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Russian Agent Pleads Guilty in High-Tech Smuggling Scheme

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — A Russian secret agent pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges related to his role in sneaking “cutting edge” U.S.-made electronics illegally back to the motherland, including to Russia’s spy agency, according to federal officials.

Alexander Fishenko was arrested in October 2012 and accused of being at the center of a Russian “military procurement ring” that for years used a Texas-based front company in a scheme to, in part, trick U.S. customs agents into believing his company was shipping harmless goods — like traffic light parts — to Russia, when the ring was actually sending advanced microelectronics that could be used in military applications including radar and weapons guidance systems.

American investigators uncovered, for instance, a letter from a “specialized electronics laboratory of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB),” which is the successor to the infamous KGB, to Fishenko’s company that discussed electronics the company had procured for the Russian spy agency. The spy agency was miffed the electronics were apparently faulty, according to the Department of Justice.

“Fishenko lined his pockets at the expense of our national security,” Acting United States Attorney Kelly Currie said in a press release.

Ten other individuals were caught up in the 2012 dragnet and so far five, including Fishenko, have pleaded guilty. Three others are slated to begin their trials later this month.

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Refugee Crisis: US Proposes Taking in 5,000 More Refugees Next Year

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — In a private meeting with members of Congress Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry proposed that the United States admit an additional 5,000 refugees from across the globe next year, a senior State Department official confirmed to ABC News.

That proposal, part of an annual discussion about refugee policy in the United States, would increase the total number of refugees allowed in the country to 75,000 in 2016 from 70,000 this year. Congress ultimately determines the total number, and the discussion comes as North Africa and the Middle East are experiencing a major refugee crisis related in large part to the war in Syria.

The United States has admitted 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the four-year conflict and hopes to get to 1,800 by the end of the fiscal year. About 1,300 of those refugees have come since January of this year alone.

“We are committed to increasing the number of refugees that we take and we are looking hard at the number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe,” Kerry told reporters after meeting with lawmakers Wednesday. “That’s being vetted right now and at the appropriate time we’ll have the exact number.”

Lawmakers and State Department officials alike have noted the security concerns that come with admitting refugees from Syria.

The numbers of those fleeing the conflict are staggering. This year alone, over 322,000 refugees arrived in Europe by sea. Nearly 20,000 arrived in Munich this weekend.

In recent years, the United States has taken in as many as 80,000 refugees from different parts of the world. Many of those refugees were fleeing the Iraq war, a conflict zone in which the United States was more heavily involved than it is in Syria.

Unlike migrants, refugees are recognized by the international community as people who are fleeing armed conflict or persecution.

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Russian Build-Up Continues at Base in Syria, Causing Concern Among US Officials

PeterHermesFurian/iStock/ThinkStock(WASHINGTON) — Russia continues to transport equipment to an airbase in the Syrian port city of Latakia — a move that U.S. officials suggest could mean it is being prepared to handle significant air activity.

Four large Russian transport aircrafts arrived over the weekend at the base with unspecified equipment, and two tank landing ships have also arrived at the Russian naval base in Tartus, south of Latakia, American officials said, noting it remains uncertain what Russian plans are in developing what appears to be a new air hub in Latakia.

The U.S. started seeing the arrival of Russian equipment last week at a Syrian air base co-located at the Bassel Al Assad International Airport in Latakia, a city in northwestern Syria that is a stronghold of support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, U.S. officials said.

What initially drew the concern of American officials was the arrival at the airfield of temporary modular building structures that could be used to house hundreds of personnel. Construction has yet to begin on those structures. The Russians were also spotted establishing a temporary air traffic control system, U.S. officials said.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday to express American concerns about the build-up, which “could further escalate the conflict” in Syria. Kerry called Lavrov again Wednesday about the issue, U.S. officials said.

But the flow of Russian materials continued this weekend with the arrival in Latakia of four massive Antonov AN-124 “Condor” cargo aircraft carrying undetermined cargo, U.S. officials said.

A Russian Ilyushin-62 passenger aircraft also arrived at the airport carrying what are believed to be a small number of Russian military personnel. One U.S. official described naval infantry personnel that may be involved in force protection at the base, another U.S. official said they numbered 40 personnel and that it was unclear if they are serving as security or as an initial wave of Russian advisers.

So far, the activity at the base has only involved the cargo and passenger aircraft — no Russian fighter aircraft or drones have been spotted as had been reported in early media reports.

In recent days, two Russian navy tank landing ships or LST’s (Landing Ship, Tanks) carrying undetermined cargo have also arrived at the Russian naval base at Tartus, located 50 miles south of Latakia, U.S. officials said. Russia has had a naval base in Tartus since the early 1970’s.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told several news outlets Wednesday that Russia has supplied the Assad regime with military equipment and sent “military specialists” to train Syrian forces in that equipment.

A U.S. official said the low number of Russian personnel now in Syria is not the main U.S. concern right now, but rather the continuing flow and capability of Russian equipment through what was described as a “significant” air expeditionary capability.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said on Tuesday that a broader Russian effort “to bolster the Assad regime right now would potentially be destabilizing.” He said of Russian plans, “we don’t know exactly what …read more […]