TBR News August 31, 2017

Aug 31 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., August 31, 2017:” Tracking and wiping your phone

Find My iPhone

This feature enables you to track, manage, and secure your phone once it’s missing. To use it, you’ll first need an iCloud account, though you do not need to sync any of your data, like e-mail and contacts, to the cloud. After you’re set up, then go to the iCloud page of your iPhone’s Settings and slide the Find My iPhone toggle to on.

Once your phone has been stolen, the first step is to sign on to iCloud.com or use the free Find My iPhone app on another iOS device. Once in, you’ll be able to find your device on an Apple map, but only if it is connected to a cellular or public Wi-Fi network (both secure and not). If the phone is connected just to a hidden Wi-Fi network (that is, one that does not appear in your handset’s list of available networks), you may not be able to track it. Other restrictions also apply, but I’ll get to those later.

After locating your phone and clicking on the icon, you can do a number of things. The first is to make the phone make play a sound at full volume for 2 minutes (even if it’s in silent mode). As this step is more useful if you just happen to lose your phone in your sofa cushions, I’d advise not using it if you’re certain that your handset is stolen. It just won’t do a lot of good except annoy a thief. You also can erase your handset completely, but this step is rather premature. Instead, first try activating Lost Mode as soon as you as you can. Not only does it give you more options for controlling your phone, it also adds a stricter level of security.”


Table of Contents

  • More Misleading Russia-gate Propaganda
  • The NY Times’s Newest Op-Ed Hire, Bari Weiss, Embodies its Worst Failings — and its Lack of Viewpoint Diversity
  • Was WikiLeaks hacked? Whistleblower group denies claims its servers were breached
  • Before Harvey, Houston Sought Funding to Mitigate Floods — But Congress Refused
  • Houston floods: White House seeks disaster aid from Congress
  • CIA sneak undetectable ‘malicious’ implants onto Windows OS – WikiLeaks
  • Wells Fargo Review Finds 1.4 Million More Suspect Accounts
  • Yahoo must face litigation by data breach victims: U.S. judge
  • Yesterday’s Enemy, Today’s Friend
  • EU-Poland tension worries Polish citizens abroad



More Misleading Russia-gate Propaganda

The U.S. mainstream media is touting a big break in Russia-gate, emails showing an effort by Donald Trump’s associates to construct a building in Moscow. But the evidence actually undercuts the “scandal,”

August 29, 2017

by Robert Parry


There is an inherent danger of news organizations getting infected by “confirmation bias” when they want something to be true so badly that even if the evidence goes in the opposite direction they twist the revelation to fit their narrative. Such is how The Washington Post, The New York Times and their followers in the mainstream media are reacting to newly released emails that actually show Donald Trump’s team having little or no influence in Moscow.

On Tuesday, for instance, the Times published a front-page article designed to advance the Russia-gate narrative, stating: “A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.”

Wow, that sounds pretty devastating! The Times is finally tying together the loose and scattered threads of the Russia-influencing-the-U.S.-election story. Here you have a supposed business deal in which Putin was to help Trump both make money and get elected. That is surely how a casual reader or a Russia-gate true believer would read it – and was meant to read it. But the lede is misleading.

The reality, as you would find out if you read further into the story, is that the boast from Felix Sater that somehow the construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow would demonstrate Trump’s international business prowess and thus help his election was meaningless. What the incident really shows is that the Trump organization had little or no pull in Russia as Putin’s government apparently didn’t lift a finger to salvage this stillborn building project.

But highlighting that reality would not serve the Times’ endless promotion of Russia-gate. So, this counter-evidence gets buried deep in the story, after a reprise of the “scandal” and the Times hyping the significance of Sater’s emails from 2015 and early 2016. For good measure, the Times includes a brief and dishonest summary of the Ukraine crisis.

The Times reported: “Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, said he had lined up financing for the Trump Tower deal with VTB Bank, a Russian bank that was under American sanctions for involvement in Moscow’s efforts to undermine democracy in Ukraine. In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Moscow. ‘I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,’ Mr. Sater wrote.”

But the idea that Russia acted “to undermine democracy in Ukraine” is another example of the Times’ descent into outright propaganda. The reality is that the U.S. government supported – and indeed encouraged – a coup on Feb. 22, 2014, that overthrew the democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych even after he offered to move up scheduled elections so he could be voted out of office through a democratic process.

After Yanukovych’s violent ouster and after the coup regime dispatched military forces to crush resistance among anti-coup, mostly ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the east, Russia provided help to prevent their destruction from an assault spearheaded by neo-Nazis and other extreme Ukrainian nationalists. But that reality would not fit the Times’ preferred Ukraine narrative, so it gets summarized as Moscow trying “to undermine democracy in Ukraine.”

Empty Boasts

However, leaving aside the Times’ propagandistic approach to Ukraine, there is this more immediate point about Russia-gate: none of Sater’s boastful claims proved true and this incident really underscored the lack of useful connections between Trump’s people and the Kremlin. One of Trump’s lawyers, Michael Cohen, even used a general press email address in a plea for assistance from Putin’s personal spokesman.

Deeper in the story, the Times admits these inconvenient facts: “There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises, and one email suggests that Mr. Sater overstated his Russian ties. In January 2016, Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, asking for help restarting the Trump Tower project, which had stalled. But Mr. Sater did not appear to have Mr. Peskov’s direct email, and instead wrote to a general inbox for press inquiries.”

The Times added: “The project never got government permits or financing, and died weeks later. … The emails obtained by The Times make no mention of Russian efforts to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign or the hacking of Democrats’ emails.”

In other words, the Russia-gate narrative – that somehow Putin foresaw Trump’s election (although almost no one else did) and sought to curry favor with the future U.S. president by lining Trump’s pockets with lucrative real estate deals while doing whatever he could to help Trump win – is knocked down by these new disclosures, not supported by them.

Instead of clearing the way for Trump to construct the building and thus – in Sater’s view – boost Trump’s election chances, Putin and his government wouldn’t even approve permits or assist in the financing.

And, this failed building project was not the first Trump proposal in Russia to fall apart. A couple of years earlier, a Moscow hotel plan died apparently because Trump would not – or could not – put up adequate financing for his share, overvaluing the magic of the Trump brand. But one would think that if the Kremlin were grooming Trump to be its Manchurian candidate and take over the U.S. government, money would have been no obstacle.

Along the same lines, there’s the relative pittance that RT paid Gen. Michael Flynn to speak at the TV network’s tenth anniversary in Moscow in December 2015. The amount totaled $45,386 with Flynn netting $33,750 after his speakers’ bureau took its cut. Democrats and the U.S. mainstream media treated this fact as important evidence of Russia buying influence in the Trump campaign and White House, since Flynn was both a campaign adviser and briefly national security adviser.

But the actual evidence suggests something quite different. Besides Flynn’s relatively modest speaking fee, it turned out that RT negotiated Flynn’s rate downward, a fact that The Washington Post buried deep inside an article on Flynn’s Russia-connected payments. The Post wrote, “RT balked at paying Flynn’s original asking price. ‘Sorry it took us longer to get back to you but the problem is that the speaking fee is a bit too high and exceeds our budget at the moment,’ Alina Mikhaleva, RT’s head of marketing, wrote a Flynn associate about a month before the event.”

Yet, if Putin were splurging to induce Americans near Trump to betray their country, it makes no sense that Putin’s supposed flunkies at RT would be quibbling with Flynn over a relatively modest speaking fee; they’d be falling over themselves to pay him more.

So, what the evidence really indicates is that Putin, like almost everybody else in the world, didn’t anticipate Trump’s ascendance to the White House, at least not in the time frame of these events – and thus was doing nothing to buy influence with his entourage or boost his election chances by helping him construct a glittering Trump Tower in Moscow.

But that recognition of reality would undermine the much beloved story of Putin-Trump collusion, so the key facts and the clear logic are downplayed or ignored – all the better to deceive Americans who are dependent on the Times, the Post and the mainstream media.


The NY Times’s Newest Op-Ed Hire, Bari Weiss, Embodies its Worst Failings — and its Lack of Viewpoint Diversity

August 31 2017

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

Controversy erupted on April 14 over the New York Times’s hiring of neoconservative climate-skeptic and anti-Arab polemicist Bret Stephens as the paper’s newest Op-Ed page columnist, hired away from the Wall Street Journal’s right-wing op-ed page. But just two days after it unveiled him, the paper’s op-ed page, with much less fanfare, announced that it had also hired a carbon copy of Stephens named Bari Weiss, also from the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, to “write and commission the kinds of quick-off-the-news pieces” that will “amplify the section’s already important voice in the national conversation.”

In her short tenure, Weiss has given the paper exactly what it apparently wanted when it hired her. She has churned out a series of trite, shallow, cheap attacks on already-marginalized left-wing targets that have made her a heroine in the insular neocon and right-wing intelligentsia precincts in which she, Stephens, and so many other NYT op-ed writers reside.

Exactly as she was doing a decade ago as a “pro-Israel” activist at Columbia and thereafter at various neocon media perches, her formula is as simple as it is predictable: She channels whatever prevailing right-wing grievance exists about colleges, Arabs or Israel critics (ideally, all of those) into a column that’s supposed to be “provocative” because it maligns minority activists or fringe positions that are rarely given platforms on the New York Times op-ed page.

She was first cheered for using this highly valuable journalistic real estate to attack organizers of the Chicago Dyke March for excluding flags that contained the Star of David on the grounds of similarity to the Israeli flag, followed by a crude guilt-by-association attack on the minority women who organized the Woman’s March based on their praise of various Muslims we’re all expected to hate, and then yesterday mocked campus critics of “cultural appropriation,” taking time — in advance — to celebrate her own courage and martyrdom by including this line: “I will inevitably get called a racist for cheering cultural miscegenation.” (Weiss loves to declare her own brave martyrdom in advance of reactions to what she writes; “I’ll be accused of siding with the alt-right or tarred as Islamophobic,” she proclaimed in her column attacking the Women’s March organizers, concluding: “If that puts me beyond the pale of the progressive feminist movement in America right now, so be it”).

Weiss, standing alone, isn’t worth spending much time on: She’s just another thoroughly mainstream writer who thrives on cheap, easy, and superficial “controversy,” who sees herself as a brave intellectual dissident as she is continually celebrated by and gets promoted within the most mainstream media circles — all for spouting conventional and power-flattering critiques of largely powerless figures. But she is worth examining for what it says about the New York Times, its understanding of “diversity,” and the range of opinions it does, and does not, permit.

In the wake of the controversy prompted by hiring Stephens, the Times justified its decision by appealing to precepts of intellectual diversity. The paper “has proclaimed a public commitment to reflecting a broader range of perspectives in its pages,” Public Editor Liz Spayd wrote, citing “the general principle of busting up the mostly liberal echo chamber around here.”

On CNN, the paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, chided critics of the Stephens hiring this way: “Didn’t we learn from this past election that our goal should be to understand different views?” He claimed that “the New York Times has a history of trying to bring in different voices,” asking rhetorically: “Don’t we want to surface all ideas?”

Few things are more laughable than watching the incomparably homogenized New York Times op-ed page justify itself with appeals to the virtues of diversity. If your goal were to wage war on media diversity in all of its forms, and to offer the narrowest range of views possible, it would be hard to top the roster of columnists the paper has assembled: Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Nick Kristof, Paul Krugman, Roger Cohen, Ross Douthat, Maureen Dowd, Frank Bruni, David Leonhardt, Charles Blow, Gail Collins, Bret Stephens, with Bari Weiss as a contributor and editor.

Beyond the obvious demographic homogeneity, literally every one of them fits squarely within the narrow, establishment, center-right to center-left range of opinion that prevails in elite opinion-making circles. Almost all of them, if not all, supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election, and now have politics close to that neighborhood. None is associated with or supportive of the growing populist left or the populist right; they all wallow in the vague, safe, Washington-approved middle ground, members in good standing of the newly overt neoliberal-neoconservative alliance. As long as Stephens avoided talking about climate change and Douthat steered clear of abortion, most if not would all be capable of giving a speech that would be cheered at a so-called #Resistance rally, or at an AIPAC conference.

In writing about the controversy over the Stephens’s hiring, Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone summarized the glaring joke of the NYT Op-Ed page — of all places — claiming the mantle of viewpoint diversity:

But as far as embracing views far to the left or right, the Times’ full-time opinion writers have never represented a particularly wide range. The paper has never had a Pat Buchanan or Steve Bannon, a strident right-wing populist arguing against free trade, immigration and U.S. intervention abroad. Nor has it played host to a regular columnist from the anti-war left in the vein of Michael Moore, or an anti-capitalist like Naomi Klein.

And several of its left-leaning voices on the op-ed page are often aligned with conservatives on foreign policy. Stephens, like [Bill] Kristol before him, backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But so did Tom Friedman. And like Stephens and Kristol, both Friedman and Nick Kristof supported Trump’s decision last week to strike Syria in response to a chemical attack.

As my colleague Zaid Jilani put it when the Stephens’s hiring was announced: “Stephens’s voice is hardly new to the media landscape — it echoes the powerful and attacks the powerless, specifically marginalized groups like Arabs and Muslims who have little representation in U.S. media. … The Times editorial page currently does not have a female minority columnist and, despite frequently writing about conflicts in the Middle East, employs no regular Arab American or Muslim American writers.”

That’s not to say there are zero differences among NYT columnists. Douthat expresses occasional social issue conservatism; Brooks and Krugman have passive-aggressively argued on elements of conservative dogma and economic policy; and Stephens’s climate views are certainly an outlier. But on the most contentious issues that divide the country, the range of opinion they offer is as narrow and stultifying as their demographic diversity is.

The old joke used to be that, for mainstream media, diversity of views spanned the range from the centrists at The New Republic to the conservatives at National Review. For the contemporary NYT op-ed page, diversity spans the small gap from establishment centrist Democrats to establishment centrist Republicans, with the large groups of people outside of those factions essentially excluded.

Bari Weiss is a caricature of all of the op-ed page’s longest-standing, worst attributes. Her relatively short career as a writer and activist has been overwhelmingly devoted to one issue: a defense of the Israeli government and a corresponding smear campaign against its critics. Her targets have tended overwhelmingly to be Muslim and/or Arab, often in the context of campus politics. She has already used her NYT space to endorse the disgusting and false Haim Saban-created smear campaign against the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, writing: “Recall that only a few months ago, Keith Ellison, a man with a long history of defending and working with anti-Semites, was almost made leader of the Democratic National Committee.”

Weiss’s admirers, such as Niall Ferguson, the right-wing Harvard professor and husband of Netanyahu-fan Ayaan Hirsi Ali (whom Weiss admires), have hailed her columns as an “amazing and welcome outbreak of intellectual diversity at the New York Times.” But while Weiss brings many things to the New York Times, viewpoint diversity is plainly not among them.

There’s not a single view she holds about Israel or campus controversies that couldn’t be, and hasn’t been, repeatedly expressed by Friedman, Stephens, and Brooks, if not also Cohen and Douthat. Hiring her didn’t add an iota of viewpoint diversity; it just replicated tendentious views about Israel and its largely marginalized critics that have been repeated for years on those same NYT pages to the purposeful exclusion of actually dissenting voices.

That devotion to Israel is the North Star of Weiss’s worldview and journalism was best demonstrated by Weiss’s own description of her career. At a 2012 Conference of the American Zionist Movement, Weiss gave a speech about what she called the “connection between advocacy journalism and Zionism.”

She explained that she “got involved in journalism through activism” — specifically, activism against Arab and Muslim professors at Columbia whom she accused of bullying Jewish and Israeli students. That was as part of an incredibly ugly campaign, launched by the film “Columbia Unbecoming” to depict those Arab professors — members of one of America’s most marginalized groups — as oppressors of Jewish students.

One of the Arab professors targeted by that campaign, Joseph Massad, described it as “the latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel.” The New York Civil Liberties Union condemned the campaign and that film — which Weiss credits as having catalyzed her interest in journalism — as a witch hunt designed to punish Israel critics: “The attack on Professor Massad and other in the [Middle East Studies] Department is really about their scholarship and political expression.”

Weiss’s activism against these professors was preceded by a one-year stint in Israel. After she crusaded against these Middle East studies professors at Columbia, penning columns denouncing them, she was quickly hired by the standard organs for neoconservative opinion: the New York Sun, Tablet, then the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. She gushed that the Wall Street Journal op-ed age was perfect for her politics — it “can often be an island of sanity for those of us who care about Zionism and Israel” — and explained that she went to Tablet “because I wanted the chance to focus on Jewish issues.”

Weiss’s attacks on Muslim and Arab professors weren’t limited to the Columbia campaigns. She also participated in the campaign to destroy the reputation of Nadia Abu El-Haj, an American-born rising star in the academic world who had received a Fulbright scholarship and a fellowship at Harvard. Abu El-Haj, a doctorate of anthropology, has a Palestinian-Muslim father and an American Episcopalian mother.

In 2002, she published a book anthropologically examining Jewish claims to a biblical entitlement of Israel, and it won numerous scholarly awards, along with critical praise from her academic colleagues at the University of Chicago, where she was teaching. As a New York Times article described, the book documented that as “Israeli archaeologists searched for an ancient Jewish presence to help build the case for a Jewish state … They sometimes used bulldozers, destroying remains of other cultures, including those of Arabs.” Abu El-Haj’s book questioned their anthropological conclusions designed to bolster Israel’s current political posture.

In 2006, El-Haj moved with her husband to New York and obtained a teaching position at Barnard College, the women’s college at Columbia. She then applied for tenure, and, as the New Yorker’s review of the ensuing controversy recounted, “No one in her department doubted she would get it,” as “she was known on campus for having an original and scrupulous mind.” But then, after Abu El-Haj’s tenure application had passed the review of three separate academic committees, an online petition emerged — written by an Israeli settler — demanding that she be denied tenure, accusing her of defaming Israel based on ignorance and shoddy scholarship.

Though the petition ended up being ultimately discredited, and Abu El-Haj was eventually given tenure at Barnard, the ensuing controversy was toxic, tarnishing the reputation of this young professor. “She is a scholar of the highest quality and integrity who is being persecuted because she has the courage to focus an analytical lens on subjects that others wish to shield from scrutiny,” Michael Dietler, an anthropology professor at the University of Chicago, told the Times, “and because she happens to be of Palestinian origin.”

A senior professor of Religion and Jewish Studies at Barnard, Alan Segal, ultimately led the on-campus campaign against Abu El-Haj. “He was used to being consulted on anything at Barnard involving ancient Israel,” said the New Yorker. In the campaign, Segal breached academic protocol by publicly attacking and maligning her scholarship, telling the New York Times: “There is every reason in the world to want her to have tenure, and only one reason against it — her work.”

One of the media leaders stoking the flames against this accomplished young American-Palestinian academic was Bari Weiss, living in Jerusalem at the time. With no training or expertise whatsoever in anthropology, a deficiency she made up for with her ample passion for publicly smearing Israel critics, Weiss attacked Abu El-Haj in the Israeli daily Haaretz, arguing that “this is not just another round between the Zionists and the anti-Zionists,” but instead, “is about the nature of truth, and the possibility of, well, facts themselves.”

Depicting Abu El-Haj as a disciple of another Weiss target, the late Columbia Middle Eastern studies Professor Edward Said, Weiss claimed that Abu El-Haj, in her book, “is forced to abandon the methodology of science altogether.” Of the award-winning and highly praised work, Weiss said: “She has written a book condemning the notion of facts themselves.” Weiss’s sudden outburst of concern for academic and anthropological rigor and the scientific method seems to find expression only as a tool for smearing people who happen to be critics of the Israeli occupation and/or scholars of Arab descent.

It’s truly amazing: Weiss now postures as some sort of champion of free thought on college campuses. Yet her whole career was literally built on ugly campaigns to attack, stigmatize, and punish Arab professors who criticize Israel. And that’s because, as she herself has said, she regards her journalism as merely a form of “Zionist activism.”

So that’s Weiss’s overwhelming preoccupation: defending Israel, primarily by vilifying its critics. Why the New York Times op-ed page — in the midst of feigning a devotion to diversity — decided that this is what it needed more of is mystifying indeed, given that her views on her central issue are already shared by many, if not the large majority, of her colleagues on that page.

Just review her own list of views that she believes converted her into a brave and “politically homeless” dissident on college campuses, “in which being an outspoken Zionist made you fascist, supporting the war in Iraq made you an imperialist, and believing that some cultures are indeed more enlightened than others a hegemon.” Those beliefs are not the hallmark of a dissident but rather the prevailing views of the New York Times op-ed page where she now works.

Indeed, at the time of hiring, Weiss heaped praise on Stephens. And that makes sense: They are virtually indistinguishable, particularly when it comes to Weiss’s obsessive focus on Israel and its critics. Though it got little attention amid the controversy over his climate change denialism, Stephens has expressed blatant anti-Arab bigotry in the past: “The Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind, and the name for that problem is anti-Semitism,” he once wrote, adding that this “Arab mind” has produced few achievements: “Today there is no great university in the Arab world, no serious indigenous scientific base, a stunted literary culture.”

Weiss’s most celebrated NYT column thus far — her attack on Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour for praising Muslim extremists and expressing anti-Israel ideas — was just a rehash of a similar column she wrote earlier this year at Tablet that asked in the headline, referring to Sarsour: “Do Jews have to make common cause with people who want to kill them?”

Others have dissected the glaring fallacies of that particular Women’s March column, as many have done with Weiss’s celebration of cultural appropriation yesterday, so we can leave those to the side. But let’s apply one of Weiss’s favorite smear tactics that she used against Sarsour — finding someone who her target has praised, and then finding their worst comments to attach to her target — to Weiss herself.

Judging by the praise she dishes out on her Twitter feed, Weiss’s favorite people are all part of that insular, highly homogenized clique of war-loving, “pro-Israel” neoconservative American writers: John Podhoretz, Jamie Kirchick, Bill Kristol, Eli Lake, and Stephens. And they all adore her. But, to use her words in maligning the Women’s March organizers, she sure does “have some chilling ideas and associations.”

One of the people Weiss most admires and most frequently praises, Podhoretz, is literally an advocate of genocide. He wrote a 2006 New York Post column wondering whether “the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn’t kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything?” He added: “Wasn’t the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?”

Of Bari Weiss’s friend and beloved writer, Podhoretz, the foreign policy analyst Gregory Djerejian expressed shocked that he “would muse so innocuously about the merits of mass butchery — basically the wholesale slaughter of a broad demographic of an ethnic group writ large — a policy prescription that is quasi-genocidal in nature.”

Another one of Weiss’s favorite writers, Jamie Kirchick, got his start in journalism working as an assistant for and protégé of long-time New Republic publisher Marty Peretz, whose own writers have exposed his countless expressions of overt anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry. Kirchick himself has his own history of ugly anti-Muslim animus, such as his defense of anti-Muslim stereotypes on the grounds of accuracy, and his invocation of Stephens’s “disease of the Arab mind” phrasing.

Stephens himself, one of her mentors, has a history of ugly defamations against Arabs and Africans. And then there’s Bill Kristol — himself once a NYT columnist — whose record of advocating the most extreme evil and blatant deceit is too well-known to merit discussion.

So on top of her own history of crusading against Arabs, Muslims, and other assorted critics of Israel, Weiss’s own “associations” and admired figures have a long history of overt hatred against such groups and have espoused some of the most repugnant ideas to gain traction in U.S. discourse since the War on Terror began. Using her own standards of judging people by the worst views of those whom they have praised, shouldn’t this put Weiss beyond the pale of what’s tolerated in decent company?

News outlets, even the New York Times, are free to hire only those writers which espouse particular orthodoxies or ideological views — whether on Israel or any other hotly contested topic. But what they shouldn’t do is insult everyone’s intelligence by prancing around as advocates of diversity. Hiring Bari Weiss as a new op-ed writer isn’t something you do if you are committed to fostering viewpoint diversity at your paper; it’s what you do if you want to further smother it.


Was WikiLeaks hacked? Whistleblower group denies claims its servers were breached

August 31, 2017


WikiLeaks has dismissed claims its servers were hacked Thursday by the OurMine hacking group, following online suggestions that the whistleblowers’ homepage had been defaced with the words ‘Hacked by #OurMine.’

Some WikiLeaks users reported seeing the site’s homepage defaced with text apparently from the OurMine group, which has carried out recent hacks on Youtube, Mark Zuckerberg, Buzzfeed, and others.

“Hi it’s OurMine (Security Group),” the text continues, “WikiLeaks, remember when you challenged us to hack you? Anonymous, remember when you tried to dox us with fake information for attacking wikileaks?”

“There you go! One group beat you all,” it said.

OurMine is largely seen as a ‘white hat’ hacking group, meaning its exploits focus on exposing vulnerabilities in websites rather than malicious attacks. However, its Buzzfeed hack was revenge for publishing an article claiming to expose the identity of one of its members.

The hack by OurMine was likely carried out on WikiLeaks’ Domain Name System (DNS) records on its domain name (www) server.

This means it wasn’t WikiLeaks’ own servers (containing its important files) that were hacked. Although technically hacked, it did not endanger WikiLeaks’ own servers or put at risk its whistleblowing efforts.

DNS is a naming system that converts website addresses (www.etc.com) to IP addresses for computers to read. The hijack likely made the site’s DNS records point browsers seeking WikiLeaks to a site on a server owned by OurMine.

Julian Assange tweeted “There have been two types of internet infrastructure (DNS) attacks. ALways use HTTPS or our .onion.

OurMine released a statement explaining its hack on WikiLeaks. “We did that because they challenged us to hack them about a few months ago, and we’ve been working on this hack for a very long time, and finally we did it!”

The statement also said it had access to new messages sent to WikiLeaks’ press email.


Before Harvey, Houston Sought Funding to Mitigate Floods — But Congress Refused

August 31 2017

by Eoin Higgins

The Intercept

The rains were going to come eventually. It was only a matter of when, and how bad.

With flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey still inundating Houston — exacting a toll of 31 deaths and incalculable damage so far — the city is left asking what could have been done to prevent the extent of the catastrophe, or at least diminish its effects. One of the questions is why federal funding that should have been in place to help Houston deal with flood mitigation never arrived.

Houston and surrounding Harris County, in Texas, had many ambitious proposals for flood mitigation projects lined up, but couldn’t afford them. And, despite the efforts of one of the city’s congressional representatives, Capitol Hill declined to fund the cash-strapped local governments.

“We’ve gone at this from every angle we could,” said Rep. Al Green, a Democrat from Houston who sponsored a bill to fund various projects after the “Tax Day flood” of April 2016. “We were hoping to help mitigate flooding across the city. I don’t know if we’ll ever mitigate all of it, but we can mitigate some.”

After the Tax Day flood, which left 16 dead, Green introduced a bill to fund $311 million for the Harris County Flood Control District. That bill stalled out in the House Budget Appropriations Committee and never came up for a vote. (Committee Chair Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., did not return requests for comment.)

The federal funds provided in the bill could have jump-started flood mitigation projects in Houston that had already been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers. Those projects had languished for years, even decades, because the federal share of their budgets was never appropriated by Congress.

“What I can tell you is that if it would have allocated funds, we would have tried to use those to our best ability,” said Nicholas Laskowski, the Corps’ Galveston District project manager, who declined to comment specifically on Green’s legislation.

Eight active Harris County Flood Control District initiatives are dependent on federal funding. Seven of them are concentrated on the bayous in the city and county; the eighth is on the Clear Creek tributary near Galveston.

Houston’s rapid growth has meant water has fewer paths to escape the city, so many of the projects were aimed at widening bayous and relocating bridges. “When you can make the channels wider, you can improve hydraulic conductivity,” said Laskowski.

The projects are supposed to be directly undertaken by the local flood control authority. The Army Corps provides oversight and technical assistance. “They do the work, they do the design, we review,” said Laskowski.

Once the projects are completed, the Corps checks that the work has been done to the approved specifications. After the Corps signs off on it, the federal government’s appropriations for reimbursement kick in. Without those funds, the county can’t afford to take on the mammoth outlays.

Only two of the Flood Control District’s eight projects are near completion. The other six projects are either being reevaluated or stalled, because of grants drying up.

Green’s bill would have released all outstanding funding in one piece to allow the projects to proceed all at once instead of piecemeal. By 2026, any unspent funds would have gone back to federal coffers.

“We tried to stick with projects that were approved,” said Green, “and that, if funded, would make a difference.”

The money, however, never came. “Congress was in an austerity mode, and we could not get the votes necessary to get [the bill] to the floor,” said Green, who tried other approaches, such as allocating the funds in a rider amendment to a Republican-sponsored energy and water development bill that failed on procedural grounds.

“Obviously if we had those kind of protections, we wouldn’t have had as many problems” with Harvey, Al Green’s House colleague Houston Democrat Gene Green (no relation) told The Intercept.

A storm like Harvey — a slow-moving system with drenching rain and floods — was always a possibility for the region. Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 2009 to 2017, told The Intercept this week that the city could have done more to mitigate flooding.

“In many ways, early on, they weren’t addressing it,” Fugate said of the city planners’ response to flood warnings from FEMA and infrastructural professionals.

The city of Houston has plenty of systemic problems. Drainage systems are antiquated. There is a general lack of consistent regulations around development. The flood control district was and is headed by men who rejected efforts by scientists to change the way the city deals with flooding when it considers approval of urbanization projects.

Houston is built on a flood plain. The city sits only about 50 feet above sea level. That low elevation combined with rapid urbanization over the past few decades to create an untenable situation: paving over the bayou marshland has allowed flooding on a scale unseen in decades in the city.

Harvey’s human cost was already becoming apparent as the floodwaters began to recede. And Gene Green believes the true death toll will only increase over the next weeks and months. “Once the water goes down we’ll see more tragedy,” he said.

Resistance to funding public works projects like flood mitigation, whether at the local or federal level, ends up costing more money in the end.

While it’s still too early to take stock of Harvey’s toll, floods in the spring of 2015 and 2016 cost $8 billion in total. Al Green put that number into context during a floor speech last year in support of his bill. “That $8 billion, by the way, is 25 times the $311 million that we might use to take preventive action,” he said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, another Democrat from Houston whose district encompasses the city’s downtown, told MSNBC on Wednesday that the cost of Harvey is likely to be higher than Hurricane Katrina’s price tag of over $120 billion.

Jackson Lee said she was introducing a bill for $152 billion in emergency aid. The sum is nearly 500 times what Green’s 2016 legislation asked for. “And, frankly, it may go up even more,” added Jackson Lee.

Al Green, meanwhile, has a new bill for flood appropriations that he introduced on the first day of the new legislative session in January. It doesn’t have any co-sponsors yet, but Green hopes that the legislation’s flood mitigation funding can be attached to a sizable relief bill that will come after Harvey. “In the process of recovering, we also want to do some things to abate,” said Green.

He added that Houston needs to look to the future as it cleans up the present: “I see this is as a part of a total recovery.”


Houston floods: White House seeks disaster aid from Congress

August 31, 2017

BBC News

The White House will ask Congress for emergency funding to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“The American people are with you,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to Texas.

“We will be here every day until this city and this state and this region rebuild bigger and better than ever before,” he said.

President Trump is expected to propose an initial $5.9bn (£4.56bn) in aid, the Associated Press reports.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said earlier the state might need more than $125bn from the federal government.

At least 33 people have died in the storm and its aftermath.

Trump donation

Mr Pence said 311,000 people had registered for disaster assistance, and that he hoped for bipartisan support in Congress for the funding request.

It is not yet clear how quickly funds might reach victims.

Visiting the battered town of Rockport, Mr Pence paid tribute to the people of Texas: “The sights and sounds and conversations we had today were just overwhelming.

“I think the resilience of the people of Texas has been inspiring. To see people who’ve gone through the horror of one of the largest natural disasters in American history to be standing shoulder to shoulder, passing out food to their neighbours, helping their neighbours clear out their homes with a smile on their face… it’s humbling to me and it’s deeply inspiring.”

The White House also said Mr Trump would donate $1m of his own money to the relief effort.

As floodwaters recede, the focus has turned from rescue efforts to long-term recovery but residents are being warned not to return home until they are told it is safe to do so.

Earlier, a senior White House aide said about 100,000 homes, not all of which were fully insured, had been affected by the storm and the flooding that accompanied it.

About 779,000 Texans were ordered to evacuate, and another 980,000 left their homes voluntarily, Reuters news agency quoted Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke as saying.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) said its teams had rescued more than 3,800 survivors, and more than 90,000 people had already been approved for disaster assistance.

Fema also warned that residents were being targeted by scams. There are reports of individuals impersonating inspectors and immigration officials.

Others were receiving scam calls about flood insurance claiming a premium must be paid or the insurance would be lost.

House searches

Energy suppliers in the south of Texas were forced to shut down refineries and close off pipelines, sending petrol prices higher across the US. Many have now begun the process of restarting their operations, but it could take weeks before production is back to normal.

Residents returning to their homes are also facing challenges.

Firefighters have begun a door-to-door search for survivors and bodies in an operation that could take up to two weeks

The Environmental Protection Agency is warning residents that floodwater can contain bacteria and other contaminants from overflowing sewers. It said the biggest threat to public health was access to safe drinking water.

Many thousands of homes remain without power.

A hospital in Beaumont, east of Houston, was forced to evacuate patients on Thursday after the local water supply shut down. Military Black Hawk helicopters were used to airlift intensive care patients.

One chemical plant in Crosby, near Houston, caught fire on Thursday, and more fires are expected in the coming days.

Chemicals stored at the flooded Arkema plant are no longer being refrigerated, making them combustible.

Residents have been evacuated from the plant in a 1.5 mile radius, and smoke was seen rising from the site on Thursday.

President Trump and his wife Melania are expected to return to Texas on Saturday.

The president visited the flood-hit state earlier in the week but limited his visit to Corpus Christi, which avoided the worst of the flooding, over fears his presence could divert resources from rescue efforts.

Storm Harvey has now been downgraded to a tropical depression but heavy rainfall is expected from Louisiana to Kentucky over the next three days and flood warnings remain in effect for south-east Texas and parts of south-west Louisiana.


CIA sneak undetectable ‘malicious’ implants onto Windows OS – WikiLeaks

August 31, 2017


Windows machines are targeted by the CIA under ‘Angelfire,’ according to the latest release from WikiLeaks’ ‘Vault7’ series. The documents detail an implant that can allow Windows machines to create undetectable libraries.

‘Angelfire’ consists of five components – ‘Solartime,’‘Wolfcreek,’ ‘Keystone,’ ‘BadMFS,’ and the ‘Windows Transitory File system,’ according to a statement from WikiLeaks released on Thursday.

‘Solartime’ modifies the partition boot sector of Windows XP or Windows 7 machines when installed, allowing the ‘Wolfcreek’ implant to load and execute. ‘Wolfcreek’ can then load and execute other ‘Angelfire’ implants.

Previously known as ‘MagicWand,’ ‘Keystone’ loads malicious user applications on the machine which never touch the file system, leaving “very little forensic evidence that the process ever ran” according to WikiLeaks.

BadMFS’ is described as a library which stores all drivers and implants that ‘Wolfcreek’ can activate. In some versions it can be detected, but in most it’s encrypted and obfuscated, making it undetectable to string or PE header scanning, used to detect malware.

‘Windows Transitory File system’ is used to install ‘AngelFire,’ according to the release, allowing the addition or removal of files from it.

WikiLeaks says the leaked ‘Vault 7’ documents came from within the CIA, which has in turn refused to confirm their authenticity. Previous releases include details on CIA hacking tools used to weaponize mobile phones, compromize smart TVs and the ability to trojan the Apple OS.


Wells Fargo Review Finds 1.4 Million More Suspect Accounts

August 31, 2017

by Stacy Cowley

New York Times

Wells Fargo said on Thursday that an internal review of its potentially fraudulent bank accounts had uncovered a total of 3.5 million such accounts, some 1.4 million more than it had previously estimated.

The bank also raised a new issue: unauthorized enrollments of customers in the bank’s online bill payment service. Wells Fargo said that it had found 528,000 cases in which customers may have been signed up without their knowledge or consent, and will refund $910,000 to customers who incurred fees or charges.

“We are working hard to ensure this never happens again and to build a better bank for the future,” Timothy J. Sloan, Wells Fargo’s chief executive, said in a written statement announcing the review’s results. “We apologize to everyone who was harmed.”

Wells Fargo touched off a scandal last September when it agreed to pay $185 million to settle three government lawsuits over the bank’s creation of potentially millions of unauthorized customer accounts.

Wells Fargo has acknowledged that thousands of employees, trying to meet aggressive sales goals, created accounts in customers’ names without their knowledge. Employees received bonuses for meeting the bank’s sales targets — and risked losing their jobs if they fell short.The bank’s internal review is now complete, Mr. Sloan said.

“We’ve cast a wide net to reach customers and address their remaining concerns,” he said.

In some cases, customers discovered the fraudulent accounts only when they incurred fees on them. Wells Fargo said it has paid customers $7 million to refund those fees. It also agreed to pay $142 million to settle class-action claims over the accounts.

The scandal over the accounts — and the corporate culture that allowed them to go undetected for so long — toppled Wells Fargo’s chief executive and ignited an outcry from customers, lawmakers and regulators that, nearly a year later, is still roiling the bank. Several investigations by the Justice Department and state attorneys general remain in progress.

Wells Fargo customers and former employees have said that they tried more than a decade ago to alert bank executives to misdeeds by branch bankers and managers. The company decided to go back only to 2009 in its review because it did not have sufficient data on prior periods, Mr. Sloan said on a call with reporters.

The review Wells Fargo concluded on Thursday focused on retail bank accounts, and did not expand into other areas in which the bank has been accused of wrongdoing, including improperly withholding refunds that were due to some car loan customers and charging some customers for auto insurance that they did not need. Wells Fargo has said previously that it would refund customers who were affected by those actions.

The bank has also been accused of handling mortgages improperly by making unauthorized changes to the loans of borrowers in bankruptcy (which it has denied) and charging customers fees to extend applications that it delayed (an issue the bank said it is looking into).

At the time, the bank said that 2.1 million suspect accounts had been opened from 2011 to mid-2015. The bank later expanded its review by three years and examined 165 million bank accounts that were created from January 2009 through September 2016.

That review turned up the additional accounts that may have been fraudulent — a nearly 70 percent increase over Wells Fargo’s initial estimate.

Michael Corkery contributed reporting.



Yahoo must face litigation by data breach victims: U.S. judge

August 31, 2017

by Jonathan Stempel


Reuters) – A U.S. judge said Yahoo must face nationwide litigation brought on behalf of well over 1 billion users who said their personal information was compromised in three massive data breaches.

Wednesday night’s decision from U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, was a setback for efforts by Verizon Communications Inc, which paid $4.76 billion for Yahoo’s Internet business in June, to limit potential liability.

The breaches occurred between 2013 and 2016, but Yahoo was slow to disclose them, waiting more than three years to reveal the first. Revelations about the scope of the cyber attacks prompted Verizon to lower its purchase price for the company.

In a 93-page decision, Koh rejected Yahoo’s contention that breach victims lacked standing to sue, and said they could pursue some breach of contract and unfair competition claims.

“All plaintiffs have alleged a risk of future identity theft, in addition to loss of value of their personal identification information,” the judge wrote.

Koh said some plaintiffs also alleged they had spent money to thwart future identity theft or that fraudsters had misused their data.

Others, meanwhile, could have changed passwords or canceled their accounts to stem losses had Yahoo not delayed disclosing the breaches, the judge said.

While many claims were dismissed, Koh said the plaintiffs could amend their complaint to address her concerns.

“We believe it to be a significant victory for consumers, and will address the deficiencies the court pointed out,” John Yanchunis, a lawyer for the plaintiffs who chairs an executive committee overseeing the case, said in an interview. “It’s the biggest data breach in the history of the world.”

Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni said the New York-based company declined to comment on pending litigation.

Yahoo is now part of a Verizon unit called Oath.

In court papers, Yahoo had argued that the breaches were “a triumph of criminal persistence” by a “veritable ’who’s who’ of cybercriminals,” and that no security system is hack-proof.

On March 15, the U.S. Department of Justice charged two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service and two hackers in connection with the second breach in late 2014.

The August 2013 breach affected more than 1 billion accounts, while the 2014 breach affected more than 500 million. A third breach occurred in 2015 and 2016.

The case is In re: Yahoo Inc Customer Data Security Breach Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 16-md-02752.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum

 Yesterday’s Enemy, Today’s Friend

August 31, 2017

by Christian Jürs

The Japanese Political Police, the dreaded Kempeitai, set up a biological and chemical warfare center in Manchuria during the 1930s. Initial experiments on living prisoners were conducted using Chinese, but during the war, Unit 731, as the huge complex was called, received over 3,000 American, British, Dutch, Russian, Korean and Chinese prisoners for vivisection, injection with deadly diseases, artificial freezing experiments and other pleasantries.

In addition to such activities, Lt. General Dr. Shiro Ishii also used Japanese Army special units to spray dysentery, bubonic plague, typhoid and cholera germs over the population of China’s Zhejiang Province to test various diseases and determine the most effective means of liquidating large numbers of their enemies.

A translation of a Japanese official report exists in which Army Headquarters in Tokyo was considering putting pathogens onto air-borne balloons and letting the prevailing air currents deliver the deadly contents to the United States Pacific Northwest.

This activity was by no means limited to China and the Kempeitai had other facilities throughout their Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere including Malaya, other Chinese sites, the prison complex at Singapore and Hiroshima on the main island of Japan.

Not only did MacArthur protect Ishii and his staff but also all of his files dealing with his experiments were taken over by the United States Army and Ishii was put to work along with members of his staff on the identical projects at a secret site in Japan. This site was later developed into a major Japanese pharmaceutical firm in which MacArthur and some of his closest collaborators initially had a financial interest and were considered to be participating partners.

There are several reports on this business, one prepared by G2 in Tokyo in 1948 and another follow-up prepared during the Korean War in 1951. At that time there was a very high level argument as to whether or not the atomic bomb should be used on the North Koreans and Chinese invaders of South Korea. Some counsel held out for using Ishii’s version of an Asiatic Final Solution but fortunately, Truman vetoed both projects.


EU-Poland tension worries Polish citizens abroad

There has been no love lost between the European Commission and the current nationalist government in Poland. With the tension continuing to increase, Polish citizens in Brussels are worrying for their futures.

August 31, 2017

by Teri Schultz


When Poland’s government announced last year it would roll back the country’s abortion laws to make the procedure almost completely illegal and a jailable offense, hundreds of people in Brussels came out onto the streets to support the thousands in Poland marching for women’s rights. The government, led by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, backed down that time in the face of its population’s outrage.

But now, rejecting a demand by the European Commission (EC) that it abandon or alter plans to consolidate government control over the judiciary, the Polish leadership does not appear interested in compromise. EC Vice President Frans Timmermans said the written explanation Warsaw gave this week after its one-month warning was not at all responsive to the problem. “The Polish government has repeatedly made clear that it does not accept these concerns,” Timmermans told European parliamentarians, “and that it won the elections and that it is fulfilling the will of the people.”

Polish citizens abroad mobilize against government

Many of those people are actually aghast at the systematic breakdown of democracy in their country.  Among them are Natalia Macyra and Katarzyna Koziol, young Polish professionals living and working in the heart of the European Union. They agree with the EC that their government is taking the country in the wrong direction in a number of ways, not least in the continued assault on reproductive rights that only got a short respite after last year’s demonstrations.

Macyra and Koziol participated in the pro-choice protests last October, even though, living in Brussels, their rights are not under the same kind of threat. “I felt that it was very important to show our solidarity,” Macyra told DW, “because if we ever decide to come back to Poland, I don’t want to go to a country that basically limits my rights to decide about my future.”

Koziol thinks the same way. “I feel that governments can create incentives for people to have children,” she said, “but cannot decide for them when to have them or what kind of children to have.” She’s working on a petition against a new effort by the Polish government to outlaw abortions in the case of unhealthy fetuses.

The passionate pro-choice protests were a precursor to those that took place across Poland in July, when citizens carried signs reading “EU: Save Us!” as they expressed their anger at four new proposed laws that were the final straw for the EC too. The most egregious power grab, according to the commission, is a proposed law that would give the government the right to dismiss and appoint Supreme Court justices at will.

Poland first country to face potential Article 7 sanctions

That’s what has led the commission to finally, after years of criticism, threaten its so-called “nuclear option” for the first time. The invocation of “Article 7” could include suspending Poland’s voting rights or cutting off its EU cash. “The Commission does not contest the right of the Polish government to introduce judicial reform,” Timmermans told the European Parliament’s civil liberties commission Thursday. “But we do maintain that judicial reform must respect the rule of law as one of the fundamental values which all member states signed up to when they joined the EU.”

Poland said its response Monday “provided exhaustive clarification concerning doubts raised by the European Commission, hoping to continue the dialogue on the merits of the case without any political elements.” It also said the EC had no right to interfere in lawful national reforms.

Timmermans, however, said his invitation to the Polish government to send an envoy to discuss the dispute had been rejected by Warsaw as not worthwhile.

EU legitimacy on the line

Corinna Horst with the German Marshall Fund believes one of the problems that led to this standoff is that both Eastern European nations and the EU may have underestimated the effort needed for their transition into the bloc.

“It wasn’t as easy as we hoped,” Horst told DW. “And the West and the rest of Europe is required to really also have a fundamental conversation about what these values are, what we stand for and we cherish and realize we can’t take them for granted.”

For whatever reason the crisis arose, Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch insists now the EC must not let it continue, for the sake of its own future as well as that of Polish citizens. Dam, a specialist on Eastern Europe, notes this anti-democratic trend is hardly limited to Warsaw. He pointed to the situation in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban even used EU funds to campaign against Brussels.

Hungary has criticized the EC action against Warsaw and pledged to veto any punitive measures that require unanimity.

“[T]he lack of [EU] reaction is simply empowering leaders instead of containing them,” he argued. “The EU cannot be credible in defending and promoting human rights outside of its borders if it’s not able to call out member states within its own borders.” If the EC backs down on Poland, Dam told DW, it could be disastrous for the entire bloc.

But Carnegie Europe’s Tomas Valasek, himself formerly a Slovakian diplomat, says there’s something else the EC should consider in its response to both Poland and Hungary – and to any other populist government looking for a fight: not conveniently filling the role of “villain.”

“The definition of populism is that you blame others, you blame ‘them,’ some sort of dark outside force, for your own country’s ills. They need that perception that somebody else is out to get Poland, somebody else is out to get Hungary to keep themselves in power,” Valasek explained. “Once that sense of endangerment goes away, they will be held accountable by their own populations for things like prosperity, living standards, actual rule of law and the ability of getting justice when needed. And these are things that these governments are not particularly interested in and are not good at delivering.”

Valasek suspects the Polish government is going to keep this case open as long as possible.

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