‘Lone DNC hacker’ Guccifer 2.0 exposed as a Russian intelligence officer

The Daily Beast reports:

Guccifer famously pretended to be a “lone hacker” who perpetrated the digital DNC break-in. From the outset, few believed it. Motherboard conducted a devastating interview with Guccifer that exploded the account’s claims of being a native Romanian speaker. Based on forensic clues in some of Guccifer’s leaks, and other evidence, a consensus quickly formed among security experts that Guccifer was completely notional.

“Almost immediately various cyber security companies and individuals were skeptical of Guccifer 2.0 and the backstory that he had generated for himself,” said Kyle Ehmke, an intelligence researcher at the cyber security firm ThreatConnect. “We started seeing these inconsistencies that led back to the idea that he was created hastily… by the individual or individuals that affected the DNC compromise.”

Proving that link definitively was harder. Ehmke led an investigation at ThreatConnect that tried to track down Guccifer from the metadata in his emails. But the trail always ended at the same data center in France. Ehmke eventually uncovered that Guccifer was connecting through an anonymizing service called Elite VPN, a virtual private networking service that had an exit point in France but was headquartered in Russia.

But on one occasion, The Daily Beast has learned, Guccifer failed to activate the VPN client before logging on. As a result, he left a real, Moscow-based Internet Protocol address in the server logs of an American social media company, according to a source familiar with the government’s Guccifer investigation. Twitter and WordPress were Guccifer 2.0’s favored outlets. Neither company would comment for this story, and Guccifer did not respond to a direct message on Twitter.

Working off the IP address, U.S. investigators identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow. [Continue reading…]

Incoming national security adviser John Bolton played role in NRA-Russian gun rights alliance

NPR reports:

Incoming White House national security adviser John Bolton recorded a video used by the Russian gun rights group The Right to Bear Arms in 2013 to encourage the Russian government to loosen gun laws.

The episode, which has not been previously reported, illustrates the common cause that Russian and American gun rights groups were forming in the years leading up to the 2016 election through former National Rifle Association President David Keene. Keene appointed Bolton to the NRA’s international affairs subcommittee in 2011.

Russian politician Alexander Torshin helped establish The Right to Bear Arms and cultivate ties with American gun rights groups including the NRA. As a Putin ally, Torshin served as the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament for more than a decade and also spent time on Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee, a state body that includes the director of Russia’s internal security service.

The Bolton video appears to be another plank in a bridge built by Russia to conservative political organizations inside the United States. It’s unclear why Russian leaders wanted to curry favor with the NRA, but Torshin and Keene appeared to have developed close ties in the years prior to the 2016 election. [Continue reading…]

Cory Doctorow on tech industry regulations and Cambridge Analytica


A history of hype behind Cambridge Analytica

Nigel Oakes, the founder of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, once described his work in this way: “We use the same techniques as Aristotle and Hitler. We appeal to people on an emotional level to get them to agree on a functional level.”

As an Old Etonian, his ties to royalty, the aristocracy, and the rich and famous, seemed to foster (at least in his own mind) the notion that he had the skills and connections required for shaping global events.

But as Claudio Gatti noted while Donald Trump took office, Oakes’ primary business skill seems to have been identical to Trump’s: the art of self-promotion.

Oakes’ bio in the SCL webpage says that he “was educated at Eton College and UCL, where he studied Psychology”, although according to a 2008 letter the University College London sent to David Miller, a UK sociologist who studies propaganda, there were no records of him ever studying there.

Mr. Oakes official bio continues saying that, “in 1989, he established the Behavioural Dynamics Working Group at University College London and in 1990 the Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDi) was formed as a centre of excellence and a research facility for strategic communication”. Mr. Oakes also claims that he “began working with Professor Adrian Furnham (UCL) and Professor Barrie Gunter (University of Leicester) to establish a methodology that could integrate social science into the marketing process more effectively”.

Furnham and Gunter are established names in psychometrics, the field of psychological measurements (ironically, Furnham was a follower of Eysenck, the London University psychologist who unwittingly worked for the CIA front SIHE), and their involvement with the Behavioural Dynamics Institute, the body that according to SCL provided the academic backbones for Mr. Oakes’ methodology, clearly injects credibility to his companies and techniques.

But in a parallel with the Project MK-Ultra, the two psychologists say that they were exploited by Nigel Oakes to build credibility for his project. “I believe he is inappropriately using my name and reputation to further his career. He was unreliable and Prof. Gunter and I severed links with him”, Professor Furnham wrote us in an email.

Barrie Gunter was more explicit: “Adrian and I were running our own small company providing consultancy services. Nigel made contact with us while he was working for the corporate event division of Saatchi & Saatchi. As far as we were concerned Behavioural Dynamics was simply the name of a company he founded”, now retired professor Gunter said. “Nigel didn’t have any qualifications in psychology. To have credibility he needed an association with bona fide psychologists, which is part of the reason he brought us on board. But we found that no matter how much we tried to reign him in, he would make all kinds of claims that we felt we could not substantiate, and that is why we stopped working for him”.

Still, years later the BDi methodology has been adopted by NATO and a number of its members and, according to the SCL website, “verified and validated by the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency”.

In the summer of 2015 SCL Group was in fact paid over $750,000 by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, a research center based in Riga, Latvia, which provides NATO with “StratCom training and research”. The assignment was to design and deliver a 9-week intensive course in Target Audience Analysis, or TAA, a technique that assesses potential target audiences for susceptibility to propaganda that SCL Group traces back to the BDi.

Il Sole 24 Ore was also able to confirm that, as reported in Oakes’ bio, in an official NATO event he “was awarded the ‘RH Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement to Influence’ by Mark Laity, Head of Strategic Communication NATO”. Although Mr. Laity was unable to explain to us what the RH Foundation exactly did or was.

As it for DARPA, we were told that, “it is inconsistent with Agency policy for the company to claim their technology ‘has been verified and validated’ by DARPA. Such language implies endorsement by the federal government, which we wouldn’t extend to a commercial entity”.

Oakes’ propensity to make exaggerated claims is not confined to the origin of his methodology. Among the “Projects” listed in the SCL webpages, there is one in Indonesia, which states: “SCL was contracted to manage the election campaign of one of Indonesia’s major political parties following the restoration of democracy in 1999. The campaign was extremely complex and needed to appeal to over 200 million people across 40 languages in the Indonesian archipelago”. Above this claim, there is a quote from former President Abdurrahman Wahid, leader of the National Awakening Party, saying, “I am indebted to SCL for their strategic management of my election success”.

But in the June 1999, Wahid’s party did not win the election, managing to get only 12% of the votes, and Wahid was elected President by a parliamentary vote after gaining the support of a majority of representatives from other parties.

Having on various occasions worked with people like Oakes, I would add that Brits of this type who are intent on maximizing the commercial value of their connections, are exceptionally well positioned to dupe Americans — especially those whose craving for the appearance of inherited status leads them to contrive their own fake coat of arms.

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Zuckerberg breaks silence without answering key questions

Alexis C Madrigal writes:

Two years and four months after Facebook found out that Cambridge Analytica might have illicitly pulled user data from its platform, and five days after the latest round of stories about the political consultancy’s electioneering, Mark Zuckerberg finally made a statement about the situation.

Despite Facebook previously contesting that it was a “data breach,” Zuckerberg offered up the exact solutions one might to a breach: assurances, small technical fixes, and some procedural improvements. Among other changes, Facebook will investigate apps that pulled in large amounts of its data in the past and ban those who are found to have misused data. The company will also inform people whose data has been misused, including those in the dataset that got passed to Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg introduced a new rule that Facebook will remove developers’ data access to users who haven’t logged in to their apps for three months. And finally, Facebook will place a notice at the top of News Feed, linking people to their app privacy settings.

This is the very minimum that Facebook had to do in this situation. It is impossible to imagine how they could not have taken any of these steps, given the public attention and pressure on the company.

But let’s look at the big questions that the Financial Times raised: “Why did Facebook take so little action when the data leak was discovered? … Who is accountable for the leak? … Why does Facebook accept political advertisements at all? … Should not everyone who cares about civil society simply quit Facebook?”

On every single one of these questions, Zuckerberg offered nothing. [Continue reading…]

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After poisoning of former Russian spy in UK, Trump calls Putin to congratulate him

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers Tuesday when he congratulated Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on his reelection — including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” according to officials familiar with the call.

Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow.

The president’s conversation with Putin, which Trump described as a “very good call,” prompted fresh criticism of his muted tone toward one of the United States’ biggest geopolitical rivals amid the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

Although the Trump administration has taken a tougher stance toward Russia recently — including new sanctions last week on some entities for election meddling and cyberattacks — the president has declined to forcefully join London in denouncing Moscow for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, this month. They remain critically ill.

Trump told reporters that he had offered his well wishes on Putin’s new six-year term during a conversation that covered a range of topics, including arms control and the security situations in Syria and North Korea. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Skripal’s case was not discussed. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s collection of Facebook data

The Washington Post reports:

Conservative strategist Stephen K. Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s early efforts to collect troves of Facebook data as part of an ambitious program to build detailed profiles of millions of American voters, a former employee of the data-science firm said Tuesday.

The 2014 effort was part of a high-tech form of voter persuasion touted by the company, which under Bannon identified and tested the power of anti-establishment messages that later would emerge as central themes in President Trump’s campaign speeches, according to Chris Wylie, who left the company at the end of that year.

Among the messages tested were “drain the swamp” and “deep state,” he said.


The data and analyses that Cambridge Analytica generated in this time provided discoveries that would later form the emotionally charged core of Trump’s presidential platform, said Wylie, whose disclosures in news reports over the past several days have rocked both his onetime employer and Facebook.

“Trump wasn’t in our consciousness at that moment; this was well before he became a thing,” Wylie said. “He wasn’t a client or anything.”

The year before Trump announced his presidential bid, the data firm already had found a high level of alienation among young, white Americans with a conservative bent.

In focus groups arranged to test messages for the 2014 midterms, these voters responded to calls for building a new wall to block the entry of illegal immigrants, to reforms intended the “drain the swamp” of Washington’s entrenched political community and to thinly veiled forms of racism toward African Americans called “race realism,” he recounted.

The firm also tested views of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The only foreign thing we tested was Putin,” he said. “It turns out, there’s a lot of Americans who really like this idea of a really strong authoritarian leader and people were quite defensive in focus groups of Putin’s invasion of Crimea.” [Continue reading…]

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TV executives eager to boost ratings did more than Cambridge Analytica to elect Trump

Ross Douthat writes:

No doubt all the activity on Facebook and the apparent use of Facebook’s data had some impact, somewhere, on Trump’s surprise victory. But the media format that really made him president, the one whose weaknesses and perversities and polarizing tendencies he brilliantly exploited, wasn’t Zuckerberg’s unreal kingdom; it wasn’t even the Twitter platform where Trump struts and frets and rages daily. It was that old pre-internet standby, broadcast and cable television, and especially TV news.

Start with the fake news that laid the foundation for Trump’s presidential campaign — not the sort that circulates under clickbait headlines in your Facebook feed, but the sort broadcast in prime time by NBC, under the label of reality TV. Yes, as media sophisticates we’re all supposed to know that “reality” means “fake,” but in the beginning nobody marketed “The Apprentice” that way; across most of its run you saw a much-bankrupted real estate tycoon portrayed, week after week and season after season, as a titan of industry, the for-serious greatest businessman in the world.

Where did so many people originally get the idea that Trump was the right guy to fix our manifestly broken government? Not from Russian bots or targeted social media ad buys, but from a prime-time show that sold itself as real, and sold him as a business genius. Forget unhappy blue collar heartlanders; forget white nationalists and birthers: The core Trump demographic might just have been Republicans who watched “The Apprentice,” who bought the fake news that his television program and its network sponsors gladly sold them. [Continue reading…]

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Cambridge Analytica says it ran ‘all’ of Trump’s digital campaign


Channel 4 News reports:

Mr Nix boasted about Cambridge Analytica’s work for Trump, saying: “We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”

Separately, Mr Turnbull described how the company could create proxy organisations to discreetly feed negative material about opposition candidates on to the Internet and social media.

He said: “Sometimes you can use proxy organisations who are already there. You feed them. They are civil society organisations.. Charities or activist groups, and we use them – feed them the material and they do the work…

“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”

Cambridge Analytica’s senior executives were also filmed discussing a twin-track strategy to campaigning, putting out positive messages through the official Donald J Trump for President campaign, while negative material was pushed out through outside organisations.

Cambridge Analytica’s chief data scientist Dr Tayler said: “As part of it, sometimes you have to separate it from the political campaign itself. So in America you know there are independent expenditure groups running behind the campaign… Super pacs. Political action committees.

“So, campaigns are normally subject to limits about how much money they can raise. Whereas outside groups can raise an unlimited amount. So the campaign will use their finite resources for things like persuasion and mobilisation and then they leave the ‘air war’ they call it, like the negative attack ads to other affiliated groups.”

In a different meeting, Mr Turnbull described how the company created the “Defeat Crooked Hilary” brand of attack ads, that were funded by the Make America Number 1 super-PAC and watched more than 30 million times during the campaign.

Coordination between an official election campaign and any outside groups is illegal under US election law.

The New York Times reports:

Announcing the chief executive’s suspension, the company said in a statement that “in the view of the board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation.”

The company said it had asked Alexander Tayler, its chief data officer, “to serve as acting C.E.O. while an independent investigation is launched to review those comments and allegations.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

The information commissioner is seeking an urgent court warrant to enter the London headquarters of the elections consultancy Cambridge Analytica after the firm was caught in an undercover sting boasting about entrapping politicians, using honey traps and running fake news campaigns.

Elizabeth Denham said she had also demanded that Facebook halt a data audit of Cambridge Analytica, saying it could prejudice her investigation.

Cybersecurity consultants from Stroz Friedberg, who had been engaged by Facebook to do the audit, were at CA’s office in London on Monday evening when the ICO asked them to leave so the authorities could pursue their own investigation.

An ICO spokesman said the commission had issued a demand to access CA’s records and data.

Analytica has not responded to the commissioner by the deadline provided; therefore, the information commissioner is seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to her investigation,” the spokesman said. [Continue reading…]

Facebook is in the business of data surveillance

Following reports on Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of 50 million personal profiles, Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at Facebook, wrote that “the claim that this is a data breach is completely false.” Zeynep Tufekci writes:

Grewal is right: This wasn’t a breach in the technical sense. It is something even more troubling: an all-too-natural consequence of Facebook’s business model, which involves having people go to the site for social interaction, only to be quietly subjected to an enormous level of surveillance. The results of that surveillance are used to fuel a sophisticated and opaque system for narrowly targeting advertisements and other wares to Facebook’s users.

Facebook makes money, in other words, by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors and others. These are Facebook’s true customers, whom it works hard to please.

Facebook doesn’t just record every click and “like” on the site. It also collects browsing histories. It also purchases “external” data like financial information about users (though European nations have some regulations that block some of this). Facebook recently announced its intent to merge “offline” data — things you do in the physical world, such as making purchases in a brick-and-mortar store — with its vast online databases.

Facebook even creates “shadow profiles” of nonusers. That is, even if you are not on Facebook, the company may well have compiled a profile of you, inferred from data provided by your friends or from other data. This is an involuntary dossier from which you cannot opt out in the United States.

Despite Facebook’s claims to the contrary, everyone involved in the Cambridge Analytica data-siphoning incident did not give his or her “consent” — at least not in any meaningful sense of the word. It is true that if you found and read all the fine print on the site, you might have noticed that in 2014, your Facebook friends had the right to turn over all your data through such apps. (Facebook has since turned off this feature.) If you had managed to make your way through a bewildering array of options, you might have even discovered how to turn the feature off.

This wasn’t informed consent. This was the exploitation of user data and user trust. [Continue reading…]