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The Evolutionary Perspective
Daily Archives: February 14, 2017
Posted: at 11:59 pm
A team of astronomers in Garching, Germany, discovered a comet-like object in a distant galaxy 170 light-years from Earth that is similar in composition to the famed Halleys comet however, this one is about 100,000 times bigger. New Hubble Space Telescope findings are evidence for a belt of comet-like bodies orbiting the white dwarf, similar to our solar systems Kuiper Belt.
The international team of astronomers observed the white dwarf WD 1425+540 in the constellation Botes (the Herdsman) . While studying the white dwarfs atmosphere using both the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory the team found evidence that an object rather like a massive comet was falling onto the star, getting tidally disrupted while doing so.
The team determined that the object had a chemical composition similar to the famous Halleys Comet in our own Solar System, but it was 100 000 times more massive and had twice the proportion of water as its local counterpart. Spectral analysis showed that the destroyed object was rich in the elements essential for life, including carbon, oxygen, sulphur and even nitrogen .
This makes it the first detection of nitrogen in the debris falling onto a white dwarf. Lead author Siyi Xu of the European Southern Observatory, Germany, explains the importance of the discovery: Nitrogen is a very important element for life as we know it. This particular object is quite rich in nitrogen, more so than any object observed in our Solar System.
There are already more than a dozen white dwarfs known to be polluted with infalling debris from rocky, asteroid-like objects, but this is the first time a body made of icy, comet-like material has been seen polluting a white dwarfs atmosphere. These findings are evidence for a belt of comet-like bodies, similar to our Solar Systems Kuiper Belt, orbiting the white dwarf. These icy bodies apparently survived the stars evolution from a main sequence star similar to our Sun to a red giant and its final collapse to a small, dense white dwarf.
The team that made this discovery also considered how this massive object got from its original, distant orbit onto a collision course with its parent star. The change in the orbit could have been caused by the gravitational distribution by so far undetected, surviving planets which have perturbed the belt of comets. Another explanation could be that the companion star of the white dwarf disturbed the belt and caused objects from the belt to travel toward the white dwarf. The change in orbit could also have been caused by a combination of these two scenarios.
The Kuiper Belt in the Solar System, which extends outward from Neptunes orbit, is home to many dwarf planets, comets, and other small bodies left over from the formation of the Solar System. The new findings now provide observational evidence to support the idea that icy bodies are also present in other planetary systems and have survived throughout the history of the stars evolution
Siyi Xu of the European Southern Observatory, who led the team that made the discovery, says this is the first time nitrogen has been detected in the planetary debris that falls onto a white dwarf.
The Daily Galaxy via NASA and ESA ( Z. Levy image)
Posted: at 11:58 pm
Trump Puts NATO Allies in the Crosshairs Over Military Spending
Wall Street Journal
Last month, Germany began deploying an army battle group to Lithuania, the first of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops to arrive to bolster the defenses on the alliance's eastern border with Russia. It isn't an overwhelming display of force …
Posted: at 11:58 pm
In Washington and at NATOs headquarters in Brussels, the view is that alliance members spend far too little on defense. Despite repeated cajoling from U.S. defense secretariesand now from U.S. President Donald Trumpfor European allies to spend more, many European finance ministers are opposed to opening their purses to their defense counterparts.
Only a handful of NATO alliesBritain, Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the United Statesspend 2 percent or more of their GDP on defense. And thats out of an alliance of 28 members. No doubt therell be more cajoling at the annual Munich Security Conference when scores of leaders and hundreds of diplomats along with defense and security officials gather in the Bavarian capital on February 17.
By spending more on equipment and training and sending 5,000 troops to Poland and the Baltic states, NATO aims to reassure its more vulnerable members and show Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, that the alliance is taking collective defense seriously. But something of fundamental importance is missing from the spending plea and the deployment of troops: institutional memory, or what collective defense and deterrence used to mean in substance and in practice.
During the Cold War, NATO was in top gear. Training and coordination, doctrine and capabilities, strategy and preparedness were taken as given. Collective defense was ingrained in the theory and practice of the alliance.
The nature of the threat was never underestimated, either. Just take a look at a fascinating report written by the alliances military committee in 1966. The Overall Strategic Concept for the Defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Area is worth reading for one main reason: it set out the strategic goals of NATO and those of its adversary, the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
The year 1966 cannot be compared with 2017. The Warsaw Pact is defunct. In that sense, the conventional definition of the Cold War no longer applies today. But Russia is still intent on weakening or dividing NATO. The alliances demise remains Moscows goal. Russias determination to hold on to its immediate western neighborsBelarus, Georgia, and Ukraineand maintain a strong influence over Armenia and Moldova has already been tested by Moscows invasion of eastern Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
Page 4 of NATOs 1966 report states clearly that Soviet policy toward NATOa policy that Putin is replicating todaywas based on economic means, political means, propaganda, subversion, and military power. With a brief interlude in the early 1990s, the Kremlin hasnt discarded these instruments.
This is NATOs Achilles heel and the reason why the debate over the 2 percent spending goal could be a red herring. During the 1990s, the alliance lost its raison dtreand understandably. Many of its members assumed Russia would embark on a different kind of cooperation or coexistence with the West. However, NATOs bombing of Serbia in 1999 and Russias staunch opposition to that mission only reinforced Moscows Cold War perception of NATO.
The alliance, meanwhile, slowly lost the tools that underpinned territorial defense: coordination and strategic thinking. In 2001, NATO went off to Afghanistan, where crisis management and counterinsurgency eroded what the alliance was established for in the first place. The strategic pendulum is swinging back from crisis management to deterrence and collective defense, a top NATO diplomat told Carnegie Europe on condition of anonymity.
The problem is that on the ground, NATOs European allies are singularly ill equipped for deterrence and collective defense. Again, there is a lack of institutional memory. We lack the generals who knew what deterrence and collective defense were about, another NATO diplomat said.
Just as crucially, NATO today lacks the necessary infrastructure. During the Cold War, NATO had strong bridges, aircraft, roads, and a railroad network to transport troops quickly and in large numbers. True, there were tens of thousands of NATO troops at the ready. But that infrastructure also included energy supplies and logistics, the availability of housing and food, and the ability to cross borders without bureaucratic delays. All these have been largely eroded. If NATO is serious about deterrence and collective and territorial defense, it has to remake this infrastructure.
As the 1966 report stated, to be fully effective against an attack with little or no strategic warning forces should be provided with adequate combat and logistic support, possess the necessary tactical mobility, and be deployed forward with appropriate echeloning in depth in suitable tactical locations.
NATO cannot revive this depleted institutional memory. A whole generation of military, diplomatic, and security personnel has been replaced. That is why the 2 percent spending issue will become a red herring unless NATO realizes what it has lost and what Russia has retained.
Read more here:
NATO’s Red Herring – Carnegie Europe
Posted: at 11:58 pm
We live in times of turmoil and instability. All corners of the world are affected. Located far north, with a population of 5 million people, Norway is contributing along many lines of efforts to foster security and stability in our region, but also in other corners of the world. At the core of this engagement lies decades of strong transatlantic relations.
This week, Norway’s Minister of Defense Sreide will meet with her counterparts, including newly appointed US Secretary of Defense Mattis, at the NATO Defense Ministers’ meeting in Brussels to discuss today’s security challenges and the way forward. At the same time, G20 Foreign Ministers will be meeting in Hamburg, where Foreign Minister Brende will represent Norway. Then, hundreds of decision-makers from heads of states, including Prime Minister Solberg, foreign and defense ministers, academics and experts will convene at the Munich Security Conference to debate critical security challenges, including the rise of illiberalism globally.
Strong transatlantic relations and global peace and security are top priorities for Norway. Because of this, Norway will be represented in full force at the aforementioned conferences.
Promoting stability requires a broad set of measures, including targeting economic and social development, providing assistance to forge good governance and facilitating political dialog. And in some cases, it may also require military contributions.
Some military contingents are deployed as part of our strong commitment to NATO and the transatlantic relationship, a cornerstone for Norway’s security. Others operate within the framework of the United Nations or in cooperation with the European Union. Norway has stood alongside the US and NATO in numerous international operations. We have contributed to operations in Lebanon, in the Balkans, in Mali, in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, to mention a few. Since the Second World War, more than 100,000 Norwegian soldiers have participated in more than 100 international operations all over the world.
Norway is still actively contributing to support the Afghan government’s efforts to stabilize the country and to counter terrorism by providing Special Forces to Kabul with a focus on capacity building. Since 2007, Norway has established, advised and supported a national Afghan Counter-Terrorism Police Unit. Every day they target terrorist networks, prevent attacks and respond to attacks against civilian and government targets. During my tenure as ambassador to Afghanistan, I witnessed firsthand the success of this cooperation. I visited several bases and spoke with the soldiers about their experiences. I also met with the “Afghan Crisis Response Unit” that, for the first time ever, included Afghan women training and participating within the Special Forces. This was a groundbreaking development, very important with regard to the future success of the country.
We also take part in US-led counter -ISIL coalition operations in Iraq and Syria. The coalition campaigns against ISIL are yielding considerable results. ISIL and its so-called Caliphate are rapidly losing territory.
As part of this campaign, Norway deployed a contingent of Special Forces to Jordan, in order to train, advise and assist local Syrian Sunni Arab forces to regain territory currently occupied by ISIL in southeastern Syria. Norway has also provided a military contingent operating out of Erbil (Iraq), training Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The Norwegian government is considering future contributions to ongoing operations, as well as assisting NATO’s mission in Iraq. As new challenges appear, we stand ready to join our NATO allies in sharing the burden and participating in joint efforts.
The offensive operations against the strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa are challenging and will take time, but we will succeed. To ensure lasting stability in Iraq and Syria, inclusive political processes are necessary.
Unfortunately, failed states and poorly governed areas along NATO’s southern flank remain a major security challenge both to Europe and to the US. As a contribution to address these challenges, Norway provided a tactical airlift detachment to the UN Operation in Mali (MINUSMA) throughout 2016. Moreover, Norway also provides personnel to MINUSMA and UN’s first modern Intelligence Unit. The establishment of this unit has been a significant success.
As a member of NATO, Norway takes its commitment to its allies seriously. We also take our commitment to security and defense seriously. As part of the Alliance’s enhanced Forward Presence, Norway will, in May, deploy a mechanized company to Lithuania, as part of the German-led allied battalion. Norway is also providing a small force contribution to NATO’s British-led Very High Readiness Task Force for 2017. We currently also sustain a limited participation in several other operations, including the UN Mission in South-Sudan, NATO’s operation in Kosovo and the NATO HQ in Sarajevo.
Throughout Europe, Norway assists to ensure day-to-day situational awareness and to rescue operations. We contribute on a regular basis to NATO’s Standing Maritime Forces (SNMG and SNMCMG) by providing the command ship and the commander to SNMG that consists of frigates and destroyers. Every six months we join NATO’s Mine Counter Measures Group to conduct minesweeping and clearance in Northern European waters. Moreover, in response to the increasingly challenging influx of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, we are participating in the EU-led maritime operation in the Mediterranean, which patrols the southern perimeter of the EU’s border.
Our Armed Forces maintain a high, but often overlooked level of peacetime activity at home that, in its own way, is an important contribution to transatlantic security. 24/7/365 the Norwegian Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force patrol vast Arctic Ocean areas over which we have jurisdiction. In total, these maritime areas are equivalent in size to 90% of the Mediterranean. Norwegian fighter jets are on 15 minutes Quick Reaction Alert on behalf of NATO. Our military border guard patrols and monitors the border with Russia. We maintain a robust posture in our neighborhood, which is important for stability in this area. We are NATO in the north.
Norway’s continued commitment to peace and security will remain one of our top political priorities. As international developments evolve and unfold, I hope that by sharing this information I’m also offering a better understanding of my country’s military contributions around the world in order to maintain peace and security.
Norway: NATO of the North – Huffington Post
PUTIN’S WARNING: Russia shows off menacing amphibious vehicle after NATO deploys troops – Express.co.uk
Posted: at 11:58 pm
Vladimir Putins forces posted a video online showing two menacing tanks storming a breach, believed to be in Ukraine, in a show of strength, at a time of heightened tensions on Russias border with Europe.
The video, released by the Russian defence ministry, shows the high-tech tanks descending on the beach from a vessel more than 100 metres from the shore during the training exercise carried out by troops from the Baltic Fleet.
The tanks can be seen driving into the water before emerging onto dry land just moments later.
Alongside the menacing footage, the ministry wrote: The crews of the Baltic Fleet landing craft carried out living firing of KPVT machine guns at sea and air targets, and landed six armoured marines at Hmelevka.
The crews of the Baltic Fleet landing craft carried out living firing of KPVT guns at sea and air targets
Russian Ministry of Defence
Just days before, Russian President Putin launched a spot check on the countrys aerospace forces, in order to evaluate readiness for combat.
The feared leader has already ordered his air force to prepare for a time of war.
Russias show of military strength comes as an apparent warning to the West and Nato, who the Kremlin have accused of encircling Russia.
A joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus codenamed Zapad-2017 or West-2017, will see tens of thousands of soldiers stationed along the Baltic states.
President Putin is believed to be stationing up to 100,000 soldiers in the area, with ex-Nato chief General Phillip Mark Breedlove fearing it the war games could be targeted directly toward the West.
Lithuanias Minister of Defence Raimundas Karoblis said: It is clear Russia want to reinstate its dominance and change the defence system in the whole of Europe.
This is a danger for central Europe, especially the Baltic states.
The official stance in Moscow claims Russia is preparing to ward off foreign aggression, but with recent events in Ukraine, experts believe hostile scenarios are covertly under play.
In July 2016, Nato members agreed to the biggest reinforcement since the Cold War, posting four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
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As part of the operation, In January, 2,800 pieces of US military hardware, including Abrams tanks and Paladin artillery, and 4,000 troops have arrived in Europe.
The huge reinforcement continues with dozens of US Chinook, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters being shipped to the German port city of Bremerhaven, as part of Natos effort in Eastern Europe to counter the perceived Russian threat.
Last week the president of Lithuania, one of the former Soviet state that has felt vulnerable following Russias annexation of Crimea, said he was confident of US support on Europeans eastern borders.
Delia Grybauskaite said: We trust the US administration. We believe that all obligations will be fulfilled and we will have the same reliable Nato partner and ally as it was before.
This is done already. We have American troops on our soil.
Posted: at 11:58 pm
CHISINAU — Moldova’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon has told RFE/RL he thinks the planned opening of a permanent NATO liaison office in Moldova would amount to a provocation.
Moldova’s pro-Western government signed an agreement with NATO on the opening of the civilian-staffed liaison bureau in November, before Dodon assumed office.
Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip has urged his Foreign Ministry to accelerate the opening of a NATO liaison office in Chisinau, and the ministry has said it hopes to do so in April.
But in an interview in Chisinau on February 14, Dodon told RFE/RL that he wanted Moldova to remain neutral rather than joining any military alliance.
He said Moldova and NATO had been collaborating well so far.
But when asked about plans for the liaison office, he said: “What do we need a NATO office for? A NATO office in Chisinau, in a neutral country, is a provocation.”
“I do not want this. I want neither NATO nor this Russia-led [military] alliance as far as armed forces are concerned,” Dodon said in an apparent reference to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military organization grouping Russia and five other former Soviet republics — Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
The Moldovan presidency is a largely symbolic position, but Dodon’s position has been strengthened by the fact that he was elected in a direct popular vote — the first president of the country to win office through such an election since 1997.
On February 7, Dodon said after talks in Brussels with NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller that the Moldovan people did not “welcome” the opening of a NATO liaison office — despite the request for the office made by the center-right-controlled parliament and government.
The Moldovan government is made up of officials from pro-Western parties while Dodon previously headed the pro-Russian Socialist Party, which wants closer ties with Moscow rather than closer integration with European institutions.
Dodon said he had recommended to Moldova’s current parliament and government that they “not rush it.”
“If they do rush it, the next parliament and government will cancel this agreement, NATO will close down the office and will run away from Moldova. Why do we need such a thing,” he told RFE/RL.
Dodon also had argued in Brussels that the NATO liaison bureau would “create impediments in regard to negotiations in the Transdniester issue.”
Transdniester, a Russian-speaking region in Moldova’s east, declared independence from Chisinau in 1990 amid concerns among separatists there of a possible unification of Romania and majority Romanian-speaking Moldova.
A war broke out between Moldova and Transdniester in 1992, which resulted in hundreds of deaths.
Russian troops quelled the fighting, but the conflict remains unresolved, and some 1,200 Russian soldiers are still deployed in Transdniester.
Russia says those troops act as peacekeepers, despite repeated calls for their withdrawal by both Chisinau and the international community.
Asked by RFE/RL to explain his stance on Transdniester, Dodon said he wanted “very much” to see Russian troops leave Transdniester.
“I am quite optimistic about resolving this problem, maybe by the end of my term, maybe even earlier,” he said without elaborating.
Dodon’s first visit abroad as president was to Moscow, followed by a trip to Brussels.
He told RFE/RL that he planned to continue visiting former Soviet republics as well as some European Union member countries.
“I believe I will visit CIS members Azerbaijan and Belarus, and probably Armenia, EU member Hungary, and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan will probably come to Moldova in May.”
An official visit to Moldova by Erdogan has so far not been confirmed by Turkey.
Posted: at 11:58 pm
Second, we are clearly not in a time to expand freedom in the world a point British Prime Minister Theresa May made in Washington last week. On the contrary, we need to defend and preserve freedom in our lands.
In order to reinforce our Western world, Nato must invite to become members countries that are alike in the defense of our values and with the willingness to share the burden in this civilizational struggle. Nato should invite without delay Israel, Japan, Singapore and India to become members.
Defense expenditures should be revised and increased, but ceilings and burden sharing are not the problem. We dont expend more because current leaders do not feel compelled to do so. Furthermore, to spend more on the same will not change our ability to confront the threats and challenges we face.
There is a myriad of things that can be done to put Nato back on track. Interior ministers should join defense ministers at council level and in summits.
Thats easy. But above all, what Nato needs is a vision and an impulse to transform from the new US President and administration. Yes, MrPresident, we agree with you that Nato has become obsolete. But we believe you can make it relevant again. Your allies will follow.
Mr. Bardaji is the Executive Director of the Friends of Israel Initiative and the former National Security Adviser to the Spanish government. Colonel Kemp is a board member of the Friends of Israel Initiative and the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan
Posted: at 11:58 pm
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly (L), National Security Advisor General Mike Flynn (C), and Keith Alexander wait for a meeting on cyber security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House January 31, 2017 in Washington, D.C.Photograph by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKIAFP/Getty Images
President Trump’s early tenure has been marked by reports of slipshod cybersecurity practices, and dysfunction among the country’s intelligence agencies. But behind the scenes, Trump has shown he is attuned to hacking threats, and prepared to defend the U.S. in cyber-space, according to the former head of the National Security Agency.
Speaking at a breakfast in San Francisco on Tuesday morning, retired General Keith Alexander described a recent meeting at which the President discussed cybersecurity issues with members of his inner circle. According to Alexander, Trump’s behavior shifted significantly once members of the media left the event.
The Presidents demeanor changed to what you would expect of a corporate CEO,” said Alexander. “The part that struck me was he listened. He took what they said, restated it, went on to next thing and allowed everyone to talk.”
The gathering reportedly included Trump, adviser Jared Kushner, Defense Secretary James Mattis, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and others.
Alexander also said Trump’s comportment in the meeting was “the president our nation needs to see,” and expressed confidence Trump would be able to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat cyber threats.
The remarks come at a time of ongoing tumult among White House security staffmost notably the sudden resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Mondayand are at odds with earlier news reports that portrayed Trump as sometimes cavalier about what he famously called “the cyber” in a presidential debate last fall.
On the question of Flynn’s resignation, Alexander said he was not aware of what occurred behind the scenes, only stating he was sure the White House had good reasons to back the departure.
Alexander’s assessment of Trump and cybersecurity is significant in part because as the former head of the country’s top spy agency, he presided over a controversial set of intelligence gathering techniques that were exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.
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In addressing the breakfast, hosted by the State of Maryland during the RSA security conference, Alexander also spoke about the challenge of balancing privacy and security, and the wisdom of “hacking back” against other countries.
The pervasive hacking conducted by countries like North Korea and China is a source of ongoing frustration for companies, and has led some to suggest the private sector should retaliate with cyber-attacks of their own.
Alexander, however, believes such retaliation is possible but ill-advised. Using Sony ( sne ) as an example, he explained could easily avenge North Korea’s devastating attack of 2014 by “hacking back,” perhaps with the discreet aid of U.S. defense contractors.
“Youd kick North Korea’s buttwipe out their seven computers and we would be done with it,” he said about a hypothetical Sony counter-strike. But heres the problem. North Korea assumes its a government attack and they escalate. They throw artillery into Seoul and we’ve started a land war on the Korean peninsula, even if it started with a company trying to protect themselves.
Instead of companies taking cyber retaliation into their own hands, Alexander instead argues it’s the government’s job to address these issues as part of its larger mandate to defend the United States. He said this should include assistance to build “cyber domes” across key industrial sectors, and “network speed” threat coordination between government and the private sector.
Cyber has become an element of national power,” he said, alongside traditional diplomatic, military, and economic initiatives.
One of the most difficult cybersecurity tasks for the Trump administration will be how to address a new generation of device and communication tools that are all but impossible to spy on. Fueled in part by Edward Snowden’s revelations, Apple ( aapl ) and other companies began introducing encryption features that can’t be broken by law enforcement or even accessed by the companies themselves.
Last spring, encryption was at the heart of a hugely publicized court fight between Apple and the FBI, which sought access to a locked iPhone owned by a terrorist responsible for the San Bernardino massacre. (The stand-off ended abruptly after the FBI succeeded in unlocking the iPhone on its own account, but the issue is likely to return again soon in light of newer versions of the iPhone with even stronger security measures).
According to Alexander, the trouble with ubiquitous encryption is that terrorists can plan in perfect secrecy. Alexander cited a 2009 plot to blow up the New York City subway that was foiled after intelligence agencies intercepted an emailsomething that would not have been possible if the plotters had used today’s encryption tools, he noted.
Any solution that gives spy services a window into encrypted communication is problematic, however, because it can involve weakening the overall security of a device or messaging service. Such an outcomeespecially in the form of a “back door” that lets law enforcement get around encryptionis fiercely opposed by the tech community, which points out any such back door will also be exploited by criminals or repressive governments.
Alexander acknowledged this tension, but did not offer a specific solution.
“Im not for back doors but I dont buy the fact we cant [have both privacy and security],” Alexander said. “We have to drive two groups together and force them to work on this. I dont think we should accept fact people die because were intractable.”
Bombshell report reveals NSA intercepted communications between Trump campaign and Russian agents – Raw Story
Posted: at 11:58 pm
Trump speaks by phone with Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
In an explosive report by the New York Times, it was revealed that that members of Donald Trumps 2016 presidential campaign were repeatedly in contact with Russian intelligence officials in the year preceding the election.
According to U.S. intelligence sources, communications between Trump operatives and the Russians were discovered when they looking into the hacking on the Democratic National Committee. The intelligence agencies sought to find out whether the Trump campaign working with the Russians in regard to the hacking.
Intelligence officials said the intercepted communications not only included Trump campaign officials, but also other associates of the now newly-elected president. According to the the report, the Russians contacted included members of the Russian government outside of the intelligence services.
The bombshell report comes as the Trump administration is still reeling over the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over contacts with the Russians which he then lied about.
You can read the whole report here.