. About 1.2 miles after the line of departure, the platoon came under heavy small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from enemy forces. Booker immediately communicated the situation to his chain of command, encouraged his crew, and returned fire with his tank-mounted machinegun.

“When both his and his crew’s machineguns malfunctioned, Booker, with total disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself by lying in a prone position on top of the tank’s turret and accurately engaged the enemy forces with his personal weapon,” according to the award’s summary. “While exposed, he effectively protected his platoon’s flank and delivered accurate information to his command during a critical and vulnerable point of the battle.”

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker.

(Facebook)

Booker’s “fearless attitude and excitement over the communications network inspired his platoon to continue the attack and assured them and leadership that they would defeat the enemy and reach their objective safely,” the award’s narrative explains. “As he remained exposed, Booker identified an enemy troop carrier which was attempting to bypass his tank, but within seconds engaged the enemy vehicle and destroyed it prior to the enemy troops dismounting. Along the five-mile route he remained exposed and continued to engage the enemy with accurate rifle fire until he was mortally wounded.”

Army Col. Andrew Hilmes, Booker’s former company commander in Iraq, said the heroic staff sergeant prepared his crew well for that day’s battle. “His ability to train his soldiers saved a lot of lives. Not just his actions on April 5, but the training he put his soldiers through prior to the 5th of April paid off for the unit.”

Booker’s sister echoed their mother’s comments during a media conference attended by Pittsburgh-area news media prior to the awards ceremonies, which included a plaque dedication in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial’s Hall of Valor. “He’d be very proud. He’d probably be pumping his chest right about now,” said Booker’s sister Kim Talley-Armstead. “It’s a bittersweet moment, but we are extremely proud.”

After giving careful consideration and reviewing the recommendations from the Senior Army Decorations Board, Army officials said, the Secretary of the Army made the determination that Staff Sgt. Booker be awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross. In recognition of their gallantry, intrepidity and heroism above and beyond the call of duty, 12 soldiers recently received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for their valor.

Previously recognized for their bravery by awards of the Silver Star, the Department of Defense upgraded the soldiers’ medals as part of a 2016-2018 comprehensive review of commendations for heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Four soldiers are still on active duty; three are posthumous awards; three recipients have since retired and two recipients previously separated from the Army.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everything you need to know about latest talks in Korea

North Korea and South Korea sent 20 diplomats to the “truce village” on Jan. 9, where the two states, technically still at war since 1953, talked about the coming Winter Olympics.


But early indications show that rising nuclear tensions remained the elephant in the room.

“This winter has seen more snowstorms than ever, and rivers and mountains across the country are frozen,” Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, said to open the discussion, according to Reuters.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that inter-Korean ties were even more frozen, but public yearning for improved relations was so strong that today’s precious event was brought about,” he said.

He also expressed “high hopes” for the dialogue and promised an “invaluable result as the first present of the year” to South Korea.

All eyes on Panmunjom

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Panmunjom village, located in the DMZ between ROK and DPRK. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In Panmunjom, the village in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas where an armistice halted fighting in the Korean War, diplomats from the two countries labored while microphones and cameras recorded their every word and move.

Both South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had access to live streams of the discussions, but no special message was made to either leader, according to reports.

The goods delivered

While many have maligned the talks as a North Korean attempt to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, the talks resulted in a few tangible results on their first day.

Related: North and South Korea just took an enormous step back from war

Even better, the highest-level talks between the countries since 2015 did not just focus on the Olympic Games, but veered into other important inter-Korean relations, as U.S. President Donald Trump and many others hoped they would:

  1. North Korea will send performing artists and a taekwondo team to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, as well as possibly a pair of figure skaters who may compete in the games.
  2. The Koreas will reopen a military hotline, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Military-to-military hotlines serve as a first line of defense for de-escalation. Having the line in place greatly reduces the chance of accidental military escalation.
  3. Denuclearization came up. Though CNN reports that North Korea’s delegation remained silent and did not respond to the mentions of South Korea’s aim that Pyongyang fully denuclearize, the issue was broached in talks with North Korea for the first time in years.
  4. South Korea mulled relaxing bans on North Korean officials, who have not been allowed south of the DMZ since nuclear tensions ratcheted up. South Korea may also allow North Korean citizens to visit the games.

Additional discussion took place around whether North Koreans could march with South Koreans in the ceremonies around the games and whether families separated by the DMZ could be reunited.

Long-term implications

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Kim Jong Un in a nuclear facility in North Korea. (KCNA)

In the short term, South Korea’s Winter Olympics seems to have gained a massive vote of confidence from its often troublesome neighbor.

The presence of North Korean performers, athletes, and citizens at the games all but guarantees that the games will go over without a hitch from Pyongyang.

In the longer term, the situation remains fraught. The US still rejects North Korea’s status as a de facto nuclear nation and refuses to talk without the precondition that Pyongyang must denuclearize.

But the talks have reversed the momentum of a spiraling series of nuclear threats and military escalations.

“Washington should build on what has happened so far to signal to Kim that the diplomatic door is being cracked open,” Joel Wit and Robert Carlin, two former State Department officials with experience with North Korea, wrote in The Atlantic.

Despite the risk that North Korea may be trying to trick the US and South Korea or stall until it can perfect its nuclear arsenal, there are few opportunities for dialogue and even greater risks involved with not talking.

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These US Marines are going back to their old battlefields in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan’s turbulent Helmand province, US Marines are rekindling old relationships and identifying weaknesses in the Afghan forces that the Trump administration hopes to address with a new strategy and the targeted infusion of several thousand American forces.


Returning to Afghanistan’s south after five years, Marine Brig. Gen. Roger Turner already knows where he could use some additional US troops. And while he agrees that the fight against the Taliban in Helmand is at a difficult stalemate, he said he is seeing improvements in the local forces as his Marines settle into their roles advising the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps.

Turner’s report on the fight in Helmand will be part of a broader assessment that Gen. Joseph Dunford will collect this week from his senior military commanders in Afghanistan.

Dunford landed in Kabul Monday with a mission to pull together the final elements of a military strategy that will include sending nearly 4,000 more U.S. troops into the country. He will be meeting with Afghan officials as well as US and coalition military leaders and troops.

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Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Afghan Air Force Brig. Gen. Eng A. Shafi. DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro.

The expected deployment of more Americans will be specifically molded to bolster the Afghan forces in critical areas so they can eventually take greater control over the security of their own nation.

The Taliban have slowly resurged, following the decision to end the combat role of US and international forces at the end of 2014. The NATO coalition switched to a support and advisory role, while the US has also focused on counter-terrorism missions.

Recognizing the continued Taliban threat and the growing Islamic State presence in the county, the Obama administration slowed its plan to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of last year. There are now about 8,400 there.

But commanders have complained that the sharp drawdown hurt their ability to adequately train and advise the Afghans while also increasing the counter-terror fight. As a result, the Trump administration is completing a new military, diplomatic, and economic strategy for the war, and is poised to send the additional US troops, likely bolstered by some added international forces.

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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Photo: USMC

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be in Brussels later this week and is expected to talk with allies about their ongoing support for the war.

While Turner said he has already seen improvements in the Afghan’s 215th Corps, he said adding more advisers would allow him to pinpoint problems at the lower command levels, including more brigades.

“The level and number of advisers you have really gives you the ability to view the chain on all the functional areas. The more areas you can see — you can have a greater impact on the overall capability of the force,” he told the Associated Press in an interview from Helmand Province. “If we had more capacity in the force we would be able to address more problems, faster.”

He said that although the Afghan forces have improved their ability to fight, they still need help at some of the key underpinnings of a combat force, such as getting spare parts to troops with broken equipment.

The seemingly simple task of efficiently ordering and receiving parts — something American forces do routinely — requires a working supply chain from the warehouse to the unit on the battlefield.

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Kentucky Guardsmen train Afghans. DoD Photo by Lt.j.g. Bryan Mitchell

And Turner said that’s an issue that could be improved with additional advisers.

Other improvements, he said, include increasing the size of Afghanistan’s special operations forces and building the capacity and capabilities of its nascent air force.

The Afghan ground forces in Helmand, he said, have been able to launch offensive operations against the Taliban, including a recent battle in Marjah.

“I don’t think last year they could have taken the fight to Marjah like they just did,” he said. “They’re in a much better position that they were a year ago.”

But they are facing a resilient Taliban, whose fighters are newly financed, now that the poppy harvest is over.

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Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan. | US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga

“Once they draw their finances, they start operations,” said Turner. “What we’ve seen so far since the end of May, when they made that transition, is a steady grind of activity across a number of places in the province.”

What has helped a lot, Turner said, is his Marines’ ability to renew old relationships with Afghan tribal elders, provincial ministers, and military commanders they worked with six or seven years ago.

Battalion officers they knew then are now commanders, and many government leaders are still in place.

“We obviously have a long commitment here in Helmand. It’s been good for the Marines to come back here,” he said. “This is a really meaningful mission. I think people realize that we don’t want to get into a situation where the kinds of pre-9/11 conditions exist again.”

Humor

5 reasons why troops hate going to sick call

The military is widely known for giving free medical and dental benefits to its service members and their families. Sometimes there can be a co-pay, but overall it’s a pretty sweet deal.


Although going to medical is also a smart way to skate your way through the day.

But many hate the idea and just want to conduct their business and get out. The fact is, unlike sick commandoes (you know who you are), you’ve got work to do and don’t want to spend your day fighting your way through the process of being seen.

So check out these reasons why troops hate going to sick call.

Related: 4 unusual tasks Corpsman do that their recruiters left out

1. Long waits

Depending on what command you report to every morning, you’re required to be there at a specific time. In most cases, medical is usually open before you need to get to work or it never closes. Since the majority of the military population (not all) are seeking to get an SIQ chit (Sick in Quarters) and stay home, they show up at the butt-crack of dawn like everyone else, causing long lines.

Unless you’re very high ranking or know the doctor well — you’re going to have to wait.

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Military members wait in a sick call line. (Photo: Senior Airman Josie Walck)

2. One chief complaint at a time

Military doctors treat dozens of patients per day then have to write up and complete the S.O.A.P. note. They’re typically face-to-face with the patient for just a few minutes, but behind the scenes, they can spend valuable time developing a treatment plan.

An unwritten guideline is a doctor only has time to treat one symptom or chief complaint per visit — that’s if the issues aren’t related. So in many cases, if you have a headache and a twisted ankle, pick one then wait in line to be seen for the other. So hopefully the medic or corpsman who’s helping out knows what he or she is doing and can treat you on the side.

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A Corpsman takes a look at his patient during sick call. (DOD photo)

3. Missing paperwork

Depending on your duty station, you may notice that the staff hand wrote the majority of your documented medical visits and probably never scanned them into the computer. That means there’s only one copy floating around.

When you plan on separating and you file for disability claiming you were seen in medical for that shoulder injury, if it isn’t in your medical record, it didn’t happen.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
HM3 Tristian Thomas reviews a patient’s medical record. (Photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Randall Damm)

Also Read: 5 key differences between Army medics and Navy corpsmen

4. The ole run around

When doctors order labs or x-rays in hospitals, staff members usually come to the patient to either extract the sample or transport them to the right area.

In a sick call setting, those services may not even be located in the same building. So good luck getting from A to B.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Getting around on base in a hurry can feel like New York City traffic.

5. Not getting what you want

Patients frequently enter medical feeling sick as a dog and convince themselves they wouldn’t be efficient at work. So when your temperature reads normal and the doctor doesn’t see a reason to let you go home for the day, don’t hate on medical when you get…

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

 

Can you think of any others? Comment below

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Another senior politician has died of coronavirus in Iran, where 8% of the parliament is infected

Another senior Iranian politician has died of the coronavirus amid reports that 8% of the country’s parliament has been infected.


Hossein Sheikholeslam, a diplomat and the country’s former ambassador to Syria, died Thursday, according to state news agency Fars. Sheikholeslam worked as an adviser to Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Sheikholeslam studied at the University of California, Berkeley, before the Islamic Revolution and later interrogated US Embassy staff members during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

Eight percent of Iran’s parliament has been infected with the coronavirus, including the deputy health minister and one of the vice presidents, according to CNN. Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, died in a hospital on Monday, a state-affiliated media organization said.

Tehran, Iran’s capital, subsequently barred government officials from traveling, and parliament has been suspended indefinitely.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

As of Thursday, about 3,500 Iranians have been infected, and 107 have died from the disease, according to government officials, but the true totals are suspected to be higher.

Iran, along with China, is believed to be underreporting the rate of deaths and infections as it struggles to deal with the health crisis. Iran and Italy have the highest death tolls outside China, where over 3,000 people have died from the disease.

Iran has taken several measures to address growing concerns about the coronavirus, including temporarily releasing 54,000 prisoners from crowded jails.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

The US State Department has offered assistance to Iran, but the country did not appear to be receptive.

“We have made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran to help,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers last week. “And we’ve made it clear to others around the world and in the region that assistance, humanitarian assistance, to push back against the coronavirus in Iran is something the United States of America fully supports.”

Iran responded to the aid by saying it would “neither count on such help nor are we ready to accept verbal help,” according to NBC News correspondent Ali Arouzi.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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How this former Marine pilot plans to run the US Navy

The newly minted Secretary of the Navy published a call to action this week, distributing a vision statement to the force that urged performance improvements, implementation of new ideas, and faster execution of goals throughout the organization.


Richard V. Spencer was sworn in as the 76th Secretary of the Navy Aug. 3, days after his confirmation to the post. Spencer, a former Marine aviator and past member of the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board with a long career in financial management spoke during his July confirmation hearing about his plans to shake up the organization, referring multiple times to Spencer Johnson’s business book “Who Moved My Cheese?” to indicate that incentives and thought processes inside the service needed to change.

“There’s a lot of cheese-moving that has to be done,” he said.

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Richard V. Spencer is sworn in as the 76th Secretary of the Navy by William O’Donnell, Department of the Navy administrative assistant. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan B. Trejo.

In Spencer’s vision statement published Aug. 29, he stated that people, capabilities, and processes were the service’s priorities, and speed and results had to be at the forefront in achieving naval goals.

“We are an integrated Naval force that will provide maritime dominance for the nation,” he wrote.

“To accomplish this in the face of current and emerging challenges, we must renew our sense of urgency and speed of execution throughout the entire organization. Our core values and accountability at the individual and organizational levels will shape our culture and guide our actions.”

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer greets senior chief petty officers selected for master chief after an all-hands call with Sailors at Naval Station Mayport. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Armando Gonzales.

A spokesman for Spencer’s office, Lt. Joshua Kelsey, told Military.com Spencer’s actions since taking office also spoke to his priorities.

In a recent trip to Florida to speak to sailors aboard the destroyer The Sullivans, Kelsey said he cut his tour of the ship short because he knew sailors were already in formation and he didn’t want them to wait for him. Spencer also abbreviated his remarks so he could get to the troops’ questions, Kelsey said.

“He’s going around the fleet and getting input from the sailors and Marines; he’s wanting to know what’s on their mind and what problems they see,” he said. “He’s made it a priority to get out and see everyone. Not just to see, but to actually hear from them.”

Recent stops for Spencer have included a visit to Naval Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee; to Philadelphia to speak at a National Association of Destroyers Veterans event; to Naval Air Stations Mayport and Jacksonville in Florida; to Mobile, Alabama for the christening of the littoral combat ship Charleston; and to San Diego, where he toured Space and Naval War Systems Command and Balboa Naval Medical Center.

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Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain. Photo by US 7th Fleet Public Affairs.

In the short time Spencer has held his office, the Navy has been rocked by one of the worst calamities in recent eras: the Aug. 21 collision of the destroyer John S. McCain with a Liberian-flagged tanker, an event that resulted in the deaths of 10 sailors. It came just months after a June collision involving the destroyer Fitzgerald that left seven dead, and the events raised grave questions for the Navy about the state of its surface warfare and pre-deployment training and readiness.

Spencer’s vision statement does not name any specific recent events affecting the Navy, but includes a broader call to excellence in recruiting and retaining top talent, meeting the highest ethical standards, and improving training, modernization, and maintenance to improve readiness and lethality.

“I call upon you to make every effort count and to align your goals with our priorities,” he wrote. “I look forward to making progress alongside you in these areas.”

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BB King was booted out of the Army for being a tractor driver

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Legendary blues guitarist B.B. King died today at the age of 89. King was renowned for his signature playing style and his singing voice. He was also one of the first blues “crossover” artists, making a big dent on the rock music charts with his cover of “The Thrill is Gone,” which became a hit for him in 1969. Over the years King shared the stage with many major acts including Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, and U2.

King was also a military veteran, although he only served for a short time. He was inducted into the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II but released immediately following boot camp after officials ruled him as “essential to the war economy” based on his experience as a tractor driver.

Here’s a great video about King’s life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqUhdBAJfsk

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