TBR News February 7, 2018

Feb 07 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 7, 2018:”A number of incidents attract the interest of people who become fascinated with various theories and then go to enormous trouble to attempt to construct elaborate support structures in support of them. History is replete with such alternative theories.

There is the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor that precipitated the Spanish American war. An expansionist party in America that chanted about Manifest Destiny, was eager to expand America in various global  areas and warmly supported a war with the decayed Spanish Empire. Insurrection in the Spanish colony of Cuba gave these jingoists an excuse to press for war. When the Maine blew up while on a show-the-flag visit to Cuba, war was a foregone conclusion. The sunken battleship was subject to extensive investigation after the war and it was discovered that the massive explosion occurred from inside the ship. In all probability it was the explosion of very volatile coal dust but it could also have been a bomb. Since the battleship was manned at the time, neither Spanish nor Cuban revolutionaries could be held accountable. The remains of the Maine were towed out into the Caribbean and sunk in a very deep area, precluding further examination.

Then there was the sinking of the Lusitania in May of 1915. The fast Cunard passenger liner was carrying a mixed cargo of explosives, military equipment, fuzed shells, a draft of Canadian volunteers and over a thousand passengers. The ship was sent, without escort, into an area where German submarines were known to be operating and one of them fired one torpedo into her bows. The first explosion very obviously ignited something in the cargo and the second explosion blew out much of her bows underwater and the ship sank in less than twenty minutes with a heavy loss of life. In the intervening years, the controversy has raged about the nature of the Lusitania’s cargo and many theories have been postulated about coal dust, ruptured steam pipes and multiple torpedo hits but the plain fact is that the Lusitania was listed in official books as an armed auxiliary cruiser, was carrying military contraband making her a legitimate military target and her sinking had been expected in London circles to draw a neutral America into the European war.

Apologists for the British in general and First British Sea Lord, Winston Churchill in specific have made extensive attempts to finesse the facts but in the final analysis, the Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo that ignited her illegal cargo. That British authorities knowingly permitted civilians to travel on a ship full of explosive contraband was cynical at best and criminal at worst.”


Table of Contents

  • In Search of Enemies
  • ‘Deep State’ Veterans find New Homes in Mainstream Media
  • Your phone is like a spy in your pocket
  • ‘Just a matter of time’ before cyber 9/11 – cybersecurity expert
  • U.S. Military Launches Broad Investigation of SEAL Team 6 After Green Beret Killing in Mali
  • Resisting the resistance: anti-liberal rage brews in California’s right wing
  • California says it will ban crude from Trump offshore drilling plan
  • Russia defends right to deploy missiles after Kaliningrad rebuke
  • Dow Jones recovers after two days of downturn
  • Eric Holder’s Group Targets All-G.O.P. States to Attack Gerrymandering


In Search of Enemies

Some conservatives reject narrative of Russian bogeyman – in favor of Sinophobia

February 7, 2018

by Justin Raimondo


Okay, I respect Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist as one of the few commentators who analyze events calmly, without the partisan hysteria and confirmation bias that’s so glaringly obvious on the right as well as the left. But when I saw this tweet touting Victor Davis Hanson as a “great historian,” I had to laugh: if his revisionist “history” of the Iraq war, which he fulsomely supported, is any indication of his skills in this realm, then we’ll have to redefine greatness as the ability to express a large number of falsehoods without pausing for breath. According to Hanson, we won the Iraq war, which was a great success up until the time when we inexplicably abandoned our great victory and headed homeward: the rise of ISIS, the triumph of Iranian influence, and the rather humiliating expulsion of US troops by order of the Iraqi government don’t figure in this “historical” account.

For anyone who takes ideas  seriously, Chase Madar’s parody in The American Conservative should’ve put Hanson in his proper place. I guess Mollie must’ve missed that one.

In any case, according to Hemingway, Hanson’s alleged genius is supposedly illustrated in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox, wherein the Russian bogeyman is debunked – in favor of the idea that it’s Beijing, and not the Kremlin, that’s the real threat to our precious bodily fluids.

What evidence is there of Beijing’s evil intent? Well, let’s see:

“China has got ten times the GDP of Russia, five times the population. It is a real threat. [China] is sort of doing what Japan did in the 1930s, with the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, so it goes to these neighbors, the Philippines, Japan, and it says, ‘The U.S. is in isolation, it is on the wane, so cut a deal with us.’”

Since we’re now measuring threat level by GDP, I would note that California has a much bigger economy than Russia, and the level of anti-Americanism in the Sunshine State is surely comparable and considerably more intense. So why pick on the Chinese?

Well, because those sneaky yellow people are always up to something! If it’s not the Japs, with their Co-Prosperity Sphere, or those cranky Koreans, it’s the Chinese – I mean, how many Chinese restaurants do you think there are in the world? And just look at those militaristic menus: General Tso’s chicken! My god, it’ll burn your tongue off if you’re not careful!

As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, China is a paper tiger. Their huge multi-million man army is basically a domestic police force, kept stationed in places where internal unrest is likely to break out – western China, Tibet, and around the capital, where the threat of a coup – a constant possibility in a totalitarian state – is always on the minds of the leaders.

Ever since Deng Xiaoping’s “to get rich is glorious” campaign, which overthrew radical Maoism and put economic development at the center of the Communist Party’s goals, the disparity between the economic and political spheres has grown until a social explosion seems almost inevitable. To forestall this, the Party has launched an “anti-corruption” campaign which seems designed to take out all rivals to the Maximum Leader, Xi Jinping. At the present moment they’re trying to create a cult of personality around Xi, and greatly increasing his power, but his leadership is far from unchecked.

The number and ferocity of strikes has markedly increased in recent years as China’s meteoric growth slows and economic expectations collide with economic reality. In China’s far West, the Uighur minority is in open rebellion, and the Peoples’ Liberation Army is currently battling a full-fledged guerrilla movement. The proliferation of Ponzi schemes has led to a government crackdown amid fear of popular protest. The rise of Chinese feminism is also a headache for the government, which is seeking to suppress the nascent movement.

China is too big to be governed efficiently, and too populous for a totalitarian dictatorship to keep tabs on everyone – or even most people. In short, it’s all the Chinese leaders can do to keep a lid on their own population, never mind absorbing any of their neighbors.

Hanson’s nonsensical characterization of China as a “real threat” betrays a complete ignorance of the subject – and tells us more about the conservatives’ need for an enemy than anything substantive about the politics of the region. The Chinese don’t want to invade us – except with cheap (and increasingly high quality) goods. Why would they want to make war on one of their principal markets? Chinese investment in America is at an all-time high.

Hanson, to his credit, disdains the “crazy hysteria over Russia,” only to replace one form of hysteria with another. This “threat” from China is why we need a bigger navy, he avers. Yes, there’s always a budgetary reason why one faction of militarists insists on a particular “enemy” scenario: the Army is the generator of Russophobia, since preparations for fighting a land war in Europe and Central Asia against the Kremlin give the generals more money to play with. Follow the money!

The United States currently has no rivals worthy of the name anywhere on earth. Not Russia, not China, not anyone or anything can compete with the US as the premier superpower – the one and only “hyper-power,” as the French have dubbed us – in the world. This may be a blessing, or – in the end – a curse. But surely one of the hazards of playing this role is the realization that “there is no security at the top of the world,” as the Old Right seer Garet Garrett put it at the dawn of the cold war era. Living at such heights induces a kind of vertigo, and perhaps a touch of paranoia, too, as the lofty view affords a constant search for enemies over the horizon.

Our real enemies are all internal, a lesson conservatives are just beginning to learn as the Deep State seeks to undo the last presidential election. However, I have the feeling that the Victor Davis Hansons of this world will always fail this particular tutorial.


‘Deep State’ Veterans find New Homes in Mainstream Media

NBC News’ hiring of former CIA Director John Brennan is the latest in a wave of intelligence community stalwarts being given jobs in the media, raising concerns over conflicts of interests

February 5, 2018

by Caitlin Johnstone

consortium news

“Former CIA director John Brennan has become the latest member of the NBC News and MSNBC family, officially signing with the network as a contributor,” chirps a recent article by The Wrap, as though that’s a perfectly normal thing to have to write and not a ghastly symptom of an Orwellian dystopia. NBC reports that the former head of the depraved, lying, torturing, propagandizing, drug trafficking, coup-staging, warmongering Central Intelligence Agency “is now a senior national security and intelligence analyst.”

Brennan, who played a key role in the construction of the establishment’s Russia narrative that has been used to manufacture public consent for world-threatening new cold war escalations, is just the latest addition in an ongoing trend of trusted mainstream media outlets being packed to the gills with stalwarts from the U.S. intelligence community. Brennan joins CIA and DoD Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash on the NBC/MSNBC lineup, who is serving there as a national security analyst, as well as NBC intelligence/national security reporter and known CIA collaborator Ken Dilanian.

Former Director of National Intelligence, Russiagate architect, and known Russophobic racist James Clapper was welcomed to the CNN “family” last year by Chris “It’s Illegal to Read WikiLeaks” Cuomo and now routinely appears as an expert analyst for the network. Last year CNN also hired a new national security analyst in Michael Hayden, who has served as CIA Director, NSA Director, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and an Air Force general.

Former CIA analyst and now paid CNN analyst Phil Mudd, who last year caused Cuomo’s show to have to issue a retraction and apology for a completely baseless claim he made on national television asserting that WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is “a pedophile”, is once again making headlines for suggesting that the FBI is entering into a showdown with the current administration over Trump’s decision to declassify the controversial Nunes memo.

More and more of the outlets from which Americans get their information are being filled not just with garden variety establishment loyalists, but with longstanding members of the U.S. intelligence community. These men got to their positions of power within these deeply sociopathic institutions based on their willingness to facilitate any depravity in order to advance the secret agendas of the U.S. power establishment, and now they’re being paraded in front of mainstream Americans on cable news on a daily basis. The words of these “experts” are consistently taken and reported on by smaller news outlets in print and online media in a way that seeds their authoritative assertions throughout public consciousness.

The term “deep state” does not refer to a conspiracy theory but to a simple concept in political analysis which points to the undeniable reality that (A) plutocrats, (B) intelligence agencies, (C) defense agencies, and (D) the mainstream media hold large amounts of power in America despite their not being part of its elected government. You don’t need to look far to see how these separate groups overlap and collaborate to advance their own agendas in various ways. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for example, is deeply involved in all of the aforementioned groups: (A) as arguably the wealthiest person ever he is clearly a plutocrat, with a company that is trying to control the underlying infrastructure of the economy; (B) he is a CIA contractor; (C) he is part of a Pentagon advisory board; and (D) his purchase of the Washington Post in 2013 gave him total control over a major mainstream media outlet.

Bezos did not purchase the Washington Post because his avaricious brain predicted that newspapers were about to make a profitable resurgence; he purchased it for the same reason he has inserted himself so very deeply into America’s unelected power infrastructure – he wants to ensure a solid foundation for the empire he is building. He needs a potent propaganda outlet to manufacture support for the power establishment that he is weaving his plutocratic tentacles through. This is precisely the same reason other mass media-controlling plutocrats are stocking their propaganda machines with intelligence community insiders.

Time and again you see connections between the plutocratic class which effectively owns America’s elected government, the intelligence and defense agencies which operate behind thick veils of secrecy in the name of “national security” to advance agendas which have nothing to do with the wishes of the electorate, and the mass media machine which is used to manufacture the consent of the people to be governed by this exploitative power structure.

America is ruled by an elite class which has slowly created a system where money increasingly translates directly into political power, and which is therefore motivated to maintain economic injustice in order to rule over the masses more completely. The greater the economic inequality, the greater their power. Nobody would willingly consent to such an oppressive system where wealth inequality keeps growing as expensive bombs from expensive drones are showered upon strangers on the other side of the planet, so a robust propaganda machine is needed.

And that’s where John Brennan’s new job comes in. Expect a consistent fountain of lies to pour from his mouth on NBC, and expect them to all prop up this exploitative power establishment and advance its geopolitical agendas. And expect clear-eyed rebels everywhere to keep calling it all what it is.


Your phone is like a spy in your pocket

Smartphones are packed with sensors that collect a lot of data on your comings and goings

January 23, 2018

by  Maria Temming

science news

Consider everything your smartphone has done for you today. Counted your steps? Deposited a check? Transcribed notes? Navigated you somewhere new?

Smartphones make for such versatile pocket assistants because they’re equipped with a suite of sensors, including some we may never think — or even know — about, sensing, for example, light, humidity, pressure and temperature.

Because smartphones have become essential companions, those sensors probably stayed close by throughout your day: the car cup holder, your desk, the dinner table and nightstand. If you’re like the vast majority of American smartphone users, the phone’s screen may have been black, but the device was probably on the whole time.

“Sensors are finding their ways into every corner of our lives,” says Maryam Mehrnezhad, a computer scientist at Newcastle University in England. That’s a good thing when phones are using their observational dexterity to do our bidding. But the plethora of highly personal information that smartphones are privy to also makes them powerful potential spies.

Online app store Google Play has already discovered apps abusing sensor access. Google recently booted 20 apps from Android phones and its app store because the apps could — without the user’s knowledge — record with the microphone, monitor a phone’s location, take photos, and then extract the data. Stolen photos and sound bites pose obvious privacy invasions. But even seemingly innocuous sensor data can potentially broadcast sensitive information. A smartphone’s movement may reveal what users are typing or disclose their whereabouts. Even barometer readings that subtly shift with increased altitude could give away which floor of a building you’re standing on, suggests Ahmed Al-Haiqi, a security researcher at the National Energy University in Kajang, Malaysia.

These sneaky intrusions may not be happening in real life yet, but concerned researchers in academia and industry are working to head off eventual invasions. Some scientists have designed invasive apps and tested them on volunteers to shine a light on what smartphones can reveal about their owners. Other researchers are building new smartphone security systems to help protect users from myriad real and hypothetical privacy invasions, from stolen PIN codes to stalking.

Message revealed

Motion detectors within smartphones, like the accelerometer and the rotation-sensing gyroscope, could be prime tools for surreptitious data collection. They’re not permission protected — the phone’s user doesn’t have to give a newly installed app permission to access those sensors. So motion detectors are fair game for any app downloaded onto a device, and “lots of vastly different aspects of the environment are imprinted on those signals,” says Mani Srivastava, an engineer at UCLA.

For instance, touching different regions of a screen makes the phone tilt and shift just a tiny bit, but in ways that the phone’s motion sensors pick up, Mehrnezhad and colleagues demonstrated in a study reported online April 2017 in the International Journal of Information Security. These sensors’ data may “look like nonsense” to the human eye, says Al-Haiqi, but sophisticated computer programs can discern patterns in the mess and match segments of motion data to taps on various areas of the screen.

For the most part, these computer programs are machine-learning algorithms, Al-Haiqi says. Researchers train them to recognize keystrokes by feeding the programs a bunch of motion sensor data labeled with the key tap that produces particular movement. A pair of researchers built TouchLogger, an app that collects orientation sensor data and uses the data to deduce taps on smartphones’ number keyboards. In a test on HTC phones, reported in 2011 in San Francisco at the USENIX Workshop on Hot Topics in Security, TouchLogger discerned more than 70 percent of key taps correctly.

Since then, a spate of similar studies have come out, with scientists writing code to infer keystrokes on number and letter keyboards on different kinds of phones. In 2016 in Pervasive and Mobile Computing, Al-Haiqi and colleagues reviewed these studies and concluded that only a snoop’s imagination limits the ways motion data could be translated into key taps. Those keystrokes could divulge everything from the password entered on a banking app to the contents of an e-mail or text message.

A more recent application used a whole fleet of smartphone sensors — including the gyroscope, accelerometer, light sensor and magnetism-measuring magnetometer — to guess PINs. The app analyzed a phone’s movement and how, during typing, the user’s finger blocked the light sensor. When tested on a pool of 50 PIN numbers, the app could discern keystrokes with 99.5 percent accuracy, the researchers reported on the Cryptology ePrint Archive in December.

Other researchers have paired motion data with mic recordings, which can pick up the soft sound of a fingertip tapping a screen. One group designed a malicious app that could masquerade as a simple note-taking tool. When the user tapped on the app’s keyboard, the app covertly recorded both the key input and the simultaneous microphone and gyroscope readings to learn the sound and feel of each keystroke.

The app could even listen in the background when the user entered sensitive info on other apps. When tested on Samsung and HTC phones, the app, presented in the Proceedings of the 2014 ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks, inferred the keystrokes of 100 four-digit PINs with 94 percent accuracy.

Al-Haiqi points out, however, that success rates are mostly from tests of keystroke-deciphering techniques in controlled settings — assuming that users hold their phones a certain way or sit down while typing. How these info-extracting programs fare in a wider range of circumstances remains to be seen. But the answer to whether motion and other sensors would open the door for new privacy invasions is “an obvious yes,” he says.


Motion sensors can also help map a person’s travels, like a subway or bus ride. A trip produces an undercurrent of motion data that’s discernible from shorter-lived, jerkier movements like a phone being pulled from a pocket. Researchers designed an app, described in 2017 in IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, to extract the data signatures of various subway routes from accelerometer readings.

In experiments with Samsung smartphones on the subway in Nanjing, China, this tracking app picked out which segments of the subway system a user was riding with at least 59, 81 and 88 percent accuracy — improving as the stretches expanded from three to five to seven stations long. Someone who can trace a user’s subway movements might figure out where the traveler lives and works, what shops or bars the person frequents, a daily schedule, or even — if the app is tracking multiple people — who the user meets at various places.

Accelerometer data can also plot driving routes, as described at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Communication Systems and Networks in Bangalore, India. Other sensors can be used to track people in more confined spaces: One team synced a smartphone mic and portable speaker to create an on-the-fly sonar system to map movements throughout a house. The team reported the work in the September 2017 Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

“Fortunately there is not anything like [these sensor spying techniques] in real life that we’ve seen yet,” says Selcuk Uluagac, an electrical and computer engineer at Florida International University in Miami. “But this doesn’t mean there isn’t a clear danger out there that we should be protecting ourselves against.”

That’s because the kinds of algorithms that researchers have employed to comb sensor data are getting more advanced and user-friendly all the time, Mehrnezhad says. It’s not just people with Ph.D.s who can design the kinds of privacy invasions that researchers are trying to raise awareness about. Even app developers who don’t understand the inner workings of machine-learning algorithms can easily get this kind of code online to build sensor-sniffing programs.

What’s more, smartphone sensors don’t just provide snooping opportunities for individual cybercrooks who peddle info-stealing software. Legitimate apps often harvest info, such as search engine and app download history, to sell to advertising companies and other third parties. Those third parties could use the information to learn about aspects of a user’s life that the person doesn’t necessarily want to share.

Take a health insurance company. “You may not like them to know if you are a lazy person or you are an active person,” Mehrnezhad says. “Through these motion sensors, which are reporting the amount of activity you’re doing every day, they could easily identify what type of user you are.”

Sensor safeguards

Since it’s only getting easier for an untrusted third party to make private inferences from sensor data, researchers are devising ways to give people more control over what information apps can siphon off of their devices. Some safeguards could appear as standalone apps, whereas others are tools that could be built into future operating system updates.

Uluagac and colleagues proposed a system called 6thSense, which monitors a phone’s sensor activity and alerts its owner to unusual behavior, in Vancouver at the August 2017 USENIX Security Symposium. The user trains this system to recognize the phone’s normal sensor behavior during everyday tasks like calling, Web browsing and driving. Then, 6thSense continually checks the phone’s sensor activity against these learned behaviors.

If someday the program spots something unusual — like the motion sensors reaping data when a user is just sitting and texting — 6thSense alerts the user. Then the user can check if a recently downloaded app is responsible for this suspicious activity and delete the app from the phone.

Uluagac’s team recently tested a prototype of the system: Fifty users trained Samsung smartphones with 6thSense to recognize their typical sensor activity. When the researchers fed the 6thSense system examples of benign data from daily activities mixed in with segments of malicious sensor operations, 6thSense picked out the problematic bits with over 96 percent accuracy.

For people who want more active control over their data, Supriyo Chakraborty, a privacy and security researcher at IBM in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and colleagues devised DEEProtect, a system that blunts apps’ abilities to draw conclusions about certain user activity from sensor data. People could use DEEProtect, described in a paper posted online at arXiv.org in February 2017, to specify preferences about what apps should be allowed to do with sensor data. For example, someone may want an app to transcribe speech but not identify the speaker.

DEEProtect intercepts whatever raw sensor data an app tries to access and strips that data down to only the features needed to make user-approved inferences. For speech-to-text translation, the phone typically needs sound frequencies and the probabilities of particular words following each other in a sentence.

But sound frequencies could also help a spying app deduce a speaker’s identity. So DEEProtect distorts the dataset before releasing it to the app, leaving information on word orders alone, since that has little or no bearing on speaker identity. Users can control how much DEEProtect changes the data; more distortion begets more privacy but also degrades app functions.

In another approach, Giuseppe Petracca, a computer scientist and engineer at Penn State, and colleagues are trying to protect users from accidentally granting sensor access to deceitful apps, with a security system called AWare.

Apps have to get user permission upon first installation or first use to access certain sensors like the mic and camera. But people can be cavalier about granting those blanket authorizations, Uluagac says. “People blindly give permission to say, ‘Hey, you can use the camera, you can use the microphone.’ But they don’t really know how the apps are using these sensors.”

Instead of asking permission when a new app is installed, AWare would request user permission for an app to access a certain sensor the first time a user provided a certain input, like pressing a camera button. On top of that, the AWare system memorizes the state of the phone when the user grants that initial permission — the exact appearance of the screen, sensors requested and other information. That way, AWare can tell users if the app later attempts to trick them into granting unintended permissions.

For instance, Petracca and colleagues imagine a crafty data-stealing app that asks for camera access when the user first pushes a camera button, but then also tries to access the mic when the user later pushes that same button. The AWare system, also presented at the 2017 USENIX Security Symposium, would realize the mic access wasn’t part of the initial deal, and would ask the user again if he or she would like to grant this additional permission.

Petracca and colleagues found that people using Nexus smartphones equipped with AWare avoided unwanted authorizations about 93 percent of the time, compared with 9 percent among people using smartphones with typical first-use or install-time permission policies.

The price of privacyThe Android security team at Google is also trying to mitigate the privacy risks posed by app sensor data collection. Android security engineer Rene Mayrhofer and colleagues are keeping tabs on the latest security studies coming out of academia, Mayrhofer says.

But just because someone has built and successfully tested a prototype of a new smartphone security system doesn’t mean it will show up in future operating system updates. Android hasn’t incorporated proposed sensor safeguards because the security team is still looking for a protocol that strikes the right balance between restricting access for nefarious apps and not stunting the functions of trustworthy programs, Mayrhofer explains.

“The whole [app] ecosystem is so big, and there are so many different apps out there that have a totally legitimate purpose,” he adds. Any kind of new security system that curbs apps’ sensor access presents “a real risk of breaking” legitimate apps.

Tech companies may also be reluctant to adopt additional security measures because these extra protections can come at the cost of user friendliness, like AWare’s additional permissions pop-ups. There’s an inherent trade-off between security and convenience, UCLA’s Srivastava says. “You’re never going to have this magical sensor shield [that] gives you this perfect balance of privacy and utility.”

But as sensors get more pervasive and powerful, and algorithms for analyzing the data become more astute, even smartphone vendors may eventually concede that the current sensor protections aren’t cutting it. “It’s like cat and mouse,” Al-Haiqi says. “Attacks will improve, solutions will improve. Attacks will improve, solutions will improve.”

The game will continue, Chakraborty agrees. “I don’t think we’ll get to a place where we can declare a winner and go home.”


‘Just a matter of time’ before cyber 9/11 – cybersecurity expert

February 7, 2018


Modern network-connected infrastructure is very vulnerable to cyberattacks, according to digital strategy consultant and cyberterrorism expert Lars Hilse, who talked to Sputnik about the risks of online terrorism and crime.

Hilse, who warned in 2014 that the next 9/11 would be a cyber-version of the September 11 attacks, said his prediction came true to a small degree in the 2015 attacks on the television network TV5Monde in France.

“In March 2015, we had a physical attack by the cyber caliphate that took down 11 satellite TV stations. With the ever-increasing complexity of our operating systems, the likelihood of network-connected infrastructure such as power, electricity and water supply is open to attack by cyber attackers.”

Hilse explained that “with this entire infrastructure being so vulnerable, I think it’s just a matter of time before somebody has the ‘clever idea’ to take it all out.”

Talking about the recent cryptocurrency hacks, particularly at the Japanese exchange Coincheck, the expert said: “we’ve seen hiccups in the development of this system, but we’ve also seen hiccups in the distribution of money.”

Even today, central banks are still trying to make their money “less counterfeitable,” he said.

“I think the Internet wasn’t made with security in mind, that’s why we are going to see more such hiccups along the way until someone finds a solution essentially building Internet on top of the Internet, which does have security and allows us to do sensitive things. But the hacks, I think, are difficult to trace.”

Hilse added that it’s just a matter of time until the insurance industry picks up on that and insurance products will be available to counter the risks.

“We are going to see manipulations, successful and unsuccessful,” he said, discussing the recent plunge in cryptocurrency rates.

“We are going to see cryptocurrencies being overrated; going broke, coins being devalued, and so on and so forth. This is going to happen, because it is in the nature of things, but the same was true when the euro came along and many people said: ‘Oh, my God! We are going to get counterfeit money because I don’t know what it looks like!’”

Hilse added there are lots of things than can happen, “but I’m quite comfortable with the situation now because the proof of concept is there and the blockchain itself is safe.”


U.S. Military Launches Broad Investigation of SEAL Team 6 After Green Beret Killing in Mali

February 7 2018

by Matthew Cole

The Intercept

A criminal investigation into the death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, who was killed last June while deployed in Bamako, Mali, has prompted a broad internal military audit and investigation into SEAL Team 6, according to a military official and two others briefed on the case.

Investigators suspect the two SEALs being investigated in the Melgar case were stealing cash from operational funds used for informants and other contingencies while deployed. The new investigation aims to determine whether such thefts are a routine practice among the members of the elite counterterrorism unit, according to the military official and two other people familiar with the financial investigation. All three sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation. The SEALs have denied stealing the cash.

The additional investigation sheds new light on the homicide case, which gained national attention last fall, and threatens to further tarnish the reputation of SEAL Team 6, the U.S. military’s most storied and mythologized command.

Melgar, staff sergeant of the 3rd Special Forces Group, died last June after being allegedly “choked out” by SEAL Team 6 operator Anthony DeDolph as fellow SEAL Adam Matthews watched. Investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have finished interviewing witnesses, and one of the military officials said the case was expected to be handed over to the Navy for a decision of whether to prosecute DeDolph and Matthews. NCIS had no comment, citing an ongoing investigation. The Navy declined to make DeDolph and Matthews available for comment.

The two SEALs were assigned to SEAL Team 6’s Silver Squadron and deployed to Mali as part of a counterterrorism task force for the Joint Special Operations Command. The SEALs conducted intelligence-gathering and training missions inside Mali and were based at the U.S. Embassy in Bamako.

DeDolph and Matthews brought Melgar, with whom they had shared embassy housing, to a medical clinic in the early-morning hours of June 4 last year. Melgar was unconscious and not breathing. The two SEALs claimed they had found Melgar in that condition and tried to resuscitate him with an emergency tracheotomy. Melgar was pronounced dead at the clinic.

Much of the early stage of the investigation was spent unwinding the two SEALs’s conflicting statements about how Melgar died.

Initially, DeDolph and Matthews told investigators that Melgar had been intoxicated earlier in the evening. Later, a medical examiner determined that Melgar had no alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of his death. The medical examiner concluded that he had died as a result of “homicide by asphyxiation” — strangulation. According to two people who have reviewed the medical examiner’s report, Melgar’s throat and upper torso appeared to have been mutilated, an apparent result of a poorly executed tracheotomy by DeDolph, a SEAL medic.

After the medical examiner concluded that Melgar had been strangled to death and had not been intoxicated at the time of his death, the SEALs told military officials that DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, had accidentally choked Melgar during a late-night sparring match in their shared apartment. Melgar’s wife told investigators that her husband did not practice mixed martial arts or otherwise participate in recreational sparring. Eventually, the SEALs changed their story again, according to two individuals briefed on the investigation.

DeDolph and Matthews told investigators that tension between them and Melgar had been building for weeks, and they ended up in a physical confrontation. The cause of that fight is now at the heart of the case.

A longtime Special Operations consultant who has been briefed on the investigation said Melgar had discovered that the SEALs were stealing cash from the informants fund and told them he was going to report their activity.

One witness told the NCIS that Melgar had been with DeDolph and Matthews earlier in the evening of June 4, but had returned to their shared apartment and made a video call to his wife, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Both requested anonymity to avoid compromising the investigation. Melgar had told his wife the two SEALs wanted him to participate in something, but he had refused. He apparently did not describe exactly what the SEALs were pressuring him to do. A few hours later, Melgar was dead.

The SEALs have denied that they were stealing from the informant cash, according to a person who has been briefed on the investigation. DeDolph and Matthews have claimed to investigators that it was Melgar who had been stealing the cash and that they had confronted the Green Beret about the illicit activity.

Cash in amounts ranging from $20,000 to $60,000 are used for gathering intelligence through informants, or other contingency needs. The use of such funds often requires little more than a handwritten receipt. According to several former members of SEAL Team 6, the contingency funds and informant money have been frequently pilfered by members of the unit.

“The system is ripe for abuse,” said one former SEAL Team 6 leader. “We knew this money wasn’t being tracked, and guys were stuffing their pockets.”

While SEAL Team 6 is best known as the unit that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, the unit also has a dark history of war crimes and cover-ups. The Melgar case is not the first time members of the unit have been accused of stealing money on missions or lying to protect their teammates when missions have gone bad.

In 2009, after rescuing Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates, two SEAL Team 6 operators were suspected of stealing $30,000 in cash from the lifeboat where the pirates were holding Phillips hostage. The FBI and NCIS conducted an investigation, which included polygraphing the two suspected SEALs, but no charges were filed and the money was never recovered.

Then, in October 2010, during an attempt to rescue hostage Linda Norgrove, a British aid worker who was working for the British intelligence service MI6 in Afghanistan, a SEAL Team 6 operator accidentally killed Norgrove with a grenade. While Norgrove’s death was inadvertent, the use of a grenade in a hostage rescue was against SEAL Team 6 procedures. The operator and a second SEAL lied about throwing a grenade, attempting to cover up the mistake, according to a former SEAL Team 6 commander with direct knowledge of the events. After JSOC officials reviewed video footage of the operations and confronted the operators, a third SEAL operator admitted a grenade had been used and was likely responsible for Norgrove’s death. Three members of the unit were disciplined, though none were charged with any crimes.

The attempted cover-up angered former SEAL Team 6 officer Adm. William McRaven, then head of JSOC, who punished the three SEALs involved and later warned senior officers in the special operations community that the cover-up demonstrated a serious problem at SEAL Team 6. According to a former SEAL Team 6 commander who discussed the case with McRaven, members of SEAL Team 6 had prioritized protecting their teammates from accusations of misconduct over their mission.


Resisting the resistance: anti-liberal rage brews in California’s right wing

Should California be split into two states, one conservative and one progressive? Under Trump, a far-fetched idea has found a home in fringe, frustrated communities

February 7, 2018

by Sam Levin in San Francsco

The Guardian

In California’s Central Valley an unexpected item is popping up for sale in souvenir stores: Confederate flags. There’s a growing market for the hate symbol.

“There’s been an atmosphere of comfort for folks that were holding these very extreme conservative views,” said Angel Garcia, an activist in Tulare County, an agricultural region where Confederate imagery has become commonplace in immigrant communities.

While California is seen as the national leader of the liberal resistance to Donald Trump, it has also become increasingly polarized, with wars between the right and the left breaking out from the scenic coast to the rural farming communities that produce the nation’s food.

The widening divides in the US have played out in stark ways in California, where clashes between Trump supporters and those threatened by his agenda have led to violent conflicts, battles between neighbors and dueling campaigns to draw new borders that tear apart the country’s most populous state.

The latest incarnation is the so-called “New California” movement, a far-fetched initiative to have rural conservative counties declare independence from the rest of the state, which is run by Democrats and has passed a series of policies intended to undo Trump’s agenda. New California is a kind of resistance to the resistance, channeling the rightwing rage directed at the liberal havens of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“I’m just waiting for the day the federal government comes in and takes the state over,” said Ross Patterson, a New California backer from Yuba County, a northern jurisdiction that voted for Trump.

California has a rich history of progressive activism, launching the Free Speech Movement, the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter and passing groundbreaking policies on the environment, marijuana, immigrants’ rights and gun control. In reaction, a far-right backlash has quietly brewed for years – and loudly exploded under Trump.

Some conservatives have repeatedly called for the northern region to secede and form a 51st state called the State of Jefferson, with lower taxes and smaller government. Other recent campaigns include Six Californias, a venture capitalist’s proposal that would make Silicon Valley its own state, and Calexit, a push for California to become its own country.

The fringe efforts, though unlikely to alter California’s political representation, speak to the fractures in California, which has attempted to defy Trump and inspired an angry counter-movement.

Jeff Crow, a New California coordinator, said the “hippies” and “socialists” from the state’s major cities would be happy to separate from the rest of California: “We’ll see who thrives. It’ll be a great competition.” He added: “I love the coast. I’ll still be going to the other California to have fun.”

In recent months, much of the conservative resentment in California has stemmed from a “sanctuary state” law meant to protect immigrants and limit cooperation between local police and federal deportation authorities.

Tom Reed, a 57-year-old who has been involved in the Jefferson and New California efforts, said he was frustrated with the state’s decision to limit cooperation with federal authorities: “Assisting criminals makes you criminal. It’s making enforcing federal laws more expensive. California’s disagreement is costing me money.”

The Trump administration and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) have promised to retaliate by increasing enforcement in California. Activists said the threats and xenophobic rhetoric has trickled down into the everyday lives of immigrants and people of color.

Garcia said the Trump-fueled fury towards immigrants has led to more overt racism. While he was doing a television interview last year about children’s health and the environment – unrelated to the president or immigration – he said a man drove by and yelled “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at him. This kind of visible aggression is new, even in conservative counties, he said: “All of the sudden, your neighbor is waving a Confederate flag. That didn’t really happen before.”

Even in the urban centers that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, the far right and white supremacists have developed a growing presence, according to some leftwing activists. Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said she recently saw a group of men with visible white supremacist tattoos walking down the street in liberal Oakland in broad daylight.

“America is unmasked right now,” said Brooks, a longtime activist. “Something has shifted where you feel safe to be here.”


California says it will ban crude from Trump offshore drilling plan

February 7, 2018

by Sharon Bernstein


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California will block the transport of petroleum from new offshore oil rigs through its state, officials told Reuters, a move meant to hobble the Trump administration’s effort to vastly expand drilling in U.S. federal waters.

California’s threat to deny pipeline permits for transporting oil from new leases off the Pacific Coast is the latest step by states trying to halt the biggest proposed expansion in decades of federal oil and gas leasing. Officials in Florida, North and South Carolina, Delaware and Washington, have also warned drilling could despoil beaches, harm wildlife and hurt lucrative tourism industries.

“I am resolved that not a single drop from Trump’s new oil plan ever makes landfall in California,” Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, chair of the State Lands Commission and a Democratic candidate for governor, said in an emailed statement.

The administration has scheduled too few public meetings in California to get input on the proposed offshore drilling plan, the lands commission contended on Wednesday in a letter, seen by Reuters, that was sent to an official at the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The letter urged the bureau’s program manager Kelly Hammerle to withdraw the draft proposal and noted that only one hearing has been scheduled in the entire state of 40 million people.

”It is certain that the state would not approve new pipelines or allow use of existing pipelines to transport oil from new leases onshore,” wrote the commission, charged with permitting pipelines in California.

California has also clashed with President Donald Trump’s administration on a range of other issues from climate change to automobile efficiency regulations to immigration.

The Interior Department last month announced its proposal to open nearly all U.S. offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, sparking protests from coastal states, environmentalists and the tourism industry. Governors from nearly every U.S. coastal state except Alaska and Maine expressed opposition, and even Alaska’s governor requested sensitive areas be removed.

Developing the five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leases is “a very open and public process,” Heather Swift, spokeswoman for Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, said in an emailed response to the California letter.

“Secretary Zinke looks forward to meeting with more Governors and other coastal representatives who want to discuss the draft program,” she said, adding the bureau “has planned 23 public meetings, in our coastal states, to secure feedback directly from citizens.”

In an interview on Tuesday, William Brown, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s chief environmental officer, said state input is taken seriously, and has resulted in past drilling plans being scaled back. He said the approval process would take two years and include an environmental review.


Trump has said more offshore drilling would boost the U.S. economy and national security by reducing reliance on imported oil. Opponents have complained that Congress has passed no new safety standards since BP Plc’s Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It took months to stop that leak, which became the largest oil spill in American history, despoiling the environment of Gulf Coast states and causing billions of dollars in economic damage.

Offshore drilling has been restricted in California since a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. In 2015 a spill in Santa Barbara County sent as much as 2,400 barrels of oil (101,000 gallons or 382,000 liters) onto the coast and into the Pacific, leaving slicks that stretched over nine miles (14 km).

Zinke has said he would exempt Florida from the drilling plan to protect its tourism industry. On Jan. 24, U.S. lawmakers from Florida sent Zinke a letter pressing him to honor that pledge. The letter, signed by both Florida U.S. Senators and 22 of its 27 House members, noted that the acting chief of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had said Florida’s coast is “still under consideration for offshore drilling.”

Neal Kirby, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents small and mid-sized drilling companies, said his members support the administration’s drilling plan. But, he said that if California bars oil from passing through pipelines, companies would be far less likely to seek new offshore leases there.

Environmentalists and some elected officials plan to protest the drilling plan at a public meeting on Thursday in Sacramento. A similar meeting planned this week in Tacoma, Washington, was canceled amid protests.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Richard Valdmanis and David Gregorio


Russia defends right to deploy missiles after Kaliningrad rebuke

February 6, 2018

by Christian Lowe


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it had the right to put weapons anywhere it chose on its own territory, after reports that Moscow had deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad drew criticism from its neighbours and NATO.

From Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, the missiles would be able to reach large swathes of territory in NATO-members Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The president of Lithuania, which neighbours Kaliningrad, and a senior Russian lawmaker, both said the missile systems had been deployed to the region. Russia has not confirmed the deployment.

Asked about reports of the deployment on a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: ”The deployment of one weapon or another, the deployment of military units and so forth on Russian territory, is exclusively a sovereign issue for the Russian Federation.

“Russia has never threatened anyone and is not threatening anyone. Naturally, Russia has this sovereign right (to deploy weapons on its own territory). It should hardly be cause for anyone to worry.”

The Baltic states are already within range of longer-range Russian missiles. But reports of the Kaliningrad deployment so close to NATO territory are perceived by some alliance members as a threat at a time when tensions between Russia and its Western neighbours are running high over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

“This again makes the situation even more serious because Iskanders in Kaliningrad means dangers for half of European capitals,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said on Monday.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the deployment added fresh impetus to discussions already underway inside NATO about improving the alliance’s capabilities.

“It means that what we have been talking about – the necessity to discuss strengthening air-defence elements during the NATO summit in July; strengthening the chain of command, to talk about many questions that affect defence of our region and Latvia specifically … – it all has been confirmed by the practical actions of Russia,” the minister said.

The Kremlin has often said it would place Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad as a riposte to a U.S. missile shield being developed in eastern Europe. Washington says that shield is designed to counter possible missile attacks by Iran, but Moscow says it is directed against Russia.

A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: ”Any deployment close to our borders of missiles that can carry nuclear warheads does not help to lower tensions. In the spirit of transparency, we look forward to hearing more from Russia on this.

“It is important to determine the exact situation. NATO is alert, we understand the capability, but we also understand that the Russians have been moving equipment in and out of Kaliningrad for a long time.”

Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in BRUSSELS, Gelzis Gederts in RIGA, David Mardiste in TALLINN and Eugenijus Kryzanovskis in VILNIUS; Editing by Janet Lawrence


Dow Jones recovers after two days of downturn

February 6, 2018


US stock markets appear to be stabilising following a major downturn which has triggered turmoil in financial indices around the world.

Dow Jones Industrial Average opened 500 points down on Tuesday, a fall of almost two percent from levels at closure on Monday, before recovering to a position of slight gains by noon local time (17:00 GMT).

The volatility follows an initial drop on Friday and a 4.6 percent plummet on Monday, the market’s largest decline, in percentage terms, since August 2011.

The downturn sparked sell-offs in Asian and European markets on Tuesday.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed 4.7 percent down, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slumped 5.1 percent and the UK’s FTSE 100 dropped more than 2.6 percent by the time trading ended in London at 16:30 GMT.

The FTSE’s drop marks its biggest one-day fall since the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum held on June 23, 2016.

David Madden, a market analyst for CMC markets, told Al Jazeera the volatility was a sign of the US economy having outperformed expectations, meaning inflation had been priced too low.

“Usually a sharp market correction is associated with turbulent economic times, but what’s happening here is that the economy is doing better than expected and now the message is that monetary policy and interest rates need to normalise,” he said.

Fellow analyst Marc Ostwald, of ADM Investor Services International, told Al Jazeera the recent market activity was a sign of reality returning to financial indices after notable gains throughout 2017.

“We were on an endless escalator upwards in terms of stock market direction and what we’re seeing now is a massive reality check,” he said.

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from New York, said that economists also believed that the volatility might have been initially driven by concerns related to inflation.

“The US added 200,000 new jobs in January, which beat expectations, and wages rose about three percent,” he said.

“That’s all very good in the real economy … but on Wall Street, that [raised] potential inflationary concerns, and the US Federal Reserve [is considering] raising interest rates, perhaps.”

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates at least three times this year.


Eric Holder’s Group Targets All-G.O.P. States to Attack Gerrymandering

February 6, 2018

by Alexander Burns

The New York Times

A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama intends to pour millions of dollars into an eclectic array of elections in a dozen states, in an effort to block Republicans from single-handedly drawing congressional maps after 2020, officials leading the group said.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formed last year under the leadership of Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general, has settled on a strategy to contest a combination of governorships, legislative seats and more obscure state offices to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process.

Mr. Holder said in an interview that the group was chiefly determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature, as Republicans do in Ohio and Florida, among other critical battlegrounds.

The group’s list of high-priority states includes most of the critical states in presidential elections. Mr. Obama, who has made redistricting a focus of his attention since leaving office, plans to visit some of those states in 2018, and Mr. Holder reviewed his strategy with the former president in Washington on Monday, aides said.

States at the top of the just-finalized target list include traditional purple states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Republicans can currently design maps without Democratic input, and others — including Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada — where Democrats have significant influence in government but must defend it in the 2018 elections.

“From my perspective, success is if you break a trifecta,” Mr. Holder said, adding: “I don’t think that in December of 2018, you measure success only by whether you have assumed control of a particular state.”

Because of the broad authority Republicans hold in many states, and the favorable maps many Republican lawmakers have drawn for themselves, Mr. Holder said his group would spend money wherever Republicans appear to be vulnerable. In Ohio, that will mean pursuing not only the governorship but also the offices of state auditor and secretary of state, both of which play a role in shaping congressional maps. In Wisconsin and Florida, Mr. Holder’s group will help Democrats compete for the governorship and the State Senate majority.

In North Carolina, where there is a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, but Republicans have control of the legislature by vast margins, the redistricting committee hopes to shave seats off the current Republican supermajorities.

Mr. Holder said he would campaign aggressively himself in some of these races, beginning with an election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court this spring. Both he and Mr. Obama will focus heavily on mobilizing African-American voters, Mr. Holder said.

The strategy has the potential to inject a new volume of money, on the Democratic side, into typically low-profile elections. Mr. Holder said the group has raised more than $16 million out of a previously announced $30 million goal, but it has not disclosed how much cash it has on hand.

The tug of war over congressional maps has begun years before the 2020 census, which will collect the data used for reapportioning seats in Congress. Democrats have already sued to throw out congressional maps in several states and the United States Supreme Court is expected to consider a number of cases this year involving gerrymandered maps.

Republican leaders have long described control of the redistricting process as one of the party’s prized assets. Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, the party’s campaign chairman in the House, said in an interview with Politico that “the congressional lines” were one of the Republicans’ great advantages in 2018.

But Republicans have also stressed that it is not gerrymandering alone that has kept them in power in the states. “Republicans won because they were better candidates with better visions for the people of their states,” said Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which spends millions in state legislative elections.

Mr. Walter has warned that Mr. Holder’s group represents a new force in state-level politics, and urged Republicans to prepare for better-funded Democratic efforts than in the past.

But absent Supreme Court intervention, Democrats may face an arduous, yearslong campaign to peel back Republicans’ overwhelming advantage in the states. A model for Democratic efforts, several strategists said, might come from Pennsylvania, where an all-Republican government implemented an elaborately gerrymandered map after the 2010 elections. Democrats later captured the governorship and the State Supreme Court, which recently voided the existing district lines and forced an icy standoff between Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, over the creation of a new map.

Mr. Wolf said in an interview on Monday that he was optimistic Republican leaders would ultimately agree to redraw a “fair map” with his input. Mr. Wolf, who is running for re-election in 2018 in a race Mr. Holder’s group intends to target, said Pennsylvania could be a case study in bipartisan redistricting: “If I do it right, it is a model.”

But Mr. Wolf cautioned Democrats in other states not to twist electoral lines to their advantage and urged the few gerrymandered blue states to abandon their partisan maps. In states like Maryland and Illinois, Republicans have denounced Democrats for warping district maps even as Democrats denounce gerrymandering on the national level.

Beyond the traditional swing states, Mr. Holder said his group is eyeing some more daunting targets, including Georgia’s open governorship and the Texas Legislature, where Democrats hope to chip away at huge Republican majorities. And the group is monitoring a number of state-level ballot initiatives that could put anti-gerrymandering laws up for a vote this year.

“In some ways, that’s the best way to do it,” Mr. Holder said of referendums, “but state constitutions don’t allow that to happen in all 50 states.”

Correction: February 6, 2018 

An earlier version of this article misstated the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s plans for North Carolina. The group hopes to break Republican supermajorities in the State House and Senate. It does not hope to empower the governor to veto legislative maps, as the governor in North Carolina does not have that power.







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