US Blackwater guard in 2007 Baghdad shooting to face new trial

A file photo of members of Blackwater. (AFP)
Updated 23 November 2017
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US Blackwater guard in 2007 Baghdad shooting to face new trial

WASHINGTON: A former security contractor for the US firm Blackwater, whose murder conviction for a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting was overturned last August, is to face a fresh trial.
Federal prosecutors said Nicholas Slatten, who was originally found guilty of first-degree murder, will face retrial as early as May, The Washington Post reported.
Slatten was part of a Blackwater Worldwide security detail that opened fire on civilians at a bustling traffic circle in the Iraqi capital in September 2007, killing 14 people and sparking international outrage.
He and three other former Blackwater guards were found guilty of murder in 2014, but the appeals court ruled this year that Slatten’s conviction be thrown out, arguing that he should have faced a separate trial from his co-defendants.
Slatten, 33, had been accused of opening fire first during the incident, killing the driver of a van that had stopped near the Blackwater motorcade on Nisour Square in Baghdad.
But the appeals court ruled that since another of the accused had confessed to opening fire first, Slatten’s conviction could not stand and that he should face a retrial on his own.
The US contractors shot at civilians, including women and children, with sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers, killing at least 14 and wounding 17 others — a slaughter that caused fury even in war-ravaged Iraq.
Relatives of the slain called for the four US guards to be executed.
Federal prosecutors in the US capital expect the trial to last around six weeks and to call around 50 witnesses, including more than a dozen Iraqis, the Post said.
The first hearing to set a trial date will take place on December 14, when officials will also decide on whether to release Slatten from a federal prison in Florida, where he has been serving a life sentence.


Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

Updated 15 min 47 sec ago
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Microsoft uncovers more Russian attacks ahead of midterms

  • The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election
  • The company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations

Microsoft said Tuesday it has uncovered new Russian hacking attempts targeting US political groups ahead of the midterm elections.
The company said that a hacking group tied to the Russian government created fake Internet domains that appeared to spoof two American conservative organizations: the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. Three other fake domains were designed to look as if they belonged to the US Senate.
Microsoft didn’t offer any further description of the fake sites.
The revelation came just weeks after a similar Microsoft discovery led Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is running for re-election, to reveal that Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network.
The hacking attempts mirror similar Russian attacks ahead of the 2016 election, which US intelligence officials have said were focused on helping to elect Republican Donald Trump to the presidency by hurting his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
This time, more than helping one political party over another, “this activity is most fundamentally focused on disrupting democracy,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in an interview this week.
Smith said there is no sign the hackers were successful in persuading anyone to click on the fake websites, which could have exposed a target victim to computer infiltration, hidden surveillance and data theft. Both conservative think tanks said they have tried to be vigilant about “spear-phishing” email attacks because their global pro-democracy work has frequently drawn the ire of authoritarian governments.
“We’re glad that our work is attracting the attention of bad actors,” said Hudson Institute spokesman David Tell. “It means we’re having an effect, presumably.”
The International Republican Institute is led by a board that includes six Republican senators, and one prominent Russia critic and Senate hopeful, Mitt Romney, who is running for a Utah seat this fall.
Microsoft calls the hacking group Strontium; others call it Fancy Bear or APT28. An indictment from US special counsel Robert Mueller has tied it to Russian’s main intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and to the 2016 email hacking of both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“We have no doubt in our minds” who is responsible, Smith said.
Microsoft has waged a legal battle with Strontium since suing it in a Virginia federal court in summer 2016. The company obtained court approval last year allowing it to seize certain fake domains created by the group. It has so far used the courts to shut down 84 fake websites created by the group, including the most recent six announced Tuesday.
Microsoft has argued in court that by setting up fake but realistic-looking domains, the hackers were misusing Microsoft trademarks and services to hack into targeted computer networks, install malware and steal sensitive emails and other data.
Smith also announced Tuesday that the company is offering free cybersecurity protection to all US political candidates, campaigns and other political organizations, at least so long as they’re already using Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity software. Facebook and Google have also promoted similar tools to combat campaign interference.