TBR News March 29, 2018

Mar 29 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. March 29, 2018:” The Asian banking communities of Taiwan, Singapore and Tokyo are privately expressing their concerns over the possibility that strong rumours of the “dumping” of American dollars by major European and Russian banking houses could create economic havoc with the world currency market.

The perceived recklessness of the current American Administration’s willingness to launch military attacks against their perceived enemies has caused deep anxiety in both European and Asian economic institutions. It is felt, most especially in Europe but now even in Asia, that the United States has embarked on a reckless course aimed at world economic domination.

Instead of diplomacy, the Trump Administration has resorted to threats of naked aggression against any nation that thwarts its designs on this forceful domination.

Afraid of unbridled American “cannon diplomacy,” first European and now Asian economic and political institutions have been engaged in frantic attempts to neutralize what is seen as naked U.S. military aggression.

Unable to match American military might, a number of nations which include France, Germany, Switzerland, the Russian Republic, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, The People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Malaysia and North Korea have been exploring the possibility of the development of stronger ties, both political and economic.

In a series of meetings now being held in Geneva, Switzerland under conditions of the strictest security, concerned parties have been very seriously considering the options available for the blunting of the current American military and economic plans for world domination.

Once, the famous British pound was the lingua franca of the world’s banking business and after the collapse of Britain following the Second World War, the pound was replaced by the American dollar.

Now, with the formation of the European Union, the new euro is being put forward as an alternative to the dollar and to help achieve this, a plan to “dump” bank and governmental holdings of billions of dollars is now under serious consideration.

Another issue under discussion is the matter of foreign investments in the American business community and the deposit of hundreds of millions of dollars in American banks.

It is widely held that these investments are only supplying fuel to the American politico/military machine and that the devaluation of the dollar added to the complete withdrawal of all foreign investment funds would send a serious message indeed to the reckless American President and his clique of “neocons,” most of whom are Israeli Likud-supporting American Jews.

Also under discussion is the future exclusion of what are viewed as “rogue” former Eastern Bloc nations such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania, all of whom appeared willing to risk the wrath of the rest of the strongly-antiwar EU.

Their denial of entrance into the EU will be counterbalanced by the welcome admission of the Russian Republic into that body.

We have reliably been informed that the People’s Republic of China has been purchasing large blocs of euros as an international trading tool.

This proposed form of international economic warfare, certainly, is not without its risks. American retaliation in the form of trade wars and tariffs is to be expected but it is now believed by the conferees that a combination of the badly damaged U.S. economy, the withdrawal of foreign investment funds and the sharp international devaluation of the American dollar would certainly make widespread international military adventures on the part of the Bush Administration a very costly prospect.”

Table of Contents

  • Trump’s most dangerous betrayal yet
  • How a data mining giant got me wrong
  • Cambridge Analytica predecessor had access to secret MoD information
  • Could departing advertisers kill Facebook?
  • India sends notice to Facebook over possible election manipulation
  • Reuters poll: Are Americans taking steps to protect their data after Facebook scandal?
  • U.S. judge refuses to toss suit against Trump on foreign payments
  • FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter
  • Mueller: Rick Gates spoke to person with Russian spy ties in late 2016
  • Peace and the Intellectuals: Trump’s Korea Initiative vs. ‘The Blob’


Trump’s most dangerous betrayal yet

March 27, 2018

by Katrina vanden Heuvel

The Washington Post

With the appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser, President Trump has put the finishing touches on his war Cabinet, with bellicose Mike Pompeo heading the State Department and Gina Haspel, who ran a torture site under President George W. Bush, heading the CIA. With Bolton’s appointment, Trump has broken another campaign promise — and it is surely his most dangerous betrayal yet. The candidate who promised to get us out of stupid wars is now loading up for war. With Congress having surrendered its national security responsibilities, the United States, already mired in endless wars across the broad Middle East, seems on the verge of even greater military catastrophe.

Bolton, who will be the last one in the room to whisper in Trump’s ear and the first one in the morning (along with “Fox & Friends”) to frame the news, proudly made his name as a warmonger, never seeing a war that he wouldn’t promote (nor one that he would fight in). Under Bush, he cooked intelligence to fit the case for the Iraq War. He still defends what was the greatest foreign policy debacle since Vietnam. He has advocated “preventive war” — a euphemism for an illegal war of aggression — against both Iran and North Korea. He has also urged ramping up the pressure on Russia in Ukraine and China in the South China Sea. He believes U.S. military might entitles the United States to dictate terms in every corner of the world.

By all accounts, Bolton is smart, tenacious and relentless in peddling his fanatical views. Senate Republicans derailed his nomination under Bush to serve as U.N. ambassador when a former assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration described him as a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy” and a “serial abuser” of people under him in the chain of command.

Bolton wants to tear up the Iran deal, despite the fact that this historic, multilateral deal is working, and is strongly supported by U.S. allies, to be followed by an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He has consistently dismissed negotiations with North Korea as a waste of time. He already has outlined how Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can serve as “diplomatic shock and awe” to set the stage for attacking that country.

It’s a far cry from the foreign policy Trump claimed to support during the campaign. He claimed — dishonestly — that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the beginning. He scorned “nonsense” wars without victory. He charged that “the people opposing us are the same people — and think of this — who’ve wasted $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East — we could have rebuilt our country twice — that have produced only more terrorism, more death and more suffering. Imagine if that money had been spent at home.”

Upon taking office, he abandoned these populist postures. Trump sent more troops to both Afghanistan, sustaining the United States’ longest war into its 17th year, and Syria, with the Pentagon announcing that they would stay even after the Islamic State was defeated. He doubled down on U.S. support in Saudi Arabia’s criminal assault on Yemen, while increasing the pace of drone bombings.

And now he has brought the most extreme and unreconstructed of hawks into the White House. New and more dangerous wars of aggression seem virtually inescapable. Bolton, supported by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Pompeo, will presumably push to tear up the Iran deal in May. An attack by Israel or the United States on Iran’s nuclear facilities will be the likely result, as Bolton has urged in writing. Bolton, supported by Pompeo, likely will use unrealistic demands to blow up the North Korea talks. If Bolton succeeds, he’ll push for far more than a “bloody nose” attack on Kim’s regime.

What will stand in the way of catastrophic interventions that will further drain this country, establish it as an outlaw nation, and shatter alliances and goodwill? Perhaps Mattis, the last remaining “adult in the room,” will balk at adding to the burdens on the military. Perhaps Trump is merely bluffing, enacting the “madman theory” of the presidency to scare allies and adversaries into cutting a deal. Perhaps Trump will change his mind once more. There is much riding on these slim reeds.

As national security adviser, Bolton doesn’t need Senate confirmation. A responsible Senate would use the hearings on the Pompeo and Haspel nominations to expose their extreme histories and views, and to alert the public to the true threat posed by a war Cabinet anchored by Bolton. Neither Democrats nor Republicans, however, did the agonizing reappraisal so necessary after the Iraq debacle. None of the architects of the endless wars in the Middle East have been discredited or held accountable. Neither party has challenged the ruinous ongoing wars without victory. The war zealots such as Bolton and the torture defenders such as Haspel should long ago have been discredited, if not prosecuted.

Instead, as Stephen Walt has written, we have a political system that allows one with Bolton’s views to serve in high office, “where he helps talk the country into a disastrous war, never expresses a moment’s regret for his errors, continues to advocate for more of the same for the next decade, and then gets a second chance to make the same mistakes again.” With this appointment and the consolidation of the war Cabinet, Trump’s presidency has taken a foreboding turn — from madcap farce and unending melodrama toward grim tragedy.



How a data mining giant got me wrong

March 29, 2018

by Tom Bergin


LONDON (Reuters) – I’m 57, with a 30-year-old wife, a fairly new hot water boiler, an old-style television, a petrol car and no kids.

Actually, none of that is true. But that is what you might believe if you purchased access to my data from the world’s largest information broker by market value.

The recent revelation that data miner Cambridge Analytica Ltd. improperly accessed 50 million Facebook users’ personal data has heightened public concern about the way companies harvest and use our personal data.

I asked Arkansas-based Acxiom Corp., which earns over $800 million a year selling consumer profiles to the world’s largest companies, what data and insights it held on me.

In Europe and the U.S., companies like Acxiom are allowed to collect data from public and other sources about us. European privacy rules, which are due to be strengthened in coming months, require all data gatherers to disclose to any European who asks what information they hold on them. U.S. law doesn’t give Americans the right to this level of disclosure.

The result of my inquiry shows how, even with little raw data, companies attempt to build detailed pictures of individuals’ finances, relationships, personal interests and purchasing tastes.

These profiles now power the elaborate machinery that delivers advertising across the internet, and can also be used to determine what political issues people are interested in and how they might vote.

The question is: How accurate are the pictures they sketch?


Acxiom – like its rivals – operates by gathering publicly available information from sources like the electoral roll, which gives individuals’ addresses, and land registry data, which provides details on home ownership such as purchase price and if there is a mortgage on the property.

It also buys data from companies that conduct online surveys, as well as websites where you forgot to tick ‘don’t share with third parties’ and other sources. This data is then put into a proprietary model, which produces a list of data points and propensities, such as the likelihood a consumer might visit a betting shop.

Acxiom sells access to these profiles to companies that wish to target advertising at potential customers. Acxiom doesn’t have a political arm like Cambridge Analytica does, but the two companies do compete for commercial customers.

Facebook, in the wake of the scandal over how it handles personal information, said on Wednesday it would end its partnerships with several large data brokers who help advertisers target people on the social network. Shares in Acxiom traded down more than 10 percent to $25 following Facebook’s announcement.

The results for a single individual obviously don’t tell us too much about the accuracy of a database that Acxiom says contains 47 million UK profiles and insights into 700 million consumers worldwide.

Also, it seems I am a bad data subject since I usually opt out when asked to give companies data sharing rights.

“Where we have more self-reported, privacy-compliant data about individuals, we can be more accurate. In your case, we held very little of this data and the majority of the variables linked to you, are modelled, based on both your postcode and the household history,” Acxiom said in a statement.

My Acxiom profile has around 750 individual data fields under a dozen categories from “household composition” to “employment & income” and “lifestyle & interests.” It categorizes me as an “affluent fun-seeker.”. The accuracy of that description depends on your definition, I suppose, but some of the information is plain wrong.

To start with, I’m 46 years old, not 57. I won’t reveal my wife’s age, but I will confirm that when I got married at age 34, it wasn’t to a teenager. Two children mean we’re not “empty nesters,” I drive a diesel car and our boiler is more than 15 years old, not less than five years as Acxiom identifies it as.

That could be a disappointment for the companies including Tesco supermarket, Twitter, Ford Motor Company and Facebook to whom Acxiom said it may have provided my data in the past year. Or maybe not.


The fact that my profile contains errors isn’t necessarily a problem for marketers said Carol Hargreaves, a professor and director of the Data Analytics Consulting Center at the National University of Singapore.

What really matters is the predictions of one’s behavior, interests and propensity to buy certain kinds of products.

“The things you sell to a male of 46 or a male of 57 are the same,” Hargreaves said.

In some potentially key areas, the data is certainly better than a random guess. It predicted that I had just a 5.2 percent probability of being self-employed, rather than employed. Official data shows around 17 percent of Britons are self-employed.

Acxiom’s prediction of my household income was also much closer to the actual number than the average published by the Greater London Authority for my electoral ward, or local electoral district, the narrowest official estimate.

But if purchase decisions are driven by lifestyle interests, the data collected on me is of little use to marketers.

My predicted annual car mileage was 8,000 to 10,000 miles, based on “modelled probability.” This figure echoes the 8,405 miles that car breakdown group the RAC says the average London motorist drives each year. But it’s over twice my annual mileage.

Acxiom incorrectly says I don’t have a flat screen television, something it “derived through modeling,” even though a UK government report from 2013 says most households do.

One in seven Britons is a member of a gym, according to a 2017 industry survey; Acxiom reckons there’s a 47.5 percent chance that I am interested in belonging to a gym. My last subscription expired over a decade ago.

Acxiom also thinks I am more likely to be interested in crossword puzzles – I haven’t done one since the 1980s – than in current affairs, which has been my working life for 20 years.

On the positive side, there are indications Acxiom doesn’t engage in racial profiling: The company predicts I have a 13.6 percent probability of interest in regularly going to a bar. I asked Hargreaves, the professor, if this seemed a statistically reasonable estimate for an Irish journalist. After she stopped laughing, Hargreaves said accurate predictions hinged on the raw data on which the profile is based.


Acxiom said individual inaccuracies didn’t undermine the value of its service.

“We know from working with leading brands, that data helps them deliver more accurate and relevant marketing to customers at scale… The key factor here is, ‘at scale’,” it said in a statement.

Annabel Kilner, Chief Commercial Officer at furniture retailer MADE.com said consumer data helped firms deliver messages that consumers found relevant.

“We adopt a test and learn approach to optimizing our campaigns,” Kilner said.

Xiaojing Dong, associate professor of marketing and business analytics at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, said that qualitative predictions like those produced by Acxiom gave advertisers a much better idea of who they are reaching.

But Hargreaves said there was concern among some advertisers that the consumer profiles they purchase from data aggregators may not always be worth the large fees involved. Hargreaves said she is about to start working with clients of companies like Acxiom to ascertain whether they were getting value for money.

“Some of the data vendors are just jumping on the band wagon,” she said.

The key to accurate profiling, experts said, was good raw data. The best is held by those companies with whom we have the deepest interactions – social media giants like Facebook or Twitter and retailers like Amazon.com.

Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Bristol in Britain, said that explains why companies like Cambridge Analytica would be so eager to access Facebook data.

“The difference between using the electoral roll and Facebook is that the information we reveal on Facebook is sufficient for a computer program to infer our personality with greater accuracy than our own spouse,” he said.

Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low


Cambridge Analytica predecessor had access to secret MoD information

SCL was praised by MoD for training it provided to a psychological operations warfare group, documents reveal

March 29, 2018

by Dan Sabbagh


SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s predecessor, had access to secret UK information and was singled out for praise by the UK Ministry of Defence for the training it provided to a psychological operations warfare group, according to documents newly released by MPs.

An endorsement from an official at the 15 UK Psychological Operations Group dated January 2012 concluded that they would “have no hesitation in inviting SCL to tender for further contracts of this nature”.

The document also noted that SCL – which was subsequently rebranded as Cambridge Analytica by Steve Bannon – was a company that was permitted to have “routine access to secret information” and delivered a training programme that included a “classified case study from current operations in Helmand” in Afghanistan.

The official British note of approval was one of over 100 pages of documents handed over to the digital, media, culture and sport select committee by Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie earlier this week, following a oral hearing that lasted nearly four hours.

Another of the documents released by the MPs is a confidential legal memo dated July 2014, which says it was sent to Bannon, the former Trump adviser and Breitbart CEO, and Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of Trump-backer and hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. It was also sent to Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica.

The author’s name and firm is redacted, but the memo discusses how far could Cambridge Analytica, a British company, could participate in US elections, given that donations and contributions by foreign nationals are banned. The documents say that the US arm of the company, formed in June 2014, could participate as a vendor of technology as long as Nix, a Briton, was “recused from the substantive management of any such clients involved in US elections

At the parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, Wylie noted that Vote Leave had spent £2.7m with a digital marketing firm called AggregateIQ, and said it had previously undisclosed links to Cambridge Analytica/SCL. Cambridge Analytica has been accused of benefiting from harvesting the data of 50 million Americans from Facebook via a series of personality quizzes.

The documents released appear to support that, including:

  • A brochure promising to create US election campaign tools in 2014 that was “prepared for SCL elections by AggregateIQ Data Services” at a cost of over $500,000 using “modelling data” to target 100 million or more Americans from SCL.
  • A services agreement between AggregateIQ and SCL to support that work, listing a schedule of monthly payments, although the document released is not signed.
  • A separate contract for work dated November 2013, in which AggregateIQ agrees to work for SCL Elections UK, and which is signed by company AggregateIQ’s chief executive, Zack Massingham, and its chief technology officer Jeff Silvester, to work on a political campaign in Trinidad and Tobago.

Wylie had told MPs it was striking that Vote Leave and three other pro-Brexit groups – BeLeave, which targeted students; Veterans for Britain, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party – all used the services of AggregateIQ to help target voters online. He accused the Leave campaign of “cheating” to win the referendum because Vote Leave donated £625,000 to BeLeave, which in turn spent the money on AggregateIQ. The donation allowed Vote Leave to stay within its £7m legal limit.

AggregateIQ has denied it is linked to Cambridge Analytica. Silvester told the Times Colonist, that “AggregateIQ has never been, and is not a part of, Cambridge Analytica or [its parent firm] SCL. AggregateIQ has never entered into a contract with Cambridge Analytica.”

However, Wylie told MPs on Tuesday that the corporate structures were designed to be confusing and ensure that regulators could not always keep up with what was going on.


Could departing advertisers kill Facebook?

“Move fast and break things” is a famous Facebook corporate motto. The recent data breach scandal has certainly seen trust broken fast, especially among users. Will it leak into Facebook’s key revenue source?

March 29, 2018

by Arthur Sullivan


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tech giant in search of lucrative advertising revenue must be in want of your data.

However, even if Jane Austen knew what the internet was, she would have struggled to dream up the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal which revealed that sensitive user data from up to 50 million Facebook accounts was provided to a data analytics firm who then used the data to build algorithmic software capable of influencing voter behavior.

“This was a major breach of trust and I’m really sorry that this happened,” said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a man whose career has featured few apologies. The days of “I’m CEO, bitch” seemed a long way off.

The heat on Facebook was suddenly so intense that advertisers, previously hand in glove with the social media giant, began threatening to pull the plug.

German bank Commerzbank and internet software company Mozilla both announced a “pause” on their advertising with Facebook, while ISBA, a group representing around 3,000 British advertisers, issued grave soundings.

Facebook has vowed to learn from its mistakes and on Wednesday announced changes it says will make its privacy settings more transparent. Will it be enough to stop the bleeding, or could advertisers — the dominant revenue source for Facebook — opt to promote their wares elsewhere?

Your ad here

Advertising is very important to Facebook, and Facebook is very important to advertisers.

Facebook took in ad revenues of just under $40 billion (€32.5 billion) in 2017 and it’s a revenue stream that has been growing rapidly, up 134 percent from 2015 and 49 percent from 2016.

And with more than 2 billion global users supposedly on the platform, equating to over 25 percent of the world’s population, one can see why around 70 million advertisers use Facebook. Key to the growth of its appeal to advertisers is its increasing ability to select highly specific target audiences, based on the gargantuan levels of data it holds on its users.

Jonathan O’Reilly owns a hot sauce business in Berlin and runs a small restaurant in the city’s Neukölln district. As the menu changes regularly, he pays around €35 a week for Facebook ads to promote the latest offerings. It’s the only advertising he pays for.

Despite having ethical reservations about the Facebook data breach, he acknowledges that it is the micro-targeting ability of a Facebook ad that makes it particularly useful for his business.

“I select the postal codes and ages of people I think are most likely to come to us,” he told DW. “I also look for those interested in things connected to what we offer. The ads serve as reminders to people, and they work. One week there was an issue and the ad didn’t run for whatever reason. And there was a huge, noticeable difference to the amount of business we did that weekend.”

Connecting people to brands

As the chief marketing officer of Mozilla, it’s Jascha Kaykas-Wolff’s job to get bang for the internet company’s advertising buck. Despite the company’s decision to suspend advertising on the platform, Facebook has provided an effective mode of marketing for Mozilla, he told DW.

“Facebook as a platform for advertisers is effective and it has been effective for Mozilla over the last couple of years,” he said. “In fact, it performs in the top five of channels that we operate in,” explaining that the company’s spend on Facebook advertising accounts for around 10 percent of its media spend.

Dr Oetker, a German food corporation, briefly deleted its Facebook page in the wake of the data controversy but a spokesperson confirmed to DW that while the company is not dependent on Facebook advertising, “due to the range and scope of accumulative possibilities, the various attractive forms of advertising as well as the targeting possibilities, Facebook is still interesting when it comes to content marketing.”

The attraction between Facebook and advertisers is therefore easily established.

The anti-social network?

Yet Mozilla and other big companies such as Commerzbank have shown a willingness to leave.

While Mozilla have benefitted from advertising on Facebook, the fact that they are backed by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation, which advocates an “internet for people, not profit,” goes some way to explaining why they felt they had an added responsibility to make a stand, even if it comes with a cost.

“This is about technology companies needing to take responsibility for treating people like human beings,” says Kaykas-Wolff.

He says that at the moment, tech companies like Facebook are treating people like “robot lawyers” who are capable of parsing through hundreds of pages telling them how their data will be used or who it will be shared with. “That is not right,” he says.

But will a few isolated moral stands be enough to tip such a monumental scale? As mentioned, there are two fundamental reasons for Facebook’s huge appeal to advertisers: the number of users it has and the level of data it has about those users, enabling highly targeted advertising.

As long as those two fundamentals remain in place, it is hard to see advertisers turning their noses up at what Facebook offers them.

“If I say I’m pulling the Facebook advertising, and then that weekend we are empty and our chef doesn’t make any money, he’ll ask, ‘well what went wrong? ‘” explains O’Reilly, the sauce maker and restaurant owner.

“And if I say, we didn’t do the Facebook advertising. He will say ‘why not?,’ and if I say, ‘I’m morally opposed to it,’ he will say, ‘just put it back on, I have to make money.'”

However, if those two fundamental Facebook selling points were somehow disrupted as a result of the scandal — for example if there was a massive exodus of users or a regulatory clampdown on the way in which Facebook can use user data, thus affecting the quality of its advertising platform — companies will take their money away from Facebook just as quickly as they brought it to it.

Sharing, but what about caring?

Going by its initial response to the Cambridge Analytica story going public, Facebook appears to have paid attention to how YouTube, owned by Google, dealt with a scandal this time last year.

When companies saw some of their ads appearing alongside offensive YouTube videos, some began to pull them from the platform and many huge commercial hitters such as McDonald’s and L’Oreal threatened to do the same.

Google quickly said sorry, met one-on-one with advertisers and within days, announced software improvements to prevent the problem happening again, as well as tightening up policing of extremist content. It did the trick; advertisers didn’t leave and YouTube continues to be a major source of ad revenue for Google.

Facebook has already taken similar steps towards recovery and Kaykas-Wolff, whose company has been engaged in private discussions with Facebook since pulling their advertising, says he has been “encouraged” by the social media network’s initial response.

He leaves the door open for Mozilla to return to the platform in the future, as does Commerzbank, which told DW it wants to “give ongoing investigations enough space, and decide how to proceed at an appropriate time.”

In response to questions from DW, Facebook said the company knew it must work to regain the trust of people and advertisers, but emphasized that its advertisers were not leaving.

“Most of the companies we talked to this week are satisfied with the measures we have outlined to better protect user data,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “They trust us to respond appropriately to these challenges and thereby become a better partner and company.”

Kaykas-Wolff says that Mozilla’s decision was taken seriously and that they believe Facebook needs to take major steps to bring their practices in line with Mozilla’s ideal of a healthy internet.

“Discussions and statements are just that — words,” he said. “We need to see action. So as encouraging as what we see in the public discussion is, and as encouraging as a statement is like the changes that Facebook is talking about, we still need to see action.”

Do the billions of people who continue to provide Facebook, and, in effect, advertisers, with the story of their lives feel the same? That is probably the more important question.


India sends notice to Facebook over possible election manipulation

India has sent a notice to Facebook asking about possible data breaches and electoral manipulation. With 241 million active members, India is the social media giant’s largest market.

March 29, 2018


India’s government has sent a notice to Facebook asking whether the personal data of voters has been compromised by UK-based Cambridge Analytica or any other “downstream entity.”

The notice from India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology comes after it sent a similar letter last week to Cambridge Analytica questioning whether the data mining firm misused voters’ personal information and manipulated elections in the world’s most populous democracy.

Facebook is in the hot seat after allegations Cambridge Analytica misused the data of millions of social media users and attempted to influence elections.

The notice from India’s technology body asked “whether Facebook or its related or downstream agencies utilizing Facebook’s data have previously been engaged by any entities to manipulate the Indian electoral process?”

It also asked: “What are the specific steps proposed to be taken by Facebook to prevent any misuse of personal data for potential interference in, or manipulation of the Indian electoral process?”

The US-based social media giant was given until April 7 to respond, while Cambridge Analytica has until the end of the month.

Digital experts say India has weak data protection laws.

The snowballing Facebook data scandal has led to mutual accusations about the misuse of voter data between Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party and the main opposition Congress Party.

Both parties accuse each other of using Cambridge Analytica, which they deny.

Meanwhile, allegations have also emerged that apps and websites used by both parties shared the personal data of voters with third parties without their consent.

India holds a general election in 2019 and there are also several state votes this year and next.


Reuters poll: Are Americans taking steps to protect their data after Facebook scandal?

March 29, 2018

by Maria Caspani


(Reuters) – In the wake of the scandal sparked by Facebook’s handling of 50 million users’ data, Reuters polled Americans about how they are protecting their privacy online.

Here are some of the poll’s key findings:


The poll found that many Americans have not taken steps to protect their information.

** 86 percent said they have not changed their login credentials on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms.

** 78 percent have not switched to “private mode” on their browser.

** 96 percent have not turned to more secure, encrypted apps like Signal and WhatsApp.


About 17 percent of adults, or about 1 in 6, said they protect their identity by placing tape over the camera on their computer or device.


Facebook remains the most popular social media network in the United States by far. More than half of adults said they access the site continuously throughout the day. Other platforms like Instagram and Snapchat do not come close.


The Reuters/Ipsos poll asked Americans who do not use Facebook regularly why not?

Within that group, 30 percent said they do not find it that interesting or useful, 16 percent said they are concerned about their privacy and do not want to share personal information with strangers. Only 4 percent said they are afraid their account will get hacked.

The poll of 2,237 U.S. adults was conducted between March 21-23 and has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points.

Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Chris Kahn and Bill Trott



U.S. judge refuses to toss suit against Trump on foreign payments

March 28, 2018

by Andrew Chung


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s legal troubles deepened on Wednesday as a federal judge refused to throw out a lawsuit accusing him of flouting constitutional safeguards against corruption by maintaining ownership of his business empire while in office.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Maryland allowed the lawsuit filed by Maryland and District of Columbia to proceed, rejecting a Justice Department request that it be dismissed. The judge, however, narrowed the claims to include only those involving the Trump International Hotel in Washington and not Trump’s businesses outside of the U.S. capital.

A U.S. judge in Manhattan in December threw out a similar lawsuit against Trump brought by another group of plaintiffs.

Both lawsuits accused Trump of violating the U.S. Constitution’s “emoluments” provisions designed to prevent corruption and foreign influence. One bars U.S. officials from accepting gifts or other emoluments from foreign governments without congressional approval. The other forbids the president from receiving emoluments from individual states.

If the lawsuit presided over by Messitte continues to move forward, the plaintiffs have indicated they would seek a number of documents related to the president, including his tax returns, which Trump has refused to release.

The lawsuit, filed last June, said the Republican president has failed to disentangle himself from his hotels and other businesses, making him vulnerable to inducements by officials seeking to curry favor.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, said in an interview he was pleased with the judge’s action.

“It demonstrates that Donald Trump is not above the law, that he like every other federal employee is governed by the emoluments clause, the original anti-corruption law of the United States. And we intend to hold him accountable,” Frosh said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said, “As we argued, we believe this case should be dismissed, and we will continue to defend the president in court.”

As part of the suit, the District of Columbia and Maryland said their local residents who compete with Trump’s businesses like Trump International Hotel are harmed by decreased patronage, wages and tips.

Trump’s attorneys said such claims were speculative and raised doubts that any harm to competition could be traced directly to Trump’s status as president.

Messitte rejected that view, saying the plaintiffs’ allegations were sufficient to allow the case to proceed.

“Their allegation is bolstered by explicit statements from certain foreign government officials indicating that they are clearly choosing to stay at the president’s hotel, because, as one representative of a foreign government has stated, they want him to know ‘I love your new hotel,’” the judge wrote.

Messitte also noted that since the 2016 presidential election, “foreign governments have indisputably transferred business from the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton hotels in the District to the President’s Hotel.”


Trump’s legal woes are mounting. His lead lawyer in the intensifying special counsel investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election resigned last week.

A New York state judge last week allowed a defamation lawsuit by a woman who accused Trump of sexually harassing her after she appeared on his former reality TV show to proceed.

He also is facing lawsuits from adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal arising from affairs they said they had with the president.

Trump, a wealthy real estate developer who as president regularly visits his own hotels, resorts and golf clubs, has ceded day-to-day control of his businesses to his sons. Critics have said that is not a sufficient safeguard.

This undermines democracy, the suit said, because Americans cannot be sure if Trump is acting in their best interest, or “international and domestic business dealings in which President Trump’s personal fortune is at stake.”

The suit said Trump had received millions of dollars in payments and benefits through leases of Trump properties held by foreign government entities, the purchase of condominiums in Trump properties, as well as hotel accommodations, restaurant purchases and the use of venues for events by foreign governments and diplomats.

Messitte’s action contrasts with that of U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan, who threw out the similar case filed by a nonprofit watchdog group, a hotel owner, a hotel events booker and a restaurant trade group.

Daniels said the claims were speculative and that the U.S. Congress was the proper place to hold the president to account.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham


FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter

Exclusive: US authorities made inquiries even before 2016 election campaign into Trump property dealings in former Soviet Union

March 29, 2018

by Jon Swaine

The Guardian

They wanted to build the Las Vegas of the Baltics.

In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.

Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.

The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.

Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.

Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.

This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.

“They were very proud to be talking with Trump,” said Andrejs Judins, a Latvian Unity party MP, who has been a vocal critic of the prosecutor general’s decision to close the corruption inquiry in 2016 without pursuing charges.

Krutoy, a well-known composer in Russia, has written music for Emin Agalarov, the Russian singer whose father hosted Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe contest in Moscow. Krutoy attended the contest, where he was photographed with Trump.

Emin once named Krutoy as one of his closest friends in music. Public records show the Krutoys and the Agalarovs owned neighbouring houses in New Jersey in the 1990s, and now own condominiums in the same luxury complex in Florida. Krutoy said he considered the Agalarovs as acquaintances rather than friends.

In June 2016, the Agalarovs were involved in setting up a meeting at Trump Tower with senior campaign officials that is now a flashpoint for Mueller’s investigation. Emin’s manager emailed Donald Trump Jr beforehand to say the Agalarovs had dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Trump Jr responded enthusiastically.

Krutoy, 63, was a celebrity representative for Putin’s 2018 election campaign and has received major state honours from the Russian government for his music.

He was born in Ukraine and is also a close friend of Rinat Akhmetov – a Ukrainian steel tycoon who in 2005 hired Paul Manafort, Trump’s future campaign chairman, as an adviser. Krutoy said he did not know Manafort, who has been charged by Mueller with financial crimes and failing to register as a foreign agent.

Yet Trump’s brush with Krutoy has gone largely unnoticed amid intense scrutiny of the president’s financial links to Russia, which is accused by US intelligence agencies of attacking the US election system in 2016 in an effort to help elect Trump.

The Latvian talks began without fanfare. David Orowitz, Trump’s senior vice-president for acquisitions and development, discreetly visited Latvia in September 2010 to explore locations, according to one source. The island of Zakusala, in Riga’s Daugava river, emerged as the likeliest site.

In June 2011, Krutoy and two associates met Trump’s elder daughter, Ivanka, at Trump Tower in Manhattan to discuss the possible development, according to Krutoy and Viesturs Koziols, a well-connected Latvian businessman who was one of the other attendees. Ivanka Trump is now a senior White House adviser.

The businessmen were also ushered in to see Ivanka’s father in his office, they said. Koziols said the meetings were scheduled for 40 minutes but lasted four hours.

“We had an extraordinarily good meeting with Ivanka,” said Koziols, who added that he and Donald Trump “shook hands as possible partners”.

The discussions centred around developing a permanent venue for New Wave, an annual musical talent contest that Krutoy co-founded. A comparison with Las Vegas was made in an attempt to catch Trump’s eye, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

“The idea was that we could use the hotel during the festival for the singers and musicians, and we could use the concert hall for performances,” Krutoy told the Guardian.

Krutoy flew to Riga and in July gave a press conference about the Trump talks alongside Ainārs Šlesers, a flamboyant Latvian businessman and former deputy prime minister, who was assisting the efforts to secure Trump’s involvement.

“By attracting the attention of such a serious investor like Trump, we can think about directing New Wave towards a western European audience,” Krutoy said at the time.

Šlesers said in August 2011 that he, too, met Trump in New York and discussed the Riga collaboration “several times” with Ivanka Trump. Detailed plans went back and forth with the Trump Organization, which signaled a willingness to press ahead, according to one person involved.

During the following weeks, however, difficulties arose. Krutoy was called in for questioning by Latvia’s Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), which had recently embarked on an investigation that became known locally as the “Oligarchs Case”. No allegations were made against Krutoy, he was never charged, and he denied any wrongdoing.

But Šlesers was a central figure in the inquiry, suspected of using public office to influence decisions on property developments benefiting companies he secretly owned. He and Koziols were also questioned in 2011. They denied any wrongdoing and were not charged. Šlesers did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Discussions with the Trumps about developing the complex in Riga ground to a halt. People who were involved deny that the KNAB investigation was to blame. Koziols said he and his associates simply could not secure enough external financing.

During a visit to Riga in May 2012, Donald Trump Jr acknowledged that his family had explored the potential Latvian development. “We were talking,” he told reporters, after being asked about Krutoy’s group. “We went back and forth for a little while. Nothing went forward, but it’s an area that we are interested in.”

At the heart of the Latvian inquiry were secret recordings of meetings involving suspects at a hotel in Riga. According to leaked transcripts published by the magazine IR, Šlesers was heard telling a potential investor in February 2011 that he had “an agreement with Trump” after meeting him in New York, and that they were “ready to make the Trump Plaza Riga”. Šlesers did not respond to a request for comment by IR.

Apparently keen to chase down this line of inquiry, Latvia made an official request for judicial assistance from the US in February 2014. The interest from Latvian authorities in Trump was first reported last year by Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze of Riga.

Latvia’s request was described to the Guardian by two sources who have reviewed it but were not permitted to discuss it publicly.

The Latvian authorities asked for Trump himself to be interviewed for their inquiry, according to the sources. At least one Trump Organization executive did speak with FBI officials, and the company provided written answers to additional questions.

The US did not formally respond until September 2015, the sources said. By then, Latvian investigators were close to concluding their case, and appear not to have pursued the link with Trump any further.

Alan Garten, chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, said he could not recall whether the company had received a request for information relating to Latvia. “But if we were contacted by the authorities, we would have certainly cooperated,” Garten said in an email.

The FBI, justice department and Latvian authorities declined to comment.

The Agalarovs denied any wrongdoing. Their attorney, Scott Balber, said: “The Agalarovs did not introduce Mr Krutoy to the Trumps and had no involvement in any discussions between Mr Krutoy and the Trumps. The Agalarovs did not know the Trumps in 2011.”

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s attorney, said: “Work and meetings Ms Trump had five years before the election, which had nothing to do with the election, are not relevant topics to which we will respond.”

The blunted conclusion to the Oligarchs Case remains a source of intense frustration to anti-corruption campaigners in Latvia. Judins, the MP, examined the case on a special commission and said it exposed “state capture” in his country.

“I think there was enough evidence for the prosecutor to continue this case,” said Judins. “But he said no.”


Mueller: Rick Gates spoke to person with Russian spy ties in late 2016

March 28, 2018

by Kyle Cheney


Rick Gates, a senior official on President Donald Trump’s campaign, was in contact in September and October 2016 with an associate who the FBI assessed had ongoing ties to Russia’s intelligence services, special counsel Robert Mueller said in a new court filing.

In a federal court filing Tuesday, Mueller described the associate of Gates and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort as “Person A” and said Gates was aware of the person’s links to the GRU intelligence service. The individual has been identified in news reports as Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate from Manafort’s days working on behalf of a Kremlin-aligned Ukrainian political party.

Kilimnik’s suspected ties to Russian intelligence have been established, but it was not previously known whether those links continued into 2016. Manafort reportedly met with him at least twice that year, including in August, during a crucial stretch of the campaign.

The filing shed little light on whether Americans aided Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, but it shows that prosecutors believe a top Trump official remained in contact with a Russian intelligence-linked operative well into the campaign.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016,” Mueller said in the filing.

Manafort — who is fighting charges from Mueller that relate to his work prior to joining Trump — left the campaign in August 2016 after reports about questionable payments he received from his work related to Ukraine. But Gates remained aboard through the campaign and transition. He has since pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in order to avoid trial over charges similar to those against Manafort.

The filing Tuesday, however, related to a separate case involving attorney Alexander van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in relation to a 2012 project connected with Ukraine.

In the filing, Mueller said Gates told van der Zwaan that Person A was a former intelligence officer with Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the GRU.

Gates remained in touch with Person A late in the campaign, Mueller said, and communicated with the associate and van der Zwaan in a “series of calls” in September and October 2016.

Mueller described those calls — and van der Zwaan’s subsequent misstatements to investigators about them — as “material to the special counsel’s office.” He recommended a jail sentence that would allow van der Zwaan to return to his home in the United Kingdom in time for his wife — the daughter of a prominent Russian oligarch — to give birth in August.


Peace and the Intellectuals: Trump’s Korea Initiative vs. ‘The Blob’

March 29, 2018

by Justin Raimondo


President Trump’s Korean peace initiative is the most significant US diplomatic effort since the end of the cold war: if successful, it means the end of an era in northern Asia. The Koreans realize this; the Chinese realize this; it’s only the American punditocracy that just doesn’t get it. There are a few reasons why they don’t get it: first, because intellectuals tend to think that the future is merely an extension of the past, only more so.

Fascinated, intimidated, and one might almost say hypnotized by power, the intellectuals and the political class are hampered by their subjectivism, which was all too accurately diagnosed by George Orwell in his “Second Thoughts on James Burnham”:

“It will be seen that at each point Burnham is predicting a continuation of the thing that is happening. Now the tendency to do this is not simply a bad habit, like inaccuracy or exaggeration, which one can correct by taking thought. It is a major mental disease, and its roots lie partly in cowardice and partly in the worship of power, which is not fully separable from cowardice.

“Suppose in 1940 you had taken a Gallup poll, in England, on the question ‘Will Germany win the war?’ You would have found, curiously enough, that the group answering ‘Yes’ contained a far higher percentage of intelligent people – people with IQ of over 120, shall we say – than the group answering ‘No’. The same would have held good in the middle of 1942. In this case the figures would not have been so striking, but if you had made the question ‘Will the Germans capture Alexandria?’ or ‘Will the Japanese be able to hold on to the territories they have captured?’, then once again there would have been a very marked tendency for intelligence to concentrate in the ‘Yes’ group. In every case the less-gifted person would have been likelier to give a right answer….

“Power worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. If the Japanese have conquered south Asia, then they will keep south Asia for ever, if the Germans have captured Tobruk, they will infallibly capture Cairo; if the Russians are in Berlin, it will not be long before they are in London: and so on.”

Aside from simple Trump Derangement Syndrome, this worship of the status quo is what motivates the increasingly irrational opposition to the Korean peace initiative. One Obama era foreign policy maven called it “The Blob,” i.e. the foreign policy Establishment. These people view remnants of the old cold war order, such as the US military occupation of Korea, as perpetual: the present is the future, forever and ever. They stand in awe of the American Empire, their primary employer and benefactor. The Empire never shrinks: it can only expand. At least, that’s how The Blob sees it.

But of course that’s not how our President sees things: he had threatened to withdraw all US troops from Korea if Seoul didn’t come around on trade. And come around they did! Which is too bad, since those 30,000 American soldiers are sitting ducks in the event of war – and besides which, why are we defending a rich and well-armed nation entirely capable of defending itself?

This is why they hate Trump, at least as far as The Blob is concerned: because he can visualize a US withdrawal from the Korean peninsula as a “win.” Which it undoubtedly would be: the costs of the US occupation are enormous, and what do we get in return?

Now let’s take a look at the objections being raised to Trump’s summit with Kim. First and foremost, there is extreme skepticism that Kim Jong-un will denuclearize: why should he give up his nukes, they ask, after taking all this time and effort to build them? This is North Korea’s insurance policy against regime change in Pyongyang.

Yet one could argue that the North’s nuclear program exists as a bargaining chip precisely in order to get that country out of its extreme isolation and allow it to have a normal relationship to the rest of the world, including the United States. After all, the remaining Communist states – primarily China, but also Vietnam, which is now receiving direct aid from the US – have ambassadors in Washington, and are not subject to sanctions. Why not North Korea?

The hostile relationship with the US and South Korea wasn’t about to end due to diplomatic efforts on the part of Pyongyang: there had been no progress in that direction since the Bush II regime put the “Sunshine policy” on ice. Up until now, The Blob has pretty much directed the course of US policy on Korea – which is why we were brought to the brink of war before Trump launched his astonishing initiative.

Secondly, these “experts” who doubt the practicality of the Trump peace initiative are ignoring the real experts on this subject: the South Korean intelligence agencies, which have reported to the South Korean legislature that “North Korea is strongly committed to dialogue and also committed to denuclearization.” There are press reports – in the Korean media, not the West – that activity at North Korea’s nuclear sites has slowed down considerably since the announcement of the coming summit:

“Tunneling at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site eased in mid-March, according to 38 North, a U.S. news outlet focusing on North Korean affairs. The slowdown comes as the Koreas prepare for a summit in April.

“’There has been a significant slowdown in tunneling and a reduced presence of related personnel at the site when compared to just two weeks earlier, ’38 North stated on its website on March 23, citing satellite imagery.”

In short, the skeptics are just plain wrong.

Ignore The Blob! Ignore the skeptics! Kim Jong-un says he wants to “write a new history” of North-South rapprochement. Trump, too, is probably not averse to writing a new and surprising chapter in the history books. Well then, let them: we could use some new history around here. The history of the twentieth century was a story of mass murder, perpetual conflict, and outright worship of the war god: let the history of the twenty-first century be a story of peace, prosperity, and making America great again.


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