Russian Spy Ship Back on East Coast but Making No Waves in Washington

The Russian spy ship that transited up and back down the East Coast of the United States in February is taking another lap — and making no waves in Washington.

Last month's trip by the SSV-175 Viktor Leonov, though routine, made headlines because it appeared at an intriguing moment in U.S.-Russian relations.

After making its way back down the coast, it had a port call in Havana for a couple of weeks and then embarked on a return trip. 

As of Wednesday morning, it was about 20 nautical miles off the coast of Georgia, staying well outside of U.S. territorial waters and conducting a perfectly legal transit, according to one U.S. military official.

The official said the ship is expected to head north along the coast and then turn back around and head to a port call in Jamaica. As NBC News reported last month, its limited and outdated electronic eavesdropping gear means it can only listen to radio communications — ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and commercial radio broadcasts.

Asked whether the U.S. military is concerned about the transit, the official said, "Not really. We are about as concerned this time as we are every other time they do this."

image: Viktor Leonov
The Viktor Leonov CCB-175, a Russian Navy intelligence warship, is docked at a pier in Havana in 2015. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images, file

latest posts from Intel Desk

Coalition Airstrikes Up 122 Percent in Raqqa, Say Activists

The anti-Assad, anti-ISIS group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered tweeted out a graphic today that said coalition airstrikes on Raqqa, Syria, the ISIS capital, have increased by more than 100 percent since Jan. 1. Kurdish forces and U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are now massing north of Raqqa for a ground assault. 

Hezbollah Financier Arrested

A top financial supporter of Hezbollah was arrested overseas earlier this month on an 11-count indictment unsealed Friday in federal court.

Kassim Tajideen of Beirut, Lebanon is charged with evading U.S. sanctions placed on his because of his financial support for Hezbollah, officially designated as a terror group by the U.S. government.

The arrest came after a two-year investigation let by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and is part of Project Cassandra, which targets Hezbollah's global support network. Tajideen is accused of operating front companies for Hezbollah, and was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2009.

The indictment says that over the past three years, Tajideen transferred more than $27 million via at least 47 wire transfers to individuals in the U.S., who helped Tajideen continue to do business with U.S. companies and ship U.S. goods out of the U.S.

Top Senate Democrat Won't Go As Far As House Counterpart On Trump-Russia Collusion

Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined Thursday to endorse his House counterpart's assertion that lawmakers have been briefed on "more than circumstantial evidence," that Trump associates colluded with the Russian operation to interfere in the presidential election.

Leaving a closed-door briefing, the Virginia senator was asked by NBC News whether he agreed with Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.  

Schiff told Chuck Todd on MTP Daily Wednesday, "I can't go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now."

Warned responded, "There are ever increasing amounts of smoke."

How Many Nukes Does North Korea Have and Who Can It Hit With Them?

Senior U.S. officials believe, based on the latest intelligence, that North Korea is not an immediate threat to the U.S. or Japan.

But South Korea is another story. The threat to South Korea, said one official, is "grave and current."

A senior intelligence official said that the U.S. assessment is that North Korea has eight to 10 nuclear weapons, with the number more likely to be eight than 10. That number is in line with estimates by outside experts. The Federation of American Scientists, for example, estimates 10-to-20, but as Hans Kristensen, director of the FAS Nuclear Information Project, says, "it is unclear if they are operational yet."

Miniaturizing warheads to put them on long-range missiles might be a challenge for the North Koreans. But Seoul is less than 40 miles from the DMZ that separates South and North. Korea has many shorter range missiles that could theoretically deliver nuclear payloads inside South Korea, as well as to border regions of China and Russia. 

Image: Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip in this undated photo. ballistic missile
Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip in this undated photo. (C) KCNA KCNA / Reuters / Reuters

Drone Strike Kills Taliban Leader Who Trained Suicide Bombers

The Pakistani Taliban said a U.S. drone strike over the weekend in Afghanistan killed a senior military commander who was known for his skill in training suicide bombers.

Qari Mohammad Yasin, also known as Ustad Aslam, died in a drone strike in Afghanistan's Paktika province. He was linked to an attack ‎on the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi and an attack on a bus carrying Sri Lanka's national cricket team.

"We lost a brave man and the trainer of trainers in a U.S drone attack," said Asad Mansoor, the spokesman of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar ( TTP-JA), a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, presently based in Afghanistan. 

Yasin was given the title "Ustad," or teacher, because he trained suicide bombers.

Family of Missing Ex-FBI Agent Levinson Files Suit Against Iran

The family of a former FBI agent turned CIA consultant who vanished in Iran ten years ago filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the government of Iran, saying it had lied to cover up its role in his detention.

The suit seeks damages from Iran for allegedly inflicting emotional distress on the wife and seven children of Robert A. Levinson, a private investigator who was last seen in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish. He was apparently on an unauthorized CIA mission at the time.

The Iranian government says it does not know what happened to Levinson. The family received a proof of life photo in 2011 showing Levinson in an orange jumpsuit holding a sign saying, "HELP ME." Levinson, whose 69th birthday was on March 10, was apparently kidnapped on March 9, 2007. The suit alleges that the Iranian government is using photographs and video of Levinson in captivity to create the false impression that someone other than the government is holding him.

Image: Robert Levinson
This undated handout photo provided by the family of Robert Levinson after they received it in April 2011, shows retired-FBI agent Robert Levinson.\ Levinson family via AP

The FBI Doesn't Call You Up and Ask for Money

The FBI is warning the public to beware of calls from the FBI.

According to the FBI’s Denver field office, scammers are calling victims from what appears to be an FBI number and telling them they are being investigated by the bureau for violations and owe money. If the victims don’t pay up immediately, the scammers claim, they will be arrested.

The scheme has targeted victims throughout the region. "FBI" scammers who have called victims in northern Colorado have been able to "spoof" an actual phone number from an FBI office in the western part of the state, meaning the FBI number is fraudulently displayed by caller ID.

The FBI strongly suggests that given the rushed and threatening nature of the calls, victims should hang up on the scammer right away and contact their local FBI field office.

Trump Organization Rushes To Register Trump Tower After NBC News Call

After NBC News contacted The Trump Organization on Tuesday to let the firm know it was in violation of New York City law for not registering Trump Tower, the company has completed the necessary paperwork and registered the property.

The Trump Organization, the umbrella corporation for Donald Trump's holdings, owns the skyscraper at 725 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and is headquartered there. Donald and Melania Trump have a penthouse in the tower and Trump's sons also maintain offices in the building.

Property owners of certain residential buildings are required by city law to register with the Department of Housing Preservation & Development every year, but Trump Tower’s registration expired in 2016 and The Trump Organization never renewed it. Failing to register can result in a fine of $500, and revokes some of the rights enjoyed by property owners.

On Tuesday morning, NBC News contacted The Trump Organization. Not long after, according  to city officials, a representative of The Trump Organization sent the necessary paperwork to the agency.

"This was an inadvertent clerical error that has since been remedied," a spokesperson for the Trump Organization told NBC News.


Image: US President Trump demands investigation into alleged wire-tapping
Trump Tower in New York in May 2016. Jason Szenes / EPA, file

Trump's Business Is In Violation of New York City Law

Donald Trump’s business, The Trump Organization, is in violation of New York City law, NBC News has learned. The Trump Tower skyscraper located at 725 Fifth Avenue -- where President Trump and Melania live in the penthouse apartment and his two eldest sons work in offices just below -- is not registered this year with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development, a spokeswoman for the department confirmed on Tuesday.

Property owners of certain residential buildings are required by law to register annually by Sept. 1, but Trump Tower’s registration expired in 2016 and The Trump Organization did not renew it until today. Failing to register can result in a fine of up to $500, and revokes some of the rights usually enjoyed by property owners.

The Trump Organization has a $100 million mortgage on Trump Tower. The loan was written by Wall Street firm Ladder Capital Financial and it now resides in a trust and has been securitized.

Calls and messages to a spokeswoman for The Trump Organization were not immediately returned.

Royal Jordanian Tells Passengers U.S. Is Barring Electronic Devices From Its Flights

Royal Jordanian Airlines told passengers on flights to and from the U.S. Monday that because of a directive from the U.S. government, no laptops and other electronic devices could be brought into the cabin of a plane.

In messages posted on both Twitter and Facebook and now deleted, the international carrier said cellphones and electronic devices needed for medical reasons could be carried on-board,but everything else had to be stowed in checked baggage "following instructions from the concerned U.S. departments." 

The directive takes effect Tuesday, and applies to flights to and from New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal. 

According to a Royal Jordanian spokesperson, so far there is no time frame and the airline has no information about any directives that may have been issued to other carriers. Royal Jordanian will provide an update with more details on Tuesday.