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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Giving Thanks for Our Troops

12/12/14: White House Press Briefing



Navy Moving Forward With LCS
Story Number: NNS141211-10 Release Date: 12/11/2014 5:59:00 PM  
From the office of the Secretary of the Navy

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has directed the Navy "to move forward with a multi-mission small surface combatant based on modified Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) hull designs."

Consistent with the Fleet's views on the most valued capabilities delivered by a small surface combatant, the modified LCS ship will be more lethal and survivable. It will provide multi-mission anti-surface warfare (SUW) and anti-submarine warfare capabilities (ASW), as well as continuous and effective air, surface and underwater self-defense. Adding to current LCS Flight 0+ baseline configurations, which include the 57mm gun and SeaRAM missile system, this ship will be equipped with over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missiles, air defense upgrades (sensors and weapons), an advanced electronic warfare system; advanced decoys; a towed array system for submarine detection and torpedo defense, two 25mm guns, an armed helicopter capable of engaging with either Hellfire missiles or MK-54 torpedoes, and an unmanned FireScout helicopter for surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting.

Modularity design features will also be retained to augment SUW and ASW capabilities as directed by the Fleet Commanders. Available mission modules include Longbow Surface to-Surface Missiles (Hellfire), two MK46 30mm guns, and two 11M RHIBs for Surface Warfare, or a variable depth sonar for submarine warfare which, when added to the ship's organic multi-function towed array and embarked helicopter, make this an extremely effective anti-submarine warfare platform.

In addition to the improved weapon systems capabilities for this ship, which reduce its susceptibility to being hit by a threat weapon, the small surface combatant will also include improved passive measures - measures that will reduce the ship's signature against mine threats, and measures that will harden certain vital spaces and systems against potential damage caused by weapon impact - to further enhance its overall survivability.

From an operational perspective, the sum of these improvements will increase the ship's capability and availability to participate in SUW Surface Action Groups, ASW Search and Attack Units; escort of High Value Units, and support of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) SUW and ASW operations.

With increased lethality and survivability, the modified LCS will provide the flexibility to operate both independently and as a part of an aggregated force. This decision allows the Navy to add organic multi-mission capabilities to the small surface combatant force while leveraging the benefits and affordability of the LCS program. The modified LCS ships will complement the planned 32 LCS ships, resulting in a 52 ship Small Surface Combatant Fleet in keeping with the Navy's Force Structure Analysis. The 32 LCS ships, with their full modular capability, will allow the Navy to deploy assets to meet the Navy's mine warfare, SUW, and ASW demands.


Thursday, December 11, 2014
California Operator of Website Pleads Guilty to Facilitating Prostitution

A California man pleaded guilty today in connection with his operation of the website to facilitate prostitution.  This represents the first federal conviction of a website operator for facilitation of prostitution.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California, Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office and Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) San Francisco Office made the announcement.

Eric Omuro, also known as “Red,” 53, of Mountain View, California, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California to using a facility of interstate commerce with the intent to facilitate prostitution.  His co-defendant, Annemarie Lanoce, 40, of Rocklin, California, pleaded guilty on Nov. 20, 2014, for assisting Omuro with the operation of the website.  Omuro’s sentencing hearing is set for March 26, 2015, and Lanoce’s sentencing hearing is set for March 19, 2015.

As part of the plea agreement, Omuro admitted that from April 2010 until June 25, 2014, he owned, managed, and operated a website known as, which was previously known as  Omuro admitted that the website hosted advertisements posted by prostitutes containing explicit photos, graphic descriptions of sexual services offered, and rates for the sexual services.  The advertisements were searchable by geographic location, including cities throughout California, other U.S. states, and Canada.

Omuro admitted that members of his website and prostitutes typically used acronyms for sex acts, which were defined in graphic detail in the website’s “Terms and Acronyms” section.  While prostitutes could post advertisements for free, offered additional options for a fee.  For example, prostitutes could pay a fee to have their advertisement featured more prominently on the website.  Similarly, customers could access for free.  If a customer purchased a membership, however, the customer obtained early and enhanced access to prostitute reviews, enhanced prostitute review search options, and access to additional VIP forums, among other things.

As part of the plea agreement, Omuro agreed to the forfeiture of the domain names and and more than $1.28 million in cash and property as proceeds and other property involved in his unlawful activity.

Omuro was arrested on June 25, 2014, on a warrant issued following his indictment.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office, the IRS-CI, and the Oakland Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance to the prosecution.


Ex-Im Bank Finances Export of American-made Bridge Components to Cameroon
 Transaction will support 200 U.S. jobs across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware

Washington, DC – In keeping with its congressional mandates to boost small business exports and increase exports to sub-Saharan Africa, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) will guarantee a $50 million loan to finance the export of 55 American-made bridge sets to Cameroon and support 200 U.S. jobs.

The loan, extended by Société Générale to Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Works, facilitates the export of modular steel bridges manufactured by the Acrow Corporation of America, a small business based in Parsippany, N.J.

According to Bank estimates derived from Departments of Commerce and Labor data and methodology, this transaction will support approximately 200 U.S. jobs in Parsippany, N.J., Milton, Pa.; and New Castle, Del.

“Ex-Im Bank-has a long track record of supporting American small business exports to sub-Saharan Africa,” said Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg. “These bridges will contribute to a strong, reliable infrastructure in Cameroon, while supporting quality small business manufacturing jobs here at home.”

Awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Export in 2011, Acrow is a leading manufacturer and supplier of modular steel bridge systems. The company has sold bridges in over 60 countries, and more than 1,000 Acrow bridges have been installed in developing countries since 2007.

The modular steel bridges, which are prefabricated in the U.S., will contribute to the development of regional trade through the repair and modernization of Cameroon’s rural infrastructure networks. Currently, parts of Cameroon’s transportation infrastructure are in disrepair, preventing access to schools, medical clinics, and other basic goods and services.

“Ex-Im Bank helped Acrow level the competitive playing field,” said Bill Killeen, President and CEO of Acrow. “Acrow competed against European and Chinese companies all offering packages robustly supported by their local export credit agencies. Without the support of Ex-Im, the contract for the supply of these Acrow Bridges would not have been consummated, and good jobs in the U. S. would not have been created. I look forward to our U. S. Congress doing what is right and necessary by reauthorizing for a longer term the Ex-Im Bank, which through its products adds to the competitiveness of U. S. businesses.”


'Big bang' of bird evolution mapped by international research team
Genes reveal histories of bird origins, feathers, flight and song

The genomes of modern birds tell a story: Today's winged rulers of the skies emerged and evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs and almost everything else 66 million years ago.

That story is now coming to light, thanks to an international collaboration that has been underway for four years.

The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium are being reported nearly simultaneously in 23 papers--eight papers in a special issue this week of Science, and 15 more in Genome Biology, GigaScience and other journals.

The results are funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Scientists already knew that the birds that survived the mass extinction experienced a rapid burst of evolution.

But the family tree of modern birds has confused biologists for centuries, and the molecular details of how birds arrived at the spectacular biodiversity of more than 10,000 species was barely known.

How did birds become so diverse?

To resolve these fundamental questions, a consortium led by Guojie Zhang of the National Genebank at BGI in China and the University of Copenhagen; neuroscientist Erich Jarvis of Duke University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and M. Thomas P. Gilbert of the Natural History Museum of Denmark has sequenced, assembled and compared the full genomes of 48 bird species.

The species include the crow, duck, falcon, parakeet, crane, ibis, woodpecker, eagle and others, representing all major branches of modern birds.

"BGI's strong support and four years of hard work by the entire community have enabled us to answer numerous fundamental questions on an unprecedented scale," said Zhang.

"This is the largest whole genomic study across a single vertebrate class to date. The success of this project can only be achieved with the excellent collaboration of all the consortium members."

Added Gilbert, "Although an increasing number of vertebrate genomes are being released, to date no single study has deliberately targeted the full diversity of any major vertebrate group.

"This is what our consortium set out to do. Only with this scale of sampling can scientists truly begin to fully explore the genomic diversity within a full vertebrate class."

"This is an exciting moment," said Jarvis. "Lots of fundamental questions now can be resolved with more genomic data from a broader sampling. I got into this project because of my interest in birds as a model for vocal learning and speech production in humans, and it has opened up some amazing new vistas on brain evolution."

This first round of analyses suggests some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution.

The first flagship paper published in Science presents a well-resolved new family tree for birds, based on whole-genome data.

The second flagship paper describes the big picture of genome evolution in birds.

Six other papers in the special issue of Science report how vocal learning may have independently evolved in a few bird groups and in the human brain's speech regions; how the sex chromosomes of birds came to be; how birds lost their teeth; how crocodile genomes evolved; and ways in which singing behavior regulates genes in the brain.

New ideas on bird evolution

"This project represents the biggest step forward yet in our understanding of how bird diversity is organized and in time and space," said paper co-author Scott Edwards, on leave from Harvard University and currently Director of NSF's Division of Biological Infrastructure.

"Because this information is so fundamental to our understanding of biodiversity, it will help everyone--from birdwatchers to artists to museum curators--better organize knowledge of bird diversity."

The new bird tree will change the way we think about bird diversity, said Edwards. "The fact that many birds associated with water--loons, herons, penguins, petrels and pelicans--are closely related suggests that adaptations to lakes or seas arose less frequently than we thought."

Added paper co-author David Mindell, an evolutionary biologist and program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology, "We found strong support for close relationships that might be surprising to many observers.

"Grebes are closely related to flamingos, but not closely related to ducks; falcons are closely related to songbirds and parrots but not closely related to hawks; and swifts are closely related to hummingbirds and not closely related to swallows."

Genome-scale datasets allowed scientists to "track the sequence of divergence events and their timing with greater precision than previously possible," said Mindell.

"Most major types of extant birds arose during a 5-10 million year interval at the end of the Cretaceous period and the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs about 66 million years ago."

It takes a consortium...of 200 scientists, 80 institutions, 20 countries

The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium has so far involved more than 200 scientists from 80 institutions in 20 countries, including the BGI in China, the University of Copenhagen, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Louisiana State University and others.

Previous attempts to reconstruct the avian family tree using partial DNA sequencing or anatomical and behavioral traits have met with contradiction and confusion.

Because modern birds split into species early and in such quick succession, they did not evolve enough distinct genetic differences at the genomic level to clearly determine their early branching order, the researchers said.

To resolve the timing and relationships of modern birds, consortium scientists used whole-genome DNA sequences to infer the bird species tree.

"In the past, people have been using 10 to 20 genes to try to infer the species relationships," Jarvis said.

"What we've learned from doing this whole-genome approach is that we can infer a somewhat different phylogeny [family tree] than what has been proposed in the past.

"We've figured out that protein-coding genes tell the wrong story for inferring the species tree. You need non-coding sequences, including the intergenic regions. The protein-coding sequences, however, tell an interesting story of proteome-wide convergence among species with similar life histories."

Where did all the birds come from?

This new tree resolves the early branches of Neoaves (new birds) and supports conclusions about relationships that have been long-debated.

For example, the findings support three independent origins of waterbirds.

They also indicate that the common ancestor of core landbirds, which include songbirds, parrots, woodpeckers, owls, eagles and falcons, was an apex predator, which also gave rise to the giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.

The whole-genome analysis dates the evolutionary expansion of Neoaves to the time of the mass extinction event 66 million years ago.

This contradicts the idea that Neoaves blossomed 10 to 80 million years earlier, as some recent studies have suggested.

Based on this new genomic data, only a few bird lineages survived the mass extinction.

They gave rise to the more than 10,000 Neoaves species that comprise 95 percent of all bird species living with us today.

The freed-up ecological niches caused by the extinction event likely allowed rapid species radiation of birds in less than 15 million years, which explains much of modern bird biodiversity.

For answers, new computational tools needed

Increasingly sophisticated and more affordable genomic sequencing technologies, and the advent of computational tools for reconstructing and comparing whole genomes, have allowed the consortium to resolve these controversies with better clarity than ever before, the researchers said.

With about 14,000 genes per species, the size of the datasets and the complexity of analyzing them required new approaches to computing evolutionary family trees.

These were developed by computer scientists Tandy Warnow at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, funded by NSF, Siavash Mirarab of the University of Texas at Austin, and Alexis Stamatakis at the Heidelburg Institute for Theoretical Studies.

Their algorithms required the use of parallel processing supercomputers at the Munich Supercomputing Center, the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and the San Diego Supercomputing Center.

"The computational challenges in estimating the avian species tree used around 300 years of CPU time, and some analyses required supercomputers with a terabyte of memory," Warnow said.

The bird project also had support from the Genome 10K Consortium of Scientists (G10K), an international science community working toward rapidly assessing genome sequences for 10,000 vertebrate species.

"The Avian Genomics Consortium has accomplished the most ambitious and successful project that the G10K Project has joined or endorsed," said G10K co-leader Stephen O'Brien, who co-authored a commentary on the bird sequencing project in GigaScience.

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF,


FTC Sends Refund Checks Totaling More Than $26 Million to Consumers Who Bought Sensa Weight-Loss Supplement
Checks Being Mailed This Week

The Federal Trade Commission is mailing 477,083 refund checks totaling $26,023,329 this week to consumers who bought the sprinkle-on weight-loss supplement Sensa. They are legitimate refund checks, and must be cashed within 60 days of the date they are issued, or will become void.

The refunds stem from a January 2014 settlement with the marketers of Sensa, who claimed that consumers could “sprinkle, eat, and lose weight” by using the product. According to the FTC’s complaint, the California-based company, its parent company, and two individuals, including the product’s inventor, deceptively advertised that the powder enhances food’s smell and taste, making users feel full faster, so they eat less and lose weight without changing their diet or exercise routine. The FTC’s complaint alleged, among other things, that the defendants did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the weight-loss claims. The defendants charged $59 for a one-month supply of Sensa.

The FTC’s complaint also charged the defendants with failing to disclose that they paid some consumer endorsers for promoting the product, and controlled a purportedly independent study. The complaint also alleged that Sensa’s inventor deceptively endorsed the product and provided others with the tools for deception. In addition to requiring consumer refunds, the settlement with the FTC prohibits such practices.

Epiq Systems, Inc., the redress administrator for this matter, will mail refund checks to eligible consumers this week. The average amount each consumer will receive is $54, but may differ based on how much they lost. The checks must be cashed within sixty days of the date they are issued. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide information before redress checks can be cashed.

Friday, December 12, 2014



Friday, December 12, 2014
Three Colombian Nationals Sentenced to Prison for the Kidnapping and Murder of DEA Agent Terry Watson
Two Additional Colombian Nationals Also Plead Guilty For Their Roles

Three Colombian nationals were sentenced to decades in prison today in the Eastern District of Virginia for their roles in the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James “Terry” Watson in Bogotá, Colombia, on June 20, 2013.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office, DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and Bill A. Miller, Director, U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service made the announcement.

“Throughout his law enforcement career, Special Agent Watson’s service was both selfless and courageous,” said Attorney General Holder.  “With this action, we continue our work to hold accountable those who were responsible for his murder.  In the weeks ahead, we expect to take additional steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.  And in all that we do, our nation’s Department of Justice will continue to honor Special Agent Watson’s sacrifice, to safeguard the nation he served, and to protect the values and principles he defended all his life.”

“Terry Watson was a courageous and accomplished DEA Special Agent who we will forever honor and remember for his dedicated career and sacrifice,” said DEA Administrator Leonhart.  “DEA is grateful that those who carried out this reprehensible and senseless act are now facing U.S. justice.  We will honor his life and career by continuing our global crusade with our domestic and international partners to defeat violent drug trafficking networks.”

Héctor Leonardo López, 34, Julio Estiven Gracia Ramírez, 32, and Andrés Álvaro Oviedo García, 22, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kidnap and aiding and abetting the murder of an internationally protected person.  Today, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced López to 25 years, Gracia Ramírez to 27 years, and Oviedo García to 20 years.

In addition, Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, pleaded guilty today to obstruction of justice and Edwin Gerardo Figueroa Sepúlveda, 39, pleaded guilty on Dec. 9, 2014, to conspiracy to kidnap and aiding and abetting the murder of an internationally protected person.  Sentencing hearings for Peralta-Bocachica and Figueroa Sepúlveda are scheduled for Feb. 18, 2015.

In the statements of facts filed with their plea agreements, López, Gracia Ramírez, Oviedo García, and Figueroa Sepúlveda admitted that they conspired to conduct “paseo milionarios” or “millionaire’s rides” in which victims were lured into taxi cabs, kidnapped and then robbed.  They admitted that on the evening of June 20, 2013, they were part of a robbery crew that targeted Special Agent Watson.  Gracia Ramírez picked up Special Agent Watson in his taxi, while López drove a second taxi carrying the assailants.  Figueroa Sepúlveda entered the taxi carrying Special Agent Watson and shocked him with a stun gun while another defendant stabbed him.  Special Agent Watson was able to escape from the taxi, but he later collapsed and died from his injuries.  Oviedo García was part of the robbery crew, but shortly before Special Agent Watson was targeted, a third taxi encountered mechanical issues and Oviedo García stayed with the disabled taxi.  Peralta-Bocachica admitted that in the days following the kidnapping and murder, he washed the taxi in which Special Agent Watson was stabbed, removing blood from the back seat then discarding the cleaning rags, before turning the taxi over to the Colombian National Police.

Two other defendants, Omar Fabián Valdes Gualtero, 27, and Édgar Javier Bello Murillo, 27, are charged with second degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap in connection with their alleged involvement in the murder.  Trial is set for Jan. 12, 2015.  The charges in the indictment against these defendants are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and the Diplomatic Security Service, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.  The case is being prosecuted by Special Counsel Stacey Luck of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Ben’Ary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, Colombian National Police, Colombian Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol (DIJIN), DIJIN Special Investigative Unit, Bogotá Metropolitan Police, Bogotá Police Intelligence Body (CIPOL) Unit and Colombian Technical Investigation Team for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

12/11/14: White House Press Briefing



FTC Takes Action Against Two Auto Dealership Chains For Violating 2012 Orders Prohibiting Deceptive Advertising of Vehicle Costs

The Federal Trade Commission is taking action against two auto dealer groups, operating in five states with more than two dozen retail stores, for civil penalties for violations of FTC administrative orders, which prohibit them from deceptively advertising the cost of buying or leasing a car.

“If auto dealers make advertising claims in headlines, they can’t take them away in fine print,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “These actions show there is a financial cost for violating FTC orders.”

Billion Auto, a chain of 20 family-owned automobile dealerships in Iowa, Montana, and South Dakota, and a family-controlled advertising company, Nichols Media, Inc., have agreed to settle charges that they violated a 2012 FTC administrative order. That order prohibits Billion Auto, and any companies in active participation with it, from misrepresenting material costs and terms of vehicle finance and lease offers and requires specific disclosures, mandated by the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Regulation Z, and the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA) and Regulation M. The Billion Auto defendants have agreed to pay $360,000 in civil penalties to settle the FTC’s charges.

According to the complaint against Billion and Nichols, the dealerships and advertising company violated the 2012 FTC administrative order by frequently focusing on only a few attractive terms in their ads while hiding others in fine print, through distracting visuals, or with rapid-fire audio delivery. For example, some dealership ads promoted low monthly payments or attractive annual percentage rates and finance periods, while concealing other material items, such as low payments were for leases, not sales; major limits existed on who could qualify for discounts; and offers often included significant added costs.

In a separate action seeking civil penalties, the FTC has charged Ramey Motors, Inc., and three affiliated dealerships, in several locations in Virginia and West Virginia, with violating a similar 2012 FTC administrative order. Among other things, Ramey Motors’ ads allegedly misrepresented the costs of financing or leasing a vehicle by concealing important terms of the offer, such as a requirement to make a substantial down payment. The complaint also charges Ramey Motors with failing to make credit disclosures clearly and conspicuously, as required by the TILA. The FTC also alleges that the auto dealer group failed to retain and produce appropriate records to the Commission to substantiate its offers. Ramey Motors and its affiliates are subject to $16,000 in civil penalties for each alleged violation of the FTC administrative order.

The Commission vote to refer the Billion complaint and proposed stipulated order to the Department of Justice for filing was 5-0. The Justice Department filed the complaint and proposed stipulated order on behalf of the Commission in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa on Dec. 11, 2014.

The Commission vote to authorize filing the complaint against Ramey Motors, Inc., Ramey Automotive Group, Inc., Ramey Automotive, Inc., and Ramey Chevrolet, Inc. was 5-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on Dec. 11, 2014.

The FTC has brought more than 20 enforcement actions in the auto marketplace in recent years to protect consumers. Anyone looking for a new or used vehicle can check out the agency’s tips in Buying and Owning a Car.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge. In the Ramey matter, the case will be decided by the court.



Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addresses service members during a visit to Baghdad, Dec. 9, 2014. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz.  

In Iraq, Hagel Praises Troops’ Commitment, Service, Sacrifice
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jake Richmond
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel thanked service members in Baghdad yesterday and told them they are “doing something very, very special that very few people in life ever can do.”

Hagel said the world is going through an incredible time of redefinition, but that the one constant that always determines outcomes of everything is service, sacrifice, leadership and commitment.

“Your commitment and your service and your sacrifice to what you believe is something that should be recognized [and] acknowledged,” he said.

Being separated from family is another part of the sacrifice made by service members, Hagel said, which is especially difficult during the holidays. He asked the troops to thank their family members on his behalf.
‘Defined by the End Game’

The secretary told the troops in attendance –- who included Americans and Australians -- that he knows they believe they’re just doing their jobs. But he reminded them that their service will make a “such a difference” in the future.
“I think when you look out over the long sweep of history -– and certainly we’ve had an interesting last 13 years in the world -- it’s always determined by not just the day-to-day developments or battles, but it’s always determined by the will and commitment of the people,” the secretary said. “And we, being the United States and our coalition partners, including Australia, are countries that have played important roles in history to help other countries and help other people.”
Hagel said such efforts are “always defined by the end game,” which he described as the determination of whether a country can be free to defend itself, support itself, and provide its people peace, prosperity and opportunity. However, the inclusiveness of an Iraqi government that its people can join and trust is essential, Hagel said.

“It is their country,” Hagel said. “They have to lead. They are the ones that are going to have to be responsible for end results. We can help, we can train, we can assist, we can advise, and we’re doing that.”


Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Utah Accountant Sentenced for Filing Over $9 Million in False Tax Refund Claims and $300 Million Fictitious Financial Instrument

A Heber City, Utah, man was sentenced today to serve 78 months in prison for filing false claims for income tax refunds and for filing a fictitious financial instrument, announced Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Larry J. Wszalek for the Department’s Tax Division and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups also ordered Dick Reid Jenkins, to pay $250,340 in restitution to the IRS and to serve three years of supervised released upon his release from prison.

In June 2014, Jenkins, a certified public accountant, was convicted at trial of 18 counts of filing false claims for tax refunds and one count of presenting a fictitious financial instrument to the United States.  According to the superseding indictment and the proof at trial, in September 2008, Jenkins filed a false individual income tax return for himself for tax year 2007 which claimed an income tax refund of $402,920.  Then, in October 2008, Jenkins filed a false amended 2004 individual income tax return, which claimed an income tax refund of $434,261.  Both false claims were based on the use of a falsified IRS Form 1099-OID (Original Issue Discount), which is a form of accrued interest, to claim the false refunds.  From 2009 through 2014, the IRS has listed this scheme as one of its “Dirty Dozen” worst tax scams.

According to both the superseding indictment and the proof at trial, in addition to his own false returns, from September 2008 through February 2009, Jenkins caused 16 other false federal individual income tax returns to be filed on behalf of other individuals.  These false tax returns also used false Forms 1099-OID and claimed federal income tax refunds totaling $8,407,623.

Additionally, according to the superseding indictment and the proof at trial, on June 30, 2008, Jenkins presented a false and fictitious financial instrument to the U.S. Department of the Treasury in the amount of $300 million.

The case was investigated by special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation.  Trial Attorney Stuart Wexler for the Tax Division prosecuted the case.


Attorney General Holder Delivers Remarks at the Criminal Division Awards Ceremony
Washington, DCUnited States ~ Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Leslie [Caldwell], for those kind words – and for your outstanding leadership as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.  It’s a pleasure to share the stage with you, with Deputy Attorney General [Jim] Cole, and with so many other distinguished members of the Justice Department family.  And it’s a great privilege, as always, to join you in recognizing the extraordinary contributions of our dedicated colleagues; as we call attention to their inspiring individual efforts and collective accomplishments; and as we express our thanks and appreciation for their tireless work over the past year – to help achieve justice in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community.

I’d like to thank all of the Criminal Division leaders and support staff members who have worked so hard to make this event a success – as well as the numerous department leaders, colleagues, former colleagues, and past award recipients who are here today for this important celebration.  It’s a particular honor to join such a distinguished group in welcoming all of the proud family members, friends, and special guests who have taken the time to be here in the Great Hall, and whose support – and sacrifices – have been essential to everything that our awardees have accomplished.  Make no mistake: every one of you shares in the recognitions that we are about to bestow.

Every day, this year’s Criminal Division awards recipients – and so many other dedicated men and women both in, and far beyond, this room – make a profound, positive difference on behalf of the American people.  Your work is central to the mission of this department, and to the promise of our nation: the promise of equal justice under law.  Your efforts help to protect, and to realize, the rights – of safety, security, opportunity, and justice – to which your fellow citizens are entitled.  And all across the country – from our biggest cities, to our smallest towns; from rural areas to tribal lands – you play a crucial role in improving public safety, keeping dangerous criminals off the streets, cracking down on financial and health care fraud, and safeguarding the most vulnerable members of society from violence, exploitation, and abuse.

Especially over the past year, your work has led the Department of Justice to make remarkable – and, in some cases, even historic – progress in fulfilling the responsibilities we share.  And that’s why, today, although we single out 136 extraordinary, talented, and deserving Criminal Division attorneys, investigators, paralegals, support staff members, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and law enforcement personnel, I also want to take this opportunity to thank every one of this division’s employees, and their family members, for all that they’ve done in the name of public service.

It’s worth noting, in particular, that this year’s awardees helped to secure the largest financial penalty ever imposed in a criminal case, in United States v. BNP Paribas.  You helped to execute a groundbreaking take-down operation that dismantled the notorious Gameover Zeus botnet.  You’ve led our national efforts to implement “Smart on Crime” reforms that are strengthening – and recalibrating – America’s criminal justice system for the 21st century.  And you’ve made tremendous strides in a variety of additional areas – from ensuring the vigorous enforcement of federal laws and protecting national security, to restoring the integrity of our financial markets; from intervening in communities devastated by the cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime, to forging relationships of trust and mutual respect where these bonds have been eroded over the years.

In so doing, you have achieved justice for so many who have been victimized, and shielded others from crime.  And you’ve extended the record of achievement that has surely defined today’s Criminal Division as one of the most effective in American history.

Most impressively, you’ve accomplished all of this in a time of evolving challenges and escalating global threats.  I know that, in many ways, your jobs have never been tougher, and the work you perform has never been more complex – or more urgent.  Yet the leaders in this room have persevered – not just to overcome significant obstacles, but to secure the progress, and bring about the extraordinary results, we celebrate today.

I know I speak for President Obama, for our counterparts at every level of government – and for the American people we’re privileged to serve – when I say: thank you for your service, for your leadership, and for all that you continue to help us achieve.  It has been the honor of my career to count you as colleagues, as partners, and as friends in the work with which we’ve been entrusted.  As you know, I first joined the Justice Department – more years ago than I’d like to admit – as an attorney in this division’s Public Integrity Section.  Although my time at this department will soon be drawing to a close, and my individual path will soon take me in a new direction, I will continue to seek ways to contribute to the work we share – and which has become the cause of my life.  And I will always be tremendously proud of this division, this department, and every one of you.

As we carry this work into the future – and resolve to keep extending the record of achievement we celebrate today – I challenge you to keep asking tough questions and taking on tough assignments.  Keep striving to build on the momentum you’ve established, and the great work that’s underway.  And keep inspiring your coworkers to reach for excellence, to demand the best from one another, and to serve the country we all love with humility, with patriotism, and with fidelity to the law.

Thank you, once again, for all that you do.  And please keep up the great work.

At this time, I’d like to welcome Leslie back to the podium to begin the award presentations.  Once again, congratulations on earning these prestigious awards.



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the following press release earlier today:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action to protect the public from seven ethylene glycol ethers or glymes chemicals that can cause health effects including birth defects and blood toxicity.

“Today’s action is part of our continuing efforts to help ensure that chemicals in products we use every day are safe for the American public,” said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “Finalizing this action could prevent an increase in the use of these chemicals and reduce human exposure through ingestion and inhalation.”

Some of these chemicals are currently used in consumer products, including paints, inks, and glues. The final rule will allow EPA to review any proposed new uses of these chemicals to ensure that human health and the environment are protected. EPA believes that new uses of these chemicals should not be allowed without an opportunity for review and, if necessary, to place restrictions on these chemicals, as warranted.

EPA has also added one of the more toxic of these ethylene glycol ethers, ethylene glycol dimethyl ether (monoglyme), to the Work Plan for Chemical Assessments. Monoglyme met the criteria for priority assessment because of its toxicity and use in some commercial and consumer products. EPA will conduct a risk assessment for this chemical and determine if further risk reduction action should be taken.

This rule, known as a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), is issued under the Toxic Substances Control Act and will require manufacturers (including importers) to notify EPA at least 90 days before starting or resuming new uses of these chemicals in consumer products. This notification allows EPA the opportunity to evaluate the intended use and, if necessary, to prohibit or limit that activity. SNURs ensure that once a chemical has been phased out or taken off the market for certain uses, no use can resume without notification and review by the agency.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Burkina Faso National Day
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 11, 2014

On behalf of the American people and President Obama, I congratulate the people of Burkina Faso on the 54th anniversary of your independence.

The United States is dedicated to supporting Burkina Faso’s efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, expand economic opportunities, and maintain regional security. We welcome the establishment of the civilian-led transitional government. It is important that preparations begin now to ensure that the national elections scheduled for November 2015 are successful. We look forward to working closely with the transitional government, the electoral commission, and civil society to support this important election.

The United States is committed to building on the strong bond between our two countries and creating peace and prosperity for all the people of Burkina Faso.


DoD Threat Reduction Agency Builds Anti-Ebola Capacity
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2014 – The Defense Department agency whose mission is to reduce biological, chemical and other threats to troops worldwide began ramping up its response early in the Ebola outbreak and now, with many partners, is steadily building capabilities in Liberia as it extends capacity into Sierra Leone and Mali.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, known as DTRA, protects the United States and its allies from chemical, biological, nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

The fast-moving nature of West Africa’s Ebola crisis, which so far accounts for 17,145 cases of Ebola virus disease and at least 6,070 deaths, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has driven the need for constant, close collaboration within DTRA itself and among U.S. agencies, entities such as U.S. Africa Command, international organizations and private companies.

One of Many Stakeholders

DTRA Deputy Director Air Force Maj. Gen. John P. Horner recently spoke with DoD News about DTRA’s Ebola response in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, the U.S. lead for Ebola efforts in West Africa.

“DTRA is one of many stakeholders -- we are not necessarily the lead for any of this,” Horner said. “But between our [research, testing, development and evaluation] efforts and providing protective gear, diagnostic capabilities and vaccines, to modeling and analysis and data-sharing capabilities, we’ve made a lot of contributions” with a range of partners.

These include CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department’s Biosecurity Engagement Program, many other U.S. interagency partners, and international partners that include the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders.

Together, DTRA and its partners provide support to Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa and contribute assay development and laboratory services, funding and capacity building to fight this and future deadly outbreaks.

In the Realm of Basic Research

Dr. Ronald K. Hann Jr., director of research and development in the Chemical and Biological Technologies Department, described the process for DTRA’s work on Ebola diagnostic assays.

“Here at DTRA we work in the realm of basic research up through developing prototypes, but we aren't the ones who do the follow-on procurement, life-cycle management or distribution,” he explained.

“We try to anticipate threats in the future and make sure we have resources prepared to meet those threats,” Hann added.

As products progress, DTRA works directly with its DoD acquisition partner, the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense in Maryland, or with interagency partners such as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, part of HHS, and the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID.

“We work in an early discovery role, up through prototypes,” Hann said. “Often we’re looking to answer the question, can I do a certain thing, not necessarily whether it’s the best or cheapest way to do it. Looking to make something more cost efficient or how to mass produce it, those are questions that go on to our interagency partners … who carry the product further.”
Threat Detection and Surveillance

Dr. Richard Schoske, chief of the diagnostic detection and threat surveillance division in the Chemical and Biological Technologies Department, described DTRA’s role in diagnostic development.

As far back as 2010, Schoske said, the agency and its advanced developers funded and developed more than seventy assays to detect 19 different pathogens such as hemorrhagic fever viruses like Ebola and Marburg that are both filoviruses.

The assays received pre-Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Pre-EUA is a step toward EUA, which allows unapproved medical products to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat or prevent serious diseases.

Generally, Schoske said, DTRA provides funding to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, and scientists there do further development and present packages of information about the assays to the advanced developer -- the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense.

Then the JPEO-CBD and DTRA’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program, or CBEP, partners fund the manufacturing, procurement and distribution to analytic laboratories like the ones DTRA is putting in place in Liberia, Schoske said.

“Those are the assays currently being used by laboratories, in West Africa,” he added.

Labs in Sierra Leone, Assessment in Mali

Now, at Sierra Leone’s request and with CBEP funding and DTRA’s international partners, the agency is moving two contractor-staffed diagnostic labs into Sierra Leone and helping build capacity in that country to deal with Ebola and other infectious diseases.

CBEP division chief Dr. Lance Brooks said the labs will go out in stages. One is expected to be ready by the end of December and full operating capability is expected by early January.

Also in the region, DTRA, with CDC and the State Department’s Biosecurity Engagement Program, has sent an assessment team to Mali, the most recent West African country affected by the Ebola epidemic.

Major General Horner said one of DTRA’s most critical capabilities as a combat support agency is “our agility in terms of working with our lawmakers and colleagues at the Pentagon to get money programmed and on a contract in a hurry.”

He added, “As part of [President Barack Obama’s] Global Health Security Agenda we will sustain our efforts and the capabilities we are putting forward into the future as part of our medical countermeasures-biosurveillance effort.”
Dr. Ronald Meris, branch chief for DTRA Technical Reachback, where modeling is performed for Ebola and other infectious diseases, said, “If we could go out on a limb I would say our modeling is showing that the U.S. government response is making a difference in West Africa.”

He added, “I would say the rate of uptick is lower with each bit of interdiction we do to help combat this [outbreak] and build capacity in the countries. So I'm not going to say that it's a good news story yet but I'm saying the response is taking hold.”


Protecting biodiversity

In one of the world's richest biological hotspots, an international group of scientists works to preserve biodiversity amid climate change
The Congo Basin is an unruly ribbon of tropical forest: Over a million square miles spanning six countries in Central Africa, running inward along the equator from the continent's western coast. It is the second-largest contiguous tropical forest in the world. The basin is home to the classics of African wildlife--chimpanzees, elephants, gorillas--along with thousands of other less well-known species: pale, long-legged Golden Puddle Frogs, hook-beaked Olive Sunbirds, and squat Blue Duikers, which look like shrunken antelopes.

This wealth of flora and fauna, much of it native to the region, is enough to qualify the Congo Basin as a biodiversity hotspot: a biologically rich area threatened by outside forces. In Central Africa, those forces include deforestation, climate change, hunting and more.

The region is "so enriched with life," says Mary "Katy" Gonder, a Drexel University biologist and one of the lead researchers on the Central African Biodiversity Alliance (CABA). "And that life is precarious right now."

Funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Alliance is an international partnership of scientists, students and policy makers working to build a framework to conserve biodiversity in Central Africa. The partnership spans three continents, and includes researchers from the U.S., Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Germany and the United Kingdom.

NSF funding for CABA comes through the Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) program, which supports innovative, international research and education collaborations. PIRE projects stimulate scientific discovery and strengthen U.S. universities; the projects forge worldwide partnerships and help train a globally engaged scientific and engineering workforce.

CABA also receives funding from the Arcus Foundation and the Exxon Mobil Foundation.

To build a conservation framework, they are using genomic tools and environmental modeling to identify areas worth conserving: sweet spots that both maximize the pattern of biodiversity and the processes that produce and maintain it.

All research is rooted in the region's socioeconomic realities. From the start, CABA members have met with government officials in the region, to ensure that policy makers are both informed about the research and play a role shaping it. Training future scientists and engineers is also a big piece of the project. They've held professional development workshops for students and scientists--both American and African--to discuss everything from experiment design and statistics to grant writing and leadership. CABA members have also helped facilitate workshops for women in science, through COACh (Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists) International.

Exposing American students to globally focused research, partnerships and--for most of the them--a completely foreign part of the world is another "great benefit" of the project, says Nicola Anthony, a biologist at the University of New Orleans and another lead CABA scientist. "Even if they don't end up in science for a career, they'll be much better global citizens as a result of this."

CABA's "breadth and effectiveness are very impressive," says Lara Campbell, a program manager in NSF's International Science and Engineering section, which funds PIRE. "They are producing a strong cadre of American and African scientists prepared to address the many future challenges of climate change impacts on ecosystems."

-- Jessica Arriens
Thomas Smith
Nicola Anthony
Mary Katherine Gonder
Related Institutions/Organizations
University of California-Los Angeles
University of New Orleans
Drexel University



Monday, December 8, 2014

Drilling Company Charged with Environmental and Maritime Crimes in Alaska
Noble Drilling (U.S.) LLC was charged with environmental and maritime crimes for operating the drill ship Noble Discoverer and the drilling unit Kulluk in violation of federal law in Alaska in 2012, the Department of Justice announced.

Under the terms of a plea agreement filed in federal court today, Noble will plead guilty to eight felony offenses, pay $12.2 million dollars in fines and community service payments, implement a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan, and will be placed on probation for four years. In addition, Noble’s parent corporation, Noble Corporation plc, headquartered in London, England, will implement an Environmental Management System for all Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODUs) owned or operated by Noble Corporation plc and its direct and indirect subsidiaries worldwide.

Noble Drilling (U.S.) LLC was charged in an eight-count Information with knowingly failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book and an accurate International Oil Pollution Prevention certificate, knowingly failing to maintain a ballast water record book, and knowingly and willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drill ship Noble Discoverer. At the time of the offenses, the Noble Discoverer was operating under contract with Shell Offshore, Inc. and Shell Development, Ltd. for the purpose of drilling in the arctic in Alaska.

During the 2012 drilling season, Noble was the operator and bare boat charterer of the motor vessel Noble Discoverer and the drilling operator of the MODU Kulluk. The Kulluk was a conical-shaped vessel, weighing 27,968 gross tons, and measuring 265.7 feet in diameter. The Kulluk was not self-propelled, but rather had to be towed. The Noble Discoverer, a mobile drill ship, weighed approximately 15,296 gross tons, measured 572 feet long, and was propelled by a single main engine. In 2012, the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer made several U.S. port calls in Washington and Alaska on their way to the Shell drilling site off the coast of Alaska. After leaving the drill site, the Kulluk ultimately ran aground off the coast of Unalaska when it broke free from its tow in bad weather, and the Noble Discoverer was dead-ship towed from Dutch Harbor to Seward due to failures with its main engine and other equipment.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Noble admits that it knowingly made false entries and failed to record its collection, transfer, storage, and disposal of oil in the Noble Discoverer’s and the Kulluk’s oil record books in 2012. Oil record book entries falsely reflected that the Noble Discoverer’s Oil Water Separator (OWS) was used during periods of time when in fact the OWS was inoperable. Under the International MARPOL protocol and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, all overboard discharges must pass through an operating OWS to insure that water pumped overboard does not contain more than 15ppm of oil.

Noble also admits that it failed to log numerous transfers and storage of machinery space bilge water and waste oil and failed to log that the Noble Discoverer’s oil content meter audible alarm was nonfunctional. Noble also made modifications to the Noble Discoverer’s new OWS system after the OWS system passed inspections by the Classification Society and the U.S. Coast Guard. Noble did not inform the U.S. Coast Guard or the Classification Society of the modifications and did not receive an International Oil Pollution Prevention certificate that documented the unapproved decanting system, the increased storage, or the new OWS piping arrangement.

Noble had problems managing the bilge and wastewater that was accumulating in the engine room spaces of the Noble Discoverer. This and other conditions led to a number of problems. Noble devised a makeshift barrel and pump system to discharge water that had entered the vessel’s engine room machinery spaces directly overboard from the Noble Discoverer without processing it through the required pollution prevention equipment as required by law. Noble failed to notify the Coast Guard about this system, and took steps to actively hide the fact that it was being used. These false and missing record entries and the use of the illegal overboard discharge system all violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships.

In the factual basis of the plea agreement, Noble also admits that it negligently discharged machinery space bilge water from the Noble Discoverer into Broad Bay, Unalaska, on July 22, 2012. While anchored in Dutch Harbor, the Noble Discoverer’s bilge holding tank 27S overflowed and went overboard, creating a sheen in Broad Bay.

The Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act requires vessels to maintain accurate ballast records reflecting the source of ballast water in the ballast water tanks, discharges from the tanks, and the total volume of ballast water onboard. By design, water ballast tanks should only contain uncontaminated seawater. Noble pumped oily skimmer tank fluids and deck water with a sheen into several ballast tanks on the Noble Discoverer. Noble then discharged those ballast tanks directly overboard instead of properly discharging the water through the OWS or transferring to a shore-side facility. Noble failed to record the transfers to the ballast tanks and the subsequent discharges in the ballast log.

The Ports and Waterways Safety Act regulations require that the owner, operator, or person in charge of a vessel must immediately notify the nearest Coast Guard office whenever there is a hazardous condition, either aboard a vessel or caused by the vessel or its operation. Noble knowingly and willfully failed on several occasions in 2012 to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the Noble Discoverer. There were conditions aboard the Noble Discoverer that may have adversely affected the safety of the Noble Discoverer, other vessels, and the environmental quality of ports, harbors, and navigable waterways of the United States. During 2012, the Noble Discoverer experienced numerous problems with its main propulsion system, including its main engine and its propeller shaft, resulting in engine shut-downs, equipment failures, and unsafe conditions. At times, the condition of the Noble Discoverer’s main engine also created high levels of exhaust in the engine room, multiple sources of fuel and oil leaks, and backfires. Noble acknowledges that it failed to report any of these hazardous conditions to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Noble Discoverer was initially detained in Seward by the Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection for the Western Alaska zone, following a Coast Guard Port State Control examination on November 29, 2012. This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and is being prosecuted by the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska.


Litigation Release No. 23154 / December 9, 2014
USA v. Richard Weed, Case No. 1:14-cr-10348-DPW
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Richard Weed, et al. , Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-14099
California Attorney Indicted for Securities Fraud in Scheme to Manipulate Stock of Sports Ticket Broker

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that on December 4, 2014, Richard Weed ("Weed"), a partner in a Newport Beach, California law practice, was indicted on eleven criminal charges by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in connection with an alleged pump-and-dump scheme that defrauded investors in a Boston-based ticket brokering business. The indictment charges Weed with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, and nine counts of wire fraud.

The allegations in the criminal indictment stem from the same misconduct underlying the Commission's pending action filed against Weed and two other defendants on November 6, 2014. In that case, the SEC alleges that Weed facilitated a scheme to pump and dump the stock of CitySide Tickets Inc., which he helped structure into a publicly traded company through reverse mergers. Weed created backdated promissory notes and authored false legal opinion letters that enabled Thomas Brazil and Coleman Flaherty to obtain millions of purportedly unrestricted shares of stock in the company. Investors were then blitzed with a false and misleading promotional campaign touting CitySide Tickets as a budding national leader on the verge of acquiring smaller ticket firms across the country and positioning itself as an attractive takeover target for Ticketmaster. As the company's stock price increased on the false hype, Brazil and Flaherty sold their shares to unsuspecting investors for illicit proceeds of approximately $3 million, and Weed was well-compensated for his role in the scheme. Shortly thereafter, the market for CitySide Tickets stock collapsed and the company eventually went out of business.

Weed was originally charged by a criminal complaint and arrested on November 6, 2014. The SEC's action, which is pending, seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus pre-judgment interest and penalties as well as penny stock bars and permanent injunctions against further violations of the securities laws. The SEC also seeks to bar Weed from serving as an officer or director of any public company.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Remarks With Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov Before Their Meeting
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
December 10, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s my pleasure to welcome Foreign Minister Idrisov of Kazakhstan. You okay? Sorry. I’m really delighted to welcome the foreign minister here and I want to congratulate him and Kazakhstan on the near 23rd anniversary of their independence. It’s on December 16th. And we have enjoyed a growing security partnership, economic partnership, on any number of issues. We are working on the challenge of ISIL, of counterterrorism. We’re very grateful for Kazakhstan’s engagement with us on a number of issues – nonproliferation, issues of Afghanistan, trade, development. We’re working hard on Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO. And I think it’s fair to say that in the region the relationship between the United States and Kazakhstan is really one of the most consequential for us, and we’re very grateful for the leadership that Kazakhstan has been showing.

So we have a full agenda and I’m very, very pleased to welcome you, Mr. Foreign Minister. Thank you for taking time to be here.

FOREIGN MINISTER IDRISOV: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. It happens so that Kazakhstan is a little bit ahead of the United States and by Kazakh time it’s already almost 11th of December. So first of all, I’d like to congratulate Secretary Kerry with his birthday and wish him every success in his very important global endeavors. As Secretary Kerry said, we have very full agenda. Our bilateral agenda covers all sorts of issues ranging from security, nonproliferation, investment, energy sector, of course nation and democracy building, and education. But we also have very robust global and regional agenda. We do discuss issues on Afghanistan, around negotiations on Iran, on crises like the so-called Islamic State or the Ebola epidemic. So we are tuned to the same wave and we are very happy to have this very meaningful strategic partnership. I am very proud that today we will have the third meeting of our Strategic Partnership Dialogue with Secretary Kerry, and I came here to confirm our strong desire to cement further the strategic partnership between Kazakhstan and the United States and take it to the future.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Yerlan.


SECRETARY KERRY: I’d like to just mention one other thing which I was reminded of as the foreign minister spoke. Kazakhstan has initiated a very important education program for Afghan students, some $50 million they’ve committed to this effort. There are Afghans who are now in significant numbers studying in Kazakhstan, and this will be a critical component of capacity building for Afghanistan and of stability. So we’re very grateful for that kind of major effort. We thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER IDRISOV: Thank you. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, my friend.


SECRETARY KERRY: Come on in and have a --

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, are you concerned for U.S. personnel overseas following the release of the report?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think we’ve addressed that (inaudible). Thank you.


Human Rights Day 2014
Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 10, 2014

Delegates from around the world came together 66 years ago amid the rubble of World War II to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articulating fundamental civil and political rights of all people, and reminding each of us of our responsibility to respect those rights.

This past September, I was reminded of the power and enduring relevance of the Universal Declaration when I stood at the United Nations with Shin Dong-hyuk, a courageous young man who had escaped from a North Korean prison camp and defied one of the world's most egregious dictatorships. He was a living, breathing example of our own duty to uphold justice and expose abuses wherever and whenever violations occur.

Keeping faith with that duty is the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do. When international human rights standards are observed, sustainable economic progress is more likely, terrorists and criminals find it harder to operate, and societies are better able to benefit from the skills and energy of their citizens. By contrast, when human rights standards are ignored, the result is often chaos and strife, leading to massive suffering that can impose high costs in both financial resources and lives. We see this today in Iraq, where a ruthless terrorist group has directed a campaign of murder, kidnapping, and theft at people of all religions and ethnic groups. We see it in Syria, where a dictator’s use of indiscriminate violence against his own people has triggered the largest humanitarian catastrophe of this century. And we see it many places where a failure to respect human rights, combined with other factors, has produced hostilities that weaken nations and put civilians, including children, at grave risk.

On this Human Rights Day, there are still too many people who struggle for freedom and too many who are punished in pursuit of that dream. Today we note the remarkable peaceful efforts of individuals like Liu Xiaobo of China, Ahmed Maher of Egypt, Eskinder Nega of Ethiopia, Azimjon Askarov of the Kyrgyz Republic, and other political prisoners on every continent; we call for their release, and we ask that in the meantime they are at least treated in full accordance with global norms.

We live at a time when democratic principles and respect for human rights have greater reach

than at any previous time in history. This is due not simply to what governments have done,

but to what people around the world have done to elevate, monitor, and enforce human rights standards. However, past progress is no guarantee of future gains. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the very opposite of a self-fulfilling document. It’s a promise to keep. Let’s all make sure we keep it.


Speeches & Testimony
Statement from FDIC Vice Chairman Hoenig on Congressional moves to repeal swaps push-out requirements

In 2008 we learned the economic consequences of conducting derivatives trading in taxpayer-insured banks. Section 716 of Dodd-Frank is an important step in pushing the trading activity out to where it should be conducted: in the open market, outside of taxpayer-backed commercial banks. It is illogical to repeal the 716 push out requirement. In fact, under 716, most derivatives -- almost 95% -- would not be pushed out of the bank. That is because interest rate swaps, foreign exchange and cleared credit derivatives can remain within the bank. In addition, derivatives that are used for hedging can remain in the bank. The main items that must be pushed out under 716 are uncleared credit default swaps (CDS), equity derivatives and commodities derivatives. These are, in relative terms, much smaller and where the greater risks and capital subsidy is most useful to these banking firms.

Derivatives that are pushed out by 716 are only removed from the taxpayer support and the accompanying subsidy of insured deposit funding -- they will continue to exist and to serve end users. In fact, most of these firms have broker-dealer affiliates where they can place these activities, but these affiliates are not as richly subsidized, which helps explain these firms' resistance to 716 push out.


December 09, 2014
Readout of the President’s Video Conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Today, the President spoke by video conference with President Ashraf Ghani of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Afghan Chief Executive Officer Dr. Abdullah. The President commended President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah on the timely ratification of the Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO Status of Forces Agreement by an overwhelming majority in the Afghan Parliament, and congratulated the two leaders for their recent successful ministerial conferences in Brussels and London. The leaders also discussed the forthcoming conclusion to the U.S. combat mission, the transition of coalition forces to the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, ways to strengthen and support the Afghan National Security Forces as part of the train, advise and assist mission, and U.S. and regional support for the Afghan-led peace process. The two leaders committed to continuing close consultations in the months ahead.

The President Holds an Immigration Town Hall in Nashville




The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a penny stock promoter in Montana with orchestrating a fraudulent pump-and-dump scheme involving the stock of a Northern Virginia-based company that claims to be in the airport security business.

The SEC alleges that Matthew Carley, who lives in Bozeman, Mont., engineered a reverse merger and gained control of free-trading shares of Red Branch Technologies located in Ashburn, Va.  Carley then orchestrated two blast e-mail campaigns promoting Red Branch stock, and he timed the e-mails to coincide with the dissemination of materially false and misleading company press releases touting technology related to airport security and homeland security.  However as Carley well knew, Red Branch had no true business operations and no sales revenue.  Once the promotional campaigns generated dramatic increases to Red Branch’s share price and trading volume, Carley immediately sold several million Red Branch shares for $789,478 in unlawful profits.

Carley agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and be barred from the penny stock industry.

“From behind the scenes, Carley took advantage of unwitting investors by funding and coordinating promotional hype for a company with no real revenues, and he cashed in by dumping his own shares once he created demand for the stock,” said Stephen L. Cohen, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

The SEC’s complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges that Carley violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5.

A parallel criminal case against Carley was announced today by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The settlement with the SEC, subject to court approval, would bar Carley from participating in any future penny stock offering and permanently enjoin him from future violations of the antifraud provisions.  He is liable for disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $921,232 that he is anticipated to pay as part of his obligations in the criminal case.

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, is being conducted by Christopher R. Mathews and supervised by J. Lee Buck II.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.


U.S. Plans To Lead in Resettling Syrian Refugees
Anne C. Richard
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Geneva, Switzerland
December 9, 2014

As prepared

I would like to thank HC Guterres and Renata Dubini. Your leadership on the Syria crisis has made a huge difference, as has all of your work on behalf of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

I also want to recognize Germany and Sweden for their commitment to Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. We are also grateful to Sweden for leading the Syrian Resettlement Core Group over the last year.

We applaud the generosity of Syria’s neighbors. They opened their borders and took in Syrian refugees. Like the High Commissioner I have visited all the host countries represented here today. These countries have helped save millions of lives.

As the flow of refugees has grown to a mass exodus, countries hosting refugees in the region have contended with overcrowded hospitals and schools, shortages of everything from housing to water, economic pressures and recent evidence of mounting public resentment.

But these very real burdens must pale in comparison to the daily struggles of Syrians themselves.

Imagine losing practically everything – your loved ones, your home, your profession, and your dignity. Imagine the frustration of languishing for years, unable to work or send children to school, exhausting your resources and relying on handouts. Imagine fearing that this situation is never going to end.

For Syrians and for other victims of violence and persecution – resettlement offers not just an escape, but a chance to start over.

A family from Homs, a shop owner, his wife, and their six children, experienced this flight and rescue. In August of 2010, the father was standing in a crowd of peaceful protesters when the Syrian military arrived and opened fire. Bodies piled up in front of his shop, shells reduced it to rubble, neighbors disappeared, and soldiers ransacked the family’s apartment and made threats. The family fled to Jordan, and they were eventually resettled in the United States. The parents say one of their dreams has already come true. All of their children are back in school.

Only a small fraction of those who want to be resettled can be – only about one hundred thousand refugees per year, worldwide. There are more than six times that many Syrian refugees in Jordan alone.

But war’s true cost is measured in human suffering. Resettlement can help – one person at a time – to bring that suffering to an end.

We applaud the 25 countries that have agreed to resettle Syrian refugees, including some who will be accepting UNHCR refugee referrals for the first time. The United States accepts the majority of all UNHCR referrals from around the world. Last year, we reached our goal of resettling nearly 70,000 refugees from nearly 70 countries. And we plan to lead in resettling Syrians as well. We are reviewing some 9,000 recent UNHCR referrals from Syria. We are receiving roughly a thousand new ones each month, and we expect admissions from Syria to surge in 2015 and beyond.

Like most other refugees resettled in the United States, they will get help from the International Organization for Migration with medical exams and transportation to the United States. Once they arrive, networks of resettlement agencies, charities, churches, civic organizations and local volunteers will welcome them. These groups work in 180 communities across the country and make sure refugees have homes, furniture, clothes, English classes, job training, health care and help enrolling their children in school. They are now preparing key contacts in American communities to welcome Syrians.

I am inspired both by the resilience of refugees we resettle, and the compassion of those who help them. Resettlement cannot replace what refugees have lost or erase what they have endured. But it can renew hope and help restart lives. That can make all the difference.

Thank you.


Study Finds Wage Violations in New York and California

A new report commissioned by the department shows that many workers are earning a de facto minimum wage below the legal floor, and that enforcement of wage regulations has a broad positive impact. Using U.S. Census Bureau and earnings data from New York and California, the study shows roughly 3 percent to 6 percent of all workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act experience minimum wage violations — translating to between $20 million and $29 million in lost weekly income, or 40 percent or more of their total weekly pay. The wage violations are driving 7,000 California families and 8,000 New York families below the poverty line. "The principle at stake, which is at the core of the president's workplace policy, is that workers should receive a fair day's pay for a fair day's work," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. "To address the scale of this problem, we will redouble our enforcement efforts and partnerships to ensure workers take home the wages they have earned and deserve." Since 2009, the Wage and Hour Division has recovered more than $1 billion for more than 1.2 million workers. The division's administrator, Dr. David Weil, said that the prevalence of the minimum wage violations requires strategic enforcement. "We are shifting our resources toward proactive, directed investigations," he told those at the conference. That means focusing on industries where there is a high likelihood of wage violations, and where workers are uninformed of their rights or fearful of retaliation and don't file complaints, he said. Strategic enforcement, he said, is meant to cause "systemic change" and improve compliance levels.


Increasing greenhouse gases linked to rains over Africa thousands of years ago
Past may be prologue for climate in Africa

An increase in greenhouse gas concentrations thousands of years ago was a key factor in higher amounts of rainfall in two major regions of Africa, scientists have discovered.

The finding provides new evidence that today's increase in greenhouse gases will have an important effect on Africa's future climate.

Results of the study, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., are published today in a paper in the journal Science.

"The future effect of greenhouse gases on rainfall in Africa is a critical socioeconomic issue," said NCAR climate scientist Bette Otto-Bliesner, the paper's lead author. "Africa's climate seems destined to change, with far-reaching implications for water resources and agriculture."

The research drew on advanced computer simulations and analyses of sediments and other records of past climate. It was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Mysterious period of rain

Otto-Bliesner and colleagues set out to understand the reasons behind the dramatic climate shifts that took place in Africa thousands of years ago.

As ice sheets that had covered large parts of North America and northern Europe retreated from their maximum extent around 21,000 years ago, Africa's climate responded in a way that had puzzled scientists.

Following a long dry spell during the glacial maximum, the amount of rainfall in Africa abruptly increased, starting about 14,700 years ago and continuing until around 5,000 years ago.

So intense was the rainfall--turning desert into grassland and savanna--that scientists named the span the African Humid Period (AHP).

The puzzling part was why the same precipitation phenomenon occurred simultaneously in two well-separated regions, one north of the equator and one to the south.

Previous studies had suggested that, in northern Africa, the AHP was triggered by changes in Earth's orbit that resulted in more summertime heating. (Today the northern hemisphere is closest to the Sun in winter, due to a 20,000-year cycle of wobble in Earth's axis.)

But Otto-Bliesner said the orbital pattern alone would not explain the simultaneous onset of the AHP in southeastern equatorial Africa. Instead, the study revealed the role of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, along with changes in circulation patterns in the Atlantic Ocean.

As Earth emerged from the last Ice Age, greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane, increased significantly--reaching almost pre-industrial levels by 11,000 years ago--for reasons that are not yet fully understood.

Most recent natural global warming and increased greenhouse gases

It was the most recent time during which natural global warming was associated with increases in greenhouse gas concentrations.

The influx of fresh water from melting ice sheets in North America and Scandinavia about 17,000 years ago began weakening a critical circulation pattern that transports heat and salinity in the Atlantic Ocean like a conveyer belt.

The weakened circulation had the effect of moving precipitation to southernmost Africa, suppressing rainfall in northern, equatorial and East Africa.

When the ice sheets stopped melting, the circulation became stronger again, bringing precipitation back north of the equator and to Southeast equatorial Africa.

That change, coupled with the orbital shift and the warming of the atmosphere and oceans by the increasing greenhouse gases, is what triggered the AHP, the scientists believe.

"This study is a step toward solving the puzzle of what triggered abrupt changes in rainfall over southeastern equatorial and northern Africa during early deglaciation," said Anjuli Bamzai, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research.

"Through an analysis of proxy records and climate model simulations, the team demonstrated that the recovery of what's calledthe Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, played a role as an initial trigger to wetter conditions."

Putting together a puzzle

To piece together the puzzle, the researchers drew on fossil pollen, evidence of former lake levels and other proxy records indicating past moisture conditions.

They focused their work on northern Africa, which includes the present-day Sahel region encompassing Niger, Chad and northern Nigeria. They also focused on the largely forested area of today's eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and much of Tanzania and Kenya in southeastern equatorial Africa.

In addition to the proxy records, they simulated past climate with the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model, a powerful global climate model funded by NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy that uses supercomputers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

By comparing the proxy records with the computer simulations, the scientists demonstrated that the climate model had the AHP right.

This helps validate its role in predicting how rising greenhouse gas concentrations might change rainfall patterns in a highly populated and vulnerable part of the world.

"Normally climate simulations cover perhaps a century, or take a snapshot of past conditions," Otto-Bliesner said. "A study like this, dissecting why climate evolved as it did over this 10,000-year period, was more than I thought I would see in my career."

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF


Clear Land Mines off the Earth
John Kerry
Secretary of State
USA Today
December 8, 2014

Earlier this year, a 10-year-old boy was collecting scrap metal in Bosnia when he stepped on a land mine, which killed him instantly. The mine was planted during a war of which the boy had no memory. Days later, a man met a similar fate only a few miles away. He had left home to gather firewood.

Land mines and other unexploded ordnance continue to endanger civilians in more than 60 countries. Decades after soldiers have laid down their weapons and leaders have made peace, these grim legacies of war kill and maim local populations.

For more than two decades, the United States has been at the forefront of international efforts to remove these deadly devices and to address the humanitarian effects that these weapons can have on civilian populations.

Today, I released the annual To Walk the Earth in Safety Report, which powerfully chronicles the progress we have made in clearing land mines from both battlefields and backyards.

Billions in U.S. Aid

Since 1993, the U.S. has provided more than $2.3 billion in assistance in over 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs. Thanks to strong bipartisan support in Congress, these funds provide the expertise and equipment to safely clear land mines and other unexploded ordnance. They also provide medication, rehabilitation and vocational training for those injured by these deadly weapons.

For example, we helped clear former minefields so that preschools might be built in Sri Lanka. In Vietnam, onetime battlegrounds have been transformed into busycommercial sectors. Children were once tethered to trees so they would not wander into killing fields in Angola. Today, large areas of the countryside have been made safe. And when flooding unearthed old mines in Serbia this year, the U.S. Quick Reaction Force deployed to contain the threat.

Our efforts to address the humanitarian impacts of land mines extend to our own weapons stockpiles.

In 1994, President Clinton pledged that we would work toward the eventual eliminationof antipersonnel land mines. President George W. Bush restricted the use of land mines to only those with self-destruct or self-deactivation features. In September, President Obama brought us one step closer to the goal of a world free from anti-personnel land mines when he announced that we will no longer use them outside of the unique circumstances of the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. Plans to end Use

That means the U.S. will no longer procure anti-personnel land mines, and we will begin destroying our anti-personnel land mine stockpiles not required for the defense of South Korea. And we will work to find ways that may ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention — the international treaty that prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel land mines.

These steps reflect America's commitment to the global humanitarian movement. Just 15 years ago, land mines and other explosive remnants of war were killing and injuring nearly 10,000 men, women and children every year. In the most recent year for which data are available, that figure has dropped by over 60%.

Fifteen countries — from Honduras to Tunisia to Rwanda — are free from the impact of mines due to the efforts of the U.S. and our international partners in government and civil society.

But this work is far from finished. Too many of these armaments remain concealed, poised to maim anyone who takes a wrong step. Mines continue to be indiscriminately used by countries such as Syria and numerous non-state actors worldwide. Victim-activated, improvised explosive devices are routinely employed by terrorist groups.

In my travels, I have met the victims of land mines. In Southeast Asia, I watched small children propel themselves along on little wagons through the streets. In Africa, I watched men and women balancing food baskets as they navigated through crowded streets on makeshift crutches. In Bogota, I talked to soldiers and police officers wounded by mines left behind after Colombia's bloody conflict.

Their stories are heartbreaking. In less than a second, their lives were changed forever. Different countries, different stories, different times — but none of these victims was the enemy of anybody.

We can't heal their wounds. We can't give them back their lives or their limbs. But we can do more so that others will never suffer the same fate — and so that millions can walk the earth in safety.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Remarks Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
December 9, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Corker and all of my former colleagues, it really is a pleasure for me to be back before the Foreign Relations Committee. During my time here, I think we got some things right and we certainly wound up wishing we’d done some things differently. But I think most of us would agree – and I saw it during both parties’ chairmanships, including the years that Senator Lugar and I were here – that this committee works best and makes the greatest contribution to our foreign policy and our country when it addresses the most important issues in a strong bipartisan fashion.

And this is one of those issues. The chairman and the ranking member have both said that. This is one of the moments when a bipartisan approach really is critical.

As you know, the President is committed to engaging with the committee and all of your colleagues in the House and Senate regarding a new authorization for use of military force – as we call it in short, the AUMF – specifically against the terrorist group known as ISIL, though in the region is it called Daesh, and specifically because they believe very deeply it is not a state and it does not represent Islam.

So we are looking for this authorization with respect to efforts against Daesh and affiliated groups, and I want to thank Chairman Menendez and the entire committee for leading the effort in Congress and for all of the important work that you have already done on this complicated and challenging issue. It is important that this committee lead the Congress and the country, and I think you know I believe that.

Now, I realize we may not get there overnight. I’ve heard the ranking member’s comments just now, and we understand the clock. We certainly won’t resolve everything and get there this afternoon, in the next few hours. But I do think this discussion is important, and I think we all agree that this discussion has to conclude with a bipartisan vote that makes clear that this is not one party’s fight against Daesh, but rather that it reflects our united determination to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. And the world needs to understand that from the United States Congress, above all.

Our coalition partners need to know that from all of you, and the men and women of our armed forces deserve to know it from all of you. And Daesh’s cadre of killers and rapists and bigots need to absolutely understand it clearly. That’s why this matters.

Now toward that end, we ask you now to work closely with us on a bipartisan basis to develop language that provides a clear signal of support for our ongoing military operations against Daesh. Our position on the text is really pretty straightforward. The authorization, or AUMF, should give the President the clear mandate and flexibility he needs to successfully prosecute the armed conflict against Daesh and affiliated forces, but the authorization should also be limited and specific to the threat posed by that group and by forces associated with it.

Now, I’ll come back to the question of the AUMF in a minute. But we believe that as we embark on this important discussion context matters. All of us want to see the United States succeed and all of us want to see Daesh defeated, so we’re united on that. And I want to bring the committee up to date on precisely where our campaign now stands.

Mr. Chairman, less than three months ago – perhaps two and a half months, a little more – have passed since the international community came together in a coalition, whose purpose is to degrade and defeat Daesh. Two and a half months ago, it didn’t exist – not it, Daesh, but the coalition – and the 60 countries that assembled recently in Brussels. We organized, and I had the privilege of chairing the first ministerial-level meeting of the coalition last week in Brussels.

We heard Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi describe to us the effort that his leadership team is making to bring Iraqis together, strengthen their security forces, take the fight to Daesh, and improve and reform governance. We also heard General John Allen, our special envoy to the coalition, review the progress that is being made in the five lines of coalition effort: to shrink the territory controlled by Daesh, to cut off its financing, to block its recruitment of foreign fighters, to expose the hypocrisy of its absurd religious claims, and to provide humanitarian aid to the victims of its violence.

During the meeting, I have to tell you, I was particularly impressed by the leadership activism, and quite frankly, the anger towards Daesh that is being displayed by Arab and Muslim states. Governments that do not always agree on other issues are coming together in opposition to this profoundly anti-Islamic terrorist organization.

And now, to be clear, ISIL continues to commit serious vicious crimes and it still controls more territory than al-Qaida ever did. It will be years, not months, before it is defeated. We know that. But our coalition is measurably already making a difference.

To date, we have launched more than 1,150 today air strikes against Daesh. These operations have reduced its leadership, undermined its propaganda, squeezed its resources, damaged its logistical and operational capabilities, and compelled it to disperse its forces and change its tactics. It is becoming clear that the combination of coalition airstrikes and local ground partners is a potent one. In fact, virtually every time a local Iraqi force has worked in coordination with our air cover they have not only defeated Daesh, they have routed it.

In Iraq, progress also continues in the political arena. And this is no less important, frankly. Last week, after years of intensive efforts, the government in Baghdad reached an interim accord with the Kurdistan Regional Government on hydrocarbon exports and revenue sharing. That has been long sought after, and it’s a big deal that they got it. It’s good for the country’s economy, but it’s even better for its unity and stability and for the imprint of the direction that they’re moving in.

In addition, a new defense minister is a Sunni, whose appointment was an important step towards a more inclusive government. And with his leadership and that of the new interior minister, the process of reforming the nation’s security forces has a genuine chance for success.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is taking bold steps to improve relations with his country’s neighbors. And those neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey, have been responding. Now, I want to underscore it’s too early to declare a new era in regional relations, but countries that had been drifting apart or even in conflict with each other are now in the process of coming together and breaking down the barriers that were created. And that is helpful to our coalition and it is bad news for Daesh.

Beating back the threat that Daesh poses to Iraq is job number one for our Iraqi partners and for our coalition. But even if the government in Baghdad fulfills its responsibilities, it is still going to face a dire challenge because of the events in Syria.

Now, if you recall, the coalition’s decision to carry out airstrikes in Syria came in response to a request from Iraq for help in defending against Daesh’s brazen attack. To date, we and our Arab partners have conducted over 500 airstrikes in Syria, targeting areas where Daesh had concentrated its fighters, targeting on command and control nodes, finance centers, training camps, and oil refineries. Our objective is to further degrade Daesh’s capabilities and to deny it the freedom of movement and resupply that it has previously enjoyed.

At the same time, we will continue to build up the capabilities of the moderate opposition. And here I want to thank the members of this committee and many others in Congress who have supported these efforts and supported them very strongly. Our goal is to help the moderate forces stabilize areas under their control, defend civilians, empower them to go on the offensive against Daesh, and promote the conditions for a negotiated political transition, recognizing, as I think almost every person has said, there is no military solution.

Now, Mr. Chairman, we all know that Daesh is a threat to America’s security and interests. It poses an unacceptable danger to our personnel and facilities in Iraq and elsewhere. It seeks to destroy both the short and long-term stability of the broader Middle East. And it is exacerbating a refugee crisis that has placed extraordinary economic and political burden on our friends and allies in the region.

One thing is certain: Daesh will continue to spread until or unless it is stopped. So there should be no question that we, with our partners, have a moral duty and a profound international security interest and national security interest in stopping them.

That is where the fight against Daesh now stands. A coalition that two and a half months ago did not even exist is now taking the fight to the enemy. It was cobbled together by strong American leadership and by steady, intensive diplomacy with countries that disagree on many things but all share an aversion to extremism. Now I think all of you would agree we need to summon that same determination to find the common ground here in Washington.

That is why in the hours, days, and weeks to come, we’re determined to work with you, first and foremost to develop an approach that can generate broad bipartisan support, while ensuring that the President has the flexibility to successfully prosecute this effort. That’s the balance.

What do we envision, specifically regarding an AUMF? Importantly – and I think I will lay out today a very clear set of principles that I hope will be instructive – we do not think an AUMF should include a geographic limitation. We don’t anticipate conducting operations in countries other than Iraq or Syria; but to the extent that ISIL poses a threat to American interests and personnel in other countries, we would not want an AUMF to constrain our ability to use appropriate force against ISIL in those locations if necessary. In our view, it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside of Iraq or Syria.

On the issue of combat operations, I know this is hotly debated, as it ought to be and as it is, with passionate and persuasive arguments on both sides. The President has been crystal-clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL and that will be the responsibility of local forces, because that is what our local partners and allies want, that is what we learned works best in the context of our Iraq experience, that is what is best for preserving our coalition, and most importantly, it is in the best interest of the United States.

However, while we certainly believe that this is the soundest possible policy, and while the President has been clear he is open to clarifications on the use of U.S. combat troops to be outlined in an AUMF, it doesn’t mean we should preemptively bind the hands of the Commander-in-Chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.

And finally, with respect to duration, we can be sure that this confrontation is not going to be over quickly, as the President and I have said many times. We understand, however, the desire of many to avoid a completely open-ended authorization. And I note that Chairman Menendez has suggested that a three-year limitation should be put into an AUMF. We support that proposal, but we support it subject to a provision that we should work through together that provides for extension in the event that circumstances require it. And we think it ought to be advertised as such upfront.

To sum up, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I ask for your help in, above all, approving on a bipartisan basis – with the strongest vote possible, because everybody will read messages into that vote – an Authorization for Use of Military Force in connection with our campaign and that of our many partners in order to defeat a terrible, vicious, different kind of enemy.

Almost a quarter-century ago, when I here, then a 47-year-old senator with certainly a darker head of hair, President George H.W. Bush sent his Secretary of State James Baker to ask this committee for the authority to respond militarily to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The country was divided. Congress was divided. But this committee drafted an authorization and it passed the Congress with a majority that the New York Times described as “decisive and bipartisan.” And armed with that mandate, Secretary Baker built the coalition that won the First Gulf War.

Now, that was a different time and it was a different conflict and it called for a different response. But it was also this body – this committee and then the Senate – at its bipartisan best. And what we need from you today to strengthen and unify our own coalition is exactly that kind of cooperative effort. The world will be watching what we together are willing and able to do. And this is obviously not a partisan issue; it’s a leadership issue. It’s a test of our government’s ability and our nation’s ability to stand together. It’s a test of our generation’s resolve to build a safer and more secure world. And I know every single one of you wants to defeat ISIL. A bold, bipartisan mandate would strengthen our hand, and I hope that today you can move closer to that goal.

So thank you and I’m pleased to answer any questions.