Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘WIRED’ MAGAZINE)

 

Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

The Chinese government plans to launch its Social Credit System in 2020. The aim? To judge the trustworthiness – or otherwise – of its 1.3 billion residents


Kevin Hong

On June 14, 2014, the State Council of China published an ominous-sounding document called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System”. In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?

Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It’s not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it’s already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

Others are less sanguine about its wider purpose. “It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,” is how Johan Lagerkvist, a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, described the social credit system. Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral scholar specialising in Chinese law and governance at the Van Vollenhoven Institute at Leiden University, who published a comprehensive translation of the plan, compared it to “Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder”.

For now, technically, participating in China’s Citizen Scores is voluntary. But by 2020 it will be mandatory. The behaviour of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity)in China will be rated and ranked, whether they like it or not.

Kevin Hong

Prior to its national roll-out in 2020, the Chinesegovernment is taking a watch-and-learn approach. In this marriage between communist oversight and capitalist can-do, the government has given a licence to eight private companies to come up with systems and algorithms for social credit scores. Predictably, data giants currently run two of the best-known projects.

The first is with China Rapid Finance, a partner of the social-network behemoth Tencent and developer of the messaging app WeChat with more than 850 million active users. The other, Sesame Credit, is run by the Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), an affiliate company of Alibaba. Ant Financial sells insurance products and provides loans to small- to medium-sized businesses. However, the real star of Ant is AliPay, its payments arm that people use not only to buy things online, but also for restaurants, taxis, school fees, cinema tickets and even to transfer money to each other.

Sesame Credit has also teamed up with other data-generating platforms, such as Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing company that was Uber’s main competitor in China before it acquired the American company’s Chinese operations in 2016, and Baihe, the country’s largest online matchmaking service. It’s not hard to see how that all adds up to gargantuan amounts of big data that Sesame Credit can tap into to assess how people behave and rate them accordingly.

So just how are people rated? Individuals on Sesame Credit are measured by a score ranging between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not divulge the “complex algorithm” it uses to calculate the number but they do reveal the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as “a user’s ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations”. The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone’s mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.

Under this system, something as innocuous as a person’s shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” says Li Yingyun, Sesame’s Technology Director. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” So the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It “nudges” citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.

Friends matter, too. The fifth category is interpersonal relationships. What does their choice of online friends and their interactions say about the person being assessed? Sharing what Sesame Credit refers to as “positive energy” online, nice messages about the government or how well the country’s economy is doing, will make your score go up.

Alibaba is adamant that, currently, anything negative posted on social media does not affect scores (we don’t know if this is true or not because the algorithm is secret). But you can see how this might play out when the government’s own citizen score system officially launches in 2020. Even though there is no suggestion yet that any of the eight private companies involved in the ongoing pilot scheme will be ultimately responsible for running the government’s own system, it’s hard to believe that the government will not want to extract the maximum amount of data for its SCS, from the pilots. If that happens, and continues as the new normal under the government’s own SCS it will result in private platforms acting essentially as spy agencies for the government. They may have no choice.

Posting dissenting political opinions or links mentioning Tiananmen Square has never been wise in China, but now it could directly hurt a citizen’s rating. But here’s the real kicker: a person’s own score will also be affected by what their online friends say and do, beyond their own contact with them. If someone they are connected to online posts a negative comment, their own score will also be dragged down.

So why have millions of people already signed up to what amounts to a trial run for a publicly endorsed government surveillance system? There may be darker, unstated reasons – fear of reprisals, for instance, for those who don’t put their hand up – but there is also a lure, in the form of rewards and “special privileges” for those citizens who prove themselves to be “trustworthy” on Sesame Credit.

If their score reaches 600, they can take out a Just Spend loan of up to 5,000 yuan (around £565) to use to shop online, as long as it’s on an Alibaba site. Reach 650 points, they may rent a car without leaving a deposit. They are also entitled to faster check-in at hotels and use of the VIP check-in at Beijing Capital International Airport. Those with more than 666 points can get a cash loan of up to 50,000 yuan (£5,700), obviously from Ant Financial Services. Get above 700 and they can apply for Singapore travel without supporting documents such as an employee letter. And at 750, they get fast-tracked application to a coveted pan-European Schengen visa. “I think the best way to understand the system is as a sort of bastard love child of a loyalty scheme,” says Creemers.

Higher scores have already become a status symbol, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) within months of launch. A citizen’s score can even affect their odds of getting a date, or a marriage partner, because the higher their Sesame rating, the more prominent their dating profile is on Baihe.

Sesame Credit already offers tips to help individuals improve their ranking, including warning about the downsides of friending someone who has a low score. This might lead to the rise of score advisers, who will share tips on how to gain points, or reputation consultants willing to offer expert advice on how to strategically improve a ranking or get off the trust-breaking blacklist.

Indeed, Sesame Credit is basically a big data gamified version of the Communist Party’s surveillance methods; the disquieting dang’an. The regime kept a dossier on every individual that tracked political and personal transgressions. A citizen’s dang’anfollowed them for life, from schools to jobs. People started reporting on friends and even family members, raising suspicion and lowering social trust in China. The same thing will happen with digital dossiers. People will have an incentive to say to their friends and family, “Don’t post that. I don’t want you to hurt your score but I also don’t want you to hurt mine.”

We’re also bound to see the birth of reputation black markets selling under-the-counter ways to boost trustworthiness. In the same way that Facebook Likes and Twitter followers can be bought, individuals will pay to manipulate their score. What about keeping the system secure? Hackers (some even state-backed) could change or steal the digitally stored information.

The new system reflects a cunning paradigm shift. Aswe’ve noted, instead of trying to enforce stability or conformity with a big stick and a good dose of top-down fear, the government is attempting to make obedience feel like gaming. It is a method of social control dressed up in some points-reward system. It’s gamified obedience.

In a trendy neighbourhood in downtown Beijing, the BBC news services hit the streets in October 2015 to ask people about their Sesame Credit ratings. Most spoke about the upsides. But then, who would publicly criticise the system? Ding, your score might go down. Alarmingly, few people understood that a bad score could hurt them in the future. Even more concerning was how many people had no idea that they were being rated.

Currently, Sesame Credit does not directly penalise people for being “untrustworthy” – it’s more effective to lock people in with treats for good behaviour. But Hu Tao, Sesame Credit’s chief manager, warns people that the system is designed so that “untrustworthy people can’t rent a car, can’t borrow money or even can’t find a job”. She has even disclosed that Sesame Credit has approached China’s Education Bureau about sharing a list of its students who cheated on national examinations, in order to make them pay into the future for their dishonesty.

Penalties are set to change dramatically when the government system becomes mandatory in 2020. Indeed, on September 25, 2016, the State Council General Office updated its policy entitled “Warning and Punishment Mechanisms for Persons Subject to Enforcement for Trust-Breaking”. The overriding principle is simple: “If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere,” the policy document states.

For instance, people with low ratings will have slower internet speeds; restricted access to restaurants, nightclubs or golf courses; and the removal of the right to travel freely abroad with, I quote, “restrictive control on consumption within holiday areas or travel businesses”. Scores will influence a person’s rental applications, their ability to get insurance or a loan and even social-security benefits. Citizens with low scores will not be hired by certain employers and will be forbidden from obtaining some jobs, including in the civil service, journalism and legal fields, where of course you must be deemed trustworthy. Low-rating citizens will also be restricted when it comes to enrolling themselves or their children in high-paying private schools. I am not fabricating this list of punishments. It’s the reality Chinese citizens will face. As the government document states, the social credit system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

According to Luciano Floridi, a professor of philosophy and ethics of information at the University of Oxford and the director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute, there have been three critical “de-centering shifts” that have altered our view in self-understanding: Copernicus’s model of the Earth orbiting the Sun; Darwin’s theory of natural selection; and Freud’s claim that our daily actions are controlled by the unconscious mind.

Floridi believes we are now entering the fourth shift, as what we do online and offline merge into an onlife. He asserts that, as our society increasingly becomes an infosphere, a mixture of physical and virtual experiences, we are acquiring an onlife personality – different from who we innately are in the “real world” alone. We see this writ large on Facebook, where people present an edited or idealised portrait of their lives. Think about your Uber experiences. Are you just a little bit nicer to the driver because you know you will be rated? But Uber ratings are nothing compared to Peeple, an app launched in March 2016, which is like a Yelp for humans. It allows you to assign ratings and reviews to everyone you know – your spouse, neighbour, boss and even your ex. A profile displays a “Peeple Number”, a score based on all the feedback and recommendations you receive. Worryingly, once your name is in the Peeple system, it’s there for good. You can’t opt out.

Peeple has forbidden certain bad behaviours including mentioning private health conditions, making profanities or being sexist (however you objectively assess that). But there are few rules on how people are graded or standards about transparency.

China’s trust system might be voluntary as yet, but it’s already having consequences. In February 2017, the country’s Supreme People’s Court announced that 6.15 million of its citizens had been banned from taking flights over the past four years for social misdeeds. The ban is being pointed to as a step toward blacklisting in the SCS. “We have signed a memorandum… [with over] 44 government departments in order to limit ‘discredited’ people on multiple levels,” says Meng Xiang, head of the executive department of the Supreme Court. Another 1.65 million blacklisted people cannot take trains.

Where these systems really descend into nightmarish territory is that the trust algorithms used are unfairly reductive. They don’t take into account context. For instance, one person might miss paying a bill or a fine because they were in hospital; another may simply be a freeloader. And therein lies the challenge facing all of us in the digital world, and not just the Chinese. If life-determining algorithms are here to stay, we need to figure out how they can embrace the nuances, inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in human beings and how they can reflect real life.

Kevin Hong

You could see China’s so-called trust plan asOrwell’s 1984 meets Pavlov’s dogs. Act like a good citizen, be rewarded and be made to think you’re having fun. It’s worth remembering, however, that personal scoring systems have been present in the west for decades.

More than 70 years ago, two men called Bill Fair and Earl Isaac invented credit scores. Today, companies use FICO scores to determine many financial decisions, including the interest rate on our mortgage or whether we should be given a loan.

For the majority of Chinese people, they have never had credit scores and so they can’t get credit. “Many people don’t own houses, cars or credit cards in China, so that kind of information isn’t available to measure,” explains Wen Quan, an influential blogger who writes about technology and finance. “The central bank has the financial data from 800 million people, but only 320 million have a traditional credit history.” According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the annual economic loss caused by lack of credit information is more than 600 billion yuan (£68bn).

China’s lack of a national credit system is why the government is adamant that Citizen Scores are long overdue and badly needed to fix what they refer to as a “trust deficit”. In a poorly regulated market, the sale of counterfeit and substandard products is a massive problem. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 63 per cent of all fake goods, from watches to handbags to baby food, originate from China. “The level of micro corruption is enormous,” Creemers says. “So if this particular scheme results in more effective oversight and accountability, it will likely be warmly welcomed.”

The government also argues that the system is a way to bring in those people left out of traditional credit systems, such as students and low-income households. Professor Wang Shuqin from the Office of Philosophy and Social Science at Capital Normal University in China recently won the bid to help the government develop the system that she refers to as “China’s Social Faithful System”. Without such a mechanism, doing business in China is risky, she stresses, as about half of the signed contracts are not kept. “Given the speed of the digital economy it’s crucial that people can quickly verify each other’s credit worthiness,” she says. “The behaviour of the majority is determined by their world of thoughts. A person who believes in socialist core values is behaving more decently.” She regards the “moral standards” the system assesses, as well as financial data, as a bonus.

Indeed, the State Council’s aim is to raise the “honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society” in order to improve “the overall competitiveness of the country”. Is it possible that the SCS is in fact a more desirably transparent approach to surveillance in a country that has a long history of watching its citizens? “As a Chinese person, knowing that everything I do online is being tracked, would I rather be aware of the details of what is being monitored and use this information to teach myself how to abide by the rules?” says Rasul Majid, a Chinese blogger based in Shanghai who writes about behavioural design and gaming psychology. “Or would I rather live in ignorance and hope/wish/dream that personal privacy still exists and that our ruling bodies respect us enough not to take advantage?” Put simply, Majid thinks the system gives him a tiny bit more control over his data.

Kevin Hong

When I tell westerners about the Social CreditSystem in China, their responses are fervent and visceral. Yet we already rate restaurants, movies, books and even doctors. Facebook, meanwhile, is now capable of identifying you in pictures without seeing your face; it only needs your clothes, hair and body type to tag you in an image with 83 per cent accuracy.

In 2015, the OECD published a study revealing that in the US there are at least 24.9 connected devices per 100 inhabitants. All kinds of companies scrutinise the “big data” emitted from these devices to understand our lives and desires, and to predict our actions in ways that we couldn’t even predict ourselves.

Governments around the world are already in the business of monitoring and rating. In the US, the National Security Agency (NSA) is not the only official digital eye following the movements of its citizens. In 2015, the US Transportation Security Administration proposed the idea of expanding the PreCheck background checks to include social-media records, location data and purchase history. The idea was scrapped after heavy criticism, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. We already live in a world of predictive algorithms that determine if we are a threat, a risk, a good citizen and even if we are trustworthy. We’re getting closer to the Chinese system – the expansion of credit scoring into life scoring – even if we don’t know we are.

So are we heading for a future where we will all be branded online and data-mined? It’s certainly trending that way. Barring some kind of mass citizen revolt to wrench back privacy, we are entering an age where an individual’s actions will be judged by standards they can’t control and where that judgement can’t be erased. The consequences are not only troubling; they’re permanent. Forget the right to delete or to be forgotten, to be young and foolish.

While it might be too late to stop this new era, we do have choices and rights we can exert now. For one thing, we need to be able rate the raters. In his book The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly describes a future where the watchers and the watched will transparently track each other. “Our central choice now is whether this surveillance is a secret, one-way panopticon – or a mutual, transparent kind of ‘coveillance’ that involves watching the watchers,” he writes.

Our trust should start with individuals within government (or whoever is controlling the system). We need trustworthy mechanisms to make sure ratings and data are used responsibly and with our permission. To trust the system, we need to reduce the unknowns. That means taking steps to reduce the opacity of the algorithms. The argument against mandatory disclosures is that if you know what happens under the hood, the system could become rigged or hacked. But if humans are being reduced to a rating that could significantly impact their lives, there must be transparency in how the scoring works.

In China, certain citizens, such as government officials, will likely be deemed above the system. What will be the public reaction when their unfavourable actions don’t affect their score? We could see a Panama Papers 3.0 for reputation fraud.

It is still too early to know how a culture of constant monitoring plus rating will turn out. What will happen when these systems, charting the social, moral and financial history of an entire population, come into full force? How much further will privacy and freedom of speech (long under siege in China) be eroded? Who will decide which way the system goes? These are questions we all need to consider, and soon. Today China, tomorrow a place near you. The real questions about the future of trust are not technological or economic; they are ethical.

If we are not vigilant, distributed trust could become networked shame. Life will become an endless popularity contest, with us all vying for the highest rating that only a few can attain.

This is an extract from Who Can You Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart (Penguin Portfolio) by Rachel Botsman, published on October 4. Since this piece was written, The People’s Bank of China delayed the licences to the eight companies conducting social credit pilots. The government’s plans to launch the Social Credit System in 2020 remain unchanged

 

Catalonia crisis: Puigdemont to ask region’s parliament to discuss ‘attack’ by Madrid

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Catalonia crisis: Puigdemont to ask region’s parliament to discuss ‘attack’ by Madrid

Rajoy urges removal of Catalan President 02:31

Story highlights

  • Catalan’s president was expected to address the pro-independence crowd Saturday
  • The region’s succession could have dire economic effects for Spain

Barcelona, Spain (CNN)[Breaking news update, posted at 3:35 p.m. ET]

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont will ask the region’s parliament to discuss Spain’s attempt to curb Catalan self-government, he said Saturday in a televised address. “The Catalan institutions and the people of Catalonia cannot accept this attack,” he said. He did not announce Catalan independence in the statement.
[Previous update, posted at 3:09 p.m. ET]
Nearly half a million people took to the streets Saturday in Barcelona, waving flags and banners in support of Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
The rally unfolded just hours after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his government would invoke rarely used constitutional powers to remove Catalonia’s leaders.
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Demonstrators shouted, “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” and “Rajoy, Rajoy, so you know we are leaving!”
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was among the protest crowd, which police estimated at 450,000 people. He was scheduled to speak later Saturday.
The unprecedented constitutional measures — intended to end Catalan leaders’ independence bid — fall under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution and would have to be sent to the Spanish Senate for approval. This would happen within the next week, Rajoy said.

Rajoy, left, called Saturday for the removal of Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

The Madrid government announced Thursday that it would invoke Article 155, a provision that allows it to suspend the autonomy of the Catalan regional administration.
The move followed weeks of division triggered by a banned independence referendum on October 1.
Puigdemont on Thursday threatened that his wealthy northeastern region could formally declare independence if the Spanish government did not engage in dialogue.
Nearly 7.5 million people live in Catalonia. Spain’s population is almost 49 million.

Move to oust in Senate’s hands

Under the measures proposed Saturday by Rajoy, Puigdemont, his vice president and ministers would be suspended and replaced by the administration in Madrid, where necessary.
“The government had to enforce Article 155. It wasn’t our desire, nor our intention. It never was,” Rajoy said. “But in this situation, no government of any democratic country can accept that the law is ignored.”
In undertaking these steps, the government has four goals, Rajoy said. These are: to return to legality; to restore normality and coexistence in Catalonia; to continue the region’s economic recovery; and to hold elections under normal conditions.
“The autonomy is not suspended, nor the government,” he said. “People are removed who put the government outside the law, outside the constitution and outside statutes.”
New elections should be called for Catalonia within six months, Rajoy said, adding that he wants it to happen as soon as possible.
“The only way for Article 155 to be stopped is if the Senate votes it down,” he said.
Rajoy’s Popular Party holds a majority in the Senate. Two Spanish opposition parties, PSOE and Ciudadanos, have also said they will back the Article 155 measures, Rajoy said.
Senate Vice President Pedro Sanz said the Senate would hold a session Friday morning to vote on Article 155.
Spain’s national prosecutor’s office told CNN it is preparing to file charges of rebellion if Catalan authorities declare a declaration of independence. It did not name Puigdemont or any other officials as possible defendants.

Protesters to rally

The crisis threatens to fracture Spain, one of the European Union’s principal members, and has prompted mass public protests in Catalonia and elsewhere.
The immediate response of Catalan politicians appeared to be one of defiance.
“In the face of totalitarianism, today more than ever, we defend democracy and civil and political rights, you will find us there,” Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras said via Twitter.
“Today President Rajoy, in an act of enormous political irresponsibility, trespassed all limits. He announced a de facto coup d’etat with which he aims to take over Catalan institutions,” said Catalan Parliamentary leader Carme Forcadell.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colao tweeted: “Rajoy has suspended the Catalan self-government for which so many people fought. A serious attack against the rights and freedom of many, here and everywhere.”
Puigdemont said Thursday that if Madrid “persists in blocking dialogue and the repression continues,” the Catalan parliament reserved the right to formalize a declaration of independence that was suspended on October 10.
At that session, Puigdemont said that Catalonia had “earned the right” to become an independent republic in its October 1 referendum, which was banned by Spain’s Constitutional Court. But he suspended the effects of the declaration to allow for talks.
Puigdemont also demanded Spain end its “repression” of Catalan separatist leaders, two of whom were taken into custody on suspicion of sedition earlier in the week.

People hold candles and a Catalan flag during a demonstration in Barcelona against the arrest of two Catalan separatist leaders on October 17.

More than 2.25 million people turned out to vote on October 1, with the regional government reporting that 90% of voters were in favor of a split from Madrid. But the turnout was low — around 43% of the voter roll — which Catalan officials blamed on the central government’s efforts to stop the referendum.
Violent scenes unfolded as national police sought to prevent people from casting their ballots.

Marchers demand the release of imprisoned Catalan leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart on Saturday in Barcelona.

Rajoy urges unity

Rajoy said Saturday that Puigdemont had repeatedly rejected opportunities to talk to Madrid before calling the banned referendum and insisted his own government was acting to protect the interests of all Spaniards, especially Catalans.

Catalan families divided over independence

Catalan families divided over independence 01:48
“I am fully aware this moment is difficult but all together we are going to overcome (it), as we have previously overcome very complicated events throughout our history,” he said.
Rajoy also warned that an independent Catalonia would be outside the European Union and the World Trade Organization, with dire consequences for the region’s economic health.
A combination of higher tariffs, lack of access to credit and “disproportionate” inflation would lead to “impoverishment of the Catalan economy of between 25 and 30%,” he said.
Amid the uncertainty, businesses have already started to move their legal headquarters out of Catalonia, Spain’s economic powerhouse. According to a tweet Friday by the National Association of Registers, 1,185 companies began that process between October 2 and 19.
Spain’s King Felipe VI said Friday that Spain was facing an “unacceptable” attempt at secession and that Catalonia must continue to be a central part of the nation.
EU leaders have backed the Madrid government in its handling of the crisis, which Rajoy insists is an internal matter.
European Council President Donald Tusk described the Catalonia situation as “concerning” but said there was “no space for EU intervention,” in remarks Thursday in Brussels.

Trump plans to release JFK assassination documents despite concerns from federal agencies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Trump plans to release JFK assassination documents despite concerns from federal agencies


The Kennedy motorcade drives through Dallas moments before the president was fatally shot Nov. 22, 1963. (Jim Altgens/AP)
 October 21 at 2:00 PM
President Trump announced Saturday morning that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents left in the files related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration.“Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened,” Trump tweeted early Saturday.Experts have been speculating for weeks about whether Trump would disclose the documents. The 1992 Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act required that the millions of pages, many of them contained in CIA and FBI documents, be published in 25 years — by Thursday. Over the years, the National Archives has released most of the documents, either in full or partially redacted.

But one final batch remains, and only the president has the authority to extend the papers’ secrecy past the deadline.

In his tweet, Trump seemed to strongly imply he was going to release all the remaining documents, but the White House later said that if other government agencies made a strong case not to release the documents, he wouldn’t.

“The president believes that these documents should be made available in the interests of full transparency unless agencies provide a compelling and clear national security or law enforcement justification otherwise,” the White House said in a statement Saturday.

In the days leading up to Trump’s announcement, a National Security Council official told The Washington Post that government agencies were urging the president not to release some of the documents. But Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone told conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars this week that he personally lobbied Trump to release all of the documents.

Stone also told Jones that CIA Director Mike Pompeo “has been lobbying the president furiously not to release these documents.”

Some Republican lawmakers have also been urging Trump for a full release. Earlier this month, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, brought forward resolutions calling on Trump to “reject any claims for the continued postponement” of the documents.

“No reason 2 keep hidden anymore,” Grassley tweeted earlier this month. “Time 2 let American ppl + historians draw own conclusions.”

 Play Video 12:06
What you may not have known about JFK’s last days
On the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, author James Swanson shares the stories he learned while writing his book, “The End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy”. (The Washington Post)

Though Kennedy assassination experts say that they do not think the last batch of papers contains any major bombshells, the president’s decision to release the documents could heighten the clarity around the assassination, which has fueled so many conspiracy theorists, including Trump.

In May 2016, while on the presidential campaign trail, Trump gave an interview to Fox News strongly accusing the father of GOP primary opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) of consorting with Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald right before the shooting.

Some Kennedy assassination researchers think that the trove could shed light on a key question that President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to unsuccessfully put to rest in 1963: Did Oswald act alone, or was he aided or propelled by a foreign government?

The records are also said to include details on Oswald’s activities while he was traveling in Mexico City in late September 1963 and courting Cuban and Soviet spies, as well as the CIA’s personality profiles written of Oswald after the assassination.

But some experts fear the history that may be lost forever in unreadable documents in the trove. One listed as “unintelligible” is a secret communication from the CIA to the Office of Naval Intelligence about Oswald in October 1963 — weeks before the assassination. Oswald had been honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1959, but it was later changed to a dishonorable discharge. He was outraged and made threats late in 1963 when he learned the military had rejected his appeal of its decision.

Phil Shenon, who wrote a book about the Warren Commission, the congressional body that investigated Kennedy’s killing, said he was pleased with Trump’s decision to release the documents. But he wonders to what degree the papers will ultimately be released.

“It’s great news that the president is focused on this and that he’s trying to demonstrate transparency. But the question remains whether he will open the library in full — every word in every document, as the law requires,” Shenon said. “And my understanding is that he won’t without infuriating people at the CIA and elsewhere who are determined to keep at least some of the information secret, especially in documents created in the 1990s.”

There are about 3,100 previously unreleased files that hold tens of thousands of pages of new material. The National Archives also has another 30,000 pages with information that has been disclosed before, but only partially and with redactions.

Jefferson Morley, a former Post reporter who has studied the Kennedy assassination records for years, said that the last tranche of material is also intriguing because it contains files on senior CIA officials from the 1960s — officers well aware of Oswald’s activities in the days before the assassination.

He specifically pointed to the files of former CIA officers William K. Harvey and David Phillips. Morley said Harvey led the agency’s assassinations operations and feuded constantly with Kennedy’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, over the administration’s crisis with Cuba. Phillips, Morley said, oversaw the agency’s operations against Cuban President Fidel Castro and was deeply familiar with the CIA’s surveillance of Oswald in Mexico City.

“What’s in those files could tell us how those men did their jobs,” said Morley, who wrote a 2008 book on the agency’s Mexico City station chief. “There might be stuff on why we were interested in the Cuban consulate, how we surveilled the consulate, how we did our audio work, and how did we recruit spies there? We might understand much better why they were watching Oswald.”

John Wagner and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

Senegal Thwarts Terrorist Attack On Hotel In Dakar Thursday Night

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Senegal Thwarts Terrorist Attack in Collaboration with Western Intelligence

Saturday, 21 October, 2017 – 10:30
Above, an aerial view of Dakar. AP Images
Nouakchott – Al-Sheikh Mohamed

Senegal’s security apparatuses in collaboration with Western intelligence agencies have thwarted a terrorist plot to target a hotel in the capital Dakar, local media reported on Friday.

The media quoted sources as saying that Senegalese security forces foiled the attack that was set to take place on Thursday night.

The hotel that lies on the shores of Dakar is frequented by Westerners, the sources said, although they did not name it.

The sources also refused to reveal more information about the operation to foil the plot.

Earlier this week, the US embassy warned its citizens in Senegal of a “credible threat” of a terror attack in Dakar, advising them to take special care when visiting places and areas popular with Westerners.

The embassy also told its own staff members to stay away from seaside hotels in the capital.

A message, issued on Wednesday to US citizens in the country, warned them “to be vigilant when visiting establishments and staying at hotels frequented by Westerners due to a credible threat related to potential terrorist activity in Dakar”.

It went on to advise US nationals to “review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings,” while banning embassy personnel from staying at the seaside hotels until the first week of December.

The Canadian government on Thursday issued a similar warning to its nationals in the west African nation.

Israel Hits Syrian Artillery, Warns to Intensify Response

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel Hits Syrian Artillery, Warns to Intensify Response

Saturday, 21 October, 2017 – 09:30
File photo: An Israeli tank in the Golan Heights overlooks the Syrian village of Bariqa. Ariel Schalit/AP
Asharq Al-Awsat

The Israeli army attacked Syrian regime artillery on Saturday after fire across the armistice line hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and warned it would step up its response to stray fire from the country’s civil war.

The Bashar Assad regime controls only part of the territory on the other side of the line, with the rest in the hands of rebel groups.

But the Israeli army said it would retaliate against the Syrian forces, regardless of who was responsible for any fire and of whether it was deliberate or unintentional.

Israeli forces identified four hits from five rounds launched at the northern Golan from Syria, the army said. No damage or injuries were reported in Israel.

“In response to the projectiles that hit Israel, the Israeli army targeted three artillery cannons of the Syrian regime in the Syrian Golan Heights,” the statement said.

It warned that whether errant fire or not, any future occurrences will force the Israeli military “to intensify its response.” It held “the Syrian regime accountable for any aggression from within its territory.”

In their own statement, the Syrian regime forces warned against “such aggressive acts” and held Israel “fully responsible for the consequent results.”

Building Peace Unified

My Space in the Immense Universe

World Peace is an issue of cosmopolitan import …

It was on the 18th of August 2017 that down Ras Ramblas sad events wrote a tragedy again.Hearbreak and sorrow – the Angels of Numbers pensive …

I let down my guard and kept travelling unafraid.In a couple of weeks after the tragic incidents the Arch of Victory in Barcelona was welcoming visitors again.

Shine 100%

The Arc de Triomf in the capital of Catalonia was built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair.The architect Josep Vilaseca designed a monument of classical style and proportions as an allegory of Barcelona’s respect for the nations and provinces taking part in the exhibition.

Down Ras Ramblas St. people kept bringing flowers and candles for the innocent souls.

iPiccy-collage

It was here , then … on a peaceful summer day that the Angels of Numbers were pensive … They started flying above the Blackboard from 1 to 2,from 2…

View original post 375 more words

What’s your random superpower?

psychologistmimi

It is coming to that time of the year in which a few more superhero movies will hit the big screens and we have to decide whether we should pay over $20 a ticket to catch the flick. Yes, over $20! In Los Angeles, if you wish to see a film in 4D you are looking at paying about $25 plus the added ticket service charge fee. I’m somewhat picky about my movie going experience as a result. Except for when my son wants to see a film. Let’s face it, watching Despicable 3 versus the Lego movie is all the same to me. Not everything is awesome and not much you can do about it. I think I am a bit cranky. Could be the cleanse.

But back to superheroes. Coming up soon, we will have the opportunity to catch Thor, The Justice League and/or Star Wars. I’m not…

View original post 286 more words

Secrets Of a Pissed Off Barista

UptightPrettyGirl

People seem to think being a barista is easy, but those people are wrong. There is no easy job, you will always have to deal with weird, angry people, you will always have to put in effort, and you will always have someone who is upset with you. So in reality being a barista, working at McDonalds, working at a library, or being a successful president of a company, are all hard jobs. All are equally shitty, and all will pay you less than you deserve. Adulthood sucks.

Being a Barista is mentally and physically demanding. Most people wouldn’t think being a barista is a very mental job, but in reality it is, and it’s hard. Every week I have to go through orders and figure out how much we are going to sell, I have to lead people into doing their best. Someone is always mad at me, or wants me to lead…

View original post 418 more words

Moving from London to Frankfurt

Alisa Jordan Writes

“Why would someone leave London for Frankfurt?” Is what you may be thinking. Truth is, it was more than just the city that brought me here, but although there are a few things I wish I could have brought with me, I just can’t justify moving back to London right now. Here’s why:

Small fish in a big pond

You don’t realise how big London is until you leave. Not that that’s a bad thing but in London it’s pretty much the norm to travel for an hour (or more) just to get from A to B. I didn’t think it was a big deal either, but now that I rarely travel any longer than 30 minutes to get around, I have come to value my time so much more! More time for me, more time for exercise, socialising and personal projects, and there’s even time to do a…

View original post 378 more words

General Kelly Defends A Coward

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

 

The photo of a young Army widow clutching the flag-draped casket of her husband is daunting. Myeshia Johnson’s pain seemed to run so deep that it pierced her soul.

She had been called upon to perform a duty that only the truest of American patriots, our Gold Star families, must do — claim the body of a fallen soldier upon his return home.

On this day, it could not have mattered to the pregnant mother of two small children that Sgt. La David Johnson had joined the Army of his own free will. Perhaps the soldier did realize that there was a chance he could be killed in an ambush while serving in Niger.

This was not the day to remind his wife of that. Yet, it is what Donald Trump did in a phone call to Johnson while she rode in a car to the airport in Miami to retrieve her husband’s remains.

As it turns out, the words were not even his own.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly would have us forget about Johnson’s grief and reserve our empathy for Trump.

In a rare appearance before the news media on Thursday, Kelly reminded us that the president is, after all, inexperienced in making condolence calls to Gold Star families.

Kelly implored Americans to understand how difficult it was for someone who has never worn the uniform, who has never been in combat, to make such a call. Some presidents send a letter instead, he said. But Trump chose to call.

Our president is incapable of speaking from the heart, though. So Kelly, a retired four-star general who lost his own son in Afghanistan, stood by the president’s side and fed the words to him.

Perhaps the general found it comforting when his best friend and casualty officer told Kelly that his fallen son was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed and that he knew what he was getting into.

Myeshia Johnson clearly did not feel the same. She is said to have been devastated. In the brief conversation, Trump repeatedly referred to the soldier as “your guy,” a signal to the wife that the president didn’t even know her husband’s name.

A decent and caring person would have readily acknowledged his mistake and offered an apology. But not Trump. He acted like a coward and sent his most fearless attack dog out to deflect the issue.

The problem wasn’t what Trump said to the grieving widow, Kelly intimated. It was the fact that a Florida congresswoman, an “empty barrel” as he referred to her, spoke out about it.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson had been in the car with Johnson that day when the call came. She heard every word and was appalled that a president would speak to a grieving widow in that manner. She found it offensive and disrespectful, and she said so publicly.

Kelly was so anxious to discredit her that he mischaracterized what Wilson said in 2015 at a dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami.

Kelly made false claim about Rep. Wilson speech in dispute over Trump call »

In Kelly’s view, it is Wilson — the messenger — that Americans should take aim at. She had overheard Trump’s conversation with Myeshia Johnson and had the gall to say what she thought about it.

In response to the uproar, Trump tweeted, “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”

Kelly revealed during the news conference, albeit unintentionally, that Trump had lied. What Wilson said was true. Trump had repeated in the telephone call exactly what Kelly had told him to say.

The fact that he works for a man who is both a coward and a liar is not what concerns Kelly, though. He is most troubled that details of the telephone conversation got out.

Kelly said he is stunned that the things that were sacred in our country when he was growing up are no longer sacred. Most Americans are stunned, too.

“Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor,” Kelly said. “But that’s obviously not the case anymore.”

He could have added that his boss, the president of the United States, has contributed immensely to the growing irreverence for women.

Religion seems to be gone as well, Kelly said. He should have pointed out that no president ever has been so determined to undermine religious freedom in America as Trump.

As for the sanctity of Gold Star families, “that left in the convention over the summer,” Kelly said.

Analysis: Kelly might not be like Trump, but he seems like many Trump voters »

Kelly did not mention Trump’s brutal verbal attack on the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan after they appeared at the Democratic National Convention. But we remember Trump’s attack on the Muslim-American family well. His vile, disrespectful verbiage directed at the Khans was an affront to every military family that has lost a loved one.

This time, he once again showed a troubling lack of understanding regarding the sacrifices Gold Star families make for their country.

Trump disrespected the memory of Sgt. La David Johnson by telling his wife that the soldier knew what he was getting into when he joined the Army.

Kelly drove the knife deeper when he said the soldier was exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with, when his life was taken. If the general isn’t careful, Trump will carry him into the gutter, just has he has everyone else who tries to defend him.

Kelly knows better than anyone that there are many reasons our brave men and women enlist in the military. Wanting to die on field in a foreign land far away from home never has been one of them.

If Sgt. Johnson had a choice in his final moments of life, he undoubtedly would have chosen to be at home in Miami, surrounded by the people he loved most — his wife, his two young children and the baby he will never know.

[email protected]

Twitter @dahleeng

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