Stockbyte/Thinkstock(RIO DE JANEIRO) -- A three-person panel will decide which Russian athletes will be able to compete at the Rio Olympics amid reports of a wide-spread doping program, according to the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC said Saturday, according to BBC, the panel will decide whether to accept or reject recommendations for Russian competitors from individual sports' governing bodies.
Over 250 Russian athletes so far were cleared to compete, according to BBC.
The news comes after athletes criticized the blanket ban of Russian competitors recommended by the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA issued a report that it found systemic doping among Russian athletes in many Olympic sports, leading to Russia being banned from international competition.
The opening ceremony for the Rio Games is next Friday.
CTV(NEW YORK) -- A gnome "kidnapped" from its Canada home nearly eight months ago is now back with its owner, who said the lawn ornament was returned along with a photo book of its apparent travels to the U.S. and Mexico.
The gnome, which went missing in December of last year, reappeared this Tuesday in a bag left on the driveway of its owner, Bev York of Highlands, British Columbia — a rural town in southwestern Canada, CTV News reported.
"I opened up the bag, and it had a beautiful book and story, and it just brought a smile to my face," York told CTV News. "It was so cute."
Whoever returned the small statue, named Leopold, appears to have put together a travelogue filled with photos of the gnome's adventures, such as along U.S. Route 66, at the Grand Canyon and on the beaches of Mexico.
York told CTV News that she has no idea who was behind Leopold's trip through North America. The only hint she got was a photo showing a toddler cuddling with the gnome, but she said, "I don't recognize the little boy at all."
And though Leopold came back a little more worn looking than when he left, York said she wasn't upset.
"He had, it looks like, a big margarita, so he might've been damaged after that," she joked.
She added with a laugh that perhaps "they could've taken me instead of the gnome."
York did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for additional comment.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. government hackers at the National Security Agency are likely targeting Russian government-linked hacking teams to see once and for all if they're responsible for the massive breach at the Democratic National Committee, according to three former senior intelligence officials. It's a job that the current head of the NSA's elite hacking unit said they've been called on to do many times before.
Robert Joyce, chief of the NSA's shadowy Tailored Access Operations, declined to comment on the DNC hack specifically, but said in general that the NSA has technical capabilities and legal authorities that allow the agency to "hack back" suspected hacking groups, infiltrating their systems to gather intelligence about their operations in the wake of a cyber attack.
"In terms of the foreign intelligence mission, one of the things we have to do is try to understand who did a breach, who is responsible for a breach," Joyce told ABC News in a rare interview this week. "So we will use the NSA's authorities to pursue foreign intelligence to try to get back into that collection, to understand who did it and get the attribution. That's hard work, but that's one of the responsibilities we have."
The NSA deferred direct questions about its potential involvement in the DNC hack investigation to the FBI, which is the leading agency in that probe. Representatives for the bureau have not returned ABC News' request for comment. Lisa Monaco, President Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism advisor whose responsibilities include cyber policy, declined to comment.
A former senior U.S. official said it was a "fair bet" the NSA was using its hackers' technical prowess to infiltrate two Russian hacking teams that the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike alleged broke into the DNC's system and were linked to two separate Russian intelligence agencies, as first reported by The Washington Post. In some past unrelated cases, the former official said, NSA hackers have been able to watch from the inside as malicious actors conduct their operations in real time.
Rajesh De, former general counsel at the NSA, said that if the NSA is targeting the Russian groups, it could be doing it under its normal foreign intelligence authorities, as the Russian government is "clearly... a valid intelligence target." Or the NSA could be working under the FBI's investigative authority and hacking the suspects' systems as part of technical support for investigators, said De, now head of the cyber security practice at the law firm Mayer Brown.
While U.S. officials have told news outlets anonymously they concur with Crowdstrike and other private cybersecurity firms who have pointed to Russian culpability, the U.S. government has declined to publicly blame the Russians. The Russian government has said the hacking allegations are "absurd".
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community was "not quite ready to make a call on attribution," though he said there were "just a few usual suspects out there." The next day CIA Director John Brennan said that attribution is "to be determined" and a lot of people were "jumping to conclusions."
Professional hackers often use proxies, Brennan said, so investigators have to make two or three "hops" before tracing cyber attacks back to a state's intelligence agency, which makes the attribution process more difficult.
Kenneth Geers, a former cyber analyst at the Pentagon who recently published a book about Russian cyber operations, told ABC News earlier this week that he didn't necessarily doubt it was the Russians, but said that even in the best cases when doing cyber investigations, "You can have a preponderance of evidence -- and in nation-state cases, that’s likely what you’ll have -- but that’s all you’ll have."
That, he said, opens the possibility, however remote, that a very clever hacker or hacking team could be framing the Russians.
Michael Buratowski, the senior vice president of cybersecurity services at Fidelis Cybersecurity which studied some of the malicious code, said the evidence pointing to the Russians was so convincing, "it would have had to have been a very elaborate scheme" for it really to have been anyone else.
The NSA's Joyce said that in general it's very difficult to properly frame someone for a complex attack, since too many details have to be exactly right, requiring a tremendous amount of expertise and precision.
But Joyce said that before the U.S. government pins blame on anyone for a cyber attack publicly, the evidence has to pass an "extremely high bar."
So when they do come forward, he said, perhaps based on the results of attribution techniques that have not been publicly described, "You should bank on it."
iStock/Thinkstock(ISTANBUL) -- Turkey President Recept Tayyip Erdogan is dropping lawsuits for those who were charged with insulting him.
In what he called a gesture of goodwill since the failed military coup, Erdogan said Friday according to BBC, "I am going to withdraw all the cases regarding the disrespectful insults made against me."
About 2,000 people were facing the charges authorities said earlier this year, according to BBC. Some analysts say nearly 60,000 people have been arrested, suspended or fired from their jobs in Turkey since the failed coup.
Earlier Friday, Erdogan accused U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel of being "on the side of the coup plotters."
Turkey's president has insisted that Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, was behind the failed military coup. Gulen has denied involvement.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(LONDON) -- There may be more drama in U.K. politics among its furry power players.
Gladstone, an 18-month-old Domestic Short Hair cat, is joining the ranks of Chief Mouser Larry, who oversees the Prime Minister's resident at 10 Downing Street, and Palmerston, who works at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Gladstone, named after William Ewart Gladstone, who served as prime minster for four terms, will be in charge of making the U.K. Treasury mouse-free.
As a newcomer, Gladstone will have to watch his tail. Chief Mouser Larry was recruited to the cabinet almost four year ago and has been successful in catching mice, however, lacks in feline social skills, dealing with cats of different ministries.
Earlier this month, Larry and Palmerston had a tense stand-off after Palmerston trespassed into Larry's territory.
Let's hope that Gladstone doesn't get paws deep into the political crossfire happening between his two colleagues.
Gladstone, Palmerston and Larry have in common that they were all rescued strays from Battersea Cats and Dogs Home.
“We are delighted to introduce our new cat, Gladstone, to the heart of British politics," a spokesperson from the Treasury said, according to the Battersea Cats and Dogs Home. "Gladstone can look forward to pouring over Budget scorecards, greeting visitors from around the world, but most importantly, setting his sights on the rodent population of the Treasury and assisting our pest controllers in keeping down the number of mice in our Horse Guard Road offices."
Courtesy Marna Gilligan(LONDON) -- When Marna Gilligan's cat slipped out of her London home during a New Year's party eight years ago, she thought she'd never seen her again.
That was until she got a call, saying that her cat, known as Moon Unit, had been found thanks to her microchip. Moon Unit, a domestic short-hair, had traveled all the way to Paris and was rescued by animal shelter Aide et de Défense des Animaux en Détresse.
"I didn’t believe it at all actually," Gilligan, 39, told ABC News. "It wasn't until we had exchanged pictures and I saw that distinct marking on her nose that I actually believed it. I was amazed and thrilled and the next week I kept stopping strangers in the street [saying], 'Can I tell you a story about my cat?'"
Gilligan said she had "no idea" how her cat, whom she rescued as a kitten, got to the City of Love. "All we know is that she didn't get there legally because her microchip is part of a pet passport [needed to travel between countries,]" she added.
Last weekend, Gilligan and her ex-partner Sean Purdy traveled to Paris to pick up their long-lost cat.
"They handed us Moon Unit, we handed them some flowers and everybody was happy," Gilligan said.
The pack had to travel by train to get home, where Moon Unit, who was a bit malnourished, is now staying with Purdy.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The most powerful rebel group in the Syrian civil war, known until now as the Nusra Front, announced this week that it would cut ties with al-Qaeda, an apparent attempt to re-brand itself and dissuade world powers from attacking it.
The Nusra Front has been designated a foreign terrorist group by the United States and was excluded from previous cease-fire agreements. Its ultimate goal is to take control of the country away from both President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.
The group's leader, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, appeared in a video statement Thursday in which he announced the group would now be known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or "the Front for the Conquest of the Levant."
The video also depicted a new white flag for the group, replacing a black one similar to those used by al-Qaeda and ISIS.
But Washington does not seem impressed by the group's sudden independence.
"The United States continues to assess that Nusra Front leaders continue to maintain the intent to conduct eventual attacks in and against the West," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday. "And there continues to be increasing concern about Nusra Fronts' growing capacity for external operations that could threaten both United States and Europe."
The State Department said the group is still being judged by its past actions.
"Affiliations may be a factor, but ultimately it’s their actions, ideology and goals that matter the most," State Department spokesman John Kirby said. "And that’s how we’re going to judge going forward, as we have in the past ... and they are still considered a foreign terrorist organization."
Meanwhile, the U.S. is desperately trying to organize its military operations with Russia, which continues to conduct some strikes in Syria counter to U.S. interests. Both Russia and the U.S. consider the Nusra Front a fair target, but the Russians also target CIA-backed rebel groups and seem to focus mainly on propping up the Assad regime.
iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- U.S.-led airstrikes killed at least 28 civilians, including seven children, in Syria on Thursday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The attack happened in al-Ghandour near Manbij, just one day after the U.S. announced a formal inquiry into airstrikes in the same area that may have led to the single largest loss of civilian life due to coalition airstrikes in Syria.
"The number of human losses in the area is rising dramatically," Rami Abdulrahman, founder of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told ABC News. "The coalition has to stop targeting neighborhoods with civilians. It is not acceptable that they target areas with civilians even if ISIS fighters are also present."
The death toll from Thursday's attack is expected to rise because some civilians are in critical condition, according to the observatory, which says it knows of an additional 13 killed who have yet to be identified.
The U.S. Central Command said in a statement that it initiated an assessment after reports that Thursday's airstrikes near Manbij may have resulted in civilian casualties.
"We can confirm the Coalition conducted airstrikes in the area in the last 24 hours. As with every report of civilian casualties, we will review any information we have about the incident, including information provided by third parties, such as the proximity of the location to Coalition airstrikes, and any other relevant information presented. If the information supporting the report is determined to be credible, we will then determine the next appropriate step," the statement released Thursday said.
The U.S. Central Command also announced Thursday that from July 28, 2015, to April 29, 2016, six separate U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq resulted in the death of 14 civilians.
Earlier this month, on July 19, suspected U.S. airstrikes killed scores of civilians in al-Tokhar village near Manbij. According to Airwars, a non-profit project that tracks international airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, between 78 and 203 civilians were reported killed in the strikes -- which would make it the single greatest loss of life from a coalition action since it started its war against ISIS two years ago.
"The U.S. rarely concedes any of these mass casualty events, despite often very compelling public evidence," Chris Woods, director of Airwars, told ABC News.
On Wednesday, Col. Christopher Garver, spokesperson for the coalition against ISIS, named Operation Inherent Resolve, told members of the press that the U.S. has initiated a formal investigation into the July 19 airstrikes after finding the information available about the attack credible enough to warrant such an investigation.
Garver also said that the U.S. is assessing reports that civilians were killed in other U.S. airstrikes on the village of al-Nawaja, east of Manbij, on July 23. In those strikes, 22 civilians were reported killed, according to Airwars.
Since August 2014, between 773 and 1,180 civilians have reportedly been killed by coalition airstrikes in Syria, according to Airwars.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States Armed Forces in Japan announced plans Friday to return 4,000 hectares -- about 15 square miles -- of Okinawan land back to the government of Japan, in what will be the largest land return since Okinawa's reversion in 1972.
The reversion treaty negotiated control of Okinawa back to Japan while maintaining U.S. military forces on the island, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The plan will slash the amount of U.S.-controlled land on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa by 17 percent, according to U.S. Armed Forces Japan.
"We have plans for many more SACO [Special Action Committee on Okinawa] agreement and other returns to be implemented in coming years, because we are respectful of the feelings of Okinawans that our footprint must be reduced,” Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, commanding general of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Forces Japan, said in a statement.
There has been a long history of opposition and resentment towards the U.S. military stationed in Okinawa since the end of World War II from Japanese locals who live on the island.
The announcement of the land return comes as tensions have soared this summer after a series of incidents inflamed anti-American military sentiments on Okinawa.
ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Perhaps more than any other policy issue, foreign or domestic, Donald Trump's views on Russia and the sanctity of ties to Eastern European allies have shown just how far outside the bounds of conventional wisdom and establishment norms he is willing to step.
His comments on Russia have drawn ire and befuddlement from his Democratic political foes, but on this issue more than most, he seems to have fewer conservatives who share his outlook.
Republicans scatter when Trump talks Russia. Some prominent conservatives wouldn't even agree to be interviewed by ABC News for this story.
The latest example of Trump's controversial comments came Wednesday, when the Republican presidential candidate appeared to suggest that Russia ought to hack into Hillary Clinton's emails and dig up the 30,000 emails from her private account that she deleted. That midday remark sent critics into a Twitter frenzy, labeling it an enormous misstep that seemed to welcome cyber-espionage from an adversarial government in the name of personal political gain.
Trump said Thursday he was being "sarcastic."
Maybe so, but it's not the only statement of that ilk.
In the same news conference Wednesday, Trump said he "would be looking at" the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia tied to its illegal military annexation of Crimea, which the U.S. government refuses to accept. Rather than stand against a feared revival of Soviet expansionism, critics say Trump seems to be embracing it.
Danielle Pletka, a foreign policy and defense expert at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., said the Republican establishment has rightfully been hard on Trump.
"Does anybody who believes in democracy, does anybody who believes in the system that’s been in place since the end of World War II think that it's permissible to bite off and annex another part of a country? No. Nobody serious thinks that," Pletka told ABC News.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest described today the annexation of Crimea as an "egregious violation of international norms" that rallied Europe and the U.S. to impose sanctions against Russia.
Trump has suggested the U.S. step back from the unrest in Ukraine.
"I think maybe we should do a little following and let the neighbors take a little bit more of an active role in Ukraine," Trump said in a television interview late last year.
He has described NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as "obsolete," while also suggesting he may not honor the organization's most sacred covenant of mutual defense.
“If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes," Trump told The New York Times when asked if he would defend the Baltic states from an attack by Russia. NATO members are required to spend 2 percent of their GDP on national defense.
"What Trump fails to understand, because he thinks so transactionally," Pletka told ABC News, "is that we are in NATO not because of the 2 percent that the likes of Latvia throw in or not throw in. We are in NATO because it is the most secure, most successful alliance in modern history. And it is our interest to be in NATO. I can assure that an extra million dollars in the defense budget of Greece is not going to transform the landscape."
Last December, when Trump was asked about reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin was cracking down on internal dissent by killing journalists and political opponents, Trump's response seemed complimentary of Putin.
"He's running his country and at least he's a leader, unlike what he have in this country," Trump said. And when Putin described Trump as a "bright and talented person," Trump released a statement through his spokesman, Hope Hicks, that said in part: "It is always so great to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."
Pletka said Trump's foreign policy statements might be playing into Putin's hands.
"I think it's absolutely clear that Putin would love to see someone like Donald Trump, who shares his antipathy towards civil society and democratic norms, elected," Pletka said.
iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said five American special operators were wounded in just the last few days in counter-terrorism operations against ISIS.
Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support and United States Forces in Afghanistan, said the Americans were helping Afghan special operators “regain control” of areas recently held by ISIS in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan. During the clearing operation, the Americans suffered small arms fire and shrapnel injuries.
Nicholson told reporters during a press briefing, “None of these are life-threatening injuries. Two of the service members have already been returned to duty with their units. The other three were evacuated out of theater. They're in good spirits. They've talked to their families. We expect a full recovery.”
Earlier this year, President Obama gave U.S. commanders more leeway to strike terrorist targets in support of Afghan troops.
Nicholson noted the Afghan partnered operations against ISIS are on a “positive trajectory” despite high profile attacks like the suicide bombing in Kabul on Saturday, which killed more than 80 people. The commander said those types of attacks don’t necessarily show a sign of ISIS gaining strength.
He noted the terror group only controls areas in three or four districts, down from 10 across Afghanistan, and their number of fighters have been cut in half since the beginning of the year.
Bettmann/Getty Images(LONDON) -- U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Reckless received a posthumous award this week in London. But Sgt. Reckless was not a person; she was a horse.
Reckless was awarded the British animal charity, People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), Dickin Medal -- the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the highest British military decoration awarded for valor -- for her service between 1952 and 1953 during the Korean War.
U.S. Embassy attaché Lt. Col. Michael Skaggs accepted the award on behalf of the U.S. Marine Corps, since Reckless passed away in 1968 in Camp Pendleton, California.
"The conditions that Reckless found herself in were truly perilous and her bravery and tenacity to push forward was remarkable,” Lt. Cl. Skaggs said in a statement.
American author Robin Hutton spent six years researching the Mongolian chestnut mare’s career with the U.S. Marines, wrote a book about her life and nominated her for this British award.
"Her story was erased from the pages of history," Hutton told ABC News, "and when I heard about the medal, I just knew she had to get it."
Reckless was purchased from a young Korean man in October of 1952 to be trained as an ammunitions carrier for the Anti-Tank Division of the 5th Marines. They taught her battlefield survival skills such as how not to become entangled in barbed wire and to lie down when under fire, according to the PDSA.
During a five-day battle in 1953, Reckless made 51 trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites: "She carried 386 rounds of ammunition, weighing over 9,000 pounds...up steep mountains with enemy fire coming in at a rate of 500 rounds per minute," the PDSA's statement said.
"She would carry wounded soldiers down the mountain to safety, unload them, and get reloaded with ammunition to go back up to the guns. Although wounded twice she didn’t let it stop her or slow her down," the PDSA added. "There’s no way to account for the number of lives she saved."