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Dueling Princes: One Saudi Gets Lunch With Trump, His Rival Gets A Medal

If you want to know which of two rival princes is winning the battle for power in Saudi Arabia, just look at who's in Washington and who isn't.

Mohammed bin Salman, the 31-year-old deputy crown prince and defense minister, is at the White House today lunching with President Trump. Sources report there will be additional place settings for chief strategist Steve Bannon and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who’s been tasked with finding solutions to broader Middle East issues.

Bin Salman is also expected to meet with Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo while in town. On the agenda, the continuing civil war in Yemen, the Iranian nuclear deal, and stabilizing world oil prices. Big talk at a big table.

Compare that to the consolation prize Mohammed Bin Nayef, the 57-year-old crown prince and interior minister, received in late January. CIA Director Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia to present MBN, a long-time U.S. favorite and counter-terror expert, with the George Tenet Award.

According to the Saudi news agency, the award was given for "excellent intelligence performance, in the domain of counter-terrorism and his unbound contribution to realize world security and peace." It sounds more like a gold watch.

Image: Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, left, talks with Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Dec. 9, 2015.
Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, left, talks with Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Dec. 9, 2015.

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Ivanka Trump Ski Trip To Canadian Resort Brings Big Secret Service Bill

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner took their kids to a five-star Canadian ski resort during Passover in April. According to newly available data from the federal government, the Secret Service costs for hotel accommodations and ski passes during the family’s trip to the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Whistler, British Columbia were at least $66,538.42. Of that amount, government purchase order records show, $59,654 covered hotel costs for Secret Service agents at the resort near Vancouver, while $6,884 paid for "multi-day ski passes."

A larger group of Trumps, 14 adults and children in all, took a ski trip to the pricey resort town of Aspen, Colorado in March. Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric were accompanied by their families – and Secret Service agents. Purchase order records show a contracted expenditure for more than $12,000 for the rental of "recreational goods" from a local business, Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Club, Inc. But the Secret Service denied the costs were for ski rentals and the store did not respond to an NBC News request for comment. The records do not appear to show a purchase order for hotel rooms for agents during the Aspen trip.

Image: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner
Ivanka Trump, with her husband Jared Kushner and their children, depart after President Donald Trump,formally signed his cabinet nominations into law, in the President's Room of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017. J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

CIA's New "Mayor" Comes From Finance Firm, Not Intelligence World

Brian Bulatao, a private equity investor from Dallas, is slated to become the No. 3 official at the CIA, according to current and former intelligence officials. 

The job has traditionally, but not always, been filled by career intelligence officers. It is not subject to Senate confirmation. 

The position has long been known as "executive director," but CIA Director Mike Pompeo is changing the title to "chief operating officer." The executive director has been called the CIA’s "mayor," responsible for the internal workings of the agency that employs an estimated 20,000 personnel worldwide.

Bulatao is no stranger to Pompeo, the former Kansas congressman who was named director by President Trump. The two were West Point classmates, graduating in 1986, and later business partners, according to officials. Pompeo, first in his class at the academy, graduated from Harvard Law School. Bulatao was an Army Ranger who served as a paratrooper, and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Pompeo and Bulatao were among several West Point alumni who in 1998 founded Thayer Aerospace, a Wichita machining company. The firm received financing from a venture capital company funded by the Koch brothers, according to a 2011 story in the Washington Post. The company was sold in 2006 and Bulatao moved on to executive roles at a packaging company before entering private equity in 2010. He is currently a senior adviser at Highlander Partners, L.P., a Dallas-based investment firm that claims more than $1 billion in assets under management.

Houthi Rebels Use Another Unmanned Boat Bomb Against the Saudis

For the second time in 2017, Houthi rebels have used a remote-controlled boat bomb to attack a Saudi Arabian ship, raising the possibility that the two-year-old conflict between the Yemeni rebels and the Saudi military could also threaten global oil shipments.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said Wednesday its security forces had stopped an attack on an Aramco oil distribution terminal in the Red Sea on the Saudi coast just north of Yemen. Had the attack succeeded, say analysts, it could have shaken the world crude oil market.

The explosive-packed skiff was a mile from the terminal's off-loading buoys when stopped by gunfire.

Pictures released by the ministry show the boat heading toward the facility, and then a large explosion in the water after strikes on the target by the Saudi Coast Guard. The ministry stopped short of blaming the Houthis for the incident, but called it a “terrorist attack,” and issued a veiled warning to the Houthis' sponsor, Iran. 

The statement said Saudi forces will remain vigilant against “those standing behind Houthi militias working to threaten the security of waterways and sea facilities.”

On January 30, a Saudi Navy frigate was attacked by the Houthis, killing two Saudi sailors. Although initial reports suggested a missile or suicide attack, the U.S. Navy later assessed that for the first time the Houthis had deployed an unmanned “drone” attack boat, and used Iranian technology.

A senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News a U.S. Navy ship was nearby when the January attack took place.

New Orleans Prosecutor Sends Witnesses Mock Subpoenas: Report

A prosecutor's office in New Orleans is sending notices that are stamped "subpoena" but that are not issued by a judge or court to witnesses in criminal cases, according to a new report.

Legal experts told The Lens NOLA, an investigative news website, that the formal-looking paperwork is unethical and possibly illegal.

A spokesman for Orleans Parish Leon Cannizzaro defended the practice, saying, "It's no different than if we just put a letter out on our letterhead."

But the "subpeona" letters also come with a threat of arrest. "A fine and imprisonment may be imposed for failure to obey this notice," they said.

The Lens said it had confirmed three instances in which the notices were used, including the case of slain former NFL player Will Smith.

"There's no question this is improper," Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman told the site. The DA's spokesman, Chris Bowman, said his boss "does not see any legal issues with respect to this policy."

Palestinian Woman Hid Deadly Bombings When Applying for U.S. Citizenship

A Palestinian woman convicted of two bombings in Israel in 1970 pleaded guilty Tuesday in a Chicago courtroom to hiding those offenses when she applied for U.S. citizenship years later.

Rasmea Odeh, now 69, was sentenced to life in prison in Israel for two bombings, one of which killed two men at a Jerusalem supermarket. She was released in 1979 during a prisoner swap between Israel and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

When she applied for a U.S. visa in 1994, she didn't disclose her criminal record, and again failed to disclose the conviction when she applied for citizenship in 2004 while living in Michigan. A guilty verdict in her first trail was overturned on appeal, and she then accepted a plea deal rather than be retried.

Odeh will be deported to Jordan or another country at some point after a court appearance in August. As part of her agreement with federal prosecutors, she will spend no time in prison.

Image: Rasmea Odeh outside the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit
Rasmea Odeh outside the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit on April 25, 2017, is expected to agree to be deported for failing to disclose her conviction for bombings in Israel in the late 1960s. Max Ortiz / AP

Death Delivery: Two Charged With Selling Killer Heroin to Woman in Rehab

Two New York City men have been charged with selling a killer dose of heroin to a 41-year-old woman trying to kick her addiction in a hospital rehab clinic.

Anthony Dodaj and Duane Martinez face up to life in prison if convicted of federal charges for the New Year's Day delivery to Ivy Katz, who was later found unconscious in her room with a needle in her arm, prosecutors said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said the two men "will now be held to account for their role in fueling the tragic overdose death crisis in New York City." The defendants' attorneys could not be reached for immediate comment.

According to a criminal complaint in the case, Katz was a heroin addict who sought treatment at a Manhattan hospital in mid-December. Less than three weeks later, she used the hospital payphone to call her drug connection, investigators said.

On Jan. 1, Dodaj showed up at the facility and signed in as a visitor, the complaint says. Video showed him meeting with Katz, who was found comatose a half-hour after he left. Her family removed her from life support two weeks later.

Adm. Stavridis Compares North Korea Threat to Ghostbusters

Ret. Adm. James Stavridis made an evocative comparison to an American comedy classic on MSNBC Monday to explain the danger of North Korea's weapons program. 

"I think the real danger is probably 18 months, two years from now, two streams coming together," said Stavridis, the former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst. "One is miniaturizing nuclear weapons, the other is long-range ballistic missiles. It's like in Ghostbusters, you don't want those streams to cross."

In the movie, "crossing the streams" may create a "total protonic reversal" that ends life on earth.

The streams are going to cross, said Stavridis, "not in the next week, but probably in the next 18 to 24 months. That will be when we'll be forced to take some level of action. What's happening now, I think we can manage with, more or less, traditional diplomatic tools without getting into a shooting war."

Taliban Attacks Camp Where Al Qaeda Mole Killed CIA Agents

The Taliban has claimed credit for a Monday suicide attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan that was once the site of one of the deadliest attacks on CIA personnel in the agency's history.

The bomber blew up an explosive-packed vehicle at Camp Chapman in Khost Province. There are no reports of U.S. casualties, but there were casualties amond the Afghan troops guarding the base. The attack came as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis was visiting the Afghan capital of Kabul.

In 2009, when the facility was known as Forward Operating Base Chapman, a Jordanian doctor was brought to the camp to deliver valuable information about  al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawhari. He was not searched on arrival, and detonated a suicide vest in the middle of the CIA personnel gathered to greet him. He killed seven CIA officers and contractors, a Jordanian intelligence agent and an Afghan CIA employee. Six other CIA officers and contractors were injured.

The camp is in territory dominated by a Taliban faction known as the Haqqani Network. It has been attacked by suicide bombers several times since 2009, including in 2012 and 2015. The 2015 attack, at a checkpoint near the main gate, killed 33 people.

 

Former Acting AG Sally Yates to Testify Publicly in House Russia Probe

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who is said to have told the White House that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail, has been invited to testify publicly before Congress.

The Republican and Democrat leading the House Intelligence Committee probe of Russian election interference announced Friday they are seeking to schedule public testimony sometime after May 2 by Yates, as well as former CIA Director John Brennan and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence.

All three former officials have insights into what the U.S. intelligence community knows about alleged contacts between Trump associates and Russians. Whether they can discuss any of that in public is another matter.

Shortly after Trump took office in January, Yates informed the White House she believed Flynn had misled senior administration officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and warned that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials told the Washington Post.

Yates was later fired by Trump after she refused to enforce his travel ban directed at Muslim majority countries.

Flynn was ousted after it became clear he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

U.S. Raid Kills ISIS Terror Plotter in Syria, Says Pentagon

One of the ISIS leaders who helped plot the New Year's attack on an Istanbul nightlcub was killed earlier this month in a U.S. ground raid in Syria, the Pentagon announced Friday.

Abdul Rahman Uzbeki was a "close associate" of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to CENTCOM spokesperson Colonel John Thomas. Uzbeki was killed in a U.S. military "ground operation" in Syria on April 6. Thomas would not elaborate on the raid or not, saying only that the operation was intended to "eliminate him."

ISIS took credit for the mass shooting at the Reina nightclub on Jan. 1, 2017, which killed at least 39 people. The alleged gunman, an Uzbek national, was captured in Istanbul a week later.

Image: Gun attack at a night club in Istanbul
Ambulances transport wounded people after a gun attack on Reina, a popular night club in Istanbul near by the Bosphorus, early morning in Istanbul, Turkey on Jan. 1, 2017. STR / EPA