U.S. Officials: Russian Operatives Tried To Use Trump Advisers To Infiltrate Campaign

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) The FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign, according to US officials.

The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump’s campaign associates and the Russians.
These officials made clear they don’t know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.
Page disputes the idea he has ever collected intelligence for the Russians, saying he helped the US intelligence community. “My assumption throughout the last 26 years I’ve been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government … as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past.”
But the intelligence suggests Russia tried to infiltrate the inner-workings of the Trump campaign by using backdoor channels to communicate with people in the Trump orbit, US officials say.
Page is one of several Trump advisers US and European intelligence found to be in contact with Russian officials and other Russians known to Western intelligence during the campaign, according to multiple US officials.
The scope and frequency of those contacts raised the interest of US intelligence agencies.
The FBI and CIA declined to comment on Page’s statement.
In 2013, Page had meetings with a Russian man who turned out to be a spy, according to federal prosecutors. Page denied knowing that the man, Victor Podobnyy, was secretly a Russian operative living in New York.
As CNN first reported, Carter Page’s speech critical of US policy against Russia in July 2016 at a prominent Moscow university drew the attention of the FBI and raised concerns he had been compromised by Russian intelligence, according to US officials. They also feared that Russian operatives maintained contact with him both in the United States and Russia, US officials say.
His conversations with suspected Russian operatives are being examined as part of a large intelligence-gathering operation by the FBI and other US agencies that was set up to probe Russia’s interference in the election. The officials would not say what the conversations were about.
How Page’s name became associated with the campaign is a reflection of how minimal the Trump operation was last year, as establishment national security figures avoided an association with the insurgent operation.
As Trump prepared to meet with The Washington Post editorial page in March 2016, the campaign was under pressure to name national security advisers. Staffers produced a list of names for Trump to refer to, according to a US official close to the campaign. Trump mentioned Page, in part because he had a Ph.D. listed next to his name, the official said.
Trump had never met Page. Sam Clovis, co-chairman of the campaign, helped gather the names that the candidate used.
Campaign officials say there’s no indication Page ever attended any national security meetings at Trump Tower. They insisted he played a junior role and was not an influential figure.
But in a letter Page wrote to the House Intelligence committee offering to testify, Page describes more interactions with the campaign.
“For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year.”
The FBI had Page on their radar for at least four years, according to court documents and US officials.
The bureau also knew about Page from its 2013 investigation into a Russian spy ring in New York. One of the spies was taped saying he tried to recruit Page, and Page admitted meeting him. But Page says he didn’t share anything sensitive and didn’t know he was talking to a spy.
He also traveled to Russia frequently and interacted with officials that the FBI was concerned were acting on behalf of the government.
His trip to Russia in July 2016 revived the FBI’s interest, when he delivered a lecture at a graduation ceremony for the New Economic School. The university opened after the fall of the Soviet Union and is ranked as one of the best universities for economics in Russia. Former President Barack Obama gave a speech there during his first official trip to Russia in 2009.
But Page’s lecture sounded different than what would be expected from most Americans. He parroted Kremlin talking points by chastising the West for prolonging “Cold War tendencies.”
“Ironically, Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change,” he said, adding that US foreign policy toward Russia was “condescending” and “hostile.”
Page stressed to the audience that he was there as a private citizen and not a Trump surrogate. But a spokesman for the school told CNN that Page’s ties to Trump helped secure the invitation.
“The organizing committee for the commencement last year thought that he was a colorful and interesting character,” said Denis Klimentov, a spokesman for the New Economic School. “It was partially supported by the fact that The Washington Post, the newspaper, back in the spring of 2016, cited Carter as one of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy advisors.”
Page maintains that he only met with “scholars and professors” during his July trip. Klimentov said that the New Economic School didn’t arrange any meetings on Page’s behalf.
“Physically and technically, frankly speaking, I don’t think he had any time for that, he was with the school pretty much during most of the day, both days, and the remaining half of the day that he was in Moscow,” Klimentov said.
But a former Obama administration official briefed on Russia’s meddling in the election says Russians who work at prominent think tanks, universities and businesses often play an informal intelligence role.
“There are very few agencies of any kind that don’t have some sort of intelligence or counterintelligence role,” the official told CNN. “If you run an organization in Russia government, you will now have a role in that. It’s the explicit mission of Russian government agencies.”
Shortly after Page returned to the US, he and other Trump advisers headed to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. On the sidelines of a convention-related event, Page and other Trump advisers, including JD Gordon and Jeff Sessions, met with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
Two months after Page’s trip, the FBI sought and received a warrant from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor Page’s communications.
When he returned to Moscow in December 2016, after Trump won the election, Russian state-run media widely covered and promoted his trip, including RT and Sputnik, which have been identified by the US intelligence community as tools for the Kremlin’s propaganda.
RT published stories on all three days of Page’s trip. Sputnik published an 800-word roundup of the presentation and press conference he gave at the state-run news agency’s headquarters. The RT affiliate Ruptly quickly published the full video of his second presentation and press conference.
That speech was given under the auspices of the Russian government: The event was held at the headquarters of the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, a state-run media company created in 2013 by an official decree from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Not only did Russian state-run media cover the trip, but a prominent government-run think tank involved in election-meddling efforts put out a press release heralding Page’s visit.
The leader of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studie, Leonid Reshetnikov, painted Page as an influential adviser to Trump and said his visit could help improve US-Russian relations.
“It’s quite possible that Trump’s advisor is a pragmatist and a realist,” Reshetnikov said, according to a translation of his comments in Russian. “This is probably not an ordinary visit. He has probably received some instructions from the President-elect. I don’t think that meetings at the highest level will take place, but (the possibility) cannot be excluded.”
Reuters reported this week that the group was involved in Russia’s efforts to interfere in the US election. The organization sent recommendations to top Kremlin leaders with plans of how to use its propaganda machine to help Trump and undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The FBI and other US agencies have been combing through information obtained through that FISA as part of its ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.
Intelligence analysts and FBI investigators who analyzed various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records have found signs of possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials. But there is not enough evidence to show that crimes were committed, US officials say.
Part of the problem for investigators has been that they lost their opportunity to conduct the investigation in secret after several leaks last year revealed FBI was looking at people close to the Trump campaign. After those reports, people that the US was monitoring changed their behavior, which made it more difficult for US officials to monitor them.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo: WikiLeaks Is A ‘Hostile Intelligence Service’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

CIA director Mike Pompeo: WikiLeaks is a ‘hostile intelligence service’

Story highlights

  • Pompeo made a public appearance and blasted WikiLeaks
  • “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is”
  • He also offered his take on threats from Iran and North Korea

Washington (CNN) CIA director Mike Pompeo gave a speech Thursday, railing against WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.”

His appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, among his first forays into the public eye since being confirmed, came several months after WikiLeaks’ publishing stolen emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta as well as the Democratic National Committee and just over a month since WikiLeaks published a trove of files it said were from the CIA. The CIA has neither confirmed nor denied their veracity.
In his Thursday speech, Pompeo accused WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, a former contractor who leaked NSA documents to journalists, of disseminating classified information to “make a name for themselves.”
Pompeo has in the past called for Snowden to receive the death penalty.
He said people at the CIA found praise for WikiLeaks “both perplexing and deeply troubling.”
“As long as they make a splash, they care nothing about the lives they put at risk or the damage they cause to national security,” Pompeo said. “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors, like Russia.”
During the question and answer portion of the event, Pompeo said because Assange was not a US citizen and lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, he “has no First Amendment freedoms.”
Although WikiLeaks describes itself as a media organization exposing powerful governments and companies, Pompeo said he viewed this as false.
“These are not reporters doing good work,” Pompeo said. “These are people who are actively recruiting agents.”
Pompeo said past administrations had been “squeamish” about going after people who published secrets he considered harmful to the US.
During the campaign rally in October, Trump said he loved WikiLeaks and regularly touted their disclosures. For a time before taking office, Trump did not endorse a report from the US intelligence community accusing Russia of being behind the hacks and using WikiLeaks to disseminate them in order to hurt the Clinton campaign.
Russia has denied any wrongdoing, and Assange has said WikiLeaks’ source was not Russia.
WikiLeaks responded to Pompeo’s comments in part by referencing a now deleted tweet he sent during the campaign referencing WikiLeaks’ DNC trove.

Iran and North Korea

Until Trump tapped him to lead the CIA, Pompeo was a Republican member of Congress from Kansas. He was an outspoken critic of the Obama administration and the US nuclear agreement with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.
As CIA director speaking at CSIS on Thursday, he was considerably less outspoken about his issues with the Iran deal, but did say Iranians were “on the march” and cited missile launches, their support of the Houthis in Yemen and military involvement in Iraq in the past two years.
“The list of Iranian transgressions has increased dramatically since the date that the JCPOA was signed,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo said he viewed working with both European and Middle Eastern allies as integral to countering Iran, but also said the US’ recent cruise missile strike on Syria likely sent a message of US strength to Iran.
“What I mean by that is, this was a decision-making process that was decisive, thoughtful and truly based on a factual understanding of the geopolitical importance of the things that are facing our nation today.”
He went on to say the Iranians “ought to take note of the fact that this administration” is willing to take different measures than past administrations.
Pompeo also spoke about nuclear proliferation in North Korea and the potential of another nuclear weapons test in the coming days.
“Multiple administrations have tried to deal with the threat of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of putting a nuclear warhead into the United States, and we’re simply closer now than we have ever been at any time in North Korea’s history,” he said. “As the knowledge base increases and the capacity to deliver that increases and draws closer, it both reduces the option set to prevent it and makes more likely that you get a bad decision on a tough day from the leader of North Korea.”
Like Trump, Pompeo said China was of utmost importance to solving the issue.
Asked if there was hope China could turn back or end the North Korean nuclear weapons program, Pompeo said, “I’m counting on it.”

Mr. Putin Seeks a Meeting With Mr. Trump In Helsinki Finland In May

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

(Are the people of Russia and the people of the U.S. really enemies of each other, no I do not believe so personally. It is the ego’s and the distrust of Nation’s Leaders toward each other, both the Civilian and the Military/Intelligence Leaderships. This is something the Media doesn’t need to be trying to become the ‘news maker’. The world is better off if the U.S. along with all of Europe, Israel and Russia are honestly friendly with each other.)–this opinion by trs.

Putin seeks Trump meeting in Helsinki in May
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 'Arctic: Territory of Dialogue' International Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia, 30 March 2017Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Putin said he would be “glad” to meet Mr Trump at a summit of the Arctic Council in Helsinki

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would like to meet US President Donald Trump at an Arctic nations summit in Finland in May.

He again rejected allegations that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

And he said sanctions against Russia were also hurting the US and Europe.

Mr Trump had voiced hopes for improved relations with Moscow, but he has been dogged by claims of links between his election campaign and Russia.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and both houses of the US Congress are investigating alleged Russian interference in the election.

Russia ‘tried to hijack US election’, Senate hearing told

Mr Putin, speaking at an Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia, said he would be “glad” to meet Mr Trump at a summit of the Arctic Council in Helsinki in May.

“Both side should prepare such events,” he said. “If not, then such a meeting could take place within the framework of the usual meetings, at the G20.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, whose country is due to take the rotating leadership of the Arctic Council, said he would be honoured to host such a meeting.

The G20 summit of world powers is set to convene in the northern German city of Hamburg in early July.

Donald Trump (file pic)Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Mr Trump says claims of collusion between his campaign and Russia are “fake news”

Mr Putin criticised “endless and groundless” allegations that Russia interfered in the US election, and what he termed the use of the “Russian card” in US politics.

“Do we want to completely cut relations?” he asked. “Do we want to bring the situation to what it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s?

“I very much hope that sometime – the sooner the better – the situation will return to normal. I very much hope that we’ll… improve Russian-American relations, for the good of our people’s, and for the whole world.”

Mr Putin said he would support President Trump in fighting terrorism, and co-operate with the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency.

He added that he was ready to work with the new US presidential administration on fighting Islamic State in Syria.

Earlier this year, Slovenia offered to host a meeting between Mr Putin and Mr Trump. Mr Putin offered thanks, but said it would depend on Washington.

Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Crimea and its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Trump The Moron At It Again: Saying Obama Got The British Intelligence Agency To Spy On Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

White House Seeks to Allay British Concerns Over Unfounded Wiretapping Claim

11:43 AM ET
White House officials tried to calm the concerns of British allies after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated an unfounded claim that the British spy service spied on President Trump. But the White House is stopping short of saying it offered an apology to its closest foreign ally.

“[British Ambassador to the U.S.] Kim Darroch and [National Security Advisor] Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said Friday. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”

Several British outlets reported Friday that the White House apologized to the U.K. government, but the White House would not confirm those accounts.

The row began Thursday, as Spicer repeated the claim of Fox News personality Andrew Napolitano, who suggested that former President Obama had ordered GCHQ, the U.K.’s equivalent of the National Security Agency, to spy on his successor. For nearly two weeks the White House has been struggling to justify Trump’s assertion in a March 4 tweet that Obama had him “wire tapped.”

On Thursday, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee jointly stated they’ve seen no evidence of any surveillance of Trump Tower. Even Trump allies in Congress are staying away from the claim, though Trump maintained Wednesday in an interview with Fox News that he would be vindicated by new information “very soon.” The White House has argued that Trump’s use of quotation marks around the phrase wires tapped implied he meant all manners of surveillance against him, but hasn’t offered any official proof of the claim, beyond reports in the press.

Reading a long list of media reports that mentioned alleged signals intelligence about Trump and his ties to Russia, Spicer quoted comments.

“Last, on Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement,” Spicer said during the daily White House briefing. “‘Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ, what is that? It’s the initials for the British Intelligence Spying Agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, “The President needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,” he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.'”

Within hours GCHQ responded in a rare statement calling the claim “utterly ridiculous.

“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense,” a GCHQ spokesperson said. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

Asked by a reporter whether the subject of GCHQ’s alleged involvement had raised between the two governments and whether it would affect the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K., Spicer backtracked.

“No, no, it has not been raised,” Spicer said. “But I do think that, again, we’re not — all we’re doing is literally reading off what other stations and people have reported, and I think that casts into concern some of the activities that may have occurred during the ’16 election. We’re not casting judgment on that. I think the idea is to say that if these organizations, these individuals came to these conclusions, they merit looking into.”

The claim is all the more incendiary given the close intelligence-sharing relationship between the two countries. The U.S. and the U.K., along with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, form the Five Eyes — a decades-old intelligence cooperative in which the countries share much of their signals intelligence and pledge not to spy on each another.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May told The Independent that the White House would not float the claims again. “We’ve made clear to the Administration that these claims are ridiculous and they should be ignored and we’ve received assurances they won’t be repeated.”

US Releases $221 Million Fund To Palestine

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

Middle East

US Releases $221 Million Fund to Palestine

USAID

Ramallah – US has announced the release of the $221 million for Palestinians, which President Donald Trump had previously frozen and put under review after former US President Obama had ordered at the “last minute” of his presidency.

US State Department had confirmed that the money will be used for services in the West Bank and will not go directly to the authorities’ treasury.

A Palestinian official told Asharq Al-Awsat that most of this money had been allocated to foreign organizations working within the Palestinian territories.

Speaking during a press briefing on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that to his understanding the money had been released, but also said that the issue was still under review.

“220.3 million that was released was for West Bank programs such as water, infrastructure, education, renewable energy, civil society, municipal governance, and the rule of law, as well as Gaza recovery. And a smaller amount was to go directly to Israeli creditors of the Palestinian Authority as well as East Jerusalem hospitals. None of the funding was to go directly to the Palestinian Authority,” explained Toner.

The official stated that these funds were never assigned to the authority and were not a donation from former President Obama.

“We don’t know why Trump decided to freeze them, and then released them,” said the official.

He added that the majority of these funds will be given to international organizations in Palestine. “Most of the money will be given to United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for projects within the Palestinian authorities,” according to the official.

The funds included $180 million from USAID, $25 million to support Palestinian hospitals and $45 million to pay for fuel purchased from Israel.

He then explained that the funds were supposed to be given before the end of 2016, but they were delayed until Obama ordered the transfer, few hours before leaving the White House.

On January 20, and just few hours before Trump’s inauguration, Obama informed the congress that he will send the money. The money was frozen after the Congress’ recommendation as a punishment for the authorities’ attempts to join UN organizations and for instigation.

Though it is not legally binding, the White House abode by the Congress’ decision. Hours before Trump’s arrival, former US secretary of state John Kerry informed the Congress of the transfer.

Trump’s administration then announced it had frozen the grant in order to make adjustments to ensure it complies with the new administration’s priorities.

The relations between Trump’s administration and the Palestinian authority are not exactly strong, despite the few meetings made. Major conflict rose when Palestine stated it won’t accept any solution other than the two-state solution, while Trump declared it is not the only solution available.

Palestinians are afraid Trump will transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, warning that this will be an admission that Quds is Israel’s capital, thus ending any US role in the peace process.

Yet, Palestinians are seeking better relations with the US. Chief of Palestinian Intelligence Majid Faraj met with US security officials.

Then, US Director of CIA Mike Pompeo met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. But, till now, no contact has been established at the level of the White House or the State Department.

FBI Director James Comey Warned Wednesday That Americans Should Not Have Expectations Of “absolute privacy,

 

(CNN) FBI Director James Comey warned Wednesday that Americans should not have expectations of “absolute privacy,” adding that he planned to finish his term leading the FBI.

“There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America; there is no place outside of judicial reach,” Comey said at a Boston College conference on cybersecurity. He made the remark as he discussed the rise of encryption since 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed sensitive US spy practices.
“Even our communications with our spouses, with our clergy members, with our attorneys are not absolutely private in America,” Comey added. “In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court about those very private communications.”
But, he also said Americans “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices.
“It is a vital part of being an American. The government cannot invade our privacy without good reason, reviewable in court,” Comey continued.
In the last four months of 2016, the FBI lawfully gained access to 2,800 devices recovered in criminal, terrorism and counterintelligence investigations and the FBI was unable to open 43% of those devices, Comey said.
Americans’ desire for privacy and security should never be viewed as incompatible, he said.
“We all value privacy. We all value security. We should never have to sacrifice one for the other,” Comey said. “Our founders struck a bargain that is at the center of this amazing country of ours and has been for over two centuries.”
FBI director at center of many controversies
Comey’s leadership of the FBI has been marked by controversy in the wake of the bureau’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email controversy and President Donald Trump’s baseless accusations that President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of phones at Trump Tower.
He did not address the wiretapping claim nor WikiLeaks’ recent claim that it obtained internal CIA documents.
Comey did, however, say he plans to finish out his 10-year term.
“You’re stuck with me for about another 6 1/2 years, and so I’d love to be invited back again,” he said.

Privacy: Is There No Longer Is Such A Thing On Planet Earth?

 

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

 

Opinion

Living with Our Privacy Violated

The rule has never changed: Every phenomenon or positive change has a tax to be paid, whether we like it or not.This rule also applies to the enormous technological progress we are witnessing and its unlimited positive outcomes on our lives, businesses and communities. Here, the tax users pay is represented by forbidden acts and taboos becoming accepted and incorporated into our lives.

People might not sense this gradual transformation but they eventually accept it in return for using technology. Speaking of attempts to maintain some privacy has become impossible – privacy has been violated with a knockdown.

A group of scientists from Harvard University has developed a mosquito-sized robot that can steal samples of your DNA without you feeling it. Professor of Computer Science Margo Seltzer said that the privacy we used to know before no more exists, adding that current techniques such as credit cards, internet networks, highway radars, cameras in streets, social media and emails can all leave a digital print of us by which we can be followed.

In 2013, more than five billion data records were lost or stolen, according to the Breach Level Index (BLI). This reveals that perhaps only those distant from the world of internet were not subject to violation of privacy– and they did not avoid it for fear or cautiousness but because they weren’t capable of affording such technology – yet, they are certainly on their way there.

Half the world’s population is constantly connected to the Internet while the other half is on its way. According to Gartner, Inc. there will be 25 billion smartphones by 2020. At that time, no one will be safe regardless if he uses a smartphone or not. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a population of 30 million people, having 24 million internet users and 48 million subscribers of mobile telecommunication services.

Violations taking place every second with data and information divulged have become manifest for anyone connected to the internet. And it is impossible to stop or block them.

Take what has been published by founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange in 2013 as an example – he published a huge archive of correspondences for former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger since 1973 till 1976. These correspondences were classified as top secret and totaled 1.7 million, five-fold what has been previously published in WikiLeaks.

Another example is former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Edward Snowden, currently residing in Russia, who has unveiled that the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain have jointly developed a technology that permits access to many global internet activity, call logs, individuals’ emails and a huge content of other digital telecommunications.

Misuse of personal data is a growing challenge all over the world. Requests were made to governments to take charge of protecting the future of citizens’ privacy and their social prosperity. However, it seems that none is capable of that, with governments themselves failing to protect their own classified data. So, how would a normal individual be able to do that?!

Till now there are no realistic solutions that show optimism in ending the violation of our privacy. Given that we have agreed to be connected to the Internet and to use smartphones, we should admit that our privacy has been violated irreversibly, even if we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Wikileaks: The CIA Is Using Popular TVs, Smartphones And Cars To Spy On Their Owners

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Wikileaks: The CIA is using popular TVs, smartphones and cars to spy on their owners

March 7 2017

Wikileaks posts alleged trove of CIA hacking tools

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Anti-secrecy group Wikileaks on Tuesday said it had obtained a top-secret trove of hacking tools used by the CIA to break into phones, communication apps and other electronic devices, and published confidential documents on those programs. (Reuters)

The latest revelations about U.S. government’s powerful hacking tools potentially takes surveillance right into the homes and hip pockets of billions of users worldwide, showing how a remarkable variety of every day devices can be turned to spy on their owners.

Televisions, smartphones and Internet-connected vehicles are all vulnerable to CIA hacking, according to the Wikileaks documents released Tuesday. The capabilities described include recording the sounds, images and the private text messages of users, even when they use encrypted apps to communicate. The CIA also studied whether it could infect vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks, which Wikileaks said could allow “nearly undetectable assassinations.”

In the case of a tool called “Weeping Angel” for attacking Samsung SmartTVs, Wikileaks wrote, “After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on, In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”

The documents, which The Washington Post could not independently verify and the CIA has declined to confirm, list supposed tools for cracking into such widely popular devices as Apple’s iPhone or the Android smartphones whose operating system is made by Google, but there are marked differences from the 2013 revelations by the National Security Agency’s former contractor Edward Snowden.

His documents largely described mass surveillance of Internet-based communications systems, more often than the individual devices that appear to have been the focus of the CIA. By targeting devices, the CIA could gain access to even well-encrypted communications, on such popular apps as Signal and WhatsApp, without having to crack the encryption itself. The Wikileaks reports appear to acknowledge that difference by saying the CIA “bypassed” as opposed to defeated encryption technologies.

Resignation and frustration rippled through Silicon Valley on Tuesday as technologists grappled with revelations of yet another government attempt to exploit their systems.

“The argument that there is some terrorist using a Samsung TV somewhere – as a reason to not disclose that vulnerability to the company, when it puts thousands of Americans at risk — I fundamentally disagree with it, “ said Alex Rice, chief technology officer for Hacker One, a startup that enlists hackers to report security gaps to companies and organizations in exchange for cash.

Privacy experts say the CIA may have been forced into focusing on vulnerable devices because the Internet overall has become more secure through more widespread deployment of encryption. In this new world, devices have become the most vulnerable link.

“The idea that the CIA and NSA can hack into devices is kind of old news,” said Johns Hopkins cryptography expert Matthew Green. “Anyone who thought they couldn’t was living in a fantasy world.”

Snowden’s revelations and the backlash made strong encryption a major, well-funded cause for both privacy advocates and, perhaps more importantly, technology companies that had the engineering expertise and budgets to protect data as it flowed across the world.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and many other companies announced major new initiatives, in part to protect their brands against accusations by some users that they had made it too easy for the NSA to collect information from their systems. Many Web sites, meanwhile, began encrypting their data flows to users to prevent snooping. Encryption tools such as Tor were strengthened.

Encrypting apps for private messaging, such as Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp exploded in popularity, especially among users around the world who were fearful of government intrusion. In the days following the U.S. presidential election, Signal was among the most downloaded in Apple’s app store and downloads grew by more than 300 percent.

Open Whispers Systems, which developed Signal, released a statement: “The CIA/Wikileaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption.” WhatsApp declined to comment, and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment. Google declined to comment, while Samsung and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. government authorities complained loudly that the new wave of encryption was undermining their ability to investigate serious crimes, such as terrorism and child pornography. The FBI sued Apple in hopes of forcing it to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernadino killers before announcing it had other ways to crack the device amid heavy public criticism.

Against that backdrop, many privacy advocates argued that devices — often called “endpoints” for their place on chains of communications that can criss-cross continents — were the best available target left in a world with widespread online encryption. The Wikileaks documents suggests that the CIA may have reached the same conclusion.

“It would certainly be consistent with the hypothesis that we’ve made real progress in the encryption we’ve been introducing,” said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group. “It’s impossible to be 100 percent certain, but reading the tea leaves, it’s plausible.”

The Wikileaks revelations also will serve as a reminder that, for whatever the political backlash to revelations about digital spying, it is not going away and probably will continue to grow. The focus on hacking into individual devices — rather than the messages traveling between them — is likely to increase pressure on companies to make those devices safer because, as experts have long said, they are the most vulnerable target in a long chain of digital interactions.

That could be especially important for U.S. tech companies, such as Google, Apple and Facebook, that have worked to rebuild their reputations as stewards of their users’ privacy in recent years.

Cybersecurity experts, meanwhile, reacted with alarm to the news of the Wikileaks release.

“This is explosive,” said Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, a cybersecurity firm. The material highlights specific antivirus products that can be defeated, going further than a release of NSA hacking tools last year, he said.

The CIA hackers, according to WikiLeaks, even “discussed what the NSA’s …hackers did wrong and how the CIA’s malware makers could avoid similar exposure.”

Hackers who worked at NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit said the CIA’s library of tools looked comparable. The description of the implants, which are software that enable a hacker to remotely control a compromised device, and other attack tools appear to be “very, very complex” and “at least on par with the NSA,” said one former TAO hacker who spoke on condition his name not be used.

The WikiLeaks release revealed that they have sophisticated “stealth” capabilities that enable hackers not only to infiltrate systems, but evade detection, as well as abilities to “escalate privileges” or move inside a system as if they owned it.

“The only thing that separates NSA from commodity malware in the first place is their ability to remain hidden,” the former TAO hacker said. “So when you talk about the stealth components, it’s huge that you’re seeing a tangible example here of them using and researching stealth.”

Computer security experts noted that the release includes no actual tools or exploits, “so we don’t know if WikiLeaks did not get them or is just not choosing to publish them,” Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. “However we should assume that whoever stole this data has access to the exploits and tools.”

He noted that the dates in the files suggest the tools were taken in February or March 2016 and that there are at least two documents marked Top Secret, “which suggests that somebody in early 2016 managed to compromise a Top Secret CIA development system and is willing to say that they did.”

One internal CIA document listed a set of Apple iPhone “exploits” — or tools that can be used to compromise the device by taking advantage of software flaws. Some of the tools are based on “zero-days,” which are software vulnerabilities that have not been shared with the manufacturer. So “some of these descriptions will allow Apple to fix the vulnerabilities,” Weaver said. “But at the same time, they’re out in the public and whoever stole this data could use them against U.S. interests.”

CIA Tried To Get Syria’s President Assad To Help Stop Lebanon’s Civil War

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

Middle East

CIA Releases: Franjieh Enlisted Assad’s Help after Failing to Contain Lebanon Civil War

Considered a critical time for Lebanon during the President Suleiman Franjieh administration both the LNM and the PLO held the upper hand.

With the bearings for in stating balance fading, the region was threatened by the conflict breaking out of its local constraints– warring parties stringed along powerful regional players pushing the conflict beyond Lebanese borders.

CIA documents reveal that Franjieh phoned his Syrian counterpart, Assad, relaying outrage and threatening escalatory measures should the latter roll back a direct military intervention dedicated to end the fighting in Lebanon.

The declassified documents drew a link between the impending direct Israeli intervention seeking to keep PLO, leftist allies and nationalists (natural Israel enemies) from securing a militarized advantage, and Franjieh resorting to Assad to step in and end the conflict.

Perhaps the most significant document of all declassified excerpts was a telegram involving British foreign minister, James Callaghan, (who later became British Prime Minister) reviewing the Lebanon situation with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and communicating and consulting with United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

In hindsight, the then Lebanon civil war truly was a quagmire involving not only regional players, but also international superpowers.

The Lebanese Civil War was a multifaceted civil war in Lebanon, lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an approximated 250,000 fatalities.

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Monday The 19th: 538 ‘Electors’ Decide Who America’s Next President Is

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

In last-shot bid, thousands urge electoral college to block Trump at Monday vote

December 17 at 6:38 PM
Pressure on members of the country’s electoral college to select someone other than Donald Trump has grown dramatically — and noisily — in recent weeks, causing some to waver, but yielding little evidence Trump will fall short when electors convene in most state capitals Monday to cast their votes.Carole Joyce of Arizona expected her role as a GOP elector to be pretty simple: She would meet the others in Phoenix and carry out a vote for Trump, who won the most votes in her state and whom she personally supported.

But then came the mail and the emails and the phone calls — first hundreds, then thousands of voters worrying Trump’s impulsive nature would lead the country into another war.

“Honestly, it had an impact,” said Joyce, a 72-year-old Republican state committeewoman. “I’ve seen enough funerals. I’m tired of hearing bagpipes. . . . But I signed a loyalty pledge. And that matters.”

Such is the life these days for many of the 538 men and women who are scheduled to meet Monday across the country to carry out what has traditionally been a perfunctory vote after most every presidential election.

The role of elector has intensified this year, in the wake of a bitter election in which Trump lost the popular vote by a margin of nearly 3  million and a secret CIA assessment revealed that Russia interfered to help Trump get elected.

Amid the uncertainty caused by Russian influence, 10 electors — nine Democrats and one Republican — asked for an intelligence briefing to get more information about Moscow’s role. Their request was endorsed by John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.

“The administration should brief members of the electoral college on the extent and manner of Russia’s interference in our election before they vote on Dec. 19,” Podesta wrote Thursday in a Washington Post op-ed.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Friday evening that it would not brief the electors, because it is engaged in a presidentially ordered review of the Russian interference. “Once the review is complete in the coming weeks, the intelligence community stands ready to brief Congress” and may release findings, the ODNI said in a statement posted to its website.

Meanwhile, Joyce and the other 305 Republican electors who are supposed to cast their votes for Trump have been subject to intense campaigns orchestrated by anti-Trump forces to convince them that they alone can block the reality television star from the White House.

Others have targeted Democratic electors, who are supposed to cast votes for Hillary Clinton, to persuade them to switch to a more conventional Republican who could also draw enough support from GOP electors to swoop into office.

While there is little sign the efforts will prove successful, the push has unleashed intense pressure on individual electors, who have now been thrust into a sometimes uncomfortable spotlight.

Joyce has received emails from “Benjamin Franklin” and “John Jay” — and a Christmas card that read: “Please, in the name of God, don’t vote for Trump.”

The rancor about the role of electors started early in the campaign. In August, Baoky Vu, a GOP activist in Atlanta, said he planned to resign from the job because he was so morally opposed to Trump. He planned to defer his voting responsibility to someone more willing — an alternate who would be put in place Monday.

After the election, Vu started getting phone calls and emails asking him not to resign. He was asked instead to consider joining a coalition of electors hoping to vote against Trump. He declined.

“I don’t think we should drag this election out any longer,” Vu said. “And can you imagine if the electors overturned the results? If we attempt to change them in anyway, you’ve got these far-right elements that are just going to go haywire.”

Mark Hersch, a 60-year-old Chicago-based marketing strategist, joined a group known as the Hamilton Electors, who have been organizing efforts to contact electors and change their minds. Before the election, Hersch said, the most political activism he had ever undertaken was planting a yard sign.

He said he believes the goal to deny Trump seems reachable if not probable. Rather than persuade an entire country, he and his allies must find 37 Republicans willing to vote for someone else, a tipping point at which the responsibility of picking the president would shift to the U.S. House of Representatives. No one knows for sure how many are considering alternate votes; estimates vary from one to 25.

The GOP-controlled House could vote for Trump anyway, but those trying to flip voters say there is still value in taking a stand. Hersch said he was inspired to continue to flip electors by the movie “300,” which depicts ancient Sparta’s war against a Persian army that outnumbered them 1,000 to one.

“I would like to think we would be successful, but if not, we need to do all we could to prevent this man from being president,” he said. Then he modified a line from the movie: “Prepare your breakfast, and eat hearty, for tonight, we will go to battle. This isn’t 300, but 538.”

That “battle” has intensified as electors draw closer to their convening Monday. Joyce was getting 15 letters a day and 300 emails in the days after Nov. 8, but those numbers quickly increased to 50 and 3,000. Some of them have been form letters, others handwritten.

The letters came from Washington state and from China, stuffed with copies of the U.S. Constitution or Alexander Hamilton’s writing in Federalist Paper No. 68, which states that the meeting of the electoral college “affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

On Thursday, Joyce received so many letters that the letter carrier just gave her a U.S. Postal Service bucket filled to the brim.

“I’m sorry this is happening to you,” Joyce recalled the letter carrier saying in a phone interview. While some electors have complained of harassment, Joyce shrugged off the mail and placed it all on a sofa decorated with American flag pillows.

“This is America,” she said, adding that most of the messages were thoughtful. “People have a right to say what they want.”

On Friday, she said, her emails became more positive. The messages were from Republicans, thanking her for taking Trump to the finish line of an arduous process.

“How refreshing!” she said.

Although some Democrats (who have in the past five elections lost two in which they won the popular vote) and even Trump himself have questioned the necessity of the electoral college, many opposing Trump have said this election proves just how important it is.

Norman Eisen, a former ambassador to the Czech Republic who served as legal counsel to both the Bush and Obama administrations, began telephoning electors to explain that their job is not necessarily to certify the results, but to have a reasonable discussion over whether the public made the right decision.

For instance, Eisen, who focused on government ethics in Obama’s White House, noted that Trump could be violating a clause in the Constitution that prevents presidents from receiving gifts and funds from foreign governments; it is unclear whether his businesses do because he has not publicly disclosed his tax returns.

In Massachusetts, Republican operative and attorney R.J. Lyman said he didn’t want to harass anyone, so he used his connections to find electors who were willing to chat about the lessons he learned in American history class and at the dinner table. He became one of the few people in America more willing to talk about Hamilton the man than about “Hamilton: An American Musical.”

The electoral college, he said he tells them, was “not intended to be a rubber stamp.” Otherwise, he said, the Founding Fathers would have tasked the responsibility to a clerk or simply used the popular vote as a way of choosing a president.

“I’m reminding them of their duty to think about their choice in a way that’s consistent with their conscience and the Constitution,” Lyman said.

So far, Lyman said, he has identified 20 electors who might be willing to vote “other than their party pledge.” He couldn’t name more than one publicly but insisted that more were out there.

Earlier this month, Chris Suprun of Texas became the first Republican elector in a red state that voted for Trump to declare, in a Dec. 5 New York Times column, that he would not cast his electoral vote for Trump. Suprun voted for Cruz in the primary and said he left behind his wallet on Election Day and thus did not vote in the general.

Nonetheless, Suprun said, he was willing to vote for Trump in the electoral college until the candidate claimed with no evidence that millions of Clinton supporters voted illegally. Suprun’s public stance has elicited death threats and hate mail, he said.

“As of yesterday, people are calling to say, ‘Get your ass together, or we’re coming for you,’ ” said Suprun, who was the sole Republican elector to ask for an intelligence briefing on Russia. “They are doing it with their own phone number, not even blocking the number. That’s not been surprising — look at what Trump says himself.”

Vinz Koller, a Democratic elector from Monterey County, Calif., said he read Suprun’s column and started thinking about his own role in the college. It inspired him to support a new theory: If he could persuade other Democrats to abandon their Clinton votes, perhaps he and Republicans could agree on a more conventional choice — a la Ohio governor and failed candidate John Kasich — to vote for over Trump.

The plan seemed unlikely, he said, but Trump’s candidacy unsettled him so much that he felt he needed to try anything. California is one of 29 states that mandate electors vote for the candidate who won the state, so Koller sued them to continue his plan.

“Frankly, this is hard and not something I do lightly,” he said. “I’ve been working in partisan politics a long time, and I don’t like voting against my candidate, but I never thought that the country might be unstable until now.”

On Thursday evening, he found himself in the Library of Congress. Strolling through its stacks, Koller sought a librarian with one request: Can I see the original Federalist Papers?

He looked to see Federalist No. 68, written by Hamilton to describe the need for the electoral college.

“We have been getting a civic lesson we weren’t prepared to get,” Koller said. “They gave us the fail-safe emergency brake, in case the people got it wrong. And here we are, 200 years later. It’s the last shot we have.”

Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

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