The New Espionage Era
September 13, 2019
“Life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think.” – Molière
We Finally Find Out What’s Been Bugging US
Three former senior US officials have said that cell phone surveillance devices placed near the White House and other sensitive locations around Washington in the last two years, apparently to spy on President Trump and his associates, was most likely done by Israel. The miniature devices, or StingRays, mimic cell towers and fool cell phones into giving them their locations and identity information; they can also capture the content of calls and data use.
Trump was known to be lax in observing White House security protocols, often communicating with friends and confidants via an unsecured cell phone. Suspicious activity near cell towers in Washington was first reported in 2017, raising concerns that government officials could be the targets of espionage by a foreign entity. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) requested information from the Department of Homeland Security on the suspected data collection in November 2017. It wasn’t until March 2018 that DHS confirmed it had found “anomalous activity” consistent with StingRay use in Washington, but it couldn’t identify who was responsible.
Politico reported the story in May 2018; Trump dismissed it as false. In October 2018 the New York Times reported that “Chinese spies are often listening” to the president’s cell phone calls. A former official said Trump’s cell phone was later secured against intrusion.
Further detailed forensic analysis of the StingRays by the FBI and other federal agencies led to their conclusion that Israeli agents had planted the devices. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office immediately dismissed the accusations as a “blatant lie.” Neither the White House, DHS, FBI or Secret Service commented.
I2I2: ISIS 2
- Al-Hol, Syria is a sprawling encampment of around 70,000 people, displaced from former ISIS territory in northeastern Syria. The population is about 50,000 children and the rest mostly women, the families of ISIS fighters.
- The international community has neglected the encampment for months, and as living conditions worsen, nostalgia for ISIS’ rule is beginning to brew. The radical women inhabitants have continued to enforce the draconian laws of the former so-called caliphate; the US and its local allies have been unable to closely monitor movements inside the camp.
- A drawdown of US military presence in the area has allowed “ISIS ideology to spread ‘uncontested’ in the camp,” according to a Pentagon report released last month by the inspector general. The person in charge of the camp in Syria’s Jazira district says: “[It] is the best place to develop the new ISIS. There is a restructuring of the ISIS indoctrination…. the new arrivals were very well organized.” (CNN)
- Inside the Minds of the Women Who Joined ISIS (NYT, $)
- Daily Pnut’s Tim Hsia and Joe Myers, a close friend and fellow West Point classmate on “Before ISIS, a Resonant Image of a Captured Flag in Iraq” (NYT, $)
Don’t Let In The Kremlin
- Russian state police have conducted mass raids against opposition activists days after pro-Putin candidates suffered losses in Moscow city assembly elections. More than 1,000 security officers pulled off at least 200 individual raids, ostensibly in connection with money-laundering charges.
- But Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says the raids were politically motivated and show that “Putin is very angry.” The homes of dozens of Navalny activists were also searched, which a key aide described as a “pure act of political repression.” (Guardian)
- C.I.A. Informant Extracted From Russia Had Sent Secrets to U.S. for Decades (NYT, $) And Russia-US espionage: Details emerge of ‘extracted spy’ (BBC)
It’s About Maritime You Accept This Deal
- Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Chinese President Xi Jinping offered him a controlling stake in a joint energy deal in exchange for ignoring a 2016 ruling by an international arbitration that found in favor of the Philippines in a maritime dispute.
- A tribunal in The Hague concluded that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea. Duterte told reporters Tuesday that Xi said to him: “Set aside the arbitral ruling. Set aside your claim. Then allow everybody connected with the Chinese companies. They want to explore and if there is something, they said, we would be gracious enough to give you 60%, they will only get 40%. That is the promise of Xi Jinping.”
- A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t comment directly on the reported offer, but said the Philippines was “ready to expedite cooperation with China in the joint exploitation of oil and gas.” (CNN)
- Taiwanese Man Who Disappeared in China Is Under Investigation, Beijing Says (NYT, $)
- Hong Kong Protesters, Without an Anthem to Sing, Create One Online: “Glory to Hong Kong,” created less than three weeks ago, has rapidly been adopted as a symbol of the pro-democracy movement. (NYT, $)
Nursing Homes Have An Aura Of C. Auris
- Public health officials say skilled nursing facilities are helping to spread a highly contagious, drug-resistant fungus called Candida auris. The virulent germ has infected nearly 800 people since it arrived in the US four years ago.
- Half of the patients who have contracted C. auris died within 90 days. The doctor who heads the fungal division at the CDC said nursing homes are the “dark underbelly of drug-resistant infection.” (NYT)
A Fight to Be Trump’s Opponent in 2020
Viewers learned more about the 10 top polling Democrats Thursday when candidates met in Houston to debate health care, gun violence, criminal justice, the climate crisis, trade and foreign policy. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former housing secretary Julian Castro opened with personal stories about why they were running and what their vision is for the country.
- Health care took up a good chunk of time, with candidates going back and forth between Medicare for all and a public option, but all agreed universal health care was a right not a privilege.
- This time around candidates seemed to have gotten the memo, spending more time attacking Donald Trump than each other. Harris took the lead, looking right into the camera and addressing the president, who, she said “we know is watching.”
- Biden did catch flack from Sanders about voting for the Iraq War. Biden defended himself well for the most part, still managing to flub a few lines. But it was Castro’s harsh attempt to slam Biden for ‘misremembering’ that was the real misfire, even drawing audience disapproval.
- Several candidates talked about political corruption, but none more than Warren — she’ll take the fight wherever it needs to go — and all the candidates took on the NRA. O’Rourke talked movingly about the mass shooting in his home town of El Paso, and when asked if, as president, he’d take assault rifles away from people, he didn’t hesitate: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.” That drew audience applause.
- Biden clashes with Warren and Sanders in lively Democratic debate: Healthcare opened up clear differences between frontrunners but Donald Trump was the key target amid a more conciliatory tone (Guardian)
- Election (1999) Official Trailer #1
Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn
- A study was performed by researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University and Temple University on why people spread “hostile political rumors” online. They wanted to measure the ‘need for chaos’ (NFC) that leads people to spread online misinformation and vote for politicians like Donald Trump.
- The researchers surveyed a representative sample of more than 6,000 people in multiple surveys conducted in both the US and Denmark and reached a disturbing conclusion: The impulse to share hateful rumors “are associated with ‘chaotic’ motivations to ‘burn down’ the entire established democratic ‘cosmos’…
- This extreme discontent is associated with motivations to share hostile political rumors, not because such rumors are viewed to be true but because they are believed to mobilize the audience against disliked elites.”
- Younger, less educated men were more likely to have a strong NFC, as were people who were lonely and perceived themselves as lacking social status. Not surprisingly, NFC is associated with support for President Trump. (Vice)
Money Can’t Buy Happiness If You’re Doing It Wrong
- Prepare yourself for a money-relationship makeover. Indulge in some simple tips and mental exercises for saving money, brought to you by anti-clutter crusaders, financial therapists and happiness gurus who want you to become more fulfilled without filling up on more stuff. (CNBC)
- A ruthless approach to decluttering completely transformed my life (Guardian)
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin
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