The War for Information in the Age of Disinformation
February 12, 2020
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” – François de La Rochefoucauld
It’s Not Hacking If You Built The Computer
One of the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War was a decades-long arrangement now revealed in a classified, comprehensive CIA history of the operation obtained by The Washington Post and German public broadcaster ZDF. While sensitive intelligence files are periodically declassified and released to the public, it is unprecedented to have access to authoritative internal histories of an entire covert operation.
For more than 50 years governments world-wide trusted a single company, Crypto AG, to keep secret the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats. The Swiss firm made millions selling encryption equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Clients included Iran, Latin America military juntas, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, even the Vatican. But customers never knew that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence, or that the company’s devices were rigged so those spy agencies could easily break the codes countries used to send encrypted messages.
The clandestine operation’s history is intrigue at its best: from Crypto’s origins in the early 1940s, to Germany’s exit in the 1990s, to the company’s liquidation in 2018. Identified are CIA officers who ran the program, and company executives who executed it. The narrative describes how the US and its allies exploited other nations’ gullibility for years, taking their money and stealing their secrets. “It was the intelligence coup of the century,” the CIA report concludes. “Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.”
- U.S. Officials Say Huawei Can Covertly Access Telecom Networks (WSJ, $)
- White House Earmarks New Money for A.I. and Quantum Computing (NYT, $)
- The Golden Age of White Collar Crime (HuffPost)
- The UK has less than a year to massively upgrade their border check facilities or face problems in fresh food supplies. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) the government will have to “move fast” to put in place the necessary border infrastructure and staff to cope with those checks by 11:00 pm on December 31, 2020 or “consumers in the UK will see significant disruption, particularly in the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
- Needed are more customs officers, thousands more customs agents, mass recruitment of vets, and new customs posts. EU trade will not be waved through with zero checks, as in the past. Traders will not be able to use special arrangements to lodge new paperwork after a grace period at a later date. Products of animal origin will need export certificates from a registered vet.
- The frictionless free flow of goods between the UK and the continent will end, and industries from car manufacturers to food distributors that rely on it will face extra costs, delays and red tape from what are known as non-tariff barriers. Nearly all economic analysts say the extra trade friction with what is currently the UK’s biggest market will be an overall hit to the economy. (BBC)
Taking Our Knowledge From Corona Light To Corona Extra
- The coronavirus disease, which now has a new name — Covid-19 — is considered to have originated in a marketplace in Wuhan that sells animals for food and medicine. Bats are still thought to be the original host of the virus, but researchers have a new candidate for the intermediate host responsible for transmission from animal to human: pangolins.
- The scaly, ant-eating, critically endangered mammals are imported in huge numbers to Chinese markets. But the science is only suggestive, and some researchers who specialize in studying diseases that spill over from animals to humans are frustrated that public discussions are being had without benefit of the traditional scientific review process.
- Additionally, some mundane but equally important detective work hasn’t been done, like knowing exactly which animals were present in the Wuhan market that could have been instrumental in the spread of the disease. And some of the earliest cases were seen in people not even associated with the market.
- One scientist noted: “While the pangolin-associated viruses appear to be related to the novel coronavirus that is infecting people, it is not yet the smoking gun that tells us how 2019-nCoV originated.” Pangolins could have been infected by the same virus that sickens humans, and be just another victim rather than the source. (BBC, NYT)
- How Fictional Pandemics Can Help Fight Real-World Disease (NPR)
- Coronavirus Could Derail Xi Jinping’s Dreams for China (Time)
- Cruise Ship’s Coronavirus Outbreak Leaves Crew Nowhere to Hide (NYT, $)
- Lessons That Go Beyond the Coronavirus Outbreak (NYT, $)
- Opinion | The Urgent Questions Scientists Are Asking About Coronavirus (NYT, $)
- Africa, Intertwined With China, Fears Coronavirus Outbreak (NYT, $)
- As Foreigners Flee China, Pakistan Tells Its Citizens to Stay (NYT, $)
Additional World News
- Escape the corset: How South Koreans are pushing back against beauty standards (CNN)
- Government troops seize highway in northwest Syria as Turkey-Russia talks end inconclusively (Reuters)
- The Scenic Isle Where the World’s Chaos Comes Home to Roost (NYT, $)
Social Media And The Age of Disinformation
- Amid nationwide concern over vaccine hesitancy and the worst measles outbreak in decades, Facebook says it’s taken steps over the last year to limit the volume and reach of groups that spread anti-vaccine content. Nevertheless, Facebook groups that routinely traffic in anti-vaccination propaganda still exist and have become a resource for people seeking out a wide variety of medical information, including about the ongoing flu season.
- “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” is one of the largest known health misinformation groups, with some 178,000 members. Group members have previously spread conspiracies that outbreaks of preventable diseases are “hoaxes” perpetrated by the government, and use the groups to mass-contact parents whose children have died and suggest without evidence that vaccines may be to blame.
- Recently the mother of a 4-year-old Colorado boy consulted the group, saying the doctor had prescribed Tamiflu for her child but she hadn’t filled the prescription. Despite the fact that two of the mother’s three other children had been diagnosed with the flu, the Facebook group urged the mother to try herbs, oils and breastmilk instead. Several days later the boy died.
- Now meet the man who created the “Stop Mandatory Vaccinations” Facebook group: Larry Cook. He’s the second leading anti-vaxx advertiser on Facebook, a key player in an increasingly dangerous anti-vaxx community, and he’s profiting. Cook has no medical training or background, yet he’s used a host of major platforms to hawk his websites, his healthy living products, and his book. A year ago he told the Daily Beast he’d made $80,000 on GoFundMe alone. (NBCNews, Fatherly)
Czar Donald: Power Unchecked
- President Trump continues to retaliate against anyone trying to follow the law. Elaine McCusker had her nomination for Pentagon comptroller and chief financial officer pulled. Over the summer, the Office of Management and Budget was trying to hold up aid for Ukraine that Congress had passed into law, pursuant to Trump’s scheme to extort Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. McCusker tried gently to advise budget officials as to what the law said — that holding up the aid was not legal. Emails show McCusker attempted to give White House officials room to set the policy as they saw fit, without violating the law, but she was fired anyway.
- The evidence keeps piling up that Trump rewards those who do his bidding, and punishes those who try following the law. He’s floated a pardon for Roger Stone, who is criminally charged with obstructing an investigation in order to protect Trump.
- Even more outrageous, the Justice Department opened an official process to allow Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to gather any Russian-financed dirt he can find in Ukraine. Giuliani has made clear he represents Trump “as a private citizen, not as President of the United States.” No such avenue is available for lawyers representing other presidential candidates.
- The scheme became public Sunday when Senator Lindsey Graham reported he had spoken with Attorney General William Barr, who said: “The Department of Justice is receiving information coming out of Ukraine from Rudy…. [Barr] told me that they’ve created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified.” (NYMag)
- Roger Stone: prosecutors quit after DoJ signals plan to reduce sentence (Guardian)
- Trump says US military may discipline dismissed security official Vindman (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- 3 winners and 3 losers from the New Hampshire primary (Vox) & Andrew Yang suspends his 2020 presidential campaign (Vox)
- ‘It felt like being kidnapped’: the trauma of short stays in foster care (Guardian)
- Utah cuts healthcare costs by flying employees to Mexico for prescriptions (Guardian)
- In Honoring Rush Limbaugh, Trump Celebrated Racial Division (New Yorker)
- Meet the Unlikely Hero Saving California’s Oldest Weekly Paper (NYT,$)
RIP McEwen: The Father Of Modern Stress
- Bruce McEwen, a trailblazing neuroscientist who showed how an unrelenting barrage of stress hormones can break down the body and lead to disease, depression, obesity and more, died January 2 at the age of 81. For decades the prevailing scientific thought had been that stress was the body’s alarm system, switching on only when terrible things happened, often leaving people with an either-or choice: fight or flight.
- McEwen began thinking about stress in new ways beginning in the 1960s, redefining it as the body’s way of constantly monitoring daily challenges and adapting to them. McEwen described three forms of stress: good stress — a response to an immediate challenge with a burst of energy that focuses the mind; transient stress — a response to daily frustrations that resolve quickly; and chronic stress — a response to a toxic, unrelenting barrage of challenges that eventually breaks down the body.
- McEwen’s research into chronic stress was groundbreaking; in 1968 he and his team at Rockefeller University in Manhattan discovered that stress hormones had a profound effect on the brain. Their discoveries, first published in the journal Nature, ignited a new field of research, one that would reveal how stress hormones and other mediators change the brain, alter behavior, impact health, and in some cases, accelerate disease. (NYT)
- Which milk alternative should we be drinking? (BBC)
- Yuval Noah Harari Gives the Really Big Picture (New Yorker)
- Media Is Broken | by Nicholas Lemann (NY Books)
- Laptops Killed Work-Life Balance (Atlantic, $)
- The Other as Noise (Real Life Mag)
- The mattress landfill crisis: how the race to bring us better beds led to a recycling nightmare (Guardian)
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