Russian president Vladimir Putin signs law to label journalists as ‘foreign agents’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

Russian president Vladimir Putin signs law to label journalists as ‘foreign agents’

Foreign agents, defined as involved in politics and receiving money from abroad, must register with the justice ministry, label publications with the tag and submit detailed paperwork or face fines.

WORLD Updated: Dec 03, 2019 06:23 IST

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Moscow
Russian legislation passed in 2012 already gave authorities the power to brand media organisations and NGOs as foreign agents, a term that has Soviet-era overtones.
Russian legislation passed in 2012 already gave authorities the power to brand media organisations and NGOs as foreign agents, a term that has Soviet-era overtones.(REUTERS FILE)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a controversial law allowing independent journalists and bloggers to be labelled as “foreign agents”, a move that critics say will violate media freedom.

Russian legislation passed in 2012 already gave authorities the power to brand media organisations and NGOs as foreign agents, a term that has Soviet-era overtones. The new law, which now extends to individuals, will come into effect immediately, according to a document published on the Russian government website.

Foreign agents, defined as involved in politics and receiving money from abroad, must register with the justice ministry, label publications with the tag and submit detailed paperwork or face fines.

Nine human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, have expressed concern that the amendments may be aimed not only at journalists, but also at bloggers and internet users who benefit from scholarships, funding or revenues from a relevant media outlet.

NGOs said in a joint statement last month the law was “a further step to restrict free and independent media” and “a strong tool to silence opposition voices”.

Authors of the bill have said it is intended to “perfect” existing legislation on “foreign agents” that already covers NGOs and media organisations. Russia says it wants the law as a tit-for-tat mechanism if its journalists are defined as foreign agents in the West. Russia first passed legislation allowing media organisations to be slapped with the label in 2017, after Kremlin-funded RT television was declared a foreign agent in the United States. Russian opposition politician Alexi Navalny’s organisation has been branded a foreign agent, as has US-financed media outlet Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

The term foreign agent was used negatively during the Stalinist era in the 1970s and 1980s for opponents accused of being paid by the West.

Russian spies likely intercepted ambassador’s cell phone call with Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Russian spies likely intercepted ambassador’s cell phone call with Trump

Washington (CNN)US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s cell phone call to President Donald Trump from a restaurant in Ukraine this summer appears to be a shocking security breach that raises significant counterintelligence concerns, according to several former officials, who told CNN there is a high probability that intelligence agencies from numerous foreign countries, including Russia, were listening in on the conversation.

“If true, the cell phone call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump is an egregious violation of traditional counterintelligence practices that all national security officials — to include political appointee ambassadors such as Sondland — are repeatedly made aware of,” according to Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer who oversaw operations in Europe and Russia before retiring this summer.
“I cannot remember in my career any time where an ambassador in a high counterintelligence environment like Kiev would have such an unsecure conversation with a sitting president. This just should not happen,” he said.
Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed during the first public impeachment hearing Wednesday that a member of his staff, who was accompanying Sondland to meetings in Kiev, saw the ambassador call Trump from his cell phone and overheard the President asking about “the investigations.”
Taylor confirmed that he had come to understand the term “investigations” meant matters related to the 2016 election and to probes of Joe and Hunter Biden and Burisma.
“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward,” Taylor told lawmakers.
The call occurred on July 26, according to Taylor — the day after Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a whistleblower complaint alleging Trump solicited “interference” from a foreign country to help his 2020 presidential campaign.
This new information could strengthen Democrats’ argument for impeachment that Trump engaged in an alleged quid pro quo but it also serves as another example of top US officials ignoring security protocols related to sensitive communications.
It remains unclear if Sondland’s cell phone was encrypted but US ambassadors do not typically have that type of protection on their mobile devices, according to current and former US government officials.
The State Department did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on whether Sondland’s cell phone was outfitted with any sort of enhanced security.
Normally, a US ambassador talking to the President would do so from the embassy using a secure line, one former intelligence official told CNN. “Of all the communications, cell phones are even more vulnerable than non-secure landlines, which are way more vulnerable than secure communications facilities,” the former official said.
That lapse was only amplified by the fact that Sondland made the call in public, where it could have been easily overheard and in a foreign country that is already being targeted by foreign adversaries of the US, including Russia, current and former officials said.

‘Crazy for today’s age’

“Why a president is talking to an ambassador on a non-encrypted telephone is crazy for today’s age, and worse in public,” said Todd Carroll, a former FBI official who served as assistant special agent in charge of the cyber and counterintelligence branch.
“Ukraine is one of the most open areas for intelligence agencies to work in. Both sides. I was told when I was there in 2010 that expect all your calls to be monitored,” Carroll added.
The Russians, in particular, maintain a particularly large intelligence presence in Ukraine and are known to target the communications of US officials.
“There is little doubt that the Russians and perhaps multiple other foreign intelligence services would have intercepted this call. Moscow undoubtedly would have been pleased,” according to Polymeropoulos.
“This would offer the Russians some important validation that President Trump was in effect doing exactly what Moscow almost certainly was already aware of: that our President was inserting a serious wedge into ongoing US security assistance programs that Ukraine so desperately needed in their ongoing battle with Russia,” he added.
Fiona Hill, a former Russia aide on Trump’s National Security Council, testified in October that she had previously tried to get Sondland to stop using his personal cell phone for work.
“I mean, some of it was comical, but it was also, for me and for others, deeply concerning. And I actually went to our Intelligence Bureau and asked to have (redacted) sit down with him and explain that this was a counterintelligence risk, particularly giving out our personal phone numbers,” Hill told House investigators.
“All of those communications could have been ex-filtrated by the Russians very easily,” she said.
CNN has previously reported that Trump was using his personal cell phone to contact outside advisers, raising concerns that his calls were vulnerable to eavesdropping from foreign governments.
“All communications devices of all senior government officials are targeted by foreign governments. This is not new,” Bryan Cunningham, executive director of the Cyber security Policy and Research Institute at the University of California-Irvine, told CNN last year.
“What is new in the cell phone age is the ease of intercepting them,” Cunningham added. “Of course, calls are only secure if both parties use a secure device.”

President Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image of Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

President Trump Tweets Sensitive Surveillance Image of Iran

A commercial satellite image from the company Maxar (bottom); the image tweeted by President Trump (top) appears to be of better quality.

(Bottom) Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies; (top) @realDonaldTrump

President Trump has tweeted what experts say is almost certainly an image from a classified satellite or drone, showing the aftermath of an accident at an Iranian space facility.

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir [Space Launch Vehicle] Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” the president said in a tweet that accompanied the image on Friday. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”

NPR broke the news of the launch failure on Thursday, using images from commercial satellites that flew over Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center. Those images showed smoke billowing from the pad. Iran has since acknowledged an accident occurred at the site.

Some of the highest-resolution imagery available commercially comes from the company Maxar, whose WorldView-2 satellite sports 46-centimeter resolution.

But the image shown in the president’s tweet appears to be of far better quality, says Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, who specializes in analyzing satellite imagery. “The resolution is amazingly high,” says Panda. “I would think it’s probably below well below 20 centimeters, which is much higher than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Panda says that the tweet discloses “some pretty amazing capabilities that the public simply wasn’t privy to before this.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence referred questions about the image to the White House, which declined to comment.

The image shows the aftermath of the accident, which experts believe took place while the rocket was being fueled. Clearly visible is the truck used to transport and erect the rocket, and the words “The product of national empowerment,” which have been written along the edge of the pad. The picture also shows extensive debris and charring around the pad.

It was not entirely clear where the president’s photo came from. Panda believes it was most likely taken by a classified U.S. satellite. But Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network at the One Earth Foundation, believes that the resolution is so high, it may be beyond the physical limits at which satellites can operate. “The atmosphere is thick enough that after somewhere around 11 to 9 centimeters, things get wonky,” she says.

That could mean it was taken by a drone or spy plane, though such a vehicle would be violating Iranian airspace. Hanham also says that the European company Airbus has been experimenting with drones that fly so high, they are technically outside the atmosphere and thus operating outside national boundaries. But she says she doesn’t know whether the U.S. has such a system.

Glare in the center of the image suggests the image in the tweet was itself a photo of a briefing slide. Panda suggests it could have been displayed on a computer screen in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. It’s also possible it was a photo of a piece of paper.

Either way, Panda notes that a small redaction in the upper left-hand corner suggests the intelligence community had cleared the image for release by the president.

But both he and Hanham question whether releasing it was a good idea. “You really risk giving away the way you know things,” Hanham says. “That allows people to adapt and hide how they carry out illicit activity.”

“These are closely held national secrets,” Panda adds. “We don’t even share a lot of this kind of imagery with our closest allies.” In tweeting it out to the world, Trump is letting Iran know exactly what the U.S. is capable of. He’s also letting others know as well, Panda says. “The Russians and the Chinese, you’re letting them know that these are the kind of things that the United States has the capability of seeing,” he says.

With additional reporting by Greg Myre and Ayda Pourasad

Trump’s G7 performance suggests he’s either a ‘Russian asset’ or a ‘useful idiot’ for Putin

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON INSIDER NEWS)

 

US spies say Trump’s G7 performance suggests he’s either a ‘Russian asset’ or a ‘useful idiot’ for Putin

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump returns after travelling to the AMVETS convention in Kentucky, at the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Tasos Katopodis
President Donald Trump.
 Reuters

Analysis banner

  • Current and former spies are floored by President Donald Trump’s fervent defense of Russia at this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz, France.
  • “It’s hard to see the bar anymore since it’s been pushed so far down the last few years, but President Trump’s behavior over the weekend was a new low,” one FBI agent who works in counterintelligence told Insider.
  • At the summit, Trump aggressively lobbied for Russia to be readmitted into the G7, refused to hold it accountable for violating international law, blamed former President Barack Obama for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • One former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was the FBI director, told Insider Trump’s behavior was “directly out of the Putin playbook. We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.”
  • A former CIA operative told Insider the evidence is “overwhelming” that Trump is a Russian agent, but another CIA and NSA veteran said it was more likely Trump was currying favor with Putin for future business deals.
  • Meanwhile, a recently retired FBI special agent told Insider that Trump’s freewheeling and often unfounded statements make it more likely that he’s a “useful idiot” for the Russians. But “it would not surprise me in the least if the Russians had at least one asset in Trump’s inner circle.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“It’s hard to see the bar anymore since it’s been pushed so far down the last few years, but President Trump’s behavior over the weekend was a new low.”

That was the assessment an FBI agent who works in counterintelligence gave Insider of President Donald Trump’s performance at this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz, France. The agent requested anonymity because they feared that speaking publicly on the matter would jeopardize their job.

Trump’s attendance at the G7 summit was peppered with controversy, but none was more notable than his fervent defense of Russia’s military and cyber aggression around the world, and its violation of international law in Ukraine.

Trump repeatedly refused to hold Russia accountable for annexing Crimea in 2014, blamed former President Barack Obama for Russia’s move to annex it, expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and castigated other G7 members for not giving the country a seat at the table.

Since being booted from the G8 after annexing Crimea, Russia’s done little to make up for its actions. In fact, by many accounts, it’s stepped up its aggression.

In addition to continuing to encroach on Ukraine, the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US election and was behind the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in the UK. US officials also warn that as the 2020 election looms, the Russians are stepping up their cyberactivities against the US and have repeatedly tried to attack US power grids.

“What in God’s name made Trump think it would be a good idea to ask to bring Russia back to the table?” the FBI agent told Insider. “How does this serve US national-security interests?”

Trump’s advocacy for Russia is renewing concerns among intelligence veterans that Trump may be a Russian “asset” who can be manipulated or influenced to serve Russian interests, although some also speculate that Trump could just be currying favor for future business deals.

Read more: DOJ watchdog finds James Comey violated FBI policy by sharing memo with The New York Times

‘We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office’

Donald Trump Sergey Lavrov Sergey Kislyak
Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP

A former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was FBI director, didn’t mince words when reacting to Trump’s performance at the G7 summit: “We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.”

“There is no fathomable explanation for why the president said these things,” the former official said. “Letting Russia off the hook for bullying smaller countries and then blaming Obama for it? It’s directly out of the Putin playbook.”

While arguing for Russia to be invited back into the G7, Trump said the country would be helpful in addressing hot-button issues like Iran, Syria, and North Korea and that the alliance was better off with Russia “inside rather than outside.”

But Russia is a staunch ally of Syria’s Assad regime, and it’s also cozied up to Iran in recent years. US military and intelligence officials view Russia as one of the US’s foremost rivals and believe it generally stands in opposition to American interests.

Glenn Carle, a former CIA covert operative and frequent Trump critic, told Insider there’s been “no question” in his mind for years that the president is behaving like “a spy for the Russians.”

“The evidence is so overwhelming that in my 35 years in intelligence, I have never seen anything so certain,” Carle said, adding that he’s spoken with several intelligence veterans about the matter in the four years since Trump first launched his presidential campaign, many of whom believe Trump’s actions are a threat to national security.

Read more: Russia came out the winner of this year’s G7 summit despite being kicked out, and Trump looked like ‘Putin’s puppet’

“Intelligence assets become convinced to be spies for multiple reasons,” Carle, who specialized in getting foreign spies to become turncoats when he was at the CIA, said in an earlier interview with Insider. “It might start with kompromat or financial hooks, and the asset may be convinced he is acting as a patriot until he becomes accustomed to his role.”

“Trump clearly responds favorably to praise,” he said. “And over the years, the handling officer — Putin, in this case — realizes what the asset wants, and that’s what they provide. Trump wants to be told he’s the greatest, so that’s what you tell him, over and over again, until he comes to believe that is the motivation for his actions.”

‘A useful idiot’ or ‘currying favor’

trump putinReuters

Frank Montoya Jr., a recently retired FBI special agent, told Insider it’s “hard not to think the Russians have an asset in the White House.”

But he added that Trump’s freewheeling and often false statements imply he’s “not playing with a full deck on any matter of state these days. Still, those same delusions are what give me pause when conclusions are reached about the likelihood he is a Russian asset.”

“Useful idiot is more like it,” Montoya said. But he added that given the abundance of meetings and contacts between Trump associates and Russians before, during, and after the election, “it would not surprise me in the least if the Russians had at least one asset in Trump’s inner circle.”

Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the CIA and the National Security Agency, agreed that Trump was catering to Putin’s interests, but he disagreed on why.

“I think what’s going on right now is an Occam’s razor scenario,” he told Insider, referring to the philosophical theory that the simplest explanation for an event is often the correct one.

“Trump wants to do deals with Russia when he leaves the presidency,” Deitz said. “We already know he was interested in building a Trump Tower in Moscow before and during the election. The best way of doing a deal with Putin is to be nice to him, so I think what Trump is doing is currying favor.”

He emphasized, however, that regardless of Trump’s motives for being subservient to Putin, “it’s still harmful” to US interests.

“When Trump goes to bed each night, what do you think his last thoughts are: the welfare of the United States, or the size of his bank account?” Deitz added.

Trump’s defense of Putin at the G7 summit didn’t go unnoticed in Russia.

According to The Washington Post, one show on the state-run Rossiya-1 network played a celebratory soundtrack as it showed six video clips of Trump demanding that Putin be given a seat at the table.

The Russian media analyst Julia Davis said that Kremlin-controlled media reacted to Trump’s G7 performance with laughter and mockery.

One anchor rejoiced that “Trump is dancing to Putin’s tune,” while others were amused by the “maniacal persistence” with which Trump was lobbying for Russia.

Read more: Trump’s G7 performance shows how he’s living in a totally different reality and isolating the US from the rest of the world

A familiar pattern emerges

trump putin
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

This isn’t the first time the president has been accused of working to advance Russia’s interests ahead of the US’s.

Perhaps the sharpest example of this was when Trump and Putin held a bilateral summit in Helsinki last year. After the meeting, Trumpstunned the US national-security apparatus and foreign allies when he sided with Russia over the US intelligence community, blamed “both sides” for the deterioration of US-Russia relations, and praised Putin as being “extremely strong and powerful.”

In 2017, Trump refused to accept the US intelligence-community finding that Moscow meddled in the 2016 race to propel Trump to the presidency.

That May, he fired FBI director James Comey, who was overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference and cited “this Russia thing” as the reason. Two days after firing Comey, Trump shared classified intelligence with two Russian officials in the Oval Office and told them firing Comey had taken “great pressure” off of him.

Shortly after, the FBI began investigating whether Trump was a Russian agent.

Saudi’s: Shin Bet Breaks Up Iranian Espionage Network in Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ ALAWSAT)

 

Shin Bet Breaks Up Iranian Espionage Network in Israel

Thursday, 25 July, 2019 – 08:30
Israeli security forces stand in Jerusalem’s Old City, March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Tel Aviv – Asharq Al-Awsat
The Shin Bet intelligence agency said Wednesday that it busted an Iranian espionage network that aimed to recruit operatives in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip “for the benefit of Iranian intelligence.”

The Shin Bet cooperated with Israeli police, the army and other security bodies in this regard.

According to a statement issued by the agency, the network was based in Syria under Iranian guidance and was led by a Syrian operative nicknamed ‘Abu Jihad.’ It attempted to recruit people via preliminary contacts based on fictitious Facebook profiles and later messaging apps.

“Using social networks to recruit people is a method known to intelligence elements including those affiliated with terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The affair joins other recent events in which terrorist elements (including those from Hamas and Hezbollah) have established contacts with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians over the internet in order to recruit them for intelligence gathering and terrorist activity,” revealed the statement.

The Shin Bet added that those who have been recruited were asked to collect information on military bases, sensitive security installations, VIPs, police stations and hospitals, in order to prepare targets for terrorist attacks in Israel at the behest of Iran.

The statement went on, “The internet activity was identified and monitored by the Israeli intelligence community at the outset by closely monitoring both the handlers abroad and people in Israel and West Bank who expressed willingness to cooperate with them.

Beginning in April 2019, an extensive operation was launched against operatives in Israel and the West Bank including several Israeli citizens who are suspected of having been in contact with Iranian operatives.

The Shin Bet said that the investigation revealed the connection with the Syria-based handlers developed to the level of passing information and directives to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, both civilian and military.

However, “the operations have shown that the absolute majority of Israeli citizens refused to cooperate with those who contacted them,” the Shin Bet added.

Iran says it arrested 17 Iranians allegedly recruited by CIA

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ABC NEWS)

 

Iran says it arrested 17 Iranians allegedly recruited by CIA

PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday, July 10, 2019.Lisi Niesner/Reuters
WATCHIran claims to have captured spies working for CIA

Iran said Monday it has arrested 17 Iranian nationals allegedly recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on the country’s nuclear and military sites, and that some of them have already been sentenced to death.

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The arrests took place over the past months, and those taken into custody worked on “sensitive sites” in the country’s military and nuclear facilities, an Iranian intelligence official told a press conference in Tehran. He did not elaborate, say how many of them were sentenced to death or when the sentences were handed down.

President Donald Trump tweeted that the claim had “zero truth,” calling Iran a “total mess.”

The announcement comes as Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers is unraveling and tensions have spiked in the Persian Gulf region. The crisis stems from Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the agreement last year and intensify sanctions on the country.

The Iranian official did not give his name but was identified as the director of the counterespionage department of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. It’s rare in Iran for intelligence officials to appear before media, or for any official to give a press conference without identifying himself.

The official claimed that none of the 17, who allegedly had “sophisticated training,” had succeeded in their sabotage missions. Their spying missions included collecting information at the facilities where they worked, carrying out technical and intelligence activities, and transferring and installing monitoring devices, he said.

The official further claimed the CIA had promised U.S. visas or jobs in America and that some of the agents had turned and were now working with his department “against the U.S.”

He also handed out a CD with a video recording of an alleged foreign female spy working for the CIA. The disc also included names of several U.S. Embassy staff in Turkey, India, Zimbabwe and Austria who Iran claims were in touch with the recruited Iranian spies.

Trump rejected the allegations.

“The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do. Their Economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!” he tweeted.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former CIA director, declined on Monday to address specifics of the arrests. But he added that “the Iranian regime has a long history of lying.”

Pompeo pointed to differences between the U.S. and Iranian accounts of the location of an unmanned U.S. drone the Iranians shot down in June, among other incidents.

“I think everyone should take with a grain of salt everything that the Islamic Republic of Iran asserts today,” he said. “They have 40 years of history of them lying, so we should all be cautious reporting things that the Iranian leadership tells us.”

Pompeo, speaking to The Associated Press over the phone, said that the world is “watching the Iranian regime understand that they’ve got a real challenge, that America and the world understands that they are a rogue regime conducting terror campaigns.”

Iran occasionally announces the detention of people it says are spying for foreign countries, including the U.S. and Israel. In June, Iran said it executed a former staff member of the Defense Ministry who was convicted of spying for the CIA.

In April, Iran said it uncovered 290 CIA spies both inside and outside the country over the past years.

———

Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed.

China Snares Tourists’ Phones in Surveillance Dragnet by Adding Secret App

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

China Snares Tourists’ Phones in Surveillance Dragnet by Adding Secret App

Border authorities routinely install the app on the phones of people entering the Xinjiang region by land from Central Asia, gathering personal data and scanning for material considered objectionable.

Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous in China’s Xinjiang region.CreditGreg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
ImageSurveillance cameras are ubiquitous in China’s Xinjiang region.
CreditCreditGreg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIJING — China has turned its western region of Xinjiang into a police state with few modern parallels, employing a combination of high-tech surveillance and enormous manpower to monitor and subdue the area’s predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.

Now, the digital dragnet is expanding beyond Xinjiang’s residents, ensnaring tourists, traders and other visitors — and digging deep into their smartphones.

A team of journalists from The New York Times and other publications examined a policing app used in the region, getting a rare look inside the intrusive technologies that China is deploying in the name of quelling Islamic radicalism and strengthening Communist Party rule in its Far West. The use of the app has not been previously reported.

China’s border authorities routinely install the app on smartphones belonging to travelers who enter Xinjiang by land from Central Asia, according to several people interviewed by the journalists who crossed the border recently and requested anonymity to avoid government retaliation. Chinese officials also installed the app on the phone of one of the journalists during a recent border crossing. Visitors were required to turn over their devices to be allowed into Xinjiang.

The app gathers personal data from phones, including text messages and contacts. It also checks whether devices are carrying pictures, videos, documents and audio files that match any of more than 73,000 items included on a list stored within the app’s code.

Those items include Islamic State publications, recordings of jihadi anthems and images of executions. But they also include material without any connection to Islamic terrorism, an indication of China’s heavy-handed approach to stopping extremist violence. There are scanned pages from an Arabic dictionary, recorded recitations of Quran verses, a photo of the Dalai Lama and even a song by a Japanese band of the earsplitting heavy-metal style known as grindcore.

“The Chinese government, both in law and practice, often conflates peaceful religious activities with terrorism,” Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said. “You can see in Xinjiang, privacy is a gateway right: Once you lose your right to privacy, you’re going to be afraid of practicing your religion, speaking what’s on your mind or even thinking your thoughts.”

The United States has condemned Beijing for the crackdown in Xinjiang, which Chinese officials defend as a nonlethal way of fighting terrorism. The region is home to many of the country’s Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, and the Chinese government has blamed Islamic extremism and Uighur separatism for deadly attacks on Chinese targets.

In the past few years, China has placed hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other Muslims in re-education camps in Xinjiang. For the region’s residents, police checkpoints and surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition technology have imbued life with a corrosive fear of acting out of turn.

Image

A book about Syria’s civil war is one of the files that the Fengcai app checks a phone’s contest against.
CreditOxford University Press
Image

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, whom China considers a dangerous separatist.
CreditSanjay Baid/EPA, via Shutterstock

With the scanning of phones at the border, the Chinese government is applying similarly invasive monitoring techniques to people who do not even live in Xinjiang or China. Beijing has said that terrorist groups use Central Asian countries as staging grounds for attacks in China.

Three people who crossed the Xinjiang land border from Kyrgyzstan in the past year said that as part of a lengthy inspection, Chinese border officials had demanded that visitorsunlock and hand over their handsets and computers. On Android devices, officers installed an app called Fengcai (pronounced “FUNG-tsai”), a name that evokes bees collecting pollen.

A copy of Fengcai was examined by journalists from The New York Times; the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung; the German broadcaster NDR; The Guardian; and Motherboard, the Vice Media technology site.

One of the journalists undertook the border crossing in recent months. Holders of Chinese passports, including members of the majority Han ethnic group, had their phones checked as well, the journalist said.

Apple devices were not spared scrutiny. Visitors’ iPhones were unlocked and connected via a USB cable to a hand-held device, the journalist said. What the device did could not be determined.

The journalists also asked researchers at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany and the Open Technology Fund, an initiative funded by the United States government under Radio Free Asia, to analyze the code of the Android app, Fengcai. The Open Technology Fund then requested and funded an assessment of the app by Cure53, a cybersecurity company in Berlin.

The app’s simple design makes the inspection process easy for border officers to carry out. After Fengcai is installed on a phone, the researchers found, it gathers all stored text messages, call records, contacts and calendar entries, as well as information about the device itself. The app also checks the files on the phone against the list of more than 73,000 items.

This list contains only the size of each file and a code that serves as a unique signature. It does not include the files’ names or other information that would indicate what they are.

But at the journalists’ request, researchers at the Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog group based at the University of Toronto, obtained information about roughly 1,400 of the files by comparing their signatures with ones stored by VirusTotal, a malware-scanning service owned by the Google sibling company Chronicle. Additional files were identified by Vinny Troia, the founder of the cybersecurity firm NightLion Security, and York Yannikos of the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology in Darmstadt, Germany.

Most of the files that the journalists could identify were related to Islamic terrorism: Islamic State recruitment materials in several languages, books written by jihadi figures, information about how to derail trains and build homemade weapons.

Vehicles belonging to Uighur drivers being inspected at a police checkpoint in the Xinjiang region.CreditAndy Wong/Associated Press
ImageVehicles belonging to Uighur drivers being inspected at a police checkpoint in the Xinjiang region.
CreditAndy Wong/Associated Press

Many of the files were more benign. There were audio recordings of Quran verses recited by well-known clerics, the sort of material that many practicing Muslims might have on their phones. There were books about Arabic language and grammar, and a copy of “The Syrian Jihad,” a book about the country’s civil war by the researcher Charles R. Lister.

Mr. Lister said he did not know why the Chinese authorities might consider him or his book suspicious. He speculated that it might only be because the word “jihad” was in the title.

Other files the app scans for have no link to Islam or Islamic extremism. There are writings by the Dalai Lama, whom China considers a dangerous separatist, and a photograph of him. There is a summary of “The 33 Strategies of War,” a book by the author Robert Greene on applying strategic thinking to everyday life.

“It’s a bit of a mystery to me,” Mr. Greene said, when told that his book had been flagged.

There is also, puzzlingly, an audio file of a metal song: “Cause and Effect,” by the Japanese band Unholy Grave. The reason for the song’s inclusion was not clear, and an email sent to an address on Unholy Grave’s website was not answered.

After Fengcai scans a phone, the app generates a report containing all contacts, text messages and call records, as well as lists of calendar entries and of other apps installed on the device. It sends this information to a server.

Two of the people who recently crossed the Xinjiang border said that before officials returned phones to their owners, they took photos of each owner’s passport next to his or her device, making sure that the app was visible on the screen.

This suggests that the authorities have been told to be thorough in scanning visitors’ phones, although it was not clear how they were using the information they acquired as a result. It also could not be determined whether anyone had been detained or monitored because of information generated by the app. If Fengcai remains on a person’s phone after it is installed, it does not continue scanning the device in the background, the app’s code indicates.

Officials in Xinjiang are now gathering oceans of personal information, including DNA and data about people’s movements. It would not be surprising for the Chinese authorities to want this harvesting of data to begin at the region’s borders.

China’s Ministry of Public Security and the Xinjiang regional government did not respond to faxed requests for comment.

Names that appear in Fengcai’s source code suggest that the app was made by a unit of FiberHome, a producer of optical cable and telecom equipment that is partly owned by the Chinese state. The unit, Nanjing FiberHome StarrySky Communication Development Company, says on its website that it offers products to help the police collect and analyze data, and that it has signed agreements with security authorities across China.

FiberHome and StarrySky did not respond to requests for comment.

According to StarrySky’s website, the company offers “cellphone forensic equipment,” which it says can extract, analyze and recover data from mobile phones.

On another page, StarrySky says the purpose of its “smart policing” products is “to let there be not a bad guy in the world who is hard to catch.”

Karam Shoumali contributed reporting from Berlin.

Raymond Zhong is a technology reporter. Prior to joining The Times in 2017, he covered India’s fast-moving economy from New Delhi for The Wall Street Journal. @zhonggg

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Trusting The Government: U.S., Russia, China, North Korea, All The Same?

Trusting The Government: U.S., Russia, China, North Korea, All The Same?

 

I was born in the mid 1950’s and grew up watching Walter Cronkite deliver the evening news. Mr. Cronkite was by most considered to be the “most trusted man in America.” Whom is it that you totally trust the most in American news media or within the political realm today? With all the news outlets of today all trying to get you to watch or listen to them I find it difficult to put much trust in any of them. There are two main reasons for that, one is that each of these outlets are companies, they are ‘for profit’. Two is the consideration of where are they getting their information?

 

I am in my early 60’s now so during the past 50 years or so we here in the U.S. have been constantly told that we are the good guys and governments who are Communist are the bad guys. From all of the reading and studying that I have done over the years I really don’t doubt that these Communists governments are far less than friendly toward their own population nor to others. Communists seem to think military first and usually military only and it is a proven fact that very few people who are military oriented are very good public leaders. Military frame of mind and civilian frame of mind seldom seem to end up within the same person. Then again within the non-communists countries the people have to put up with politicians who seem to change their mind like farts in a breeze. Here in the U.S. we the people have learned a lot since the NSA murdered John and Bobby Kennedy back in the 60’s. When Nixon was President he illegally expanded the war in Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia. We had military personal who died there or were captured there that our government turned their back on as well as their families basically saying they must have deserted. When the U.S. officially left Vietnam Nixon got on TV and said there were no more POWs in southeast Asia, knowing very well that he was lying to the people. Reality comes down to the fact of truth or not the truth, trust or not being able to trust.

 

Now I am going to talk about current events here in the U.S. and this reality of trust or no trust. On a personal level can you trust a person on really serious matters when you absolutely know as a fact that they have lied to you many many occasions?  In the last 24-36 hours we have been hearing on the news that Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. spy drone. The early news strongly hinted that the drone was over Iranian land which by all forms of international law would have been a violation committed by the Americans and Iran would have had every right to shoot it down. By international law every country which borders a body of water has 12 miles sovereignty except for China’s Communists government who seems to want to claim at least a few thousand miles sovereignty but that is another story for other articles. Now the U.S. government is saying that the drone was 21 miles off of Iran’s coast and if this is true then basically Iran committed and act of war against the U.S. and the U.S. government would have the right to retaliate against Iran. The issue is, how can we trust our own government when they and especially our President is a habitual liar? President George W. Bush’s lies paved the way for us to start a war with Iraq. Personally I believe that he was just trying to show his Daddy that he could ‘one-up’ him and take out Saddam. Think of the cost of those lies in terms of thousands of people dead and about a trillion dollars of taxpayer money thrown into that bloodbath. Today’s news headline said that some of the Republicans in the Senate were upset that President Trump called off a bombing raid in Iran that would have started an all out war with them and their allies. Going to war with anyone should not be a partisan matter and going to war should not be in the hands of one person. If we are going to enter a war this war should be voted on and passed by at least 2/3 of the Congress and the Senate. This is not a computer game, many thousands of people will die. So, what is the truth on this matter, can you or I honestly trust anything that Mr. Trump says? Personally I don’t. Credibility is something that our leaders no longer have, their word is not good enough any more. If we go to war with Iran they have many allies including many sleeper cells within our own borders, many Americans on American land will die, life as we have always know it here in the States will be over. But, how the hell can we the people ever know if what we are being told is the truth, or just another lie.

 

About Iran Shooting Down That U.S. Drone

About Iran Shooting Down That U.S. Drone

 

This is just a short commentary about Iran shooting down a U.S. drone. President Trump seems to be all upset about Iran doing that but should he or we be upset about it?  By what I have been able to read on this issue I would like to bring two points to light. First is the cost of that drone, said to be $222.7 million dollars, thats crazy expensive, there are countries that don’t have a GDP that big. To me it seems that the maker of the drone is laying the screws to the American taxpayer. But second, by the material being put out to the public so far it seems that this drone was over Iranian land cruising and spying at 60,000 feet. If Iran, Russia, China or any other country did this spying over U.S. property we would be very pissed about it and maybe even threatening military payback for this ‘crime’. If this drone was over Iranian territory they had every right to shoot it down. Who the hell do we (the American government) think we are talking crap about retaliation when it was us that was in the wrong? I know that the Iranian government is a friend to no one and that their government is a pariah on the human race but we still have no ‘legal’ right to be flying over their land. What did we expect from their military, to look up, smile and wave while flipping the drone the Bird?

Most cyber attacks on China originate from US: report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHANGHAI CHINA’S ‘SHINE’ NEWS NETWORK)

 

Most cyber attacks on China originate from US: report

Xinhua

Most of the cyber attacks targeting Chinese networks in 2018 have originated from the United States, according to an annual report released by China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team on Monday.

In terms of Trojan and botnet activities, CNCERT found that 3.34 million computers on the Chinese mainland were controlled by more than 14,000 Trojan or botnet command and control servers (C&C servers) in the United States in 2018, up 90.8 percent from the C&C server number in 2017.

It also reported that 3,325 IP addresses in the United States, up 43 percent from 2017, planted Trojans in 3,607 websites on the Chinese mainland.

In the above two categories, the United States topped the list of overseas sources of cyber attacks targeting computers and websites on the Chinese mainland, according to the organization.

Established in 2002, the CNCERT is a non-governmental organization of network security technical coordination.

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