• How the NSA Found Out the Russians had Hacked It

    Israel hacked Russia’s Kaspersky cyber labs, found code that could only have come from the NSA, then told the Americans (Washington Post)

    In 2015, Israeli government hackers saw something suspicious in the computers of a Moscow-based cybersecurity firm: hacking tools that could only have come from the National Security Agency.

    Israel notified the NSA, where alarmed officials immediately began a hunt for the breach, according to people familiar with the matter, who said an investigation by the agency revealed that the tools were in the possession of the Russian government.

    Israeli spies had found the hacking material on the network of Kaspersky Lab, the global anti-virus firm under a spotlight in the United States because of suspicions that its products facilitate Russian espionage –Washington Post

  • Chelsea Mourning: Harvard Students in a Snit over Her Cancellation as a Fellow

    Well, maybe “fellow” isn’t such a good title, either.

    In any case, Harvard students know oppression, imperialism, capitalism, and heteronormativity when they see it, and they are shouting back.

    Here’s the headline in the student newspaper:

    Outcry After Chelsea Manning Dropped from IOP Fellowship (The Crimson, Harvard)

    Controversy enveloped the Kennedy School of Government this weekend as critics on campus and around the country castigated the school for rescinding Chelsea Manning’s appointment as a visiting fellow this fall.

    Facing criticism on-campus and nationwide, Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas W. Elmendorf rescinded Manning’s invitation in a statement issued in the early hours of Friday, calling her selection a “mistake.”

    Now the school faces a fresh wave of controversy as commentators lambast Harvard’s decision to disinvite Manning, a transgender activist whose prison sentence former President Barack Obama commuted in 2017. –The Crimson

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    The Aggrieved Left Pushes Back

    They and Chelsea Manning are “Victims”

    The pushback from the campus left, which now sees itself in its preferred position of “blameless victim,” includes a letter condemning the university for dropping the Manning offer:

    In light of her selfless sacrifices as a whistleblower, her dedication to the truth, and her commitment to human rights, we call upon the Harvard Kennedy School to reinstate Chelsea Manning’s designation as a fellow at the Institute of Politics,” read the letter, signed by the Trans Task Force, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and the Anti-Islamophobia Network, among several other groups. –Letter from student organizations supporting Chelsea Manning appointment at Harvard, quoted in The Crimson

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    The Crimson’s Reporting: Fair and Competent

    The Crimson article, it should be noted, is fair-minded and includes on-the-record quotes from university members on both sides of the controversy.

    Its reporting on a disputed left-right issue is actually superior to that of the NYT, Washington Post, and other media.

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    Framing This Issue is Contentious

    Comment: This dispute is framed in quite different ways by the opposing sides–and that framing matters.

    The left sees it as primarily a snub to Manning because of her gender reassignment.

    The right sees it as a reasonable decision about someone who leaked classified information.

    The left sees the leaking as a valuable public service.

    The right sees it as a crime that was properly punished by a court-martial.

    Both sides see the designation as a “Fellow” of the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics as an honor. One sees it as well deserved, the other as an endorsement of espionage.

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    FYI: The headline of this post, “Chelsea Mourning,” is a nod to Joni Mitchell:

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    Thanks to the wonderful Belladonna Rogers for this story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 16

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Diplomacy with North Korea is a failed strategy, Rex Tillerson, US Sec. of State says in Asia  (Washington Post)

    It’s time to take a “different approach” to dealing with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Tokyo on Thursday, because 20 years of diplomacy had “failed” to convince the regime in Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

    Tillerson’s comments will fuel fears in the region that military options might be on the table to deter North Korea — an approach that could prove devastating for Seoul, where more than 20 million people live within North Korean artillery range. –Washington Post

    Comment: By far the most dangerous region in today’s world. Tillerson’s message is also aimed at China, since US diplomacy has focused in vain on getting China to use its leverage with North Korea.

     Rachel Maddow: People disappointed by Trump story expected too much (Washington Post)

    The NY Post says parent NBC is none-too-happy with this whiff either.

    Comment: Gee, wonder who hyped it for 20 minutes at the start of her own show (I watched so you didn’t have to). By then, she already knew the hype was false. 

    People have compared it to Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault and finding nothing. The difference is that Geraldo didn’t already know the vault was empty.

     Kremlin spies orchestrated huge Yahoo! hack, according to US indictment (New York Times)

    If true, the allegations offer an extraordinary case study of Russian cyber espionage, and particularly the symbiotic relationship between identity thieves and spammers and Russia’s elite intelligence services.

    Cybersecurity experts and the F.B.I. have long suspected that Russian spies employed and protected criminal hackers to a striking degree, but evidence has been scarce. The indictment made public on Wednesday describes this collusion in detail for the first time.

    The Washington Post thinks the indictment and investigation could shed light on other hacks.

     When the US spies on foreigners, it sometimes picks up Americans’ communications. It is supposed to “mask them” to cover up their identities. It appears the Obama White House asked for some of those masked names. Now, Congress wants to know who asked and whether they received the answers (CNN) The request is bipartisan.

    The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee asked the three leaders of the intelligence community Wednesday about any time during the last seven months of the Obama administration whenever any of its agents and officials improperly named, or “unmasked,” and disseminated the identities of American citizens picked up in intelligence collection.

    Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California, and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, wrote that they were concerned that members of the intelligence community have not been sufficiently honoring previously established “robust ‘minimization procedures'” to protect the identities of US citizens, including “masking” their names. The letter they sent refers to the disclosure to the public that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had several conversations with the Russian Ambassador. –CNN

    Comment: If White House aides asked for unmasking, they could well be investigated criminally for the subsequent leaks.

     Tesla raises $1.5 billion as it begins testing its much-anticipated, high-volume Model 3  (Daily Mail)

    Comment: A lot hinges on the success of the mass-market Model 3 if Tesla is to move beyond its high-end niche.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, March 8

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Murderer released from jail because he was not given a speedy trial in Chicago

    • The good news (for him) is that he was released
    • The bad news (for him) is that he left this mortal coil on his ride home.

    Chicago man accused of murder who beat his case when prosecutors couldn’t give him a speedy trial was killed after leaving Cook County Jail on Monday night, according to authorities.

    Kamari Belmont, 23, was being held on separate murder and robbery cases stemming from a single night in 2015 in which he was accused of shooting one man during a robbery who later died and robbing another man a couple of hours later. Chicago Tribune story here

    Belmont’s attorney, who advised him to get out of his neighborhood immediately, said “Unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this.”

     Roger L. Simon: WikiLeaks’ CIA Download Confirms Everybody’s Tapped, Including Trump (PJ Media)

    The WikiLeaks documents (everyone believes their downloads now) show how the CIA, via their eerily named “Weeping Angel” program, has devised a method of listening to us through our smart TVs.  Even when we think they’re off, they are able to keep them on — and recording — through a “fake-off” program. –Roger Simon at PJ Media

    Related Article: How CIA allegedly turns everyday devices into high-tech spy weapons (New York Post)

     “US and North Korea set for ‘head-on collision’, China warns  (CNN)

    In a week of heightened tensions in the region, Foreign Minister Wang Li cautioned the US in unusually frank language against the deployment of a controversial missile defense system in South Korea, which is vehemently opposed by China.
    But he also had strong words for North Korea, saying Pyongyang should suspend its nuclear weapons program. –CNN

    Comment: China has misplayed this badly. Beijing has done nothing to corral its reckless client.

     Washington Post highlights Freedom Caucus opposition to Trump/Price/Ryan Bill to Repeal and Replace Obamacare

    Comment: Since the WaPo is itself such an active player opposing the Trump agenda, it’s hard to know how much weight to give their assessment.

     Comment: China keeps lowering its economic growth targets (now 6.5%). But

    • Nobody believes their numbers
    • Achieving even these lower numbers requires lots of exports to the US. Bad time for that strategy.

     Standard operating procedure: Palestine Liberation Organization names children’s camp for terrorist bomber who killed 37, including a dozen children  (Palestinian Media Watch)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Fred Lawson
     for Chicago murder story
    ◆ Martin Kramer for PLO children’s camp

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Tuesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     What a Mess: Mike Flynn, National Security Adviser, “resigns”  Obviously, he was forced out. My hunch is that the problem was not talking with the Russians, despite the legal problems that raised and the DOJ’s suggestion, leaked to the WaPo, that it could leave Flynn open to blackmail. Nope, the real problem was lying about it to VP Mike Pence, who (in good faith) repeated the lie. Mike Flynn just learned you cannot do that and survive in this White House.

    Now, the Trump White House must right this ship quickly because there is considerable pressure from America’s adversaries and hard policy choices to make–and make soon.

    Flynn’s interim replacement is his number two, Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Jr. (age 72). It is unclear if Trump considers him a possible long-term replacement.

    Comment: My hunch is that Trump will turn to Mattis, Coats, and Corker, all experienced Washington hands, for advice on this choice. All are reliable, experienced hands in foreign policy who know the potential candidates and the policy issues they will face. James Mattis is Sec. of Defense; Dan Coats, a former Senator, is Director of National Intelligence, and Bob Corker is current head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Normally the Sec. of State would be involved, but Rex Tillerson is new to Washington and not yet familiar with all the candidates. Mattis, Coats, and Corker not only know the players, they know how the National Security Council should run. Trump would also be wise to turn to former Sec. of Defense Bob Gates and former Sec. of State (and NSC Adviser) Condi Rice for guidance.

    The first name they will have to decide on is Gen. David Petraeus, the most effective military leader in America’s unconventional wars and then head of the CIA.  The question is whether his enormous expertise offsets his baggage from mishandling of classified documents.  Note that the National Security Adviser does not require Senate approval.

    Second CommentThe talking heads will all say, “This is a huge mess this is for the new Trump Administration.” That’s right, and I have already said so myself. But the mess is only half the story. Trump has also shown that he is willing to cut his losses and make hard choices clearly, decisively, and quickly. He did it during the campaign, when he fired two successive campaign leaders who were falling short and finally got the team he wanted. He didn’t let this issue linger, either. That sends a strong message to all his senior appointments: “I hold you accountable. Produce results at the standards I expect or I will fire you.”

     One of the main security challenges for any administration is cyber. David Benson, an expert in the subject, gives a very positive review to Martin Libicki’s new book, Cyberspace in Peace and War  

    Cyberspace in Peace and War is a very good book. While the disordered state of cyber-strategy makes it impossible to write the “final” work on the subject, Libicki imposes order upon an incredibly wide ranging topic. –David Benson, writing at “The Bridge”

    The book treats both technical and strategic issues, but, as Benson makes clear, its focus is on international strategy.

     Dutch professor Ruud Koopmans gives the EU a deeply troubling report on Muslim views  (Daily Mail)

    Koopmans said that of the 1 billion adult Muslims in the world, ‘half of them are attached to an arch-conservative Islam which places little worth on the rights of women, homosexuals, and people of other faiths’. –Ruud Koopmans in the Daily Mail

    Koopmans estimates that at least 50 million are “willing to sanction violence” and thinks that is likely an underestimate.

    In several Islamic countries, 14 per cent of local Muslims think suicide attacks against innocents are ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ justified to defend Islam, said Koopmans, citing a study by the US-based Pew Research Center. –Daily Mail

    Koopmans, from the Netherlands, leads a major university center for migration research in Berlin.

    Comment: Western governments have focused, understandably, on the problem of violent immigrants, but Koopmans is highlighting a second grave problem: large numbers of Muslims who seek to live in the West but reject its basic norms and values. The same hostile views are often held by the second and third generation of these migrants.

     True: America’s top fortune cookie writer has “writer’s block” and is stepping down after three decades (Fox News)

    For 30 years, Donald Lau has been the “Chief Fortune Writer” at Wonton Foods, a manufacturer that touts itself to be one of the world’s largest producers of fortune cookies.

    But now,Lau is leaving his position following a long bout of writer’s block.

    According to Good Food, 4.5 million cookies are produced by Wonton Foods each day. –Fox News

    Comment: No one saw it coming.

     After senseless delaying tactics by Senate Democrats, the body finally approves Steven Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary  (New York Times)

    Comment: Yeah, like the country actually needs a Treasury Secretary.

    I am not arguing the merits of Mnuchin’s candidacy here. I am saying that once the Democrats had produced no information to sink the nomination and it was clear he would win Senate confirmation, dragging it out for weeks with delaying tactics is harmful to the country.  Blame Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren.

     

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  • Does Russian interference mean Trump’s victory is illegitimate?

    Such serious charges require strong, convincing evidence

    So far, we don’t have it

    A former student asked several friends, including me, whether we thought Russia had coordinated with the Trump campaign to illegally fix the US Presidential Election.

    Here is my answer. I welcome your response.

    (1) Foreign powers always collect secret information. All spy agencies do it. That’s their mission.

    (2) What the Russians did–disclosing their information to affect public opinion–was unprecedented in the U.S. The Russians have played this dirty game for a long time in Europe. The goals are three-fold:

    • Discredit politicians in the midst of a campaign
    • Shape public opinion
    • Discredit the democratic election process

    The Russians had some success in all three areas in the 2016 US election.

    The question is: How much?

    (3) There is no evidence it affected the outcome

    But the popular vote was close in several key states that went to Trump. Under those circumstances, it is hard to know, with certainty, which factors could have switched the outcome, state by state.

    (4) There is no evidence of coordination, voluntary or coerced, between Russia and Trump. To claim that is to claim treason. Making such claims without very strong supporting evidence is wildly irresponsible.

    (5) Publication of unverified dossiers by news sites is contemptible. Saying “well, we don’t know but here’s what BuzzFeed is saying” is a less serious violation of journalistic standards, but it is a violation nonetheless. That’s what CNN did. That opened the floodgates.

    (6) Nothing presented so far undermines the vote of the Electoral College, making Donald Trump the legitimately-elected President.

    (7) We live in a country that protects free speech so anybody can say, “Trump has not been legitimately elected.”  They can say it whether it is true or not, whether they believe it or not.

    So, John Lewis is within his First Amendment rights when he disparages Trump’s election and says it is not legitimate. It is irresponsible, but it is his right.

    (8) John Lewis’s declaration and the Clinton camp’s consistent drumbeat are dangerous to stable, democratic governance unless the accusers have convincing proof.

    Our democracy depends on the peaceful transfer of power, accepted as legitimate by the public and both parties.

    BuzzFeed’s dossier, produced on demand by Trump’s R and D opponents, is not proof enough. To publish it was shameful.

    Bottom Line

    To differ on policies is one thing. To say the incoming president has come to office through illegal means, thanks to a nefarious foreign power, and that they two cooperated to subvert American democracy is a much, much more serious charge.

    Richard Nixon declined to make such a charge in 1960, when the integrity of the vote count in Illinois and Texas was in question.

    Nixon simply conceded. He never raised the claim that John Kennedy’s election was illegitimate and a perversion of democracy.

    Nixon knew that such a grave charge requires stronger evidence. That was true in 1960. It is true today.

    Responsible leaders, parties, and news organizations should not lightly toss out the accusation our election was undermined unless they have convincing proof.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Friday, January 13

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Barone on Trump and the Intelligence Community  Michael Barone, always worth reading, has a nicely-balanced opinion piece on Trump, Russia, and the intel community. Pressing Trump hard to clarify his views about Russia are absolutely “in bounds” for serious journalists and policymakers. But it should be out of bounds to circulate sleazy, unverified dossiers about him. News organizations should first do what the reputable ones are doing: investigate and see if the allegations can be substantiated.  If they cannot be substantiated, don’t publish. And don’t spread gossip.

    It’s Barone’s second point that is so troubling. There is a real possibility that the intelligence community is behind the leaked document. If so–and they have vigorously denied it–then that is very disturbing.

    I lack knowledge of just how the 35-page dodgy dossier found its way into the computerized hands of BuzzFeed. But what we’re seeing looks an awful lot like an attempt to intelligence officials, probably including presidential employees, to delegitimize the president-elect and his administration. It’s in line with the warnings to Trump by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer not to tangle with the intelligence community.

    That’s disturbing, even if you are troubled also, as I am, by Trump’s persistent unwillingness to criticize and persistent propensity to praise Vladimir Putin. –Michael Barone

     Touching: Pres. Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Joe Biden, who is overcome with emotion  A wonderful gesture by Pres. Obama, in recognition of Joe Biden’s decades in public service.

     Strong appearance by James Mattis, nominee for Sec. of Defense  He sailed through the confirmation-hearing questions and presented a strong, thoughtful analysis of US strategic posture and military preparedness. The Financial Times headline: “James Mattis calls Vladimir Putin a threat to global order”

    ⇒ The NYT Take is characteristically snarky: Latest to Disagree With Donald Trump: His Cabinet Nominees

     Sen. Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and Dems to vote against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. They oppose him on a wide range of civil-rights issue. (New York Daily News)

    Other Democrats weighed in against Sessions throughout the day, highlighting concerns about his controversial views on immigrants, civil rights, voting rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights.

     “Trump’s Pick for Education Could Face Unusually Stiff Resistance,” says NYT. The story (here) focuses on potential conflicts of interest related to Betsy DeVos’s $5 billion fortune. She has not yet completed her ethics forms and the Democrats are complaining.

    Comment: That’s the issue the Times and Democrats are focusing on today, but it is a side-show. The real issue–the one that should be joined as a public-policy debate–is about increasing school choice via charters, vouchers, and other approaches. The problem for Democrats is that, even in today’s hyperpartisan environment, the rule is normally “the President gets his cabinet choices unless they have legal or ethical problems.” The policy debates come afterwards.

    But Education, Justice, and Environmental Protection are departments so central to the Democrats’ agenda and so vital to their donors that they will tooth and nail to kill these nominations

     Plunging costs for solar energy leads to greater use in Arab Gulf  CNBC reports the surprising rise of solar energy in the land of oil.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Michael Lipson
     for the Biden story

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .January 1, 2017

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh for New Year’s Day–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Good Economic News: Revised figures for US economic growth in the 3rd quarter of 2016 show the fastest growth in several years, about 3.5% (New York Times)

    ◆ More Washington Sleaze: Government agencies rush to hire more employees before Trump takes office. They fear he will freeze hiring. (Washington Post)

    ◆ North Korea prepares to test an intercontinental missile. (Bloomberg) The goal is to produce a nuclear-tipped missile that could hit the US.

    Comment: Pyongyang is dangerous, unpredictable, and armed with nuclear weapons plus thousands of conventional weapons that can hit South Korea’s capital. No president has figured out how to handle them and North Korea’s main backer, China, won’t help.

    ◆ Russians hack US electric utility. Burlington, Vermont’s electric utility confirms it has found Russian malware on its computers, prompting utilities across America to check their cybersecurity. The Washington Post story is here.

    ◆ George Conway III is one of the country’s top litigators and could become the new Solicitor General, reports the Huffington Post. The Solicitor General argues the government’s cases before the Supreme Court and is often a springboard to a top judicial appointment. Conway graduated Harvard College, Yale Law School (where he edited the law review), clerked for a federal appellate judge, and is now a top partner in a major NYC law firm. He has argued frequently before the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts.

    It doesn’t hurt that his wife is Kellyanne Conway, who managed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and is now his senior White House counselor.

    CNN and several other outlets have confirmed Mr. Conway is being considered and has been interviewed by Jeff Sessions, who, as Attorney General, would be his boss.

    Related story: Because the Conways are Republicans, private schools in Washington have reportedly been reluctant to admit their children. Perhaps the schools are too busy teaching tolerance. (IJR, also reported in Salon and the Washington Times)

    ◆ GOP’s Freedom Caucus Ready to Work with Speaker Ryan, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Freedom Caucus are strong fiscal conservatives, closely associated with the Tea Party.

    Comment: Pres-elect Trump and Speaker Ryan have facilitated cooperation with the Freedom Caucus by appointing one of their most prominent members, Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, to head the president’s Office of Management and Budget.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦ Have a happy, healthy, kind, and joyous new year! ♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Saturday, Dec. 17

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ In a  major news story, the New York Times says the Kremlin hacked the Clinton campaign specifically to harm her and did so because they considered her Presidency to be an immediate threat.

    The Kremlin, analysts say, was not so much positive about Trump as they were negative about Clinton and that the cyber attacks were “policy, not pique.”

    What so many don’t get about the US working class (Harvard Business Review) A lot of discussion of Trump voters figures in the piece.

    ◆ Uber is testing self-driving cars in San Francisco. California has told the company it needs a special permit and that the state won’t give it to me. Uber has told the state it can take its special permit and stick it up its Embarcadero. The USA Today article about the conflict between Uber and California is here.

    ◆ Anyone who lived through the tumultuous 1960s and the US divisions over Vietnam remembers the haunting phrase, “My Lai massacre.” An American platoon, which had taken casualties that morning, marched into a village and began killing innocent women and children. What few remember is that several young soldiers intervened–successfully–to stop the massacre from continuing and killing still more. Yesterday, one of the heroes who stopped the rampage died. Larry Colburn was an 18 year kid when he acted; he was 67 when he died. (NYT)

    ◆ Trump picks a Congressional fiscal hawk to head his budget office. (Washington Post)

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ David Larkin
     for the working-class voter article