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TBR News March 28, 2018

Mar 28 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. March 28, 2018:”We will be out of the office until March 29. Ed”

 

 

Table of Contents

  • Let’s Investigate John Brennan
  • Thiel Employee Helped Cambridge Analytica Before It Harvested Data
  • Cambridge Analytica Might Have to Return Ad Award — but Industry Still Embraces Company’s Goals
  • Facebook Failed to Protect 30 Million Users From Having Their Data Harvested by Trump Campaign Affiliate
  • Beware the smart toaster: 18 tips for surviving the surveillance age
  • Are you ready? This is all the data Facebook and Google have on you
  • America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam: The Donald’s War Cabinet and the Fiscal Doom Loop
  • Who are the allies of Vladmir Putin and Russia in Germany?

 

 

 

Let’s Investigate John Brennan

Time to find out if CIA interfered in the 2016 election

March 27, 2018

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan, a Barack Obama friend and protégé as well as a current paid contributor for NBC and MSNBC, has blasted President Donald Trump for congratulating President Vladimir Putin over his victory in recent Russian national elections. He said that the U.S. President is “afraid of the president of Russia” and that the Kremlin “may have something on him personally. The fact that he has had this fawning attitude toward Mr. Putin …continues to say to me that he does have something to fear and something very serious to fear.”

It is an indication of how low we have sunk as a nation that a possible war criminal like Brennan can feel free to use his former official status as a bully pulpit to claim that someone is a foreign spy without any real pushback or objection from the talking heads and billionaire manipulators that unfortunately run our country. If Trump is actually being blackmailed, as Brennan implies, what evidence is there for that? One might reasonably conclude that Brennan and his associates are actually angry because Trump has had the temerity to try to improve relations with Russia.

It is ironic that when President Trump does something right he gets assailed by the same crowd that piles on when he does something stupid, leading to the conclusion that unless The Donald is attacking another country, when he is lauded as becoming truly presidential, he cannot ever win with the inside the Beltway Establishment crowd. Brennan and a supporting cast of dissimulating former intelligence chiefs opposed Trump from the git-go and were perfectly willing to make things up to support Hillary and the status quo that she represented. It was, of course, a status quo that greatly and personally benefited that ex-government crowd which by now might well be described as the proverbial Deep State.

The claim that Trump is a Russian agent is not a new one since it is an easy mark to allege something that you don’t have to prove. During the campaign, one was frequently confronted on the television by the humorless stare of the malignant Michael Morell, former acting CIA Director, who wrote in a mind numbing August 2016 op-ed how he was proud to support Hillary Clinton because of her “commitment to our nation’s security: her belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world for the country to remain secure and prosperous; her understanding that diplomacy can be effective only if the country is perceived as willing and able to use force if necessary; and her capacity to make the most difficult decision of all: whether to put young American women and men in harm’s way.” Per Morell, she was a “proponent of a more aggressive approach [in Syria], one that might have prevented the Islamic State from gaining a foothold…”

But Morell saved his finest vitriol for Donald Trump, observing how Vladimir Putin, a wily ex-career intelligence officer “trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them” obtained the services of one fairly obscure American businessman named Trump without even physically meeting him. Morell, given his broad experience as an analyst and desk jockey, notes, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” An “unwitting agent” is a contradiction in terms, but one wouldn’t expect Morell to know that. Nor would John Brennan, who was also an analyst and desk jockey before he was elevated by an equally witless President Barack Obama.

So Morell is by his own words clearly an idiot, which explains a lot about what is wrong with CIA and is probably why he is now a consultant with CBS News instead of serving as Agency Director under the beneficent gaze of President Hillary Clinton.

Well, Trump’s fractured foreign policy aside, I have some real problems with folks like Michael Morell and John Brennan throwing stones. Both can be reasonably described as war criminals due to what they did during the war on terror and also as major subverters of the Constitution of the United States that has emerged as part of the saga of the 2016 election, the outcome of which, ironically, is being blamed on the Russians.

Back in 2013 John Brennan, then Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, had a difficult time with the Senate Intelligence Committee explaining some things that he did when he was still working at CIA. He was predictably attacked by some senators concerned over the expanding drone program, which he supervised; over CIA torture; for the kill lists that he helped manage; and regarding the pervasive government secrecy, which he surely condoned to cover up the questionable nature of the assassination lists and the drones. Not at all surprisingly, he was forced to defend the policies of the administration that he was then serving in, claiming that the United States is “at war with al-Qaeda.” But he did cite his basic disagreement with the former CIA interrogation policies and expressed his surprise at learning that enhanced interrogation, which he refused to label torture because he is “no lawyer,” had not provided any unique or actionable information. He claimed that he had only “raised serious questions” in his own mind on the interrogation issue after reading the 525 page summary of the 6,000 page report prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee which detailed the failure of the Agency program. Brennan’s reaction, however, suggested at a minimum that he had read only the rebuttal material produced by CIA that had deliberately inflated the value of the intelligence produced.

Surprisingly the subject of rendition, which Brennan must surely have been involved with while at CIA, hardly surfaced though two other interesting snippets emerged from the questioning. One was his confirmation that the government has its own secret list of innocent civilians killed by drones while at the same time contradicting himself by maintaining that the program does not actually exist and that if even if it did exist such fatalities do not occur. And more directly relevant to Brennan himself, Senator John D. Rockefeller provided an insight into the classified sections of the Senate report on CIA torture, mentioning that the enhanced interrogation program was both “managed incompetently” and “corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.” One would certainly like to learn more about the presumed contractors who profited corruptly from waterboarding and one would like to know if they were in any way punished, an interesting sidebar as Brennan has a number of times spoken about the need for accountability.

Brennan was not questioned at all about the conflict of interest or ethical issues raised by the revolving door that he benefited from when he left CIA as Deputy Executive Director in 2005 and joined a British-owned company called The Analysis Corporation (TAC) where he was named CEO. He made almost certainly some millions of dollars when the Agency and other federal agencies awarded TAC contracts to develop biometrics and set up systems to manage the government’s various watch lists before rejoining the government with a full bank account to help him along his way. Brennan also reportedly knew how to return a favor, giving his former boss at CIA George Tenet a compensated advisory position in his company and also hosting in 2007 a book signing for Tenet’s At the Center of the Storm. The by-invitation-only event included six hundred current and former intelligence officers, some of whom waited for hours to have Tenet sign copies of the book, which were provided by TAC.

Brennan certainly knew how to feather his nest and reward his friends, but the area that is still murky relates to what exactly he was up to in 2016 when he was CIA Director and also quite possibly working hard to help Hillary get elected. He was still at it well after Trump got elected and assumed office. In May 2017, his testimony before Congress was headlined in a Washington Post front page featured article as Brennan’s explosive testimony just made it harder for the GOP to protect Trump. The article stated that Brennan during the 2016 campaign “reviewed intelligence that showed ‘contacts and interaction’ between Russian actors and people associated with the Trump campaign.” Politico was also in on the chase in an article entitled Brennan: Russia may have successfully recruited Trump campaign aides.

The precise money quote by Brennan that the two articles chiefly rely on is “I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. It raised questions in my mind whether or not Russia was able to gain the co-operation of those individuals.”

The testimony inevitably raises some questions about just what Brennan was actually up to. First of all, the CIA is not supposed to keep tabs on American citizens and tracking the activities of known associates of a presidential candidate should have sent warning bells off, yet Brennan clearly persisted in following the trail. What Brennan did not describe, because it was “classified,” was how he came upon the information in the first place. We know from Politico and other sources that it came from foreign intelligence services, including the British, Dutch and Estonians, and there has to be a strong suspicion that the forwarding of at least some of that information might have been sought or possibly inspired by Brennan unofficially in the first place. But whatever the provenance of the intelligence, it is clear that Brennan then used that information to request an FBI investigation into apossible Russian operation directed against potential key advisers if Trump were to somehow get nominated and elected, which admittedly was a longshot at the time. That is how Russiagate began.

So, Mr. Brennan, for all his bluster and scarcely concealed anger, has a lot of baggage, to include his possible role in coordinating with other elements in the national security agencies as well as with overseas parties to get their candidate Hillary Clinton elected. Brennan should be thoroughly investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to include subpoenaing all records at CIA relating to the Trump inquiries before requiring testimony under oath of Brennan himself with possible legal consequences if he is caught lying.

 

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Thiel Employee Helped Cambridge Analytica Before It Harvested Data

March 27, 2018

by Nicholas Confessore and Matthew Rosenberg

New York Times

As a start-up called Cambridge Analytica sought to harvest the Facebook data of tens of millions of Americans in summer 2014, the company received help from at least one employee at Palantir Technologies, a top Silicon Valley contractor to American spy agencies and the Pentagon.

It was a Palantir employee in London, working closely with the data scientists building Cambridge’s psychological profiling technology, who suggested the scientists create their own app — a mobile-phone-based personality quiz — to gain access to Facebook users’ friend networks, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

Cambridge ultimately took a similar approach. By early summer, the company found a university researcher to harvest data using a personality questionnaire and Facebook app. The researcher scraped private data from over 50 million Facebook users — and Cambridge Analytica went into business selling so-called psychometric profiles of American voters, setting itself on a collision course with regulators and lawmakers in the United States and Britain.

The revelations pulled Palantir — co-founded by the wealthy libertarian Peter Thiel — into the furor surrounding Cambridge, which improperly obtained Facebook data to build analytical tools it deployed on behalf of Donald J. Trump and other Republican candidates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a supporter of President Trump, serves on the board at Facebook.

“There were senior Palantir employees that were also working on the Facebook data,” said Christopher Wylie, a data expert and Cambridge Analytica co-founder, in testimony before British lawmakers on Tuesday.

Cambridge Analytica has found itself confronting a deepening crisis since reports about the firm’s data harvesting were published this month in The New York Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian.

The connections between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica were thrust into the spotlight by Mr. Wylie’s testimony on Tuesday. Both companies are linked to tech-driven billionaires who backed Mr. Trump’s campaign: Cambridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mercer, the computer scientist and hedge fund magnate, while Palantir was co-founded in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an initial investor in Facebook.

The Palantir employee, Alfredas Chmieliauskas, works on business development for the company, according to his LinkedIn page. In an initial statement, Palantir said it had “never had a relationship with Cambridge Analytica, nor have we ever worked on any Cambridge Analytica data.” Later on Tuesday, Palantir revised its account, saying that Mr. Chmieliauskas was not acting on the company’s behalf when he advised Mr. Wylie on the Facebook data.

“We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica,” the company said. “We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action.”

The company said it was continuing to investigate but knew of no other employees who took part in the effort. Mr. Wylie told lawmakers that multiple Palantir employees played a role.

Documents and interviews indicate that starting in 2013, Mr. Chmieliauskas began corresponding with Mr. Wylie and a colleague from his Gmail account. At the time, Mr. Wylie and the colleague worked for the British defense and intelligence contractor SCL Group, which formed Cambridge Analytica with Mr. Mercer the next year. The three shared Google documents to brainstorm ideas about using big data to create sophisticated behavioral profiles, a product code-named “Big Daddy.”

A former intern at SCL — Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of Eric Schmidt, then Google’s executive chairman — urged the company to link up with Palantir, according to Mr. Wylie’s testimony and a June 2013 email viewed by The Times.

“Ever come across Palantir. Amusingly Eric Schmidt’s daughter was an intern with us and is trying to push us towards them?” one SCL employee wrote to a colleague in the email.

Ms. Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica.

In early 2013, Alexander Nix, an SCL director who became chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and a Palantir executive discussed working together on election campaigns.

A Palantir spokeswoman acknowledged that the companies had briefly considered working together but said that Palantir declined a partnership, in part because executives there wanted to steer clear of election work. Emails reviewed by The Times indicate that Mr. Nix and Mr. Chmieliauskas sought to revive talks about a formal partnership through early 2014, but Palantir executives again declined.

In his testimony, Mr. Wylie acknowledged that Palantir and Cambridge Analytica never signed a contract or entered into a formal business relationship. But he said some Palantir employees helped engineer Cambridge’s psychographic models.

“There were Palantir staff who would come into the office and work on the data,” Mr. Wylie told lawmakers. “And we would go and meet with Palantir staff at Palantir.” He did not provide an exact number for the employees or identify them.

Palantir employees were impressed with Cambridge’s backing from Mr. Mercer, one of the world’s richest men, according to messages viewed by The Times. And Cambridge Analytica viewed Palantir’s Silicon Valley ties as a valuable resource for launching and expanding its own business.

In an interview this month with The Times, Mr. Wylie said that Palantir employees were eager to learn more about using Facebook data and psychographics. Those discussions continued through spring 2014, according to Mr. Wylie.

Mr. Wylie said that he and Mr. Nix visited Palantir’s London office on Soho Square. One side was set up like a high-security office, Mr. Wylie said, with separate rooms that could be entered only with particular codes. The other side, he said, was like a tech start-up — “weird inspirational quotes and stuff on the wall and free beer, and there’s a Ping-Pong table.”

Mr. Chmieliauskas continued to communicate with Mr. Wylie’s team in 2014, as the Cambridge employees were locked in protracted negotiations with a researcher at Cambridge University, Michal Kosinski, to obtain Facebook data through an app Mr. Kosinski had built. The data was crucial to efficiently scale up Cambridge’s psychometrics products so they could be used in elections and for corporate clients.

I had left field idea,” Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote in May 2014. “What about replicating the work of the cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to facebook?” Reproducing the app, Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote, “could be a valuable leverage negotiating with the guy.”

Those negotiations failed. But Mr. Wylie struck gold with another Cambridge researcher, the Russian-American psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who built his own personality quiz app for Facebook. Over subsequent months, Dr. Kogan’s work helped Cambridge develop psychological profiles of millions of American voters.

Carole Cadwalladr contributed reporting.

 

Cambridge Analytica Might Have to Return Ad Award — but Industry Still Embraces Company’s Goals

March 27 2018

by Sam Biddle

The Intercept

Founded in 1936, the Advertising Research Foundation “has been the standard-bearer for unbiased quality in research on advertising, media and marketing,” according to its website, and works to spread “unifying standards and best practices” throughout the ad industry. Last year, the ARF presented Cambridge Analytica with its highest honor.

The current scandal engulfing both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the shadowy British political consultancy that exfiltrated and exploited 50 million profiles from the social network, centers mostly around how the data was acquired, not how it was used. This is due in part to the fact that before the pilfered profile revelations, Cambridge Analytica enjoyed the praise of its peers in the marketing world, which viewed it as a band of innovators.

The ARF holds an annual awards ceremony named after David Ogilvy, the advertising luminary who pioneered the use of quantified consumer research and helped shift his industry to make data mining the norm (or the “best practice,” as the foundation might say). Winners of the 2017 Ogilvy Awards included Nike, Coors Light, and Cambridge Analytica, which took home the “Big Data Gold” prize for its pro-Donald Trump work. “The David Ogilvy Awards celebrates the awesome power of an irrefutable insight; the launch pad for any successful campaign,” wrote Jimmie Stone, chief creative officer at Edelman and a grand jury judge for the award, in a press release announcing the finalists. In Cambridge Analytica’s own preening press release, then-Senior Vice President Emily Cornell said it was “honored to be named a winner among some of the world’s most innovative companies and campaigns.”

Although it was subject to some critical coverage prior to the election, and while The Intercept reported many of its profile shenanigans a year ago, Cambridge Analytica was likely unknown to most U.S. voters before the broader news media, prompted by investigations this month in the New York Times and The Guardian, began asking hard questions about how the firm grabbed the Facebook data.

But the advertising industry was helping to normalize Cambridge Analytica for years. It’s unclear if that will change, even in the wake of a global scandal. In its year-old press release, the firm openly declared that it had succeeded in “identifying persuadable voters, discovering the issues that would drive their voting decisions,” and that it had “targeted undecided Democratic women voters after building models of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton support in ten swing states.” To its peers, Cambridge Analytica operated in full daylight.

The ARF told The Intercept that it was in the dark about how Cambridge Analytica was attaining those goals when it conferred the Ogilvy Award.

“At the time of the recognition, there was of course no way that the jury or the ARF could have had visibility or knowledge of the data collection activities that are now in question and that have just now come to light,” said ARF spokesperson Bill Daddi.

But even now that said activities have come to light, the ARF may do nothing. He added:

The ARF has a firm conviction that all behavior in advertising and marketing research must be conducted ethically and legally. The ARF is currently investigating the conditions surrounding the recognition that we bestowed upon Cambridge Analytica, and will do so in a deliberative and careful manner. We reserve the right to rescind the award should our investigation and subsequent revelations show that the level of ethical and legal conduct we require were not met in this instance.

But even while claiming the ARF has standards of “ethical and legal conduct,” the consortium won’t distance itself from the core of Cambridge Analytica’s business. When asked whether the ARF still endorses Cambridge Analytica’s general corporate practices of data mining and psychographic modeling, and to what specifically about Cambridge Analytica it objects to, Daddi replied that “the issue in question is not whether the ARF objects to Cambridge or any company. The consideration is that data may have been collected in a manner inconsistent with ARF’s guidelines for the award and not disclosed to them at the time the acknowledgement was made.”

In other words, had Cambridge Analytica acquired your Facebook data in a manner consistent with the social network’s fine print, there would be no scandal, so far as the ARF is concerned. When asked if the ARF would object to Cambridge Analytica’s practices had the Facebook data been acquired through a proper channel, Daddi did not comment.

 

Facebook Failed to Protect 30 Million Users From Having Their Data Harvested by Trump Campaign Affiliate

March 30 2017

by Mattathias Schwartz

The Intercept

In 2014, traces of an unusual survey, connected to Facebook, began appearing on internet message boards. The boards were frequented by remote freelance workers who bid on “human intelligence tasks” in an online marketplace, called Mechanical Turk, controlled by Amazon. The “turkers,” as they’re known, tend to perform work that is rote and repetitive, like flagging pornographic images or digging through search engine results for email addresses. Most jobs pay between 1 and 15 cents. “Turking makes us our rent money and helps pay off debt,” one turker told The Intercept. Another turker has called the work “voluntary slave labor.”

The task posted by “Global Science Research” appeared ordinary, at least on the surface. The company offered turkers $1 or $2 to complete an online survey. But there were a couple of additional requirements as well. First, Global Science Research was only interested in American turkers. Second, the turkers had to download a Facebook app before they could collect payment. Global Science Research said the app would “download some information about you and your network … basic demographics and likes of categories, places, famous people, etc. from you and your friends.”

“Our terms of service clearly prohibit misuse,” said a spokesperson for Amazon Web Services, by email. “When we learned of this activity back in 2015, we suspended the requester for violating our terms of service.”

Although Facebook’s early growth was driven by closed, exclusive networks at college and universities, it has gradually herded users to agree to increasingly permissive terms of service. By 2014, anything a user’s friends could see was also potentially visible to the developers of any app that they chose to download. Some of the turkers noticed that the Global Science Research app appeared to be taking advantage of Facebook’s porousness. “Someone can learn everything about you by looking at hundreds of pics, messages, friends, and likes,” warned one, writing on a message board. “More than you realize.” Others were more blasé. “I don’t put any info on FB,” one wrote. “Not even my real name … it’s backwards that people put sooo much info on Facebook, and then complain when their privacy is violated.”

In late 2015, the turkers began reporting that the Global Science Research survey had abruptly shut down. The Guardian had published a report that exposed exactly who the turkers were working for. Their data was being collected by Aleksandr Kogan, a young lecturer at Cambridge University. Kogan founded Global Science Research in 2014, after the university’s psychology department refused to allow him to use its own pool of data for commercial purposes. The data collection that Kogan undertook independent of the university was done on behalf of a military contractor called Strategic Communication Laboratories, or SCL. The company’s election division claims to use “data-driven messaging” as part of “delivering electoral success.”

SCL has a growing U.S. spin-off, called Cambridge Analytica, which was paid millions of dollars by Donald Trump’s campaign. Much of the money came from committees funded by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who reportedly has a large stake in Cambridge Analytica. For a time, one of Cambridge Analytica’s officers was Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s senior adviser. Months after Bannon claimed to have severed ties with the company, checks from the Trump campaign for Cambridge Analytica’s services continued to show up at one of Bannon’s addresses in Los Angeles.

“You can say Mr. Mercer declined to comment,” said Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesperson for Robert Mercer, by email.

The Intercept interviewed five individuals familiar with Kogan’s work for SCL. All declined to be identified, citing concerns about an ongoing inquiry at Cambridge and fears of possible litigation. Two sources familiar with the SCL project told The Intercept that Kogan had arranged for more than 100,000 people to complete the Facebook survey and download an app. A third source with direct knowledge of the project said that Global Science Research obtained data from 185,000 survey participants as well as their Facebook friends. The source said that this group of 185,000 was recruited through a data company, not Mechanical Turk, and that it yielded 30 million usable profiles. No one in this larger group of 30 million knew that “likes” and demographic data from their Facebook profiles were being harvested by political operatives hired to influence American voters.

Kogan declined to comment. In late 2014, he gave a talk in Singapore in which he claimed to have “a sample of 50+ million individuals about whom we have the capacity to predict virtually any trait.” Global Science Research’s public filings for 2015 show the company holding 145,111 British pounds in its bank account. Kogan has since changed his name to Spectre. Writing online, he has said that he changed his name to Spectre after getting married. “My wife and I are both scientists and quite religious, and light is a strong symbol of both,” he explained.

The purpose of Kogan’s work was to develop an algorithm for the “national profiling capacity of American citizens” as part of SCL’s work on U.S. elections, according to an internal document signed by an SCL employee describing the research.

“We do not do any work with Facebook likes,” wrote Lindsey Platts, a spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica, in an email. The company currently “has no relationship with GSR,” Platts said.

“Cambridge Analytica does not comment on specific clients or projects,” she added when asked whether the company was involved with Global Science Research’s work in 2014 and 2015.

The Guardian, which was was the first to report on Cambridge Analytica’s work on U.S. elections, in late 2015, noted that the company drew on research “spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission.” Kogan disputed this at the time, telling The Guardian that his turker surveys had collected no more than “a couple of thousand responses” for any one client. While it is unclear how many responses Global Science Research obtained through Mechanical Turk and how many it recruited through a data company, all five of the sources interviewed by The Intercept confirmed that Kogan’s work on behalf of SCL involved collecting data from survey participants’ networks of Facebook friends, individuals who had not themselves consented to give their data to Global Science Research and were not aware that they were the objects of Kogan’s study. In September 2016, Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, said that the company built a model based on “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans” filling out personality surveys, generating a “model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.”

Shortly after The Guardian published its 2015 article, Facebook contacted Global Science Research and requested that it delete the data it had taken from Facebook users. Facebook’s policies give Facebook the right to delete data gathered by any app deemed to be “negatively impacting the Platform.” The company believes that Kogan and SCL complied with the request, which was made during the Republican primary, before Cambridge Analytica switched over from Ted Cruz’s campaign to Donald Trump’s. It remains unclear what was ultimately done with the Facebook data, or whether any models or algorithms derived from it wound up being used by the Trump campaign.

In public, Facebook continues to maintain that whatever happened during the run-up to the election was business as usual. “Our investigation to date has not uncovered anything that suggests wrongdoing,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Intercept.

Facebook appears not to have considered Global Science Research’s data collection to have been a serious ethical lapse. Joseph Chancellor, Kogan’s main collaborator on the SCL project and a former co-owner of Global Science Research, is now employed by Facebook Research. “The work that he did previously has no bearing on the work that he does at Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Intercept.

Chancellor declined to comment.

Cambridge Analytica has marketed itself as classifying voters using five personality traits known as OCEAN — Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism — the same model used by University of Cambridge researchers for in-house, non-commercial research. The question of whether OCEAN made a difference in the presidential election remains unanswered. Some have argued that big data analytics is a magic bullet for drilling into the psychology of individual voters; others are more skeptical. The predictive power of Facebook likes is not in dispute. A 2013 study by three of Kogan’s former colleagues at the University of Cambridge showed that likes alone could predict race with 95 percent accuracy and political party with 85 percent accuracy. Less clear is their power as a tool for targeted persuasion; Cambridge Analytica has claimed that OCEAN scores can be used to drive voter and consumer behavior through “microtargeting,” meaning narrowly tailored messages. Nix has said that neurotic voters tend to be moved by “rational and fear-based” arguments, while introverted, agreeable voters are more susceptible to “tradition and habits and family and community.”

Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center at Arizona State University, said he was skeptical of the idea that the Trump campaign got a decisive edge from data analytics. But, he added, such techniques will likely become more effective in the future. “It’s reasonable to believe that sooner or later, we’re going to see widespread manipulation of people’s decision-making, including in elections, in ways that are more widespread and granular, but even less detectable than today,” he wrote in an email.

Trump’s circle has been open about its use of Facebook to influence the vote. Joel Pollak, an editor at Breitbart, writes in his campaign memoir about Trump’s “armies of Facebook ‘friends,’ … bypassing the gatekeepers in the traditional media.” Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, has written in his own campaign memoir about “geo-targeting” cities to deliver a debunked claim that Bill Clinton had fathered a child out of wedlock, and narrowing down the audience “based on preferences in music, age range, black culture, and other urban interests.”

Clinton, of course, had her own analytics effort, and digital market research is a normal part of any political campaign. But the quantity of data compiled on individuals during the run-up to the election is striking. Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica, has claimed to “have a massive database of 4-5,000 data points on every adult in America.” Immediately after the election, the company tried to take credit for the win, claiming that its data helped the Trump campaign set the candidate’s travel schedule and place online ads that were viewed 1.5 billion times. Since then, the company has been de-emphasizing its reliance on psychological profiling.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, an official privacy watchdog within the British government, is now looking into whether Cambridge Analytica and similar companies might pose a risk to voters’ rights. The British inquiry was triggered by reports in The Observer of ties between Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica, and the Leave.EU campaign, which worked to persuade British voters to leave the European Union. While Nix has previously talked about the firm’s work for Leave.EU, Cambridge Analytica now denies that it had any paid role in the campaign.

In the U.S., where privacy laws are looser, there is no investigation. Cambridge Analytica is said to be pitching its products to several federal agencies, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff. SCL, its parent company, has new offices near the White House and has reportedly been advised by Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, on how to increase its federal business. (A spokesperson for Flynn denied that he had done any work for SCL.)

Years before the arrival of Kogan’s turkers, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tried to address privacy concerns around the company’s controversial Beacon program, which quietly funneled data from outside websites into Facebook, often without Facebook users being aware of the process. Reflecting on Beacon, Zuckerberg attributed part of Facebook’s success to giving “people control over what and how they share information.” He said that he regretted making Beacon an “opt-out system instead of opt-in … if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon went ahead and still shared it with their friends.”

Seven years later, Facebook appears to have made the same mistake, but with far greater consequences. In mid-2014, however, Facebook announced a new review process, where the company would make sure that new apps asked only for data they would actually use. “People want more control,” the company said at that time. “It’s going to make a huge difference with building trust with your app’s audience.” Existing apps were given a full year to switch over to have Facebook review how they handled user data. By that time, Global Science Research already had what it needed.

 

 

Beware the smart toaster: 18 tips for surviving the surveillance age

We’ve come a long way since the web was just a fun place to share cat gifs – now it’s a place mostly dedicated to finding and selling your personal info. Here’s what you need to know in this new era

March 28, 2018

by Alex Hern and Arwa Mahdawi

The Guardian

On the internet, the adage goes, nobody knows you’re a dog. That joke is only 15 years old, but seems as if it is from an entirely different era. Once upon a time the internet was associated with anonymity; today it is synonymous with surveillance. Not only do modern technology companies know full well you’re not a dog (not even an extremely precocious poodle), they know whether you own a dog and what sort of dog it is. And, based on your preferred category of canine, they can go a long way to inferring – and influencing – your political views.

Just over a week ago, the Observer broke a story about how Facebook had failed to protect the personal information of tens of millions of its users. The revelations sparked a #DeleteFacebook movement and some people downloaded their Facebook data before removing themselves from the social network. During this process, many of these users were shocked to see just how much intel about them the internet behemoth had accumulated. If you use Facebook apps on Android, for example – and, even inadvertently, gave it permission – it seems the company has been collecting your call and text data for years.

It’s not me, it’s you! So Facebook protested, in the wake of widespread anger about its data-collection practices. You acquiesced to our opaque privacy policies. You agreed to let us mine and monetise the minutiae of your existence. Why are you so upset?

Facebook’s surprise at our outrage is not unreasonable. For years, technology companies have faced very little scrutiny as they mushroomed in size and power. Finally, however, the tide is turning. We seem to have reached a watershed moment when it comes to public attitudes towards the use of our private information. We are more aware of the implications of our online behaviour than ever before.

Awareness of our digital footprint is one thing, but what are we to do about it? In the wake of the Facebook revelations, it’s clear that we can’t all keep clicking as usual if we value our privacy or our democracy. It’s still relatively early in the internet era and we are all still figuring it out as we go along. However, best practices when it comes to security and online etiquette are starting to emerge. Here’s a guide to some of the new rules of the internet.

  1. Download all the information Google has on you

You may well have downloaded your Facebook data already; it has become something of a trend in recent days. Now take a look at what Google has on you. Go to Google’s “Takeout” tool and download your data from the multiple Google products you probably use, such as Gmail, Maps, Search and Drive. You’ll get sent a few enormous files that contain information about everything from the YouTube videos you have watched, your search history, your location history and so on. Once you’ve seen just how much information about you is in the cloud, you may want to go about deleting it. I highly recommend deleting your Google Maps history, for a start, unless you are particularly eager to have a detailed online record of everywhere you have ever been. You may also want to stop Google from tracking your location history. Sign in to Google, open Maps, then click on “timeline” in the menu. At the bottom, there’s an option to manage your location history.

  1. Try not to let your smart toaster take down the internet.

These days you can buy a “smart” version of just about anything. There are connected toasters, which let you personalise your toast settings and notify your phone when your breakfast is ready. There are Bluetooth-enabled forks, which vibrate when you are eating too quickly. There are internet-connected umbrellas, which alert you if it looks like it’s going to rain. There are even smart tampons, which let you monitor your flow.

Not only are most of these gadgets unnecessary and expensive, most of them have shoddy security and are a liability. In 2016, for example, hackers created a zombie army of internet-connected devices and used them to take down large parts of the internet, including sites such as Netflix, Facebook, Spotify and the Guardian. So think twice about whether you really need to buy that fancy connected gadget. There’s enough to worry about today without having to wonder if your toaster is plotting against you.

  1. Ensure your AirDrop settings are dick-pic-proof

If you are an iPhone user, turn off your AirDrop function while in a public place or limit it to contacts. This stops strangers on the train from sending you unsolicited dick pics via AirDrop, which is a thing that actually happens because of course it does.

  1. Secure your old Yahoo account

You may have an old email account you never use any more and can’t be bothered to delete. That email account is a treasure trove of personal information just waiting to be hacked; indeed, if it’s a Yahoo account it was hacked in 2013. You don’t need necessarily to delete your old account but you should secure it. Change the password and turn on two-step verification. Make sure you’ve disconnected any linked services (such as cloud storage) in your settings.

  1. 1234 is not an acceptable password

Nor is “password”. Nor is “monkey” – which, for some reason, is one of the most popular passwords there is. The most secure passwords are very long ones, so start thinking in terms of “passphrases” instead of password. For example, “nomonkeyisnotagoodpassword” would take a computer 128 undecillion years to crack.

  1. Check if you have been pwned

“Pwned” is internet-speak for, among other things, having your email account compromised in a data breach. It’s a good idea to check this regularly. Simply go to haveibeenpwned.com, enter your email address, and the website will let you know if and when your details have been compromised so you can take appropriate action such as changing your password.

  1. Be aware of personalised pricing

We’re all familiar with dynamic pricing – the annoying way in which airline ticket prices fluctuate according to supply and demand. Increasingly, however, we’re seeing the rise of “personalised pricing”, as retailers analyse our data to gauge how much we’re likely to pay and charge us accordingly. Uber, for example, knows that you’re more likely to pay surge pricing if your phone battery is about to die – although they claim not to have acted on this information. And Staples has displayed different prices to customers based on their location. It’s hard to know just how widespread personalised pricing is as retailers are understandably discreet about it. However, you should assume that it’s happening. So, before making a big purchase online you might want to see if using a different device or using the incognito or private mode in your browser has any effect on the price. There are also tools you can download that let you spoof your location. It’s the modern equivalent of haggling.

  1. Say hi to the NSA guy spying on you via your webcam

Even spooks need a little social interaction.

  1. Turn off notifications for anything that’s not another person speaking directly to you

Sometimes this will be easy: is it a single-player game? It doesn’t need notifications at all. You can find out if you’ve got more gems, or extra energy – or whatever other fake currency the game hopes you will care about – in your own time, not when it wants to drive your engagement. Other times, this will be harder. Instagram’s rubbish – “a famous dog just posted a picture that received 12 likes” – can be turned off, but you’ll have to dig down in the settings to find it. Are there exceptions? Sure. The odd breaking news alert never hurt anyone, and maybe you really do want to let Duolingo prod you to practise your Spanish. But if you would be annoyed by a robot calling you up to tell you something, why are you letting it interrupt your thought process in another way?

  1. Never put your kids on the public internet

Maybe it’s fine to upload pics to a shared (private) photo album, or mention their day in a group DM. But if it’s public, Google can find it. And if Google can find it, it’s never going away. How are you going to tell your child in 16 years’ time that they can’t get a drivers’ licence because Daddy put a high-res photo of their iris online when they were two and now they trip alarms from here to Mars?

  1. Leave your phone in your pocket or face down on the table when you’re with friends

Unless you want to signal, repeatedly and obviously: “I would rather be hanging with someone else than you.”

  1. Sometimes it’s worth just wiping everything and starting over

Your phone, your tweets, your Facebook account: all of these things are temporary. They will pass. Free yourself from an obsession with digital hoarding. If you wipe your phone every year, you learn which apps you need and which are just sitting in the background hoovering up data. If you wipe your Facebook account every year, you learn which friends you actually like and which are just hanging on to your social life like a barnacle.

  1. An Echo is fine, but don’t put a camera in your bedroom

Do we really need to break this one down?

  1. Have as many social-media-free days in the week as you have alcohol-free days

This can be zero if you want, but know that we’re judging you.

  1. Retrain your brain to focus

Save up your longreads using Instapaper or Pocket and read them without distraction. Don’t dip in and out of that 4,000-word article on turtles: read it in one go. Or maybe even try a book!

  1. Don’t let the algorithms pick what you do

You are not a robot, you are a human being, and exercising your own free will is the greatest strength you have. When that YouTube video ends, don’t watch the next one that autoplays. When you pick up your phone in the morning, don’t just click on the stories at the top of Apple News or Google Now. Exercise choice! Exercise freedom! Exercise humanity!

  1. Do what you want with your data, but guard your friends’ info with your life

Yes, you should think twice before granting that fun app you downloaded access to your location or your photo library. Do you trust it not to do weird things with your pictures? Do you know it won’t track your every movement? But ultimately, those are your decisions, and they are for you to make. But your friends’ data isn’t yours, it’s theirs, and you are a trusted custodian. Don’t think twice before authorising access to your address book, or your friends’ profiles: think five or six times, and then don’t do it.

  1. Finally, remember your privacy is worth protecting

You might not have anything to hide (except your embarrassing Netflix history) but that doesn’t mean you should be blase about your privacy. Increasingly, our inner lives are being reduced to a series of data points; every little thing we do is for sale. As we’re starting to see, this nonstop surveillance changes us. It influences the things we buy and the ideas we buy into. Being more mindful of our online behaviour, then, isn’t just important when it comes to protecting our information, it’s essential to protecting our individuality.

 

Are you ready? This is all the data Facebook and Google have on you

March 28, 2018

by Dylan Curran

The Guardian

The harvesting of our personal details goes far beyond what many of us could imagine. So I braced myself and had a look

Want to freak yourself out? I’m going to show just how much of your information the likes of Facebook and Google store about you without you even realising it.

  • Google knows where you’ve been

Google stores your location (if you have location-tracking turned on) every time you turn on your phone. You can see a timeline of where you’ve been from the very first day you started using Google on your phone.

Click on this link to see your own data: google.com/maps/timeline?…

  • Google knows everything you’ve ever searched – and deleted

Google stores search history across all your devices. That can mean that, even if you delete your search history and phone history on one device, it may still have data saved from other devices.

Click on this link to see your own data: myactivity.google.com/myactivity

  • Google has an advertisement profile of you

Google creates an advertisement profile based on your information, including your location, gender, age, hobbies, career, interests, relationship status, possible weight (need to lose 10lbs in one day?) and income.

Click on this link to see your own data: google.com/settings/ads/

  • Google knows all the apps you use

Google stores information on every app and extension you use. They know how often you use them, where you use them, and who you use them to interact with. That means they know who you talk to on Facebook, what countries are you speaking with, what time you go to sleep at.

Click on this link to see your own data: security.google.com/settings/secur…

  • Google has all of your YouTube history

Google stores all of your YouTube history, so they likely know whether you’re going to be a parent soon, if you’re a conservative, if you’re a progressive, if you’re Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, if you’re anorexic…

Click on this link to see your own data: youtube.com/feed/history/s…

  • The data Google has on you can fill millions of Word documents

Google offers an option to download all of the data it stores about you. I’ve requested to download it and the file is 5.5GB big, which is roughly 3m Word documents.

This link includes your bookmarks, emails, contacts, your Google Drive files, all of the above information, your YouTube videos, the photos you’ve taken on your phone, the businesses you’ve bought from, the products you’ve bought through Google …

They also have data from your calendar, your Google hangout sessions, your location history, the music you listen to, the Google books you’ve purchased, the Google groups you’re in, the websites you’ve created, the phones you’ve owned, the pages you’ve shared, how many steps you walk in a day …

Click on this link to see your own data: google.com/takeout

  • Facebook has reams and reams of data on you, too

Facebook offers a similar option to download all your information, mine was roughly 600MB, which is roughly 400,000 Word documents.

This includes every message you’ve ever sent or been sent, every file you’ve ever sent or been sent, all the contacts in your phone, and all the audio messages you’ve ever sent or been sent.

Click here to see your data: https://www.facebook.com/help/131112897028467

Facebook stores everything from your stickers to your log-in location

Facebook also stores what it thinks you might be interested in based off the things you’ve liked and what you and your friends talk about (I apparently like the topic “Girl”).

Somewhat pointlessly, they also store all the stickers you’ve ever sent on Facebook (I have no idea why they do this, it’s just a joke at this stage).

They also store every time you log in to Facebook, where you logged in from, what time, and from what device.

And they store all the applications you’ve ever had connected to your Facebook account, so they can guess I’m interested in politics and web and graphic design, that I was single between X and Y period with the installation of Tinder, and I got a HTC phone in November.

  • They can access your webcam and microphone

The data they collect includes tracking where you are, what applications you have installed, when you use them, what you use them for, access to your webcam and microphone at any time, your contacts, your emails, your calendar, your call history, the messages you send and receive, the files you download, the games you play, your photos and videos, your music, your search history, your browsing history, even what radio stations you listen to.

They also have every image I’ve ever searched for and saved, every location I’ve ever searched for or clicked on, every news article I’ve ever searched for or read, and every single Google search I’ve made since 2009. And then finally, every YouTube video I’ve ever searched for or viewed, since 2008.

This information has millions of nefarious uses. You say you’re not a terrorist. Then how come you were googling Isis? Work at Google and you’re suspicious of your wife? Perfect, just look up her location and search history for the last 10 years. Manage to gain access to someone’s Google account? Perfect, you have a chronological diary of everything that person has done for the last 10 years.

This is one of the craziest things about the modern age. We would never let the government or a corporation put cameras/microphones in our homes or location trackers on us. But we just went ahead and did it ourselves because – to hell with it! – I want to watch cute dog videos.

 

 

America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam: The Donald’s War Cabinet and the Fiscal Doom Loop

March 28, 2018

by David Stockman

AntiWar

Last week the Donald’s incipient trade war got Wall Street’s nerves jangling, but that wasn’t the half of what’s coming.

To wit, Trump has now essentially formed a War Cabinet and signed a Horribus spending bill that is a warrant for fiscal meltdown. Indeed, the two essentially comprise a self-fueling doom loop which means Washington’s descent into fiscal catastrophe is well-nigh unstoppable; it’s all over except for the screaming in the bond pits.

That is, Trump’s new War Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel, and Mad Dog Mattis is arguably the most interventionist, militarist, confrontationist and bellicose national security team ever assembled by a sitting President. We cannot think of a single country that has even looked cross-eyed at Washington in recent years where one or all four of them has not threatened to drone, bomb, invade or decapitate its current ruling regime.

That means Imperial Washington’s rampant War Fever owing to the Dem-left declaration of war on Russia and Putin is now about to be drastically intensified by the complete victory of the neocon-right in the Trump Administration. The result will be sharpened confrontation, if not actual outbreak of hostilities, across the full spectrum of adversaries – Iran, Russia, China, Syria and North Korea – and an escalating tempo of military operations and procurement to implement the policy.

At the same time, the Donald’s pathetic Fake Veto maneuver on Friday cemented the special interest lobbies’ absolute control over domestic appropriations. Of course, Chuckles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi crowed loudly about the $63 billion annual domestic spending increase they got in return for the Donald’s $80 billion defense add-on, but the victory was not partisan; it belonged to the Swamp creatures who suckle the politicians of both parties and own the appropriations committees lock, stock and barrel.

To be sure, upon folding at mid-day from his four-hour’s earlier veto tweet, the Donald promised “never again”, but his reason for signing the most wasteful, pork-ridden appropriations bill of this century tells you all you need to know. To wit,

“There are a lot of things I’m unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn’t have had in this bill, but we were in a sense forced if we want to build our military,” Trump said. “I said to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again.”

Au contraire. As long as he lasts in office, the Donald will be signing budget busters far worse than this one because the aggressive foreign policies of his War Cabinet will drive the pace of national security spending dramatically higher than the record $695 billion he signed into law last week; and these “must have” increases for pay, operations, ammo, spare parts, training, readiness and weapons replacement/augmentation will not get through the Congress until the bipartisan porkers have had their fill on the domestic side.

Your editor experienced long ago the toxic fiscal equation which arises when hawks and militarists take control of foreign policy and the defense budget. What you get is a “guns and butter” logrolling dynamic as defense advocates on the spending committees buy the votes of colleagues whose snouts have penetrated deeply into the domestic pork barrel or whose paymasters inhabit the vast expanse of the health, education and social welfare complex.

That’s what stopped cold the Gipper’s short-lived attack on Big Government after 1981, and why the hawk-dominated GOP has been such a dismal failure on the fiscal front ever since.

But the Trumpite/GOP has brought guns and butter logrolling to a whole new level of fiscal profligacy. And the overwhelming share of the blame for the resulting Horribus appropriations bill – which will raise spending by $143 billion  this year and $2.4 trillion over the next decade – rests squarely with the incumbent member of Trump’s new War Cabinet, SecDef James Mattis.

Not only does his brazen bellicosity and demented militarism rival that of the other three members of Trump’s new War Cabinet, but Mattis also spent a 40-year career sucking the hind teats of the Warfare State, where he apparently never met a military budget that was big enough.

That is to say, Mattis is not remotely the “warrior monk” or “military intellectual” the fawning mainstream press makes him out to be. He’s actually a gung-ho bull-in-the-china-shop who defines his mission as complete obliteration of any foe who comes along; and which is to be accomplished by the assembly of overwhelming military capabilities and firepower.

Stated differently, the quotes below are not the expressions of a subtle mind. They reflect the mindset of the bombastic militarist who should have never, ever been let near the top post at the Pentagon, and who is the architect of the Donald’s hideously bloated defense budget and new long-term strategic plan for unaffordable, insensible global military dominance:

“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot…..I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.’

Unlike most of the American generals who have been waging and loosing pointless wars over the last half century while cheerfully checking the boxes on the way to their post-retirement bonanzas, Mattis never got over it. He blitzed the enemy as an assault battalion commander in the first Gulf War, brought carnage to the Pashtun villages of southern Afghanistan and obliterated Fallujah (Iraq) twice – without ever noticing that he was not winning any wars, but just dispensing random high-tech violence at huge cost in blood (theirs), treasure (ours) and blowback (throughout the Muslim world).

Indeed, Mattis’ apparent lesson was that America needed massive military dominance to pacify an uncooperative world, and the Donald fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Yet in today’s world, America has no industrial state enemies remotely capable of and/or motivated to threaten the homeland. Indeed, the only real homeland defense we need is our nuclear retaliatory force of land-based ICBMs, sea-based Trident missiles and DOD’s 5,000 active and standby nuclear warheads – all of which were bought and paid for long ago.

That is, America doesn’t need no stinkin’ defense buildup, and could slash what it’s already spending by $250 billion per year without harming national security in the slightest.

That is also to say, neither Russia nor China is about to invade the American homeland with conventional forces because neither has even 5% of the necessary airlift, sea-lift and power projection capacity that would be needed—even if they were ruled by lunatics, which they most assuredly are not.

Likewise, Russia and China are not suicidal enough to launch a first nuclear strike or attempt nuclear blackmail.

And beyond that, the even more dispositive point is that the very thought of hostile action against the American homeland would amount to an economic death warrant for either power.

That’s because in the case of the Red Ponzi, the Donald is absolutely right about its massive trade imbalance. China’s $510 billion per year of exports to the US do not represent free and fair trade in the historic sense: They are an absolute freak of economic nature stemming from the massive central bank money printing spree of the last 25-years and the egregious mercantilism that Beijing has instituted to exploit it and to build the greatest credit-fueled house of cards in human history.

Accordingly, if China were to threaten the US militarily, the resulting embargo on Chinese goods would cause its economy to plunge into a thundering collapse within six months: To wit, America’s spacious closets are already stuffed full of enough junk from China – including every variety of Apple device – to last for years, while China’s debt-ridden production chain on the margin survives hand-to-mouth on export orders.And as for Russia, pulleese!

Its entire GDP of $1.5 trillion is less than that of the New York metro area, and only 8% of the US economy as a whole. The very idea that it’s a military threat to America is just flat out ludicrous; and that is in no way changed by Putin’s recent hints that Russia has developed a new class of non-ballistic strategic weapons that are not vulnerable to US ABM defenses.

But of course!

It was the US and John Bolton specifically during his stint as head of arms control at the Bush State Department that caused the expiration of Nixon’s ABM treaty. And in light of the subsequent drive toward a US missile defense system, what does another power that wishes to preserve the credibility and efficacy of its nuclear deterrent or retaliatory strike capability do?

Why, it finds a way around the ABMs to insure that no adversary is tempted to launch a preemptive first strike while secure from retaliation in a protective ABM cocoon. That’s exactly what the old MAD playbooks recommend, and what Russia, apparently, actually did.

So why does Mattis want $700 billion per year of force structure, readiness and massive weapons upgrades this year, which is just a down payment on an embedded defense bow-wave that will quickly rise towards $1 trillion annually?

A good part of the answer is sheer economic ignorance. Mattis along with the career national security apparatchiks who now comprise the Donald’s new War Cabinet are making the same mistake as their cold war forebears did about the old Soviet Union.

The latter was always destined to collapse under the weight of command and control centralization and ersatz socialism; it was only a matter of funding a strategic deterrent and waiting out the collapse that finally came, and swiftly, too.

There was never any need for the massive conventional forces that were kept in being during the Cold War, and especially not the huge Reagan buildup. The latter essentially funded an expeditionary armada designed for invasion and occupation – an unneeded capability that eventually led to the follies of Washington’s serial military interventions in the Middle East.

That is even truer today. ISIS was a short-lived menace that arose from Washington’s interventions in Iraq and Syria, and has now been largely extinguished by its mortal 13-century old Shiite enemy: That is, the Shiite coalition of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, Iran, the Assad regime in Syria and the Hezbollah fighters of Lebanon.

There is nothing else from that region that threatens the safety and security of the citizens of Lincoln NE or Springfield MA, and most especially not the Iranians and their Shiite allies. The Iranians never had a nuclear weapons program, even by the lights of the 17-agency NIEs (national intelligence estimates) from 2007 onwards, and they have now precluded the possibility by agreeing to the Obama nuke deal.

The fact is, Iran is not a terrorist state – even if its theocracy falls far short of democratic ideals, and even if its leaders do fulminate against the Great Satan in Washington.

After all, during the past 65 years Washington has attacked the Iranian people by installing a brutal, larcenous puppet regime under the Shah from 1953-1979; siding with Iraq when the latter invaded Iran during the 1980s; and by demonizing and attempting to destabilize it ever since.

The entire case against Iran has been concocted by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the coalition of right-wing parties upon which his rule depends. They claim the Tehran regime is an existential threat to Israel’s survival, but that’s ridiculous when they have upwards of 100 nukes and the Iranians have none, and when the Israeli air force has the capacity to turn Iran’s limited attack forces into a smoldering heap of twisted metal on a moment’s notice.

The Israeli claim that Hezbollah is a lethal Iranian dagger pointed at its survival is equally upside down. In fact, Israel’s repeated brutal occupations of the Shiite regions of southern Lebanon is what brought Hezbollah into existence, and at length has made it the largest political party in this religiously fractured country.

In that context, the main reason Iran supplies Hezbollah with arms is to deter a US/Israel attack; and also because like any other sovereign nation it is allowed to have a foreign policy, including one based on shared confessional ties.

We remonstrate on these matters because when it comes to Iran the Donald’s new War Cabinet is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bibi Netanyahu. Bolton and Pompeo are absolutely rabid in their desire to make war on Iran, and Mad Dog Mattis is not far behind.

Yet it cannot be stated strongly enough: Iran proposes no military threat to the American homeland whatsoever; it has never been involved in a terrorist incident or even plot against America or Europe for that matter; and its religious and political quarrel with the Saudis is absolutely none of Washington’s business.

As we have frequently observed, it really doesn’t matter who controls the vast hydrocarbon deposits surrounding the Persian Gulf – Sunni or Shiite, dictators or democrats, Arabs or Persians. That’s because they all desperately need the revenue. And if oil prices should temporarily spike due to local wars or political upheaval, the cure for high prices is the global free market, not the US fifth fleet.

The truth of the matter is that a unilateral US military attack on Iran would be tantamount to a war crime – as the Nuremberg trials defined “wars of aggression”. And that is why the Donald’s mindless and groundless conviction that the Iran nuclear accord is the worst deal ever made by the US government is so pregnant with danger.

To a person, his new War Cabinet will be in the business of scratching and clawing the Donald’s itch. Their modus operandi will be to sabotage the greatest breakthrough for world peace in decades on May 12 when the next certification of Iranian compliance arrives.

Once the nuclear deal is ash-canned, in turn, the War Cabinet will revive their historically false claims that the Iranian’s are on the verge of gaining nuclear weapons. That’s even if they merely restart their enrichment plant at Natanz, which they would have every right to do in the event of Washington’s unilateral abrogation.

From there the war drums would start beating loudly in Imperial Washington for a preemptive attack to stop them – a speciously Nuremburg compliant attack, as it were.

Regardless of how this scenario plays out in concrete detail and time frame, one thing is certain. A rising crescendo of tensions and confrontations with all of the War Cabinet’s targets – Iran, Syria, Russia, China and North Korea – is fast coming down the pike. And that means an even larger burst in defense spending is not far behind.

All the while, of course, the Freedom Caucus stumbles around helping to slash tax revenues to 16.6% of GDP – the lowest level since the late 1940s – even as it welcomes the Donald’s War Cabinet and kvetches about soaring entitlements and the Horribus appropriations bill that a good portion of its membership acquiesced to.

And they are the purported fiscal good guys!

Yes, it is a doom loop and there is not a chance in the hot place of avoiding the fast arriving bond market “yield shock” that will make mincemeat out of today’s incorrigible dip buyers.

 

Who are the allies of Vladmir Putin and Russia in Germany?

Although the German government is clearly oriented toward the West, Germany often plays the mediator with Russia, and business interests also encourage tight connections. DW looks at Russia’s best friends in Germany.

March 28, 2018

by Jefferson Chase (Berlin)

DW

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

Though not the only German Russophile, the man who governed Germany from 1998 to 2005 is a particularly prominent and telling example of how politicians can enter Moscow’s orbit. Gerhard Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin have pursued one of the most conspicuous bromances of the past 20 years of European politics. They’ve spent Christmas together in Moscow, shared laughs on the beach in Sochi and laid a wreath at the grave of German philosopher Immanuel Kant in Kaliningrad. Putin speaks excellent German — thanks in part to the five years he spent in Dresden as a KGB agent from 1985 to 1990.

This friendship is also reflected economically. Immediately after losing the 2005 German election to Angela Merkel, Schröder began working for the Nord Stream consortium, a subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom, which runs a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany in the Baltic Sea. It was the first of many lucrative posts Schröder has held for Russian conglomerates, earning him the title “Putin’s most important oligarch” from the Wall Street Journal.

Other former political leaders

Schröder’s career arc is unusual but not unique among political ex-movers and shakers. Former Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chairman and Brandenburg State Premier Matthias Platzeck is a case in point. After health reasons forced him to retire in 2013, Platzeck became the head of the German-Russian Forum. The forum’s explicit aim is to improve relations between the two countries — Germany’s Bild newspaper has accused Platzeck of doing “paid or unpaid” lobbying work for Kremlin. The 62-year-old has criticized German sanctions on Russia and on one occasion even said that Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine should be “regulated ex post facto by international law.”

Interestingly, one of the first speeches former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel held after leaving office in March 2018 was to Platzeck’s German-Russian Forum.

The Left Party and the left wing of the SPD

Among political parties, Russia has a reliable ally in the Left Party, the successor to the successor of the old Socialist Unity Party (SED) in Communist East Germany. It regularly defends Russia on issues like sanctions in response to Crimea, the civil war in Syria and the expulsion of Russian diplomats in the wake of the Skripal poisonings. For instance, on March 28, security spokesman Matthias Höhn called for an end to the “paranoia toward Russia” – a typical Left Party statement.

The Left Party is part of the opposition, and thus its influence on policy is limited. But members of the left wing of the Social Democrats, the junior partners in the governing coalition, share some of these views. SPD Deputy Parliamentary Leader Rolf Mützenich, for instance, also criticized the expulsion of the Russian diplomats as premature.

By contrast, the Greens are stringent critics of Putin’s Russia.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party

Angela Merkel’s conservatives tend to take a strict line toward Russia, but the Kremlin does have its allies among the far-right populist AfD. In February a party delegation visited Crimea and called for an end to sanctions against Russia. Deputy AfD Parliamentary Leader Leif-Erik Holm also called upon the government to bolster its support for the plannedsecond Nord Stream gas pipeline.

In the run-up to Germany’s 2017 national election, there were fears that Russia could interfere in the vote on behalf of the AfD, as it is alleged to have done the year before for Donald Trump in the US presidential election. But there has been no evidence of any massive Russian manipulation.

The lobby organizations

Germany traditionally had two powerful groups advocating Russian-German business ties, but the pair merged on March 23, 2018 into a lobbying behemoth with a suitably long name: the “Eastern Committee – Eastern European Association of the German Economy.”

Germany and Russia do some €41 billion ($50 billion) in business with one another, and trade between the two countries rose by nearly a quarter in 2017. The East Committee, which encompasses more than 400 German companies and five major business associations, boasts that Eastern Europe is a more important export market for Germany than either the US or China.

Other important economic lobby groups are the German-Russian Chamber of Foreign Trade (AHK) and the German-Russian Forum.

Russia experts turned Russia mouthpieces?

Last but not least, there are prominent journalists and academics who have been accused of abandoning their objectivity to act as advocates for Putin’s Russia.

Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, for example, went from heading German public TV station ARD’s Moscow bureau to authoring books with titles like “Understanding Russia: The Battle for Ukraine and the Arrogance of the West.” There she argued that Russia’s military intervention in Crimea was defensive in nature.

Meanwhile academic Alexander Rahr left the Berlin think-tank German Council on Foreign Relations to become a paid lobbyist for the oil and gas company Wintershall, a BASF subsidiary connected with Gazprom. Since 2015 he has been a Gazprom consultant for EU matters in Brussels.

 

 

 

 

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