TBR News March 23, 2017

Mar 23 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. March 23, 2017: “Glenn Greenwald hastens to assure his readers that Edward Snowden never worked for Russian intelligence.

Edward certainly did.

His gatherings constitute one of the largest intelligence coups of history.

And no one claims to know who actually owns and controlls WikiLeaks.

Many members of the intelligence community know but the media and the public do not.

And forthcoming WikiLeaks releases promise to put earlier ones to shame.

Note that once the Presidential elections were over, the Podesta leaks ceased.

And I am thrilled to note that the Divine Hillary is coming out of her cave in the woods to join all of us once more.

The only other issue of similar import would be the notice that smallpox had broken out in Miami.”

Table of Contents

  • S. may accuse North Korea in Bangladesh cyber heist: WSJ
  • UK parliament attacker British-born, had been investigated over extremism concerns
  • Supreme Court unanimously strikes down Gorsuch ruling
  • Is McCain Beyond His Prime?
  • Assange: ‘Only 1 percent’ of the CIA material has been published
  • Real-Time Face Recognition Threatens to Turn Cops’ Body Cameras Into Surveillance Machines
  • ISIS’s killer drones are a threat, but the Pentagon is bracing to face more-advanced ‘suicide’ aircraft
  • Two major US technology firms ‘tricked out of $100m’
  • A Breach in the Anti-Putin Groupthink

 U.S. may accuse North Korea in Bangladesh cyber heist: WSJ

March 22, 2017


U.S. prosecutors are building potential cases that would accuse North Korea of directing the theft of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year, and that would charge alleged Chinese middlemen, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation believes that North Korea is responsible for the heist, an official briefed on the probe told Reuters. Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the U.S. National Security Agency, publicly suggested on Tuesday that North Korea may be linked to the incident, while private firms have long pointed the finger at the reclusive state.

The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reported that prosecutors believe Chinese middlemen helped North Korea orchestrate the theft from Bangladesh’s central bank, which was among the biggest bank robberies in modern times.

The current cases being pursued may not include charges against North Korean officials, but would likely implicate the country, the newspaper reported, with the United States accusing a foreign government of orchestrating the heist.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.

FBI offices in Los Angeles and New York have been leading an international investigation into the February 2016 incident, in which hackers breached Bangladesh Bank’s systems and used the SWIFT messaging network to request nearly $1 billion from its account at the New York Fed.

The branch of the U.S. central bank rejected most of the requests but filled some of them, resulting in $81 million disappearing into casinos and other entities in the Philippines. A top police investigator in Dhaka told Reuters in December that some Bangladesh Bank officials deliberately exposed its computer systems, enabling the hackers to get in.

The incident exposed bungling and miscommunication between central banks, and left the Fed, Bangladesh, SWIFT, and the Philippine lender that initially received the funds trading blame for months.

SWIFT – or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication that serves as the backbone of global finance – has since revealed that its messaging system has been targeted in a “meaningful” number of other attacks last year using a similar approach as in the Bangladesh incident.

Last week, SWIFT said it planned to cut off the remaining North Korean banks still connected to its system as concerns about the country’s nuclear program and missile tests grow.

The Journal reported that federal investigators are focusing on Chinese individuals or businesses who allegedly helped North Korea orchestrate the heist, and that the U.S. Treasury is considering sanctions against these alleged middlemen.

The New York Fed and SWIFT declined to comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Joseph Menn; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish)

 UK parliament attacker British-born, had been investigated over extremism concerns

March 23, 2017

by William James and Elizabeth Piper


London-The attacker who killed three people near the British parliament before being shot dead was British-born and was once investigated by MI5 intelligence agents over concerns about violent extremism, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday.

Police arrested eight people at six locations in London and Birmingham in the investigation into Wednesday’s lone-wolf attack that May said was inspired by a warped Islamist ideology. Forty people were injured and 29 remain in hospital, seven in critical condition.

The assailant sped across Westminster Bridge in a car, ploughing into pedestrians along the way, then ran through the gates of the nearby parliament building and fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman before being shot dead.

“What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that some years ago he was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism,” May said in a statement to parliament.

“He was a peripheral figure…He was not part of the current intelligence picture. There was no prior intelligence of his intent or of the plot,” she said, adding that his identity would be revealed when the investigation allowed.

Westminster Bridge and the area just around parliament were still cordoned off on Thursday morning and a line of forensic investigators in light blue overalls were on their hands and knees, examining the scene where the attacker was shot.

The dead were two members of the public, the stabbed policeman and the attacker.

It was the worst such attack in Britain since 2005, when 52 people were killed by militant islamist suicide bombers on London’s public transport system. Police had given the death toll as five but revised it down to four on Thursday.

The casualties included 12 Britons, three French children, two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Chinese, one American and two Greeks, May said.

“We meet here, in the oldest of all parliaments, because we know that democracy and the values it entails will always prevail,” she said.

“A terrorist came to the place where people of all nationalities and cultures gather what it means to be free and he took out his rage indiscriminately against innocent men, women and children,” said May.

A minute’s silence was held in parliament and in front of police headquarters at New Scotland Yard at 0933 GMT, in honor of the victims — 933 was the shoulder number on the uniform of Keith Palmer, the policeman who was stabbed to death.


Some have been shocked that the attacker was able to cause such mayhem in the heart of the capital equipped with nothing more sophisticated than a hired car and a knife.

“The police and agencies that we rely on for our security have forestalled a large number of these attacks in recent years, over a dozen last year,” said defense minister Michael Fallon.

“This kind of attack, this lone-wolf attack, using things from daily life, a vehicle, a knife, are much more difficult to forestall,” he told the BBC.

Three French high-school students aged 15 or 16, who were on a school trip to London with fellow students from Brittany, were among the injured.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who traveled to London to bring a message of solidarity, met some of the other students who were on the school trip and their families at a hotel near the hospital where the injured were being treated.

He told reporters the lives of the three youngsters were not in danger. Ayrault later attended the session in parliament where May spoke. France has been hit by repeated deadly Islamist attacks over the past two years.

A vigil was planned in London’s Trafalgar Square at 6 P.M.

A meeting of COBR, the government’s crisis response committee, was due to take place later on Thursday morning.

Anti-immigration groups were quick to make links between immigration and the attack, though it was subsequently revealed the attacker was British-born.

Leave.EU, a group that has campaigned for immigration to be severely restrained as part of Britain’s exit from the European Union, accused mainstream politicians of facilitating acts of terror by failing to secure borders.

In France, far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen also drew a link, saying that events in London highlighted the importance of protecting national borders and stepping up security measures.

The Scottish parliament, which suspended a planned debate and vote on independence on Wednesday because of events in London, was due to resume those proceedings on Tuesday, the BBC reported.

(Additional reporting by Costas Pitas, Kate Holton, Estelle Shirbon and Elisabeth O’Leary, writing by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Ralph Boulton)

 Supreme Court unanimously strikes down Gorsuch ruling

March 23, 2017


A ruling made by US Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch in a federal appeals court has been struck down 8-0 by the Supreme Court. Gorsuch apologized for his ruling during a Senate confirmation hearing, but defended it based on circuit precedence.

Gorsuch’s lower court decision was overturned Wednesday, during the second day of his confirmation hearing to be the Supreme Court’s ninth justice. The unanimous decision overturned his 2008 ruling in Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P.Gorsuch’s ruling had determined that a school district was not in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) if they provided an education that “must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’

The family of an autistic child who felt their public school was unable to accommodate their son’s disability and felt forced to put him in a private educational setting appealed. The family of the child identified as “Luke P.” sought to have the district reimburse them for their child’s tuition after an occupational therapist determined that the therapy provided by the Thompson R2-J district sometimes “unknowingly reinforced Luke’s unwanted behaviors” and that Luke “had made little or no progress on many of his goals and objectives.”

While Gorsuch’s ruling determined that the school’s ability to provide just above the bare minimum put them on the right side of IDEA, the Supreme Court vehemently disagreed. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Roberts explained: “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

“For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly… awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out,” Roberts added, citing the 1982 ruling of the Board of Education v. Rowley.

Gorsuch was questioned about this ruling during his confirmation hearing Wednesday by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). Gorsuch claimed that he did not savor “a result where an autistic child happens to lose,” but cited a precedent in the 10th circuit appeals court where he presided.

“We were bound by circuit precedent, a case called Urban v Jefferson County School District,” he explained, “that’s the law of my circuit, Senator.” He continued to say, “I understand today that the Supreme Court has indicated that the Urban standard is incorrect. That’s fine, I will follow the law… If I was wrong, Senator, I was wrong because I was bound by circuit precedent, and I’m sorry.”

Is McCain Beyond His Prime?

March 21, 2017

by Doug Bandow

The National Interest

Sen. John McCain has the reputation of a foreign-policy maven. He pays attention to little other than foreign affairs. When he ran for president in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, he admitted that he didn’t know much about economics, which helped doom his candidacy. Unfortunately, he shows no greater sophistication when it comes to his favorite topic.

Nor does he brook disagreement, even if well founded. In his view, those who disagree with him are little better than traitors. Especially Americans who believe that Senator McCain’s most important duty is to protect this nation.

In fact, he has routinely advocated what amounts to sacrificing U.S. interests while pushing confrontation and sometimes war with a long list of countries around the globe: Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, North Korea and, worst of all, Russia. There is scarcely a conflict he doesn’t want the United States to plunge into. And rarely a military deployment he does not want to make permanent. Whatever the international issue, he sees U.S. military action as the answer.

In his view, circumstances are irrelevant to foreign policy. Insurgency and secession in the Balkans. Terrorism in Central Asia. Dictatorship and conflict in the Middle East. Nonproliferation in Northeast Asia. The geopolitical detritus of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. In every case he pushes military intervention and action as the answer.

Most notably, Senator McCain does not appear to view a threat to the United States as necessary for going to war. Only in the case of Afghanistan was the United States attacked, and by a terrorist group located within the country, not the government. Within weeks, Washington had scattered Al Qaeda and ousted the Taliban regime, punishing it for hosting the terrorist group. Yet more than fifteen years later, he insists that America must continue its Quixotic quest to create a liberal Western-oriented republic where one has never existed, governed by a strong central government in Kabul, which has never ruled the many villages and valleys across the land.

In no other case were the targets of U.S. action interested in fighting the United States. Not Serbia, Iraq, or Iran. Certainly not Libya or Syria. Not North Korea, which wants to deter American military action rather than trigger it. Not even Russia, which desires respect and security rather than conflict. But for McCain, the military is not a last resort or even just another option. It’s a first resort almost irrespective of the issue. Bomb, invade and occupy, and if that doesn’t work, bomb, invade and occupy some more.

Senator McCain’s lack of geopolitical sense has been on dramatic display with the issue of NATO expansion. Never mind that the transatlantic alliance was created to promote U.S. security. In recent years NATO has added numerous nations that are security black holes, offering far more costs than benefits. The alliance was established to temporarily shield war-ravaged, vulnerable Europe from Soviet aggression; it has turned into a welfare agency that permanently shifts responsibility for defending prosperous and populous Europe onto America.

The latest wannabe security dependent with Senator McCain’s backing is Montenegro, a postage stamp country with maximum political conflicts and minimum military capabilities. The Obama administration sought Senate ratification of Podgorica’s membership during the lame-duck session, but Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul refused to give unanimous consent.

Reasonably enough, they insisted that what is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body should devote at least a few minutes to debating the issuance of yet another security guarantee enforced by American money and lives. And so far Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not taken the time necessary to push the measure through. So Senator McCain again demanded unanimous consent.

But Senator Paul took to the floor to object. Senator McCain, long known for his explosive temper—which worried colleagues when he ran for president—no longer could contain himself. He complained that Senator Paul “has no justification for his objection to having a small nation to be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again: The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

Actually, Senator McCain smeared anyone who disagreed with him. He also declared: “It there’s objection, you are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin. If they object, they are now carrying out the desires and ambitions of Vladimir Putin, and I do not say that lightly.”

Accusing Senator Paul—and everyone else with the temerity to oppose NATO’s inclusion of Montenegro—of being a traitor revealed Senator McCain as at best a nasty crank, and at worst a shameless demagogue. The next day Senator Paul observed that Senator McCain’s outburst made a “really, really strong case for term limits.” The venerable Arizona legislator was “past his prime” and even maybe had “gotten a little bit unhinged.” It’s hard to disagree with that assessment. The thought of such a person as president should give nightmares even in the era of President Donald Trump.

In fact, Senator McCain forgets who he represents. His spokesman Julie Tarallo said “the people of Montenegro” as well as senators “deserved an explanation from Senator Paul on the Senate floor as to why he sought to prevent this small, brave country from joining in the defense of the free world.” Of course, Tarallo misleads her listeners by suggesting that this modern variant of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, the star of the novel The Mouse that Roared, could help protect someone else. Without a navy or air force, and with an army in name only, Podgorica isn’t defending anyone or anything.

Moreover, Senator McCain knows why Senator Paul objected since he, unlike Senator McCain, has long has made his belief that U.S. foreign policy is to serve the interests of the United States, not would-be client states. And an American senator from the state of Kentucky owes no explanation to the people of Montenegro. Whether heroic or not, they have no right to expect to be defended by the United States.

The purpose of NATO was to make America more secure, not turn defense guarantees into charity for states irrelevant to America’s defense. If Senator McCain believes Montenegro aids the United States, he is living in a parallel universe. Podgorica has 1,950 men under arms. However brave they may be, they won’t stop the senator’s imagined Russian hordes from conquering Europe, America and presumably the rest of the world.

His mental confusion is even greater if he actually believes Montenegro is under attack. Russia would gain nothing from war. The country does not even border Russia. Vladimir Putin has made no territorial claims against the quaint movie set for Casino Royale. The ruling regime blames a recent coup attempt on Moscow, but the evidence is thin: in fact, the country’s political divisions are real and, as Senator Paul pointed out, as many Montenegrins oppose as support NATO membership, hardly the kind of backing one would want from a military ally.

Ultimately, Senator McCain’s nastiness is less important than his willingness to sacrifice American interests, wealth, and lives in an endless attempt to transform the globe. Social engineering is difficult enough at home. The presumption that Washington politicians can transcend differences in history, religion, geography, ethnicity, culture, politics and more to remake other nations is a fantasy. Tragically, over the last sixteen years this hubris, shared by Senator McCain and so many other policymakers, has killed thousands and injured tens of thousands of Americans, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians, generated millions of refugees, wasted trillions of dollars, multiplied terrorist threats, and created geopolitical chaos.

The United States continues to pay the price for Washington’s bipartisan commitment to promiscuous intervention. Senator McCain symbolizes a discredited foreign policy disconnected from geopolitical reality. If anyone is serving the interests of Vladimir Putin, it is Senator McCain, who advocates squandering American lives and wealth in an endless succession of counterproductive crusades abroad.

Assange: ‘Only 1 percent’ of the CIA material has been published

WikiLeaks has sparked a debate about cybersecurity by publishing secret CIA documents. In a DW interview, its founder, Julian Assange, said he will publish more information – and he was critical of US tech companies.

March 22, 2017

by Matthias von Hein


There are no less than 16 different intelligence agencies in the United States. In 2017, they will cost US taxpayers some $70 billion (65 billion euros) – roughly twice Germany’s overall annual defense budget. The actual distribution of that sum among US intelligence services is classified, but revelations brought to light by Edward Snowden in 2013 suggest that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) receives the lion’s share. In 2013, that sum was around $15 billion. Now the CIA, a highly funded agency tasked with gleaning state secrets from other countries, has a problem keeping its own secrets: On March 7, the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks began publishing CIA documents under the name “Vault 7.”

The platform published 9,000 documents exposing the CIA’s secret hacking tools, many developed by a team of hackers at the US consulate in Frankfurt and used throughout Europe. In a DW interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that the German government has yet to react to the revelations – apart from a statement issued by the attorney general that he would examine whether German law had been violated. Assange says that the lack of a serious reaction “sadly reveals the relative weakness of the German government when dealing with the United States.”

The CIA has lost control of its cyberweapons

In speaking with DW, Assange announced that more CIA documents would be published over the coming months: “We have only published one percent of the material; 99 percent of the material is still to go.” Assange criticizes the fact that the CIA has developed its own version of the National Security Agency (NSA), which is itself specialized in electronic espionage.

“[The CIA] became a giant hacker spy agency,” he said. “This hacker CIA then stockpiled an enormous quantity of cyberweapons – hundreds of millions of lines of code, more than all of Facebook, in cyberweapons. And then it lost control of all of them.”

According to WikiLeaks, the published material comes from an isolated and highly protected network within the “CIA Center for Cyber Intelligence” at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia – one not connected to the internet. Assange explains that cyberweapons pose a particular proliferation risk as they are only made up of information – so-called code. This makes the possession of cyberattack tools especially dangerous, most notably when those who possess them cannot guarantee that they will remain secure. That appears to be the case now, as seen in the Vault 7 publication.

Massive procurement of zero-day malware

The published documents also show that the CIA purchased massive amounts of information from hackers pertaining to the so-called zero-day vulnerability of software and electronic devices. This information was then developed into malware to exploit such vulnerabilities: allowing cellphones, computers and even televisions to be turned into remote spying tools. This malware allows the remote and undetected operation of cameras and microphones. It also allows remote users to read text messages and e-mails directly from screens before they are sent, for example, as encrypted WhatsApp messages. A recent photo of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg showed that it isn’t just paranoid crazies that take the threat seriously: the picture featured Zuckerberg at his laptop, the microphone and camera of which were covered with tape.

US tech firms working with the government

Companies whose products may be compromised by the CIA’s tools were informed about those vulnerabilities by WikiLeaks, Assange told DW. European firms reacted quickly. US tech companies, however, were more reserved – with the exception of the browser provider Mozilla. Other companies affected by the CIA’s hacking tools, such as Google, Microsoft and Apple, in contrast, simply forwarded WikiLeaks’ offer to provide further information to their legal departments.

Assange claims that this was done because these companies work with US intelligence agencies. It is also the reason that so many employees at such companies have US government security clearance, especially those who work in cybersecurity departments. But security clearance rules stipulate that if a person is given clearance, they are not allowed to accept leaked information. Assange’s critical summary: “[These companies’] entanglement, their proximity to the US government, means that so far, they are not able to properly secure their users from attacks conducted from the CIA or the NSA.”

Assange’s assessment is rather similar to that of Finnish cybersecurity expert Mikko Hypponen. In his keynote address at the computer fair CeBit in Hanover on Wednesday, Hypponen warned that the world was witnessing the start of a new arms race that would be fought out in cyberspace. The Finn was also clear about who is currently leading the race: the US. “No other country has invested so much in cyber capability for so long as has the US.” The security expert said that Israel was in second place, followed by Russia and China. Hypponen also had a clear answer to the question of just what makes cyberweapons so attractive: they are effective, cheap – and they allow attackers to deny their actions.

Real-Time Face Recognition Threatens to Turn Cops’ Body Cameras Into Surveillance Machines

March 22 2017

by Ava Kofman

The Intercept

Last year, a Russian startup announced that it could scan the faces of people passing by Moscow’s thousands of CCTV cameras and pick out wanted criminals or missing persons. Unlike much face recognition technology — which runs stills from videos or photographs after the fact — NTechLab’s FindFace algorithm has achieved a feat that once only seemed possible in the science fictional universe of “Minority Report”: It can determine not just who someone is, but where they’ve been, where they’re going, and whether they have an outstanding warrant, immigration detainer, or unpaid traffic ticket.

For years, the development of real-time face recognition has been hampered by poor video resolution, the angles of bodies in motion, and limited computing power. But as systems begin to transcend these technical barriers, they are also outpacing the development of policies to constrain them. Civil liberties advocates fear that the rise of real-time face recognition alongside the growing number of police body cameras creates the conditions for a perfect storm of mass surveillance.

“The main concern is that we’re already pretty far along in terms of having this real-time technology, and we already have the cameras,” said Jake Laperruque, a fellow at the Constitution Project. “These cameras are small, hard to notice, and all over the place. That’s a pretty lethal combination for privacy unless we have reasonable rules on how they can be used together.”

This imminent reality has led several civil liberties groups to call on police departments and legislators to implement clear policies on camera footage retention, biometrics, and privacy. On Wednesday morning, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology, where advocates emphasized the dangers of allowing advancements in real-time recognition to broaden surveillance powers. As Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, told Congress, pairing the technology with body cameras, in particular, “will redefine the nature of public spaces.”

The integration of real-time face recognition with body-worn cameras is further along than lawmakers and citizens realize. A recent Justice Department-funded survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that at least nine out of 38 manufacturers of body cameras currently have facial recognition capacities or have built in an option for such technology to be used later.

Taser, which leads the market for body cameras, recently acquired two startups that will allow it to run video analytics on the footage the cameras collect, and Taser’s CEO has repeatedly emphasized the development of real-time applications, such as scanning videos for faces, objects, and suspicious activity. A spokesperson for NTechLab, which has pilot projects in 20 countries including the United States, China, the United Kingdom, and Turkey, told The Intercept that its high-performing algorithm is already compatible with body cameras.

Police see the appeal. The captain of the Las Vegas Police Department told Bloomberg in July that he envisions his officers someday patrolling the Strip with “real-time analysis” on their body cameras and an earpiece to tell them, “‘Hey, that guy you just passed 20 feet ago has an outstanding warrant.’”

At least five U.S. police departments, including those in Los Angeles and New York, have already purchased or looked into purchasing real-time face recognition for their CCTV cameras, according to a study of face recognition technology published by Bedoya and other researchers at Georgetown. Bedoya emphasized that it’s only a matter of time until the nation’s body-worn cameras will be hooked up to real-time systems. With 6,000 of the country’s 18,000 police agencies estimated to be using body cameras, the pairing would translate into hundreds of thousands of new, mobile surveillance cameras.

“For many of these systems, the inclusion of real-time face recognition is just a software update away,” said Harlan Yu, co-author of a report on body camera policies for Upturn, a technology think tank.

Civil liberties experts warn that just walking down the street in a major urban center could turn into an automatic law enforcement interaction. With the ability to glean information at a distance, officers would not need to justify a particular interaction or find probable cause for a search, stop, or frisk. Instead, everybody walking past a given officer on his patrol could be subject to a “perpetual line-up,” as the Georgetown study put it. In Ferguson, Missouri, where a Justice Department investigation showed that more than three-quarters of the population had outstanding warrants, real-time face searches could give police immense power to essentially arrest individuals at will. And in a city like New York, which has over 100 officers per square mile and plans to equip each one of them with body cameras by 2019, the privacy implications of turning every beat cop into a surveillance camera are enormous.

“The inclusion of face recognition really changes the nature and purpose of body cameras, and it changes what communities expect when they call for and pay for cameras with taxpayer dollars,” Yu said. “I think there’s a real fear in communities of color, where officers are already concentrated, that these body-worn cameras will become another tool for surveillance rather than a tool for accountability.”

A Digital Enemies List

Civil rights group concur that tracking individuals caught on body cameras — either live or using archival footage — could put a chill on First Amendment-protected activities.

“Are you going to go to a gun rights rally or a protest against the president, for that matter, if the government can secretly scan your face and identify you?” Bedoya asked the House Committee in his testimony on Wednesday.

These are not far-fetched concerns, given revelations in recent years of the NYPD’s Demographics Unit, tasked with monitoring the activities of Muslim communities, and ongoing surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists in Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New York. In a 2010 slideshow, the FBI discussed how face recognition could be used to tag individuals at campaign rallies. And law enforcement officials in Memphis revealed last month that they have used surveillance footage of protesters linked to Black Lives Matter to create a “watchlist” that prohibits those individuals from entering the Memphis City Hall without an escort.

“It’s not hard to imagine the worst way this could play out today, with a digital version of a J. Edgar Hoover-style ‘enemies list,’” Laperruque said, of the use of a real-time watchlist. “Even if we don’t have [a list], the mere threat develops a chilling effect.”

The provisions for such a system are already in place. Other types of real-time searches of biometric databases — such as mobile fingerprinting and rapid DNA tests — are now part of law enforcement routines and face few legal challenges. FBI searches of state driver’s license databases using face recognition software are almost six times more common than federal court-ordered wiretaps, according to the Georgetown study.

The databases, too, have already been built. Georgetown researchers estimated that one in every two faces of adults in the United States — many of whom have never committed a crime — are captured in searchable federal, state, or local databases. The Department of Defense, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are just a few of the federal agencies that can gain access to one or more state or local face recognition systems.

Regular interagency data-sharing programs, such as fusion centers, have given officers the ability to track not only people convicted of crimes, but also petty offenders and immigrants. Immigrants entering and exiting the country with visas have already handed over fingerprints and photos of their faces to the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump has demanded the completion of a biometric system for all travelers at the border, and a new bill introduced Tuesday in the House calls for all ICE agents to wear body cameras.

“I think it is absolutely a concern that face recognition would be used to facilitate deportations,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, an expert on policing technology at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “We’re seeing how this administration is ramping up these deportation efforts. They’re looking much more widely.”

But despite these precedents and possibilities, few departments have outlined policies to limit the pairing of facial recognition technology with body camera footage. In August, Yu and colleagues at Upturn surveyed the major city police departments in the country that have equipped — or will soon equip — officers with body cameras. Out of 50 departments, only six had addressed the use of biometrics such as face recognition with their recordings.

Baltimore’s policy appears to be the first to explicitly prohibit using “stored” body-camera video with face recognition, but it still leaves the door open for real-time recognition. Meanwhile, the Boston police department limits “technological enhancements” to the cameras themselves, “including, but not limited to, facial recognition or night-vision capabilities.” This policy has the opposite problem of Baltimore’s, Yu pointed out, as it still could allow for algorithms to analyze the department’s stored footage retrospectively. He said it was essential that police departments limit the amount of time they keep footage that has no obvious evidentiary value.

“When they have this footage around, it will make it possible for departments to identify all the public places where specific individuals have encountered police over the years,” said Yu. “Given that departments are going down the path of better image recognition and better artificial intelligence technologies, they need to make public promises now that this is not the reason why they want to adopt body cameras.”

Already Inaccurate

Even with ideal policies in place, many privacy experts contend that both face recognition and body cameras are ineffective to begin with.

Body cameras have so far failed to deliver the accountability that President Barack Obama promised when his administration provided over $20 million to supply them to law enforcement. Footage from body cams rarely leads to the prosecution of officers who have shot civilians, and their efficacy in reducing police use of force is supported by limited peer-reviewed research. Not all departments have public policies guiding the use of the expensive equipment. Moreover, those that do have policies in place often insufficiently limit the retention of recordings, the ability to view footage prior to writing reports, and whether and when the cameras should be turned on.

Meanwhile, some studies have shown the accuracy of facial recognition matches decreases when identifying black faces and children, when evaluated by human examiners, and when datasets expand. A Government Accountability Office report showed that FBI searches of its Next Generation Identification database over four years returned likely matches with faces only 5 percent of the time.

“The FBI doesn’t test for false positives so it doesn’t know how frequently a system misidentifies someone as a suspect,” Diana Maurer, of the Government Accountability Office, told legislators on Wednesday. “Innocent people could bear the burden of being falsely accused, including bearing the burden of investigators showing up to their home and investigating them.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore added at the hearing, “If you’re black, you’re more likely to be affected by this technology, and that technology is more likely to be wrong. That’s a hell of a combination.”

This month, the National Institute for Standards and Technology released its first-ever test of real-time facial recognition algorithms. While the study doesn’t cover body-worn cameras, it evaluates the uses of face recognition with video in other surveillance scenarios, such as transportation hubs, asylum claims, immigration exits, and restraining orders. The study found that the accuracy of real-time face recognition algorithms had yet to reach a peak functional performance and ultimately depends on the “very difficult goal” of high image quality and resolution.

Concerns about accuracy are compounded by the fact that the companies’ algorithms are in private hands.

“How accurate is the system that puts person in jail because it says that person has warrant out for an arrest?” Yu asked. “These systems haven’t been interrogated by the public, and when they aren’t interrogated, it heightens the stakes far beyond what Microsoft or Google might be doing with their data.”

Vendors have the ability to run analytics on the footage and data that officers collect through their body cameras — and to own the results. Agencies working with Taser pay monthly subscription fees to the corporation’s information hub, evidence.com, for instance, which stores the footage on private servers. It’s these fees for storage, rather than the one-time cost of the material cameras, that are making the stock of Taser’s technology subsidiary soar.

Experts fear that the data and analytics harvested from real-time face recognition may be capitalized on for profit and that the systems will be ripe for overuse. The development of Automatic License Plate Readers, or ALPRs, serves as an instructive example.

ALPR systems, which capture and digitize license plates, were originally pitched as a way to reduce car theft. But with auto theft declining, it was hard to justify the technology’s high cost, and so a private company, Vigilant Solutions, cooked up a scheme to offer it to departments for free. But in exchange, municipalities give Vigilant their records of outstanding arrest warrants and overdue court fees, which the company uses to create a database of “flagged” vehicles. When ALPR cameras spot a flagged plate, officers pull the driver over and ask them to pay the fine or face arrest. For every transaction brokered between police and civilians pulled over with flagged plates, Vigilant gets a 25 percent service fee.

One could imagine a similar arrangement for face recognition. Daniel Fisk, vice president of the body-worn camera vendor Black Mamba Protection, thinks that given the cost of a “luxury” tool like real-time face recognition, it’s likely the software will be introduced on dashboard cameras well before it’s linked to body cameras.

“If face recognition becomes a thing, it will be in the cruisers where the ALPR are,” he said.

The opportunity to collect revenue from data-driven arrests might incentivize municipalities to invest in technologies regardless of their accuracy, argues Laperruque, of the Constitution Project. Law enforcement agencies have historically fallen prey to all kinds of emerging, expensive technologies. And as the case with regular body cameras already makes clear, departments are no stranger to purchasing technologies whether or not they actually work.

The John Hopkins survey of the new capacities of body camera vendors concluded with a word of caution: “The technology is only as good as the people who implement it.”

ISIS’s killer drones are a threat, but the Pentagon is bracing to face more-advanced ‘suicide’ aircraft

March 22, 2017

by Dan Lamothe

The Washington Post

The Pentagon, concerned about the danger that small, armed drones pose to U.S. troops, is moving forward with a project that looks beyond remote-control aircraft used by the Islamic State to an even more complex problem: an aerial raid of autonomous suicide bombers.

The unmanned bombers have not yet appeared in combat, but defense officials already are researching how to stop them. Laden with explosives or other dangerous materials, they would operate by crashing into U.S. troops in a combat zone and would not be as easy to detect as existing drones used by the Islamic State, because they would not rely on radio frequencies for remote controlling. Instead, they would be programmed to carry out a specific mission, making them especially hard to see coming.

The effort to stop the aircraft is known as the Mobile Force Protection Program and is overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which examines ways that technology can help the U.S. military. DARPA anticipates awarding contracts within weeks for the first of three phases of testing and research, said J.C. Ledé, who oversees the program.

“Right now, the best way of detecting that there is an unmanned airplane is by listening for that radio signal,” Ledé said. “Once they stop emitting that radio signal, they’re going to get a lot harder to find.”

Early stages of the research were launched in October with a solicitation to industry, and final proposals for the first phase are due in January, according to DARPA documents. The program is focused specifically on going beyond using electronic jamming to stop unmanned planes and helicopters of to 200 pounds. Each company picked is expected to get about $3 million in the first phase, with the possibility of continuing on to two subsequent phases of work that are longer and more lucrative.

Ledé said he and his team focused on defending a convoy with important cargo aboard, because it is more complicated than defending a stationary target and because what is learned will apply in other circumstances. Unmanned aircraft are now “sufficiently inexpensive” that the U.S. military must anticipate some of them may be flown directly into U.S. troops or vehicles as part of an attack, he said.

“If you are going to attack a high-value convoy, I think they would be willing to commit the hardware to it,” he said. “At most, it’s a few thousand dollars worth of hardware for a UAV.”

The effort comes as the U.S. military more broadly examines an array of ways to take out potential enemy drones. Marine Lt. Col. Dave Sousa, who examines the problem for his service, said shotguns, sniper rifles, water cannons, mini-rockets and lasers all have been considered, and the services increasingly are working together on the problem.

“When you’re more than a couple hundred meters out, you can’t tell what that thing is carrying,” Sousa said of unmanned aircraft. “You can’t tell if it has a GoPro camera. . . . You don’t know what it is. So you’ve got to detect, track and ID, and then there’s how you’re going to deal with that threat.”

In Iraq and Syria, Islamic State militants have loaded grenades on small drones and used them to attack civilians and local forces working to drive them out. In Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian soldiers have used small unmanned aircraft to find and track opposing forces. The United States sent Ukraine some mini-drones last year, but Russian-backed separatists were able to easily jam them, rendering them relatively useless, according to a Reuters report.

Army officials said in a strategy paper published in October that enemy drones could be stopped in some cases with cyber or electronic warfare or concealment through methods such as smokescreens but that small units of U.S. troops will probably face them at some point. In those cases, direct fire may be necessary, the paper said.

“Some threat UAS will be difficult to defeat left-of-launch or at standoff ranges,” the paper said. “These lines of effort will be focused largely on the individual and small unit levels.”

The new DARPA project countering autonomous drones acknowledges those concerns but specifically forbids any option that could cause harm to U.S. troops or civilians as incoming drones are engaged.

The prohibited options include high-powered directed-energy weapons, high-caliber weapons with “uncontrolled projectile trajectories,” live animals and anything that does not fit on a tactical vehicle such as a Humvee or on a small naval riverine craft.

Ledé said Phase 1 of the project could begin in May. It is expected to take about a year and will be followed by an 18-month phase with the top two competitors in the first part of the project. The third and final phase of the project will take about 21 months and focus specifically on countering a large raid of autonomous, unmanned drones.

Two major US technology firms ‘tricked out of $100m

March 22, 2017

BBC News

A Lithuanian man has been charged with tricking two US technology firms into wiring him $100m (£80.3m) through an email phishing scam.

Posing as an Asian-based manufacturer, Evaldas Rimasauskas tricked staff into transferring money into bank accounts under his control, US officials said.

The companies were not named but were described as US-based multinationals, with one operating in social media.

Officials called it a wake-up call for even “the most sophisticated” firms.

According to the US Department of Justice, Mr Rimasauskas, 48 – who was arrested in Lithuania last week – deceived the firms from at least 2013 up until 2015.

He allegedly registered a company in Latvia which bore the same name as an Asian-based computer hardware manufacturer and opened various accounts in its name at several banks.

‘Fake email accounts’

The DoJ said: “Thereafter, fraudulent phishing emails were sent to employees and agents of the victim companies, which regularly conducted multimillion-dollar transactions with [the Asian] company.”

The emails, which “purported” to be from employees and agents of the Asian firm, and were sent from fake email accounts, directed money for legitimate goods and services into Mr Rimasauskas’s accounts, the DoJ said.

The cash was then “wired into different bank accounts” in locations around the world – including Latvia, Cyprus, Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary and Hong Kong.

He also “forged invoices, contracts and letters” to hide his fraud from the banks he used.

Officials said Mr Rimasauskas siphoned off more than $100m in total, although much of the stolen money has been recovered.

Acting US Attorney Joon H Kim said: “This case should serve as a wake-up call to all companies… that they too can be victims of phishing attacks by cybercriminals.

“And this arrest should serve as a warning to all cybercriminals that we will work to track them down, wherever they are, to hold them accountable.”

The DoJ would not comment on possible extradition arrangements and said that no trial date had been set.

A Breach in the Anti-Putin Groupthink

The mainstream U.S. media has virtually banned any commentary that doesn’t treat Russian President Putin as the devil, but a surprising breach in the groupthink has occurred in Foreign Affairs magazine

March 21, 2017

by Gilbert Doctorow

consortium news

Realistically, no major change in U.S. foreign and defense policy is possible without substantial support from the U.S. political class, but a problem occurs when only one side of a debate gets a fair hearing and the other side gets ignored or marginalized. That is the current situation regarding U.S. policy toward Russia.

For the past couple of decades, only the neoconservatives and their close allies, the liberal interventionists, have been allowed into the ring to raise their gloves in celebration of an uncontested victory over policy. On the very rare occasion when a “realist” or a critic of “regime change” wars somehow manages to sneak into the ring, they find both arms tied behind them and receive the predictable pounding.

While this predicament has existed since the turn of this past century, it has grown more pronounced since the U.S.-Russia relationship slid into open confrontation in 2014 after the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and sparking a civil war that led Crimea to secede and join Russia and Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region to rise up in rebellion.

But the only narrative that the vast majority of Americans have heard – and that the opinion centers of Washington and New York have allowed – is the one that blames everything on “Russian aggression.” Those who try to express dissenting opinions – noting, for instance, the intervention in Ukrainian affairs by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland as well as the U.S.-funded undermining on Yanukovych’s government – have been essentially banned from both the U.S. mass media and professional journals.

When a handful of independent news sites (including Consortiumnews.com) tried to report on the other side of the story, they were denounced as “Russian propagandists” and ended up on “blacklists” promoted by The Washington Post and other mainstream news outlets.

An Encouraging Sign

That is why it is encouraging that Foreign Affairs magazine, the preeminent professional journal of American diplomacy, took the extraordinary step (extraordinary at least in the current environment) of publishing Robert English’s article, entitled “Russia, Trump, and a new Détente,” that challenges the prevailing groupthink and does so with careful scholarship.

In effect, English’s article trashes the positions of all Foreign Affairs’ featured contributors for the past several years. But it must be stressed that there are no new discoveries of fact or new insights that make English’s essay particularly valuable. What he has done is to bring together the chief points of the counter-current and set them out with extraordinary writing skills, efficiency and persuasiveness of argumentation.  Even more important, he has been uncompromising.

The facts laid out by English could have been set out by one of several experienced and informed professors or practitioners of international relations. But English had the courage to follow the facts where they lead and the skill to convince the Foreign Affairs editors to take the chance on allowing readers to see some unpopular truths even though the editors now will probably come under attack themselves as “Kremlin stooges.”

The overriding thesis is summed up at the start of the essay: “For 25 years, Republicans and Democrats have acted in ways that look much the same to Moscow. Washington has pursued policies that have ignored Russian interests (and sometimes international law as well) in order to encircle Moscow with military alliances and trade blocs conducive to U.S. interests. It is no wonder that Russia pushes back. The wonder is that the U.S. policy elite doesn’t get this, even as foreign-affairs neophyte Trump apparently does.”

English’s article goes back to the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and explains why and how U.S. policy toward Russia was wrong and wrong again. He debunks the notion that Boris Yeltsin brought in a democratic age, which Vladimir Putin undid after coming to power.

English explains how the U.S. meddled in Russian domestic politics in the mid-1990s to falsify election results and ensure Yeltsin’s continuation in office despite his unpopularity for bringing on an economic Depression that average Russians remember bitterly to this day. That was a time when the vast majority of Russians equated democracy with “shitocracy.”

English describes how the Russian economic and political collapse in the 1990s was exploited by the Clinton administration. He tells why currently fashionable U.S. critics of Putin are dead wrong when they fail to acknowledge Putin’s achievements in restructuring the economy, tax collection, governance, improvements in public health and more which account for his spectacular popularity ratings today.

English details all the errors and stupidities of the Obama administration in its handling of Russia and Putin, faulting President Obama and Secretary of State (and later presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton for all of their provocative and insensitive words and deeds. What we see in U.S. policy, as described by English, is the application of double standards, a prosecutorial stance towards Russia, and outrageous lies about the country and its leadership foisted on the American public.

Then English takes on directly all of the paranoia over Russia’s alleged challenge to Western democratic processes. He calls attention instead to how U.S. foreign policy and the European Union’s own policies in the new Member States and candidate Member States have created all the conditions for a populist revolt by buying off local elites and subjecting the broad populace in these countries to pauperization.

English concludes his essay with a call to give détente with Putin and Russia a chance.

Who Is Robert English?

English’s Wikipedia entry and biographical data provided on his University of Southern California web pages make it clear that he has quality academic credentials: Master of Public Administration and PhD. in politics from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He also has a solid collection of scholarly publications to his credit as author or co-editor with major names in the field of Russian-Soviet intellectual history.

He spent six years doing studies for U.S. intelligence and defense: 1982–1986 at the Department of Defense and 1986-88 at the U.S. Committee for National Security. And he has administrative experience as the Director of the USC School of International Relations.

Professor English is not without his political ambitions. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, he tried to secure a position as foreign policy adviser to Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders. In pursuit of this effort, English had the backing of progressives at The Nation, which in February 2016 published an article of his entitled “Bernie Sanders, the Foreign Policy Realist of 2016.”

English’s objective was to demonstrate how wrong many people were to see in Sanders a visionary utopian incapable of defending America’s strategic interests. Amid the praise of Sanders in this article, English asserts that Sanders is as firm on Russia as Hillary Clinton.

By the end of the campaign, however, several tenacious neocons had attached themselves to Sanders’s inner circle and English departed. So, one might size up English as just one more opportunistic academic who will do whatever it takes to land a top job in Washington.

While there is nothing new in such “flexibility,” there is also nothing necessarily offensive in it. From the times of Machiavelli if not earlier, intellectuals have tended to be guns for hire. The first open question is how skilled they are in managing their sponsors as well as in managing their readers in the public. But there is also a political realism in such behavior, advancing a politician who might be a far better leader than the alternatives while blunting the attack lines that might be deployed against him or her.

Then, there are times, such as the article for Foreign Affairs, when an academic may be speaking for his own analysis of an important situation whatever the political costs or benefits. Sources who have long been close to English assure me that the points in his latest article match his true beliefs.

The Politics of Geopolitics

Yet, it is one thing to have a courageous author and knowledgeable scholar. It is quite another to find a publisher willing to take the heat for presenting views that venture outside the mainstream Establishment. In that sense, it is stunning that Foreign Affairs chose to publish English and let him destroy the groupthink that has dominated the magazine and the elite foreign policy circles for years.

The only previous exception to the magazine’s lockstep was an article by University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer entitled “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” published in September 2014. That essay shot holes in Official Washington’s recounting of the events leading up to the Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Donbass.

It was a shock to many of America’s leading foreign policy insiders who, in the next issue, rallied like a collection of white cells to attack the invasive thinking. But there were some Foreign Affairs readers – about one-third of the commenters – who voiced agreement with Mearsheimer’s arguments. But that was a one-time affair. Mearsheimer appears to have been tolerated because he was one of the few remaining exponents of the Realist School in the United States. But he was not a Russia specialist.

Foreign Affairs may have turned to Robert English because the editors, as insider-insiders, found themselves on the outside of the Trump administration looking in. The magazine’s 250,000 subscribers, which include readers from across the globe, expect Foreign Affairs to have some lines into the corridors of power.

In that regard, the magazine has been carrying water for the State Department since the days of the Cold War. For instance, in the spring issue of 2007, the magazine published a cooked-up article signed by Ukrainian politician Yuliya Tymoshenko on why the West must contain Russia, a direct response to Putin’s famous Munich speech in which he accused the United States of destabilizing the world through the Iraq War and other policies.

Anticipating Hillary Clinton’s expected election, Foreign Affairs’ editors did not hedge their bets in 2016. They sided with the former Secretary of State and hurled rhetorical bricks at Donald Trump. In their September issue, they compared him to a tin-pot populist dictator in South America.

Thus, they found themselves cut off after Trump’s surprising victory. For the first time in many years in the opening issue of the New Year following a U.S. presidential election, the magazine did not feature an interview with the incoming Secretary of State or some other cabinet member.

Though Official Washington’s anti-Russian frenzy seems to be reaching a crescendo on Capitol Hill with strident hearings on alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election, the underlying reality is that the neocons are descending into a fury over their sudden loss of power.

The hysteria was highlighted when neocon Sen. John McCain lashed out at Sen. Rand Paul after the libertarian senator objected to special consideration for McCain’s resolution supporting Montenegro’s entrance into NATO. In a stunning breach of Senate protocol, a livid McCain accused Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin.”

Meanwhile, some Democratic leaders have begun cautioning their anti-Trump followers not to expect too much from congressional investigations into the supposed Trump-Russia collusion on the election.

In publishing Robert English’s essay challenging much of the anti-Russian groupthink that has dominated Western geopolitics over the past few years, Foreign Affairs may be finally bending to the recognition that it is risking its credibility if it continues to put all its eggs in the we-hate-Russia basket.

That hedging of its bets may be a case of self-interest, but it also may be an optimistic sign that the martyred Fifteenth Century Catholic Church reformer Jan Hus was right when he maintained that eventually the truth will prevail.


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