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TBR News March 23, 2018

Mar 23 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. March 23 , 2018:”We will be oj\ut of the office until March 25, ed.”

 

Table of Contents

  • Former US ambassador ‘appalled’ by Trump foreign policy
  • #DeleteFacebook? Privacy proves hard to protect online
  • Musk deletes Facebook pages of Tesla, SpaceX after challenged on Twitter
  • Here’s John Bolton Promising Regime Change in Iran by the End of 2018
  • British authorities raid Cambridge Analytica offices in London
  • The week Facebook’s value plunged $58bn
  • Leaked: Cambridge Analytica’s blueprint for Trump victory
  • March Madness, Washington-Style
  • Trump’s White House: Who has been fired or left so far?
  • Markets edgy on US-China trade war fears

 

Former US ambassador ‘appalled’ by Trump foreign policy

Former US diplomat and Balkan mediator James Pardew talks to DW about the current administration in Washington, its foreign policy and whether or not President Trump will manage to finish his mandate in the White House.

by Boris Georgievski and  Adelheid Feilcke

March 22, 2018

DW

DW: US President Donald Trump decided to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his election victory a couple of days ago, apparently disregarding the advice of his national security advisor, according to US media. What does this say about the current US administration and its direction?  

As far as the president’s call to Putin, he probably joined maybe 10 other national leaders around the world in congratulating him. As an American, I’m embarrassed that the president of the US would call Vladimir Putin and congratulate him. As a professional foreign policy advisor I’m extremely critical of the Trump administration, their lack of foreign policy expertise, and I think that the president making the unwise decision to call Putin shows how amateurish and confused they are. There are some people in the White House who have common sense and know that this was a bad thing, but he did it anyway. This president prides himself in his personal judgment, no matter how flawed that might be, and he loves to do things independently from professional advice. There is contempt for professionalism in the White House, that is shocking right now. The State Department has been devastated. Rex Tillerson was the weakest Secretary of State that I can ever recall. He was brutally fired and humiliated, but still he was not an effective secretary. I don’t know if Mike Pompeo would be any better because ultimately the president makes the decisions, and now he seems more confident than ever after he fired Tillerson. So I’m appalled by the foreign policy direction of the US.

With everything that is happening in the world right now, how dangerous is it to have such an administration in Washington? 

I don’t think anybody ever imagined that we would have this kind of situation in Washington. The president has an unclear relationship to Putin and there is a lot of speculation whether that’s true. But he has a problem criticizing Russia for anything. Turkey just shelled an American ally, the Kurds in Syria, and as far as I know, the current administration has not said one word about that. Trump seems to be more comfortable with tyrants and autocrats than he is with democratic allies in Europe, so it is a real problem. But I do think that the US public, certainly the thoughtful public, is very well aware of this. The president’s popularity rating is very low, probably the lowest of any president at this point, but he seems to continue to soldier on in his own way. All in all, I think no one should discount the US. We have strong institutions. We have a very aggressive press that has not been intimidated or humiliated and they stay after him every day, as they should, holding him accountable. I think that the checks and balances in the US are working. It may take a while, but I think the process of correcting the mistake that was made here is underway and eventually the US will self-correct and we will reassume the leadership role as a democratic country.

Do you expect President Trump to finish his current mandate in office? 

I don’t know. A lot of it depends on two things. The elections this fall will be very important to the future. If the Democrats win the House and the Senate over the Republicans, and they control both houses of the Congress, then a lot depends on what Mr. Mueller (Robert Mueller, former FBI chief and special council investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election) concludes. If the House and Senate are democratic and Mueller comes in with very strong indictments or conclusions about collusion and other things, then Trump might face impeachment. If the Republicans win the House and the Senate and Mueller’s conclusions are not strong, then Trump might last the full term. I worry not so much about the obstruction of justice, I think President Trump has clearly done that, or even collusion. What I would like to see is a judgment on whether or not the president was personally compromised in Russia. Either financially through his financial dealings with oligarchs in Russia, or personally through his behavior in Moscow. Hopefully, Mueller’s investigation will look hard into that and tell us whether any of those things are true.

The Cambridge Analytica data scandal highlights a different aspect concerning the elections in the US, and probably in many other countries, too. What kind of manipulation are we talking about here?

This Cambridge Analytica thing is shocking to me beyond words. Did people try to manipulate the elections? Yes. But the kind of sophistication we are talking about here is something that I personally didn’t envision happening, and that might take this to a whole new level. And particularly if they discover that some foreign power was involved. That would be unbelievable. What we are talking about here is a very sophisticated covert operation. Democracies are under attack from covert manipulation of information. Someone asked me if this could have affected Brexit. I don’t know. That needs to be checked. But it appears as though this was a major factor in the US elections. We don’t know the consequences yet, but this is going to be a major issue in the coming months.

You’ve spent 13 years working as a mediator solving conflicts in the Balkans. It has been 17 years since the end of the last Balkan conflict, but, obviously, a lot of these issues remain unresolved. Where do you see the Balkans today?

After a few years working in the Balkans, if you just walk into your office every day and you look at the situation, you would say: Oh my god, we have so many problems to solve. But you have to back away from that sometimes, and you have to look back and see how far we’ve come compared to where it was before. A number of Balkan countries today are members of NATO and the EU. The rest of the region is aspiring towards EU and NATO membership. Most of the countries are democracies. Economic progress has been made. When you look around the region, it’s at peace; it is oriented towards democracy. Hopefully, we are on the verge of resolving the name issue [between Macedonia and Greece] which will allow Macedonia to enter NATO and probably the EU. So, a lot has been done.

 

#DeleteFacebook? Privacy proves hard to protect online

March 23, 2018

by Douglas Busvine

Reuters

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Anyone tempted to #DeleteFacebook after the personal data of millions of users fell into the hands of a political consultancy is still likely to be monitored by the social network, which tracks nearly 30 percent of global website traffic.

And Google (GOOGL.O), in various guises, shadows 64 percent of all web-browsing worldwide, a recent study (www.ghostery.com/lp/study) of 200,000 German users by Cliqz, using its anti-tracking product Ghostery, said.

Neither Facebook nor Google responded to emails asking whether they viewed the Cliqz research as representative.

A larger study (here) of web trackers by researchers at Princeton University in 2016 produced similar results, with Google Analytics and other Google trackers taking the top five places, followed by Facebook (FB.O).

Cliqz, majority owned by German publisher Hubert Burda Media and backed by Mozilla, creator of the Firefox browser, is one of several startups that promises to protect personal data.

“We prevent companies like this from spying on you,” chief executive Marc Al-Hames told Reuters.

From private browsers like Cliqz to anti-trackers and ad blockers, such firms seek to shield users from intrusion. Mainstream providers in Europe are also trying to differentiate themselves by stressing privacy.

“Every time there is a scandal like this at the U.S. companies it boosts our business,” Ralph Dommermuth, founder and CEO of Germany’s United Internet (UTDI.DE), told Reuters. The company offers encrypted email services, hosted in Germany under its strict privacy laws, and does not sell users’ data.

United Internet and others recently formed a ‘Login Alliance’ offering a single, secure way for their 50 million users to give consent in compliance with new European Union privacy rules that enter into force in May.

That contrasts with rampant use in the past of Facebook Login by companies to tap personal data.

VOLCANIC ERUPTION

Privacy advocates have warned for years that Facebook’s terms of use left it open to data harvesting.

Psychologist Aleksandr Kogan collected data on 50 million Facebook by creating a personality quiz taken by a few hundred thousand people. In consenting to its terms, they let the app collect information on their Facebook ‘friends’ – without their knowledge or consent.

The U.S. academic passed that data to Cambridge Analytica, which applied data science and psychographic profiling to back Donald Trump’s election campaign – violating Facebook’s rules.

“It’s the volcano that was going to erupt at some point – we just didn’t know when,” Ben Williams, director of communications and operations at Germany-based Adblock Plus, said.

AdBlock Plus has 100 million users seeking protection from ads such as auto-play videos. It is not a privacy product as such, although users can tweak settings to increase protection.

Most people do not mind normal search advertising, but object to intrusive third-party ads, Williams said.

LOSS OF FACEBOOK

The Facebook leak shows that the data should never have been collected, Cliqz’s Al-Hames said:

“We should all be outraged but nobody should be surprised. Everybody who has data will eventually lose that data.”

Cliqz has an icon that shows how many private data points trackers are trying to access when you visit a site.

Its anti-tracking feature substitutes private data with random information to throw them off your trail, while there is also an anti-phishing feature to thwart data theft.

Cliqz does store browsing history at the ‘edge’ – on desktops and smartphones – and uses this to personalize search.

Without giving direct access, it also lets firms use that information to target adverts using its MyOffrz product in a way that complies with the new EU privacy rules.

“We can deliver a targeted ad – but it doesn’t mean that there is information about you on our servers,” Al-Hames said.

Cliqz has around half a million active users, while Ghostery, the browser extension that monitors which web servers are being called from a given page, has around 7 million users.

Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Alexander Smith

 

Musk deletes Facebook pages of Tesla, SpaceX after challenged on Twitter

March 23, 2018

Reuters

“Delete SpaceX page on Facebook if you’re the man?” a user tweeted to Tesla Chief Executive Musk. His response: “I didn’t realize there was one. Will do.” (bit.ly/2pDcu3l)

Facebook pages of SpaceX and Tesla, which had millions of followers, are no longer accessible.

Musk had begun the exchange by responding to a tweet from WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton on the #deletefacebook tag.

The hashtag gained prominence after the world’s largest social network upset users by mishandling data, which ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica – a political consultancy that worked on U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

“What’s Facebook?” Musk tweeted.

Many users also urged the billionaire to delete the profiles of his companies on Facebook’s photo-sharing app Instagram.

“Instagram’s probably ok … so long as it stays fairly independent,” Musk responded.

“I don’t use FB & never have, so don’t think I’m some kind of martyr or my companies are taking a huge blow. Also, we don’t advertise or pay for endorsements, so … don’t care.”

Musk has had run-ins with Facebook Inc (FB.O) founder Mark Zuckerberg in the past.

Last year, a war of words broke out between Musk and Zuckerberg over whether robots will become smart enough to kill their human creators.

When Zuckerberg was asked about Musk’s views on the dangers of robots, he chided “naysayers” whose “doomsday scenarios” were “irresponsible.” (reut.rs/2HWadYQ)

In response, Musk tweeted: “His understanding of the subject is limited.”

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

 

Here’s John Bolton Promising Regime Change in Iran by the End of 2018

March 23 2018

by Robert Mackey

The Intercept

Among those most alarmed by President Donald Trump’s selection of John Bolton as his new national security adviser on Thursday were supporters of the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a partial lifting of economic sanctions.

Rob Malley, who coordinated Middle East policy in the Obama administration, observed that Bolton’s appointment, along with the nomination of Iran deal critic Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, seemed to signal that the agreement would most likely be “dead and buried” within months. Trita Parsi, leader of the National Iranian American Council wrote on Twitter: “People, let this be very clear: The appointment of Bolton is essentially a declaration of war with Iran. With Pompeo and Bolton, Trump is assembling a WAR CABINET.”

Their alarm was understandable. Bolton has not only demanded that the Trump administration withdraw from the nuclear deal, he also previously advocated bombing Iran instead. Bolton has spent the better part of a decade calling for the United States to help overthrow the theocratic government in Tehran and hand power to a cult-like group of Iranian exiles with no real support inside the country.

Just eight months ago, at a Paris gathering, Bolton told members of the Iranian exile group, known as the Mujahedeen Khalq, MEK, or People’s Mujahedeen, that the Trump administration should embrace their goal of immediate regime change in Iran and recognize their group as a “viable” alternative.

“The outcome of the president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its 40th birthday,” Bolton said. (The 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution will be on February 11, 2019.) “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton added. “The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.”“And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”

As the Iranian expatriate journalist Bahman Kalbasi noted, Bolton concluded his address to the exiles with a rousing promise

To understand how extraordinary it is that the man about to become the president’s most senior national security official made this promise to the MEK, it is important to know that, until recently, the Iranian dissidents had spent three decades trying to achieve their aims through violence, including terrorist attacks.

After members of the MEK helped foment the 1979 revolution, in part by killing American civilians working in Tehran, the group then lost a bitter struggle for power to the Islamists led by the revolution’s leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. With its leadership forced to flee Iran in 1981, the MEK’s members set up a government-in-exile in France and established a military base in Iraq, where they were given arms and training by Saddam Hussein, as part of a strategy to destabilize the government in Tehran that he was at war with.

In recent years, as The Intercept has reported, the MEK has poured millions of dollars into reinventing itself as a moderate political group ready to take power in Iran if Western-backed regime change ever takes place. To that end, it lobbied successfully to be removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2012. The Iranian exiles achieved this over the apparent opposition of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in part by paying a long list of former U.S. officials hefty speaking fees of between $10,000 to $50,000 for hymns of praise like the one Bolton delivered last July.

But, according to Ariane Tabatabai, a Georgetown University scholar, the “cult-like dissident group” — whose married members were reportedly forced to divorce and take a vow of lifelong celibacy — “has no viable chance of seizing power in Iran.”

If the current government is not Iranians’ first choice for a government, the MEK is not even their last — and for good reason. The MEK supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. The people’s discontent with the Iranian government at that time did not translate into their supporting an external enemy that was firing Scuds into Tehran, using chemical weapons and killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, including many civilians. Today, the MEK is viewed negatively by most Iranians, who would prefer to maintain the status quo than rush to the arms of what they consider a corrupt, criminal cult.

Despite such doubts that the MEK’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is any more reliable than Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress proved to be, spending lavishly on paid endorsements has earned the group a bipartisan roster of Washington politicians willing to sign up as supporters. At a previous gala, in 2016, Bolton was joined in singing the group’s praises by another former U.N. ambassador, Bill Richardson; a former attorney general, Michael Mukasey; the former State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley; the former Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend; the former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.; and the former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. That Paris gala was hosted by Linda Chavez, a former Reagan administration official.

At a similar event this January, the backdrop behind former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, as he praised MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, made the aim of the group’s investment in American politicians clear.

Unsurprisingly, leading figures from among the exile group’s Washington followers have expressed delight over Bolton’s impending elevation to the White House

At the group’s celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Albania on Tuesday, Rajavi was joined on stage by Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City.

Although the official announcement from the White House was not made until Thursday, Giuliani told the group, to loud applause, that Bolton “is going to be President Trump’s national security adviser.”

In case there was any doubt among the exiles that Bolton might not advise Trump to overthrow Iran’s government, Giuliani assured them that “if anything, John Bolton has become more determined that there needs to be regime change in Iran, that the nuclear agreement needs to be burned, and that you need to be in charge of that country.”

Moments later, Giuliani led the crowd in chanting “regime change.”

Despite the fact that Trump ran for office as a critic of the decision to invade Iraq, Bolton still refuses to call the preemptive attack a mistake. That position stunned even Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, during an interview two weeks ago. After Carlson pointed out that Bolton had called for regime change in Iraq, Libya, Iran, and Syria, and the first of those had been “a disaster,” Bolton disagreed, saying, “I think your analysis is simple-minded, frankly.”

“I think the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, that military action, was a resounding success,” Bolton told Carlson. The chaos that followed in Iraq, he said, was caused by a poorly executed occupation that ended too soon. On the bright side, Bolton said, the mistakes the U.S. made in Iraq offered “lessons about what to do after a regime is overthrown” in the future.

 

British authorities raid Cambridge Analytica offices in London

The raid is the latest in an ongoing scandal surrounding the company’s use of millions of Facebook users’ private data. The warrant for the search had been delayed by 24 hours.

March 23, 2018

DW

Investigators from Britain’s information regulatory agency on Friday raided the central London offices of Cambridge Analytica, the consulting company at the center of a Facebook data misuse scandal.

A Hugh Court judge had granted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) a warrant for the search on Friday evening.

“ICO granted warrant: We’re pleased with the decision of the judge and we plan to execute the warrant shortly,” the ICO tweeted shortly before the raid. “This is just one part of a larger investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes and we will now need time to collect and consider the evidence.”

Transatlantic probes

ICO chief Elizabeth Denham had requested the warrant on Thursday after a whistleblower said Cambridge Analytica had illegally used private information of some 50 million Facebook users to support US President Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign.

The presiding judge, Anthony James Leonard, adjourned the request by 24 hours. His legal explanation for the approval is expected on Tuesday.

Regulators in the US and Britain are also investigating whether Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, did enough to protect user data.

CA denies wrongdoing

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have denied committing any crimes.

Cambridge Analytica said it was, however, undertaking an independent audit to verify that it no longer has any of the Facebook data.

“We in no way resemble the politically motivated and unethical company that some have sought to portray,” acting CEO Alexander Tayler said. “The company believed that the data had been obtained in line with Facebook’s terms of service and data protection laws.”

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has admitted his company “made mistakes” and apologized to the service’s users.

Cambridge CEO suspended

Cambridge Analytica suspended its chief executive, Alexander Nix, on Tuesday after Britain’s Channel 4 News published a video of Nix boasting about ensnaring politicians and covertly influencing elections around the world.

British lawmakers have requested Zuckerberg and Nix appear before the Parliament to answer questions about the alleged data misuse.

 

The week Facebook’s value plunged $58bn

March 23, 2018

BBC News

Facebook ended the week $58bn lower in value after its handling of a historic data breach.

Its founder Mark Zuckerberg apologised for data breaches that affected 50 million users.The apology did not stop investors from selling shares in Facebook, with many wondering just how bad the damage will be for the social network.

The breach was called a “light bulb” moment for users, spawning a the social media trend #deletefacebook.

All the negative headlines led to some advertisers saying “enough is enough”.

Shares in the social media company fell from $176.80 on Monday to around $159.30 by Friday night.

Will the shares recover?

Facebook’s initial public offering in 2012 priced shares at $38 each, giving the company a market valuation of close to $104bn.

Following steady user growth and a dominant space in the digital advertising market ensuring revenues, Facebook’s share price climbed to $190 by February this year.

Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research, said he had one of the most negative outlooks for Facebook’s share price on Wall Street.

“I had a $152 price target on Facebook for 2018 – and that was before the events of this week”.

Mr Wieser said the share price slump showed investors were wary of increased regulation and users leaving the platform “but there’s little risk of advertisers leaving Facebook. Where else would they go?”

Hargreaves Lansdown senior analyst Laith Khalaf said the week had been a “damaging episode” in Facebook’s history.

“One of the secrets of Facebook’s success has been that the more people who use Facebook, the more integral it becomes to its customers. Unfortunately for Facebook, the same dynamic cuts in the opposite direction if it loses a meaningful number of users as a result of this scandal. ”

What has been the response from advertisers?

Advertising firm M&C Saatchi’s founding director David Kershaw said the revelations that a 2014 Facebook quiz essentially harvested data from users and their connected friends without consent have led to a backlash from advertisers.

“Clients have come to the point, quite rightly, where enough is enough, ” Mr Kershaw said.

Advertisers Mozilla and Commerzbank on Wednesday suspended ads on the social media platform.

On Friday tech entrepreneur Elon Musk had the official Facebook pages for his companies Tesla and SpaceX deleted.

“Make no mistake Facebook is an amazing medium from the advertiser’s point of view because of the accuracy of its targeting – which comes from data. But I think those large companies are very nervous to be associated with a medium where the data is being abused, particularly in a political context,” Mr Kershaw said.

Mr Kershaw told the BBC any change in Facebook’s data protection policy was more likely to come from the threat of a withdrawal of “hard money from advertisers rather than consumers running hashtag [campaigns] on Twitter,” referring to the #DeleteFacebook and #BoycottFacebook hashtags that have become popular.

UK advertising group ISBA met Facebook on Friday and said its “constructive and challenging” summit had convinced the group that the social media company was taking steps to “rapidly address public and advertiser concerns”, including app audits and face-to-face meetings with individual UK advertising clients.

It will take some time before it becomes clear if the advertising industry’s dissatisfaction with Facebook leads to them actually pulling their money out of the social network, or whether the howls of condemnation amount to mere posturing from a group of concerned clients.

Has Zuckerberg done enough to reassure people?

The Facebook founder tried to reassure users “the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago.”

However, Passion Capital tech investor Eileen Burbidge, who is also on the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group, said Facebook’s reassurance to users and clients took too long.

“The fact that it took them five days to come out with a statement, which happened to be a fair, sensible and comprehensive statement, was just far too long,” Mrs Burbidge said.

“I think they were just really tone deaf for too many days.”

The technology venture capitalist said Facebook underestimated the consumer backlash that occurred once their data was used for political purposes.

Cambridge Analytica is at the centre of a row over whether it used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum.

“Some people are using the term ‘political manipulation’.

“They [Facebook] assumed they had already taken care of this… as they had already changed their terms of service, for example,” Mrs Burbidge said.

In Mr Zuckerberg’s online statement he offered a timeline of how Facebook’s data permission agreements with users and other companies had changed since the 2014 personality quiz app was able to scrape data from quiz takers and their contacts without their expressed permission.

Mrs Burbidge said there may need to be new regulation over political campaigning “which really hasn’t kept up with social media”.

What will Facebook users do?

Technology writer Kate Bevan said the week’s events have woken Facebook’s users up to the fact that the platform’s games, quizzes and apps could harvest their data for more serious intents.

“This week feels to me like a real light bulb moment where people are understanding that it’s not just clicking ‘like’ on Facebook, it’s giving your data away”.

The sentiment was echoed by the European Union’s commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality Vera Jourova said the Cambridge Analytica allegations had been “a huge wake-up call” for Facebook users about the demand for their data.

“The tiger has gotten out of the cage”.

 

Leaked: Cambridge Analytica’s blueprint for Trump victory

Exclusive: Former employee explains how presentation showed techniques used to target voters

March 23, 2018

by Paul Lewis and Paul Hilder in San Francisco

The Guardian

The blueprint for how Cambridge Analytica claimed to have won the White House for Donald Trump by using Google, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is revealed for the first time in an internal company document obtained by the Guardian.

The 27-page presentation was produced by the Cambridge Analytica officials who worked most closely on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

A former employee explained to the Guardian how it details the techniques used by the Trump campaign to micro-target US voters with carefully tailored messages about the Republican nominee across digital channels.

Intensive survey research, data modelling and performance-optimising algorithms were used to target 10,000 different ads to different audiences in the months leading up to the election. The ads were viewed billions of times, according to the presentation.

The document was presented to Cambridge Analytica employees in London, New York and Washington DC weeks after Trump’s victory, providing an insight into how the controversial firm helped pull off one of the most dramatic political upsets in modern history.

“This is the debrief of the data-driven digital campaign that was employed for Mr Trump,” said Brittany Kaiser, 30, who was Cambridge Analytica’s business development director until two weeks ago, when she left over a contractual dispute.

She is the second former employee to come forward in less than a week, talking exclusively to the Guardian about the inner workings of the firm, including the work she said it conducted on the UK’s EU membership referendum.

She said she had access to a copy of the same document now obtained by the Guardian, and had used it to showcase the campaign’s secret methods to potential clients of Cambridge Analytica.

“There was a huge demand internally for people to see how we did it,” Kaiser said of the 2016 race. “Everyone wanted to know: past clients, future clients. The whole world wanted to see it. This is what we were allowed to confidentially show people if they signed a non-disclosure agreement.”

Kaiser claims to be committed to human rights, but many would argue her career at Cambridge Analytica tells a different story. She has worked extensively for the firm, pitching business to clients in countries that have a history of exploitation by western political mercenaries, including Lithuania, Benin, Ethiopia and Libya.

Cambridge Analytica has a reputation among political operatives for exaggerating its role in campaigns. A senior Trump campaign official who said they saw the document about a year ago claimed it took credit for some work that was done by the Republican national committee and Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale.

Kaiser did not work on the campaign but said she gleaned information about how it was orchestrated during discussions with senior staff, including the now suspended chief executive, Alexander Nix.

None of the techniques described in the document are illegal. However, the scandal over Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of data from more than 50 million Facebook users is lifting the lid on an industry that has learned how to closely track the online footprint and daily lives of US voters.

Despite the advances made in data-led political campaigning, these were techniques that, according to the presentation, Trump did not have access to when Cambridge Analytica joined his campaign in early June 2016.

The Republican nominee, who had just secured sufficient delegates to become the party’s candidate, still had “no speakable data infrastructure” and “no unifying data, digital and tech strategy”, the document states.

Kaiser said Cambridge Analytica staff told her they were stunned when they arrived at Trump’s headquarters in Trump Tower, New York.

“There was no database of record. There were many disparate data sources that were not connected, matched or hygiened,” she said of the process of ordering, sorting and cleaning enormous data sets. “There was no data science programme, so they weren’t undertaking any modelling. There was no digital marketing team.”

One of the first things Cambridge Analytica did, she said, was work with data supplied by the party’s data trust and other data acquired through an initiative called Project Alamo.

The document contains very little information about how the campaign used Facebook data. One page, however, suggests Cambridge Analytica was able to constantly monitor the effectiveness of its messaging on different types of voters, giving the company and the campaign constant feedback about levels of engagement on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

The feedback loop meant the algorithms could be constantly updated and improved to deliver thousands of different messages to voters depending on their profile.

The level of information the company could glean about voters – and the apparent appetite among Silicon Valley companies to cash in on the advertising bonanza – is illustrated on another page which shows how the Trump campaign used a prime piece of marketing real estate on election day: YouTube’s entire masthead.

Kaiser said Hillary Clinton’s campaign had reserved the space on Google’s video-hosting platform but was so confident of victory that it gave it up. “Google called us and said this ad space is now available, immediately,” Kaiser said. “That’s what I was told.”

The Trump campaign seized the opportunity, showing two different ads to different categories of voters according to the detailed geographical information of visitors to the YouTube home page.

Voters in areas where people were likely to be Trump supporters were shown a triumphant-looking image of the nominee, and help finding their nearest polling station.

Those whose geographical information suggested they were not fervent Trump supporters, such as swing voters, were shown photos of his high-profile supporters, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, a celebrity from the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, and Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

One of the most effective ads, according to Kaiser, was a piece of native advertising on the political news website Politico, which was also profiled in the presentation. The interactive graphic, which looked like a piece of journalism and purported to list “10 inconvenient truths about the Clinton Foundation”, appeared for several weeks to people from a list of key swing states when they visited the site. It was produced by the in-house Politico team that creates sponsored content.

The Cambridge Analytica presentation dedicates an entire slide to the ad, which is described as having achieved “an average engagement time of four minutes”. Kaiser described the ad as “the most successful thing we pushed out”.

Politico said editorial journalists were not involved in the campaign, and similar ads were purchased by the Bernie Sanders and Clinton campaigns.

Advertisements on Facebook, Twitter, Google and the music-sharing app Pandora were used to help convince 35,000 supporters to install an app used by the most active supporters.

According to the presentation, Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign also used a new advertising technique offered by Twitter, launched at the start of the election year, which enabled clients to kickstart viral tweets.

The “conversational ads” feature was used to encourage Trump’s followers to tweet using a set of pre-determined hashtags.

The campaign also took advantage of an ad opportunity provided by Snapchat, enabling users to swipe up and immediately see a preloaded web page. While not useful for securing donors, Cambridge Analytica deemed the tool useful for engaging potential voter “contacts”, according to the presentation.

One of the final slides explains how the company used paid-for Google ads to implement “persuasion search advertising”, to push pro-Trump and anti-Clinton search results through the company’s main search facility.

One slide showed how the company ensured that voters searching the words “Trump Iraq War” would encounter paid-for search results that were favourable to his campaign. “Control The First Impression,” the slide says, with an arrow pointing to a search result that states: “Hillary Voted for the Iraq War – Donald Trump opposed it.”

“That’s a Google manipulation thing,” Kaiser said, adding that while a “general person” probably did not know how easy it was to pay for ads to appear high in Google search results, it was considered “an old-school tactic” in her industry.

 

March Madness, Washington-Style

March 23, 2018

by Andrew P. Napolitano

AntiWar

 

For the past few days, the nation’s media and political class have been fixated on the firing of the No. 2 person in the FBI, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe became embroiled in the investigation of President Donald Trump because of his alleged approval of the use of a political dossier, written about Trump and paid for by the Democrats and not entirely substantiated, as a basis to secure a search warrant for surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser who once boasted that he worked for the Kremlin at the same time that he was advising candidate Trump.

The dossier itself and whatever was learned from the surveillance formed the basis for commencing the investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia by the Obama Department of Justice, which is now being run by special counsel Robert Mueller and has been expanded into other areas. The surveillance of the Trump campaign based on arguably flimsy evidence put McCabe into President Trump’s crosshairs. Indeed, Trump attacked McCabe many times on social media and even rejoiced when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him at 10 p.m. last Friday, just 26 hours before his retirement was to have begun.

Why the fixation on this? Here is the back story.

After the unlawful use of the FBI and CIA by the Nixon administration to spy on President Nixon’s domestic political opponents, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. This statute outlawed all domestic surveillance except that which is authorized by the Constitution or by the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

That court, the statute declared, could authorize surveillance of foreigners physically located in the United States on a legal standard lesser than that which the Constitution requires. Even though this meant Congress could avoid the Constitution – an event that every high school social studies student knows is unconstitutional – the FISC enthusiastically embraced its protocol.

That protocol was a recipe for the constitutional crisis that is now approaching. The recipe consists of a secret court whose records and rulings are not available to the public. It’s a court where only the government’s lawyers appear; hence there is no challenge to the government’s submissions. And it’s a court that applies a legal standard profoundly at odds with the Constitution. The Constitution requires the presentation of evidence of probable cause of a crime as the trigger for a search warrant, yet FISA requires only probable cause of a relationship to a foreign power.

In the years in which the FISC authorized spying only on foreigners, few Americans complained. Some of us warned at FISA’s inception that this system violates the Constitution and is ripe for abuse, yet we did not know then how corrupt the system would become. The corruption was subtle, as it consisted of government lawyers, in secret and without opposition, persuading the FISC to permit spying on Americans.

The logic was laughable, but it went like this: We need to spy on all foreigners, whether they’re working for a foreign government or not; we need to spy on anyone who communicates with a foreigner; and we need to spy on anyone who has communicated with anyone else who has ever communicated with a foreigner.

These absurd extrapolations, pressed on the FISC and accepted by it in secret, turned FISA – a statute written to prevent spying on Americans – into a tool that facilitates it. Now, back to McCabe.

Though the use of FISA for domestic spying on ordinary Americans came about gradually and was generally known only to those in the federal intelligence and law enforcement communities and to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, by the time McCabe became deputy director of the FBI, this spying was commonplace. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (is it really a court, given that its rulings are secret and it hears only the government and it rejects the constraints of the Constitution?) has granted 99.9 percent of government surveillance requests.

So when McCabe and his colleagues went to the FISC in October 2016 looking for a search warrant to conduct surveillance of officials in the Trump campaign, they knew that their request would be granted, but they never expected that their application, their work and the purpose of their request – as far removed as it was from the original purpose of FISA – would come under public scrutiny.

Indeed, it was not until the surveillance of Trump and his colleagues in the campaign and the transition came to light – with McCabe as the poster boy for it – that most Americans even knew how insidiously governmental powers are being abused.

The stated reason for McCabe’s firing was not his abuse of FISA but his absence of candor to FBI investigators about his use of FISA. I don’t know whether those allegations are the true reasons for his firing or McCabe was sacrificed at the altar of government abuse – because those who fired him also have abused FISA.

But I do know that there are lessons to learn in all this. Courts are bound by the Constitution, just as are Congress and the president. Just because Congress says something is lawful does not mean it is constitutional. Secret courts are the tools of tyrants and lead to the corruption of the judicial process and the erosion of freedom.

And courts that hear no challenge to the government and grant whatever it wants are not courts as we understand them; they are government hacks. They and the folks who have facilitated all this have undermined personal liberty in our once free society.

The whole purpose of the Constitution is to restrain the government and to protect personal liberty. FISA and its enablers in both major political parties have done the opposite. They have infused government with corruption and have assaulted the privacy of us all.

 

Trump’s White House: Who has been fired or left so far?

From Rex Tillerson to Sean Spicer, Al Jazeera looks at the most notable Trump administration departures so far.

March 23, 2018

AlJazeera

Since coming to office in January 2017, US President Donald Trump’s administration has witnessed the departure – at times forced – of a number of high-ranking officials.

In less than two weeks, at least three Trump administration officials have either announced their resignation or left the White House.

This followed the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13.

Tillerson’s firing came just weeks after White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned.

Al Jazeera takes a look at some of the Trump administration departures.

Lt General HR McMaster – Resigned

National Security Adviser

A White House source told Al Jazeera that Trump and McMaster “mutually agreed” on the decision for the national security adviser to resign.

The source denied that the reshuffle was related to recent developments in Trump’s cabinet, saying ti was the result of “ongoing conversations” between the two officials.

In confirming his resignation, McMaster also announced his retirement from the US Army.

Trump announced on Twitter that McMaster will be replaced by former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton.

Andrew McCabe – Fired

Deputy FBI Director

After his firing in March as the FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe said he had been targeted because he is a crucial witness into whether President Donald Trump tried to obstruct the Russia investigation.

According to the Justice Department, McCabe had leaked information to reporters and misled investigators about his actions – allegations he denied.

“Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played and the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” McCabe said in a lengthy statement following his firing.

McCabe corroborated former FBI Director James Comey’s claims that Trump tried to pressure him into ending the Russia probe.

Rex Tillerson – Fired

Secretary of State

Tillerson, a former top executive of the energy giant Exxon, took office on February 1, 2017. His relationship with Trump quickly turned rocky over the Iran nuclear agreement, the Gulf crisis, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

But things took a serious turn for the worse in October after news reports broke that Tillerson described the US president as a “f$@&ing moron”.

Tillerson denied he had insulted his boss, but their relationship apparently couldn’t recover.

Steve Bannon – Resigned

Chief Strategist

Bannon co-founded Breitbart News, a website with the purported goal of countering mainstream media and providing a platform for movements at the right-end of the political spectrum.

The 64-year-old’s relationship with the president soured following speculation he was leaking compromising information to the press, and complaining about not receiving enough credit for his policy contributions.

He presented his resignation on August 4, 2017.

Michael Flynn – Resigned

National Security Adviser

Flynn, a former army general, joined Trump early on the campaign trail and assumed the national security adviser role in January 2017 – only to resign less than a month later amid an ongoing investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

He has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in that investigation.

James Comey – Fired

FBI Director

Former FBI director James Comey was fired by Trump in May 2017.

Comey was leading an ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

His dismissal raised fears the president was looking to disrupt the integrity of the inquiry.

Reince Priebus – Resigned

White House Chief of Staff

By the time he resigned, Reince Priebus had become the shortest serving chief of staff in US history.

Unable to contain the chaos that came to characterise the Trump administration’s early days, he was reportedly forced out and replaced by current chief of staff – and former homeland security secretary – retired general John Kelly.

He resigned on June 28, 2017.

Sally Yates – FiredActing Attorney General

Yates, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama as acting attorney general, lasted a total of 10 days in the Trump presidency.

As the country’s top law enforcement official, Yates instructed justice department lawyers not to defend the president’s ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

She was fired on January 30, 2017.

Anthony Scaramucci – Fired

White House Communications Director

A declared opponent of former chief of staff Reince Priebus, Scaramucci arrived at a time of tumult characterised by media leaks and speculation of disunity among White House personnel.

His appointment prompted the voluntary departure of former press secretary Sean Spicer and Priebus less than a week later.

Scaramucci, nicknamed “The Mooch”, was asked to step down in July 2017 – less than two weeks of taking the job – after he gave an expletive-filled interview to The New Yorker denouncing Priebus and Bannon. He defended himself by saying he sometimes used “colourful language”.

Sean Spicer – Resigned

White House Press Secretary

Sean Spicer resigned from the press secretary post on July 21, 2017, after making it known to Trump that he vehemently disagreed with his choice of Scaramucci as White House communications director.

The 46-year-old became the subject of media scrutiny for remarks such as saying Adolf Hitler had humanity for not resorting to chemical weapons, in a speech meant to highlight the Syrian government’s cruelty.

Gary Cohn – Resigned

Chief Economic Adviser

Trump’s top economic adviser and chief of the National Economic Council, Cohn was apparently disillusioned with the recent tariffs that the president was contemplating – and has since signed into law.

Cohn resigned in protest on March 6.

Preet Bharara – Fired

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Bharara, former US attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, was fired in March 2017, after he refused to abide by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ request – at Trump’s behest – that all 46 US attorneys appointed by Obama step down.

Rob Porter – Resigned

White House Staff Secretary

Rob Porter resigned in February 2018 after reports that the staff secretary physically and emotionally abused two ex-wives.

Porter denied the allegations but said in a statement he could no longer “engage [the] public with a coordinated smear campaign”.

Hope Hicks – Resigned

White House Communications Director

Hope Hicks was one of the first to join Trump on the campaign trail.

Her resignation came on February 28, a day after giving testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, where she admitted to telling “white lies” in defence of President Trump.

Hicks was Trump’s fifth communications director in a little over a year.

Tom Price – Resigned

US Secretary of Health and Human Services

Known as a frugal congressman who railed against abuse of power and misuse of state funds, Price was caught in a media firestorm when it was discovered he cost taxpayers an estimated $1m for his use of private planes during short trips.

He announced his resignation on September 29, 2017.

Sebastian Gorka – Resigned

Deputy Assistant to the President

A former Breitbart staffer and close confident of chief strategist Steve Bannon, Gorka signalled his departure on August 25, 2017.

It is widely believed that Bannon’s resignation a week earlier determined his decision.

Others who have resigned:

Rick Dearborn, Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental affairs, Resigned

Brenda Fitzgerald, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Resigned

Omarosa Manigault, Director of Communications for White House Office of Public Liaison, Resigned

Tom Prince, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Resigned

Michael Dubke, Communications Director, Resigned

Walter Shaub, Office of Government Ethics Director, Resigned

Katie Walsh, Deputy White House Chief of Staff, Resigned

**According to US media there are at least a dozen others who have been fired or left the White House since Trump took office.

 

Markets edgy on US-China trade war fears

March 23, 2018

BBC News

Asian shares have been hit by fears that US President Donald Trump’s plan for tariffs on up to $60bn of Chinese products could trigger a trade war.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 4.5% and the Shanghai Composite fell 3.6%.

China responded to news of the planned tariffs by saying that while it did not want a trade war, it was “absolutely not afraid” of one.

Mr Trump’s proposed tariffs are a response to allegations of intellectual property theft by China.

The US launched a complaint against China at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday.

Its statement said: “China appears to be breaking WTO rules by denying foreign patent holders, including US companies, basic patent rights to stop a Chinese entity from using the technology after a licensing contract ends.”

“China also appears to be breaking WTO rules by imposing mandatory adverse contract terms that discriminate against and are less favourable for imported foreign technology.”

‘Prepared to defend’

Beijing said it firmly opposed the planned tariffs but China’s ministry of commerce said it was “confident and capable of meeting any challenge”.

“China will not sit idly by its own legitimate rights and interests. We are fully prepared to defend our legitimate interests,” the ministry said.

But it said it hoped the US would not drag bilateral economic and trade relations into danger.

Fears of a trade war pushed Asian stock markets down sharply. China’s Shanghai Composite Index closed down 3.6% while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index ended 2.5% lower.

“Equity markets have sold-off heavily this morning as investors are fearful we are entering a trade war,” said David Maddon, market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

“Traders don’t like the look of the political landscape, and they are seeking safe-haven assets.”

Earlier on Friday, China announced its own set of proposed tariffs worth $3bn. Beijing said these were in response to US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports announced by Mr Trump earlier this month.

The US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports come into effect this week.

China’s commerce ministry said it was planning two steps of retaliatory action:

  • a 15% tariff on 120 goods worth almost $1bn – including fresh fruit, nuts and wine
  • a 25% tariff on eight goods worth nearly $2bn – including pork and aluminium scrap.

Why is the US taking tariff action?

The US imports billions more goods from China each year than it exports, creating a deficit of about $375bn last year – a figures which Mr Trump has railed against.

The president said on Thursday he had asked China to cut that deficit by $100bn “immediately”.

Last August, Mr Trump ordered an investigation into Chinese policies and his proposed tariffs reflect the outcome of that probe.

The White House said the investigation found a range of “unfair” practices in China, including restrictions on foreign ownership that pressured foreign companies into transferring technology.

The review also found evidence that China imposes unfair terms on US companies; steers investments in the US to strategic industries; and conducts and supports cyber attacks.

The White House said it had a list of more than 1,000 products that could be targeted by tariffs of 25%. Businesses will have the opportunity to comment before the final list goes into effect.

The US is also exploring ways to limit Chinese investment in the US. It says it will bring any matter it thinks is unfair to the WTO – as it is doing in the case of intellectual property.

Who are the potential losers in a trade war?

US officials had acknowledged the possibility of retaliation from China, but said the Asian giant ultimately had more to lose.

If imposed as described, the US tariffs could lead to higher costs for consumers, while China’s retaliation would hit key sectors of the US economy including agriculture and aerospace, analysts say.

China was the third largest market for US exports in 2016 and among the biggest buyers of American corn, pork and aircraft.

China is also the world’s biggest consumer of soybeans and consumes about one third of the US crop.

But in news which will come as a relief to US farmers, Friday’s announcement did not include the soybeans.

Is there wider support in America for the plan?

Critics of Mr Trump’s policies dismiss worries about the trade deficit, saying the exchange benefits both sides.

However, there is growing bipartisan concern in America about China’s state-led economy and there is a worry that China is seeking technology that could be deployed for military purposes.

Mr Trump’s America First policy remains popular with large sections of the US public.

However, trade watchers in Asia says China’s retaliation will no doubt be carefully targeted to hit key Trump-supporting areas of the US.

“The Chinese have been developing their list for more than a year and they are very good,” said Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre in Singapore.

“If things get very nasty, they can also make life very difficult for US companies doing business in China. It’s going to be very interesting.”

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