Tag Archives: Russia

Russia’s biggest gun maker thinks its electric car is a Tesla killer. HAHAHA!


Can the modern but retro Kalashnikov CV-1 take on Tesla?
Image: Kalashnikov

Russia’s biggest gun manufacturer is looking to take on Tesla with its new electric concept car.

Kalashnikov, maker of the AK-47 assault weapon, has gone retro with its new “supercar,” the CV-1, unveiled at a Russian defense show near Moscow Thursday.

According to media outlets reporting at a press event at the expo, a Kalashnikov media rep said the car will “let us stand in the ranks of global electric car producers such as Tesla.”

It certainly looks retro, with the design and body of an old-school IZh 21252 “Kombi” car — the Kombi came from a Soviet era car maker from the 1970s. It’s a bold design decision, a vintage throwback akin to the Fujifilm Instax camera.

The CV-1 supercar has a rather old-fashioned design.

Image: Kalashnikov

Aside from making guns, Kalashnikov had previously built electric motorcycles and electric “Ovum” vehicles that were used at the World Cup in Russia this summer. The electric motorcycles had been used last year for police patrolling roads. But mostly the company builds weapons. And the occasional salt-and-pepper shaker.

So, will the company’s CV-1 “supercar” stand up to Tesla’s electric empire?

A limited number of Tesla vehicles have been sold in Russia in the past few years.

Kalashnikov didn’t give any pricing details for the potential vehicle, but the specs that the company provided didn’t exactly stack up with Tesla.

Tesla’s electric vehicles boast much more impressive stats. The CV-1 claims to have about a 200-mile range and go from 0 to 60 mph in 6 seconds. Tesla’s newest affordable sedan, the Model 3, has a 220-mile range and a long-range battery that reaches 310 miles. The Model 3 can reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

If the concept car isn’t that impressive to you, check out the gun maker’s walking robot named Igoryok, also unveiled at the defense show this week. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/08/23/kalashnikov-electric-car-cv1-tesla-russia/

Facebook uncovers another coordinated plot and proves it will always be a target


Never gonna give you up.
Image: SAUL LOEB/getty

Here we go again.

Facebook on Tuesday announced that it had once again detected and removed a coordinated group of so-called “inauthentic” accounts working to influence the U.S. political landscape. Despite the lessons learned from the disastrous Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, these unnamed actors managed to use the social media platform to organize real-world events and gain hundreds of thousands of followers. 

And while Facebook has kicked the 32 suspicious pages and accounts off both Facebook and Instagram, this isn’t the end. More likely, the problem will never completely fade. Regardless of the effort put forth by Menlo Park engineers and security researchers, Facebook — with its 2 billion monthly users and powerful micro-targeting tools — will forever be too tempting of a target for those looking to, say, sway an election. 

Facebook appears to be one of best tools ever created for influencing people on a mass scale. This fact is lost neither on Madison Avenue nor Savushkina Street.

While the details of this latest influence campaign are still murky, Facebook seems to have learned a few things over the course of the last two years. Perhaps most importantly, it’s learned to take its responsibilities seriously. 

“We face determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics,” reads the company’s blog post on the latest findings. “It’s an arms race, and we need to constantly improve, too. It’s why we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to prevent bad actors misusing Facebook — as well as working much more closely with law enforcement and other tech companies to better understand the threats we face.”

A so-called inauthentic post.

Image: facebook

The company stopped short of saying that the Russian Internet Research Agency was behind this latest campaign. But as Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher explained, it looks like the group is. 

“As we’ve told law enforcement and Congress, we still don’t have firm evidence to say with certainty who’s behind this effort,” wrote Gleicher. “Some of the activity is consistent with what we saw from the IRA before and after the 2016 elections.”

And yes, a sampling of the now-banned Pages reveals a pattern we’re all now very much familiar with: encouraging division and attempting to incite real-world action

A Facebook event co-organized by, Resisters, one of the now-banned Pages.

Image: facebook

The most popular of the now-banned Pages include Aztlan Warriors, Black Elevation, Mindful Being, and Resisters. According to Facebook, “more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of these [suspect] Pages.”

From the limited selection of content released by Facebook, these groups worked to generate discussion around hot-button issues such as opposing Donald Trump, colonialism, and black power. The more controversy, and subsequent shares, the better. The Black Lives Matter movement was likewise abused by Russian actors in 2016.   

The investigation — and effort to pinpoint who is behind the removed content — is ongoing. If and when it completes, that investigation will in all likelihood be replaced by another. It’s cheap and relatively easy to reach scores of people on Facebook. That’s the point, after all, and no bad actor is going to suddenly forget it.

The Silicon Valley darling will never stop being a target for those who wish to manipulate people. It’s a reality we’re all just going to have to get used to. Facebook, which takes every opportunity it can to remind you that it’s “investing heavily” in combating this form of abuse, already has.  

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/07/31/facebook-political-influence-campaign/

Report: Suspected Russian-backed Facebook pages were pushing tags like “Abolish ICE”

Here’s another one of those instances where you have to click through the tweet and read the related article … and then read another article to confirm that article.

The Hill’s tweet certainly is tantalizing and teases that Russia is meddling with the 2018 midterm elections via Facebook; however, The Hill’s article is based around a statement by Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Read more: https://twitchy.com/brettt-3136/2018/07/31/report-suspected-russian-backed-facebook-pages-were-pushing-tags-like-abolish-ice/

Exclusive: U.S. Government Cant Get Controversial Kaspersky Lab Software Off Its Networks

Federal agencies are so far unable to comply with a law banning Kaspersky Lab software from U.S. government networks by October, The Daily Beast has learned. Multiple divisions of the U.S. government are confronting the reality that code written by the Moscow-based security company is embedded deep within American infrastructure, in routers, firewalls, and other hardwareand nobody is certain how to get rid of it.

Its messy, and its going to take way longer than a year, said one U.S. official. Congress didnt give anyone money to replace these devices, and the budget had no wiggle-room to begin with.

At issue is a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) enacted last December that requires the government to fully purge itself of any hardware, software, or services developed or provided, in whole or in part, by Kaspersky Lab. The law was a dramatic expansion of an earlier DHS directive that only outlawed Kaspersky-branded products. Both measures came after months of saber rattling by the U.S., which has grown increasingly anxious about Kasperskys presence in federal networks in the wake of Russias 2016 election interference campaign.

Americas intelligence chiefs have, too, issued public warnings about Kaspersky software. When asked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at an intelligence committee hearing last year whether they would be comfortable using Kaspersky software on their computers, all six of the top intelligence leadersfrom the Central Intelligence Agency chief to the director of National Intelligencehad the same answer: No.

On May 8, DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen promised to provide senators with data on the Kaspersky purge later today. Two weeks later: nothing.

While Kaspersky Lab is well respected in security circles, in some quarters of the U.S. national security community the company has long been tainted by perceived ties to Russian intelligence and the Kremlincharges that the company denies.

Even less hawkish U.S. officials worry that the company could be compelled under Russian law to weaponize their code to spy on U.S. government networks. The company works so closely with Russias Federal Security Service, or FSB, that agents are sometimes embedded in the firms Moscow headquarters. And like virtually all anti-virus products, Kasperskys has complete access to any computer on which its running, including the ability to riffle through files and, depending on the configuration, upload them to Kasperskys servers in Russia. It can also execute arbitrary instructions transmitted from the companys headquarters.

But despite company founder Eugene Kasperskys training at a KGB-sponsored institute, despite his close parroting of Kremlin rhetoric, and despite his teams habit of exposing the most sensitive of U.S. cyber-espionage operations, theres no public, conclusive evidence that these capabilities have ever been co-opted by Moscow. (Eugene Kaspersky frequently points out, accurately, that the company has revealed cyber-espionage campaigns originating from a multitude of countries, including some linked to the Russian government.)

However, the anti-Kaspersky train picked up steam following revelations last year of a bizarre incident in which the company slurped up classified documents and source code from the home computer of a National Security Agency contractor running Kaspersky Internet Security software. That contractor, Nghia Hoang Pho, pleaded guilty last year to willfully mishandling classified material by taking it home.

Kaspersky claimed the incident was an unintended byproduct of its routine malware scanning. The source code was for an NSA hacking tool, which Kasperskys product properly flagged for analysis by malware researchers. But because the code was bundled in a ZIP archive with the classified documents, Kasperskys software uploaded the entire thing. When Eugene Kaspersky realized what had happened, he ordered his researchers to immediately delete their copy of the documents and code, the company asserted in a blog post last year. The archive was not shared with any third parties, the company wrote.

The anti-Kaspersky train picked up steam following revelations that the company slurped up classified documents from the home computer of a National Security Agency contractor.

In September, the brewing controversy came to a head when then-acting Homeland Security chief Elaine Duke issued a formal binding operational directive (BOD) requiring agencies to remove Kaspersky-branded software from their networks. The BOD followed a legislative push by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to codify a more extensive Kaspersky ban into law.

The senators effort culminated in section 1634 of the NDAA, mandating a full government purge of Kaspersky code by Oct. 1 of this year. Unlike the BOD, this ban is not limited to software bearing the Kaspersky name, which was relatively easy to find and remove. It also extends to any Kaspersky code embedded in third-party products, and specifically includes hardware. Kaspersky filed a lawsuit to try and overturn the ban.

Kasperskys website showcases scores of technology partners whove used the companys software development kits to bake Kaspersky code into their own products. That includes big names in services or software like Amazon and Microsoft, and networking hardware firms like D-Link, Check Point, and Allied Telesisa major government supplierthat have baked Kasperskys code into firewall appliances. The networking giant Juniper Networks offered Kaspersky a full range of routers, gateways, and firewalls. Broadcom, which makes everything from Wi-Fi chips to fiber optic components, is listed as a technology partner, though its not clear for what product, and Broadcom declined comment.

Its unclear if the list on Kasperskys website is comprehensivethe company isnt sayingand at press time Kaspersky was redirecting U.S. visitors to an identical webpage without the list of partners.

With a dearth of good information, the picture painted by sources in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill is of an IT directive transformed by uncertainty into a sprawling cyber snipe hunt, with officials looking for Russian code in unlikely places like smartphone chipsets.

Five congressional sources charged with overseeing the governments compliance with section 1634 told The Daily Beast that theyve grown concerned in recent weeks that the Department of Homeland Security has not raised red flags about these known hardware issues preventing the department from fully implementing the NDAA provisionleading many of them to doubt whether the government will be able to meet the Oct. 1 deadline.

DHS is responsible for overseeing the bans implementation for all agencies except the Pentagon. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen acknowledged the difficulty of the job during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing earlier this month.

Unfortunately for many of the third-party providers, they werent even aware they had Kaspersky on their systems and within their products, Nielsen said. Its very important for us to understand not only who our contractors are contracting with, but when they provide a service or software, whats embedded there within.

Nielsen added that the department has conducted assessments and modeling to try and pinpoint Kaspersky code. When Shaheen pressed Nielsen for a progress report on the purge, the director replied that she wasnt prepared with specifics. I cant get you the exact figures, which Im happy to do later today, she answered in the May 8 hearing.

Two weeks later, Shaheens office has not received that information, and the silence is raising alarm among staffers and lawmakers who worry that the U.S. may be incapable of even discovering whose code is running the governments infrastructure. Two congressional sources who deal with the Kaspersky issue told The Daily Beast that they were uncertain if DHS even maintains data on third-party software and hardware with Kaspersky under the hood.

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment for this story, citing the pending legal actions by Kaspersky. The Pentagon, which heads the military portion of the Kaspersky ban, was unable to comment before press time.

Kaspersky has filed a separate lawsuit seeking to overturn the NDAA ban. Kaspersky Lab maintains that these provisions are unconstitutional and unfairly target the company for legislative punishment, without any meaningful fact-finding or evidence, a company spokesperson said in a statement.

A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the bans implementation says theres plenty of blame to go around in the debacle.

A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the bans implementation says theres plenty of blame to go around in the debacle. The law ordering the full ban didnt come with an appropriation to replace any products found inexorably entwined with the outlawed code. Moreover, confusion reigns over the entire matter of government cybersecurity.

There are so many subcommittees claiming jurisdiction over cybersecurity issues that there are different panels of oversight, different pots of money, said the official. The executive branch is being torn in different directions The legislative branch, in their refusal to effectively organize on this issue, shares equal responsibility with the executive for failures in U.S. government cybersecurity.

In the end, the official said, the U.S. cant police its infrastructure without more transparency from its vendors about the code theyre selling. This is not about one particular company Industry should be leading the way on supply-chain risk management, and if they dont the government is going to step up to fill that role, and it wont be elegant.

Lawmakers have pushed for transparency from third-party vendors, but to no avail. In 2014, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) introduced the Cyber Supply Chain Management and Transparency Act, which would have required third-party contractors to disclose each binary component that is used in the software, firmware, or product. That legislation never went anywhere and, in the meantime, lawmakers have been exploring other reforms to supplement last years NDAA provision.

Implementation challenges should lead the U.S. government to increase vigilance on supply chain vulnerabilities and cybersecurity, Shaheen told The Daily Beast. Similar to the productive cooperation to ban Kaspersky Lab products across the federal government, Congress and this administration should continue to work together to harden federal cyber defenses, and look at reforms to the acquisition process so that were not unintentionally inviting adversaries into our most sensitive systems.

In the wake of the twin bans, some vendors are distancing themselves from Kaspersky, dropping the company from new products and posting instructions on uninstalling the Russian firms code.

Juniper is no longer providing Kaspersky in our active products, said Juniper spokesperson Leslie Moore in an email. In older products that may have utilized Kaspersky, it was not shipped nor turned on by defaultthe user had to choose to activate it, and we always provided clear instructions on how to remove it.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/exclusive-us-government-cant-get-controversial-kaspersky-lab-software-off-its-networks

Michael Cohen Took Cash From Oligarch-Connected Firm After Election

The Daily Beast can confirm that Donald Trumps personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company connected to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The allegations were initially made Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, porn actress Stormy Daniels lawyer, and confirmed by a source familiar with the matter.

How the fuck did Avenatti find out? the source asked The Daily Beast.

According to a dossier published by Avenatti on Tuesday evening, Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.

The funds, Avenatti suggested, may have been used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 payment made to Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.

Intrater was also a donor to the Republican National Committee, on which Cohen served as a deputy finance chairman. In June 2017, Intrater donated $35,000 to a joint fundraising committee for the RNC and Trumps reelection campaign. He also gave a quarter-million dollars to Trumps inaugural committee. (Previously, Intrater gave only to Democrats like Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Ted Kennedy.)

Intrater and Vekselberg have also been active investors in the U.S. technology and media sectors. Columbus Nova Technology Partners was the first and only outside investor in Gawker Media, before the company was felled by a lawsuit funded by Trump ally Peter Thiel. Columbus Nova also backed the record label of former Def Jam boss Lyor Cohen, invested in the streaming-music pioneer Rhapsody, and put money behind a gig-economy site, a genetic risk firm, and a company called Tomfoolery Incorporated.

In a statement, Columbus Nova lawyer Richard Owens of Latham & Watkins insisted that Vekselberg did not have an ownership interest in the firm. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved in or provided any funding for Columbus Novas engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue, Owens said. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else outside of Columbus Nova was involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.

However, up until Tuesday night, Columbus Novas own website described the company is the U.S. investment vehicle for the Renova GroupVekselbergs asset-management firm. The site also noted that Intrater is a former Director and current Member of the Executive Board of Renova Group. (That page of the site was suddenly removed early Wednesday morning.)

In addition, Columbus Nova was listed on the website for the Renova Group as one of its companies until late last year, as NBC News reported. (That website is currently under construction.)

Through Renova, Vekselberg has holdings all over the worldincluding a 26.2 percent stake in Rusal, the aluminum-producing giant owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch now infamous for bankrolling former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort. The U.S. government imposed economic sanctions on both Deripaska and Vekselberg in early April. But later that month, the U.S. Treasury Department, in effect, slow-rolled the sanctions, giving companies and individuals until late October to get out of business with Rusal, which is appealing Washingtons ruling. Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are… extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider Rusals petition, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

According to The New York Times, Vekselberg was recently questioned by federal agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller. CNN reported that those queries involved the oligarchs payments to Cohen.

While Cohens lawyers refused to comment on the payments, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani dismissed the news as Avenatti having foreseen the presidents Tuesday withdrawal from the Iran nuclear dealpart of one of the best days of the Trump presidencyand simply trying to stink it up as much as possible.

Cohen and Trumps lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But this development could put further pressure on the presidents inner circle. If Avenattis analysis is correct and the payments violated federal banking law, then Cohen could be in serious legal jeopardy. There are reportedly concerns in the presidents inner circle that Cohen could begin cooperating with investigators. The greater the legal jeopardy he faces, the greater pressure he will face to cooperate. And he wouldnt be the only one; former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign official Rick Gates are already cooperating with Muellers investigators.

Meanwhile, Avenatti is making a sport of riding Cohen in the press.

When Cohen appeared in federal court last month, Avenatti and his porn-star client were in the gallery watching. Following the appearance, Daniels crowed to a gaggle of reporters, For years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law, he has considered himself and openly referred to himself as Mr. Trumps fixer. He has played by a different set of rules, or should we say no rules at all.

That ends now, Daniels concluded.

Avenatti also filed a defamation claim against Cohen one day after Daniels highly anticipated 60 Minutes appearance.

Days after Cohen won a 90-day stay in Daniels lawsuit and said hed invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in the case, Avenatti filed a defamation claim against the president.

Additional reporting by Lisa Schwartz and Betsy Woodruff

UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement from Columbus Nova and additional information on its relationship to Viktor Vekselberg.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/michael-cohen-took-cash-from-oligarch-connected-firm-after-election

Michael Cohen Took Cash From Russian Oligarch After Election

The Daily Beast can confirm that Donald Trumps personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by Putin-aligned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The allegations were initially made Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, porn actress Stormy Daniels lawyer, and confirmed by a source familiar with the matter.

How the fuck did Avenatti find out? the source asked The Daily Beast.

According to a dossier published by Avenatti on Tuesday evening, Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.

The funds, Avenatti suggested, may have been used to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 hush payment made to Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump.

Intrater was also a donor to the Republican National Committee, where Cohen served as a deputy finance chairman. In June 2017, Intrater donated $35,000 to a joint fundraising committee for the RNC and Trumps reelection campaign. He also gave a quarter-million dollars to Trumps inaugural committee. (Previously, Intrater gave only to Democrats like Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Ted Kennedy.)

Intrater and Vekselberg have also been active investors in the U.S. technology and media sectors. Columbus Nova Technology Partners was the first and only outside investor in Gawker Media, before the company was felled by a lawsuit funded by Trump ally Peter Thiel. Columbus Nova also backed the record label of former Def Jam boss Lyor Cohen, invested in the streaming music pioneer Rhapsody, and put money behind a gig-economy site, a genetic risk firm, and a company called Tomfoolery Incorporated.

Vekselberg himself has holdings all over the worldincluding a 26.2 percent stake in Rusal, the aluminum producing giant owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch now infamous for bankrolling former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort. Both Deripaska and Vekselberg were sanctioned by the U.S. government in early April. But later that month, the U.S. Treasury Department, in effect, slow-rolled the sanctions, giving companies and individuals until late October to get out of business with Rusal, which is appealing Washingtons ruling. Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are… extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSALs petition, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

And according to The New York Times, Vekselberg was recently questioned by federal agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller. CNN reported that those queries involved the oligarchs payments to Cohen.

While Cohens lawyers refused to comment on the payments, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani dismissed the news as Avenatti having foresaw the presidents Tuesday withdrawal from the Iran nuclear dealpart of one of the best days of the Trump presidencyand simply trying to stink it up as much as possible.

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Columbus Novas attorney, Richard Owens of Latham & Watkins, sought to to distance Vekselberg from the payment but acknowledged that the payment was indeed made.

Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans, Owens said. After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Novas engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Novas owners, were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.

Cohen and Trumps lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But this development could put further pressure on President Donald Trumps inner circle. If Avenattis analysis is correct and the payments violated federal banking law, then the Cohen could be in serious legal jeopardy. There are reportedly concerns in the presidents inner circle that Cohen could begin cooperating with investigators. The greater the legal jeopardy he faces, the greater pressure he will face to cooperate. And he wouldnt be the only one; former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign official Rick Gates are already cooperating with Muellers investigators.

Meanwhile, Avenatti is making a sport of riding Cohen in the press.

When Cohen appeared in federal court last month, Avenatti and his porn-star client were in the gallery watching. Following the appearance, Daniels crowed to a gaggle of reporters, For years, Mr. Cohen has acted like he is above the law, he has considered himself and openly referred to himself as Mr. Trumps fixer. He has played by a different set of rules or should we say no rules at all.

That ends now, Daniels concluded.

Avenatti also filed a defamation claim against Cohen one day after Daniels highly anticipated 60 Minutes appearance.

Days after Cohen won a 90-day stay in Daniels lawsuit, and said hed invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in the case, Avenatti filed a defamation claim against the president.

Additional reporting by Lisa Schwartz and Betsy Woodruff

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/michael-cohen-took-cash-from-russian-oligarch-after-election

More Than 30 Trump Aides Lose Top-Secret Clearance, Sources Say

More than 30 aides to President Donald Trump have been stripped of access to top secret intelligence, two people familiar with the move said.

The officials have been notified that they will be downgraded to lower-level “secret” interim security clearances, said the two people. None of the officials has been asked to leave the administration and their portfolios on top secret matters will be distributed to other staff members, they said.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is among those officials whose security clearance has been downgraded as a result of the new policy on interim clearances set by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, said another person familiar with the material. The change means that Kushner lost access to some files, including those containing intelligence on foreign leaders and diplomats that can be used to gain an advantage in negotiations, according to a second person, who is familiar with the clearance process.

All of the officials whose clearances were downgraded held the top secret designation on an interim basis. Kelly set a new policy that took effect last week that permits interim clearances only at the secret level and not permitting temporary clearances at higher levels.

The revelations come as the White House weathers intense criticism over its handling of sensitive intelligence after former Staff Secretary Rob Porter was permitted to keep his clearance status for months even though the FBI said it had provided the White House a report including allegations of domestic violence from his two ex-wives. 

Grassley Wants Answers

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley this week called for answers from the White House and the FBI about reports that dozens of top officials still lacked a full security clearance and that some them, including Kushner, had access to the highly classified President’s Daily Brief prepared by intelligence agencies.

The crackdown on clearances also come amid the drama of a special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling and potential ties to Trump election advisers. Trump communications director Hope Hicks, who had been romantically linked to Porter and who testified Tuesday to a House panel in the Russia probe, on Wednesday announced her plans to resign in a statement released by the White House.

In an earlier memo released Feb. 16, Kelly said that the administration must “do better” in its handling of security clearances. Kelly said he would discontinue all “Top Secret or SCI-level interim clearances” for people who have ongoing investigations stretching back to June 1, 2017, using an acronym for “Sensitive Compartmented Information.” While the new policy was set to take effect on Feb. 23, White House officials have declined to say who would be affected.

In a statement last week, Kelly didn’t address whether Kushner’s security clearance would be revoked but said he had “full confidence” in his ability to continue his foreign policy work. Trump said at a news conference last week that “I will let General Kelly make that decision. I have no doubt he’ll make the right decision.”

A spokesman for Kushner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that no concerns have been raised to Kushner about his security clearance and that the White House’s new security clearance policy doesn’t affect Kushner’s ability to do his job. His assignments by Trump include leading efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, overhauling prison sentencing and technology innovations.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-28/more-than-30-white-house-aides-said-to-lose-top-secret-clearance

    Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting

    Each new breaking news situation is an opportunity for trolls to grab attention, provoke emotions, and spread propaganda. The Russian government knows this. Fake-news manufacturing teenagers in Macedonia know this. Twitter bot creators know this. And thanks to data-gathering operations from groups like the Alliance for Securing Democracy and RoBhat Labs, the world knows this.

    In the wake of Wednesday’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Hamilton 68, a website created by Alliance for Securing Democracy, tracks Twitter activity from accounts it has identified as linked to Russian influence campaigns. As of morning, shooting-related terms dominated the site’s trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida, guncontrol, and Nikolas Cruz, the name of the alleged shooter. Popular trending topics among the bot network include shooter, NRA, shooting, Nikolas, Florida, and teacher.

    On RoBhat Labs' Botcheck.me, a website created by two Berkeley students to track 1500 political propaganda bots, all of the top two-word phrases used in the last 24 hours—excluding President Trump's name—are related to the tragedy: School shooting, gun control, high school, Florida school. The top hashtags from the last 24 hours include Parkland, guncontrol, and guncontrolnow.

    Ash Bhat, one of the project’s creators, says the bots are able to respond quickly to breaking news because they’re ultimately controlled by humans. In contrast to the Russia-affiliated Hamilton 68 bots, Bhat would not speculate on who is behind the bots that RoBhat Labs tracks. In some cases, the bot creators come up with hashtags, and use their bots to amplify them until they’re adopted by human users. “Over time the hashtag moves out of the bot network to the general public,” he says. Once a hashtag is widely adopted by real users, it’s difficult for Twitter to police, Bhat says. RoBhat Labs’ data shows this happened with the hashtag MemoDay, which bubbled up when House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ controversial memo was released.

    In other cases, the bots jump on existing hashtags to take control of the conversation and amplify a message. That’s likely what is happening with the Parkland shooting and the hashtag guncontrolnow, Bhat says.

    'Over time the hashtag moves out of the bot network to the general public.'

    Ash Bhat, RoBhat Labs

    While RoBhat Labs tracks general political bots, Hamilton 68 focuses specifically on those linked to the Russian government. According to the group's data, the top link shared by Russia-linked accounts in the last 48 hours is a 2014 Politifact article that looks critically at a statistic cited by pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Twitter accounts tracked by the group have used the old link to try to debunk today’s stats about the frequency of school shootings.

    Another top link shared by the network covers the “deranged” Instagram account of the shooter, showing images of him holding guns and knives, wearing army hats, and a screenshot of a Google search of the phrase “Allahu Akbar.” Characterizing shooters as deranged lone wolves with potential terrorist connections is a popular strategy of pro-gun groups because of the implication that new gun laws could not have prevented their actions. On Thursday President Trump tweeted as much: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior.”

    Meanwhile, some accounts with large bot followings are already spreading misinformation about the shooter's ties to far-left group Antifa, even though the Associated Press reported that he was a member of a local white nationalist group. The Twitter account Education4Libs, which RoBhat Labs shows is one among the top accounts tweeted at by bots, is among the prominent disseminators of that idea:

    Bret Schafer, a research analyst with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, says the spike in shooting-related posts from Russia-linked bots is in line with what his group observed after last year's shootings in Las Vegas and Texas. The Russia-linked bots weigh in on any attention-grabbing news event, but seize on shootings particularly. "Because of the politicized nature of them, they are perfect fodder to take an extreme position and start spreading memes that have a very distinct political position on gun control," he says.

    'I don’t think the Kremlin cares one way or another whether we enact stricter gun control laws.'

    Bret Schafer, Alliance for Securing Democracy

    The use of pro-gun control hashtags like #guncontrolnow, along with the spread of anti-gun control links like the Politifact article, appear at first to show the Russian strategy of promoting discord on both sides of a debate. Russian-linked Twitter accounts have attempted to spread confusion and angst on topics ranging from police violence against black people, to NFL player protests, to Al Franken’s sexual misconduct accusations. (On other topics, like special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election, the bots have worked in concert to further the Kremlin's agenda.)

    But in this case, Schafer suspects the use of pro-gun control hashtags like #guncontrolnow are being used sarcastically, particularly since they're often paired with the anti-gun control links. Since the Twitter accounts Hamilton 68 tracks often target right-wing audiences, Schafer believes the trolls are using the message to attract more eyeballs. "That allows them to then push content that is more directly related to the Kremlin’s geopolitical agenda," such as the Nunes memo, he says. "I don’t think the Kremlin cares one way or another whether we enact stricter gun control laws," he adds. "It's just being used as bait, basically."

    Public awareness that antagonistic bots flood the Twitter debate hasn’t stopped them from achieving their goals of ratcheting up the vitriol—even amid a live tragedy like the Parkland shooting. The goal, after all, isn't to help one side or the other of the gun control debate win. It's to amplify the loudest voices in that fight, deepening the divisions between us.

    Troll Takeover

    Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/pro-gun-russian-bots-flood-twitter-after-parkland-shooting/

    Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? Its Now Undeniable

    For some time, there has been a conflation of issues—the hacking and leaking of illegally obtained information versus propaganda and disinformation; cyber-security issues and the hacking of elections systems versus information operations and information warfare; paid advertising versus coercive messaging or psychological operations—when discussing “Russian meddling” in the 2016 US elections. The refrain has become: “There is no evidence that Russian efforts changed any votes.”

    But the bombshell 37-page indictment issued Friday by Robert Mueller against Russia’s Internet Research Agency and its leadership and affiliates provides considerable detail on the Russian information warfare targeting the American public during the elections. And this information makes it increasingly difficult to say that the Kremlin's effort to impact the American mind did not succeed.

    The indictment pulls the curtain back on four big questions that have swirled around the Russian influence operation, which, it turns out, began in 2014: What was the scope of the Russian effort? What kind of content did it rely on? Who or what was it targeting, and what did it aim to achieve? And finally, what impact did it have?

    Most of the discussion of this to date has focused on ideas of political advertising and the reach of a handful of ads—and this discussion has completely missed the point.

    So let’s take these questions one at a time.

    1. What was the scope of the Russian effort?

    The Mueller indictment permanently demolishes the idea that the scale of the Russian campaign was not significant enough to have any impact on the American public. We are no longer talking about approximately $100,000 (paid in rubles, no less) of advertising grudgingly disclosed by Facebook, but tens of millions of dollars spent over several years to build a broad, sophisticated system that can influence American opinion.

    The Russian efforts described in the indictment focused on establishing deep, authenticated, long-term identities for individuals and groups within specific communities. This was underlaid by the establishment of servers and VPNs based in the US to mask the location of the individuals involved. US-based email accounts linked to fake or stolen US identity documents (driver licenses, social security numbers, and more) were used to back the online identities. These identities were also used to launder payments through PayPal and cryptocurrency accounts. All of this deception was designed to make it appear that these activities were being carried out by Americans.

    Additionally, the indictment mentions that the IRA had a department whose job was gaming algorithms. This is important because information warfare—the term used in the indictment itself—is not about "fake news" and “bots." It is about creating an information environment and a narrative—specific storytelling vehicles used to achieve goals of subversion and activation, amplified and promoted through a variety of means.

    2. What kind of content did it rely on?

    As the indictment lays out in thorough detail, the content pumped out by the Russians was not paid or promoted ads; it was so-called native content—including video, visual, memetic, and text elements designed to push narrative themes, conspiracies, and character attacks. All of it was designed to look like it was coming from authentic American voices and interest groups. And the IRA wasn’t just guessing about what worked. They used data-driven targeting and analysis to assess how the content was received, and they used that information to refine their messages and make them more effective.

    3. Who or what was the operation targeting, and what did it aim to achieve?

    The indictment mentions that the Russian accounts were meant to embed with and emulate “radical” groups. The content was not designed to persuade people to change their views, but to harden those views. Confirmation bias is powerful and commonly employed in these kinds of psychological operations (a related Soviet concept is “reflexive control”—applying pressure in ways to elicit a specific, known response). The intention of these campaigns was to activate—or suppress—target groups. Not to change their views, but to change their behavior.

    4. What impact did it have?

    We’re only at the beginning of having an answer to this question because we’ve only just begun to ask some of the right questions. But Mueller’s indictment shows that Russian accounts and agents accomplished more than just stoking divisions and tensions with sloppy propaganda memes. The messaging was more sophisticated, and some Americans took action. For example, the indictment recounts a number of instances where events and demonstrations were organized by Russians posing as Americans on social media. These accounts aimed to get people to do specific things. And it turns out—some people did.

    Changing or activating behavior in this way is difficult; it’s easier to create awareness of a narrative. Consistent exposure over a period of time has a complex impact on a person’s cognitive environment. If groups were activated, then certainly the narrative being pushed by the IRA penetrated people’s minds. And sure enough, the themes identified in the indictment were topics frequently raised during the election, and they were frequently echoed and promoted across social media and by conservative outlets. A key goal of these campaigns was "mainstreaming" an idea—moving it from the fringe to the mainstream and thus making it appear to be a more widely held than it actually is.

    This points to another impact that can be extracted from the indictment: It is now much more difficult to separate what is “Russian” or “American” information architecture in the US information environment. This will make it far harder to assess where stories and narratives are coming from, whether they are real or propaganda, whether they represent the views of our neighbors or not.

    This corrosive effect is real and significant. Which part of the fear of “sharia law in America” came from Russian accounts versus readers of InfoWars? How much did the Russian campaigns targeting black voters impact the low turnout, versus the character attacks run against Clinton by the Trump campaign itself? For now, all we can know is that there is shared narrative, and shared responsibility. But if, as the indictment says, Russian information warriors were instructed to support “Sanders and Trump,” and those two campaigns appeared to have the most aggressive and effective online outreach, what piece of that is us, and what is them?

    Persuasion and influence via social media cannot be estimated in linear terms; it requires looking at network effects. It is about the impact of a complex media environment with many layers, inputs, voices, amplifiers, and personalities. All of these elements change over time and interact with each other.

    So anyone trying to tell you there was little impact on political views from the tools the Russians used doesn't know. Because none of us knows. No one has looked. Social media companies don't want us to know, and they obfuscate and drag their feet rather than disclosing information. The analytical tools to quantify the impact don’t readily exist. But we know what we see, and what we heard—and the narratives pushed by the Russian information operation made it to all of our ears and eyes.

    The groups and narratives identified in the indictment were integral parts of the frenzied election circus that built momentum, shaped perceptions, and activated a core base of support for now-President Trump—just as they helped disgust and dismay other groups, making them less likely to vote (or to vote for marginal candidates in protest).

    In the indictment, Trump campaign officials are referred to as “unwitting” participants in Russian information warfare. This gives the White House an out—and a chance to finally act against what the Kremlin did. But the evidence presented in the indictment makes it increasingly hard to say Russian efforts to influence the American mind were a failure.


    Molly K. McKew (@MollyMcKew) is an expert on information warfare and the narrative architect at New Media Frontier. She advised Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government from 2009 to 2013 and former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat in 2014-15.

    Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/did-russia-affect-the-2016-election-its-now-undeniable/

    Mueller charges 13 Russians with interfering in US election to help Trump

    DoJ indictment alleges Russian operatives communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign


    Mueller charges 13 Russians with interfering in US election to help Trump

    DoJ indictment alleges Russian operatives communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/16/robert-mueller-russians-charged-election