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For The Record  

FTR #1077 Surveillance Valley, Part 3: Cambridge Analytica, Democracy and Counterinsurgency

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This broad­cast was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

Carl Schmitt, on the right. Arguably Nazi Ger­many’s top legal the­o­reti­cian and a dom­i­nant influ­ence on Face­book and Palan­tir king­pin Peter Thiel’s think­ing.

Intro­duc­tion: Con­tin­u­ing the dis­cus­sion from FTR #1076, the broad­cast recaps key aspects of analy­sis of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal.

In our last pro­gram, we not­ed that both the inter­net (DARPA projects includ­ing Project Agile) and the Ger­man Nazi Par­ty had their ori­gins as coun­terin­sur­gency gam­bits. Not­ing Hitler’s speech before The Indus­try Club of Dus­sel­dorf, in which he equat­ed com­mu­nism with democ­ra­cy, we high­light how the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal reflects the coun­terin­sur­gency ori­gins of the Inter­net, and how the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca affair embod­ies anti-Democ­ra­cy/as coun­terin­sur­gency.

Key aspects of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca affair include:

  1. The use of psy­cho­graph­ic per­son­al­i­ty testing on Face­book that is used for polit­i­cal advan­tage: ” . . . . For sev­er­al years, a data firm even­tu­al­ly hired by the Trump cam­paign, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, has been using Face­book as a tool to build psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files that rep­re­sent some 230 mil­lion adult Amer­i­cans. A spin­off of a British con­sult­ing com­pa­ny and some­time-defense con­trac­tor known for its coun­tert­er­ror­ism ‘psy ops’ work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seed­ing the social net­work with per­son­al­i­ty quizzes. Respon­dents — by now hun­dreds of thou­sands of us, most­ly female and most­ly young but enough male and old­er for the firm to make infer­ences about oth­ers with sim­i­lar behav­iors and demo­graph­ics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Face­book, gains access to their pro­files and real names. . . .”
  2. The par­ent com­pa­ny of Cam­bridge Analytica–SCL–was deeply involved with coun­tert­er­ror­ism “psy-ops” in Afghanistan, embody­ing the essence of the coun­terin­sur­gency dynam­ic at the root of the devel­op­ment of the Inter­net. The use of online data to sub­vert democ­ra­cy recalls Hitler’s speech to the Indus­try Club of Dus­sel­dorf, in which he equat­ed democ­ra­cy with com­mu­nism: ” . . . .  Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was a com­pa­ny spun out of SCL Group, a British mil­i­tary con­trac­tor that worked in infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions for armed forces around the world. It was con­duct­ing research on how to scale and digi­tise infor­ma­tion war­fare – the use of infor­ma­tion to con­fuse or degrade the effi­ca­cy of an ene­my. . . . As direc­tor of research, Wylie’s orig­i­nal role was to map out how the com­pa­ny would take tra­di­tion­al infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions tac­tics into the online space – in par­tic­u­lar, by pro­fil­ing peo­ple who would be sus­cep­ti­ble to cer­tain mes­sag­ing. This mor­phed into the polit­i­cal are­na. After Wylie left, the com­pa­ny worked on Don­ald Trump’s US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign . . . .”
  3. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca whistle­blow­er Christo­pher Wylie’s obser­va­tions on the anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic nature of the fir­m’s work: ” . . . . It was this shift from the bat­tle­field to pol­i­tics that made Wylie uncom­fort­able. ‘When you are work­ing in infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions projects, where your tar­get is a com­bat­ant, the auton­o­my or agency of your tar­gets is not your pri­ma­ry con­sid­er­a­tion. It is fair game to deny and manip­u­late infor­ma­tion, coerce and exploit any men­tal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties a per­son has, and to bring out the very worst char­ac­ter­is­tics in that per­son because they are an ene­my,’ he says. ‘But if you port that over to a demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem, if you run cam­paigns designed to under­mine people’s abil­i­ty to make free choic­es and to under­stand what is real and not real, you are under­min­ing democ­ra­cy and treat­ing vot­ers in the same way as you are treat­ing ter­ror­ists.’ . . . .”
  4. Wylie’s obser­va­tions on how Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s method­ol­o­gy can be used to build a fas­cist polit­i­cal move­ment: ” . . . . One of the rea­sons these tech­niques are so insid­i­ous is that being a tar­get of a dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign is ‘usu­al­ly a plea­sur­able expe­ri­ence’, because you are being fed con­tent with which you are like­ly to agree. ‘You are being guid­ed through some­thing that you want to be true,’ Wylie says. To build an insur­gency, he explains, you first tar­get peo­ple who are more prone to hav­ing errat­ic traits, para­noia or con­spir­a­to­r­i­al think­ing, and get them to ‘like’ a group on social media. They start engag­ing with the con­tent, which may or may not be true; either way ‘it feels good to see that infor­ma­tion’. When the group reach­es 1,000 or 2,000 mem­bers, an event is set up in the local area. Even if only 5% show up, ‘that’s 50 to 100 peo­ple flood­ing a local cof­fee shop’, Wylie says. This, he adds, val­i­dates their opin­ion because oth­er peo­ple there are also talk­ing about ‘all these things that you’ve been see­ing online in the depths of your den and get­ting angry about’. Peo­ple then start to believe the rea­son it’s not shown on main­stream news chan­nels is because ‘they don’t want you to know what the truth is’. As Wylie sums it up: ‘What start­ed out as a fan­ta­sy online gets port­ed into the tem­po­ral world and becomes real to you because you see all these peo­ple around you.’ . . . .”
  5. Wylie’s obser­va­tion that Face­book was “All In” on the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca machi­na­tions: ” . . . . ‘Face­book has known about what Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was up to from the very begin­ning of those projects,” Wylie claims. “They were noti­fied, they autho­rised the appli­ca­tions, they were giv­en the terms and con­di­tions of the app that said explic­it­ly what it was doing. They hired peo­ple who worked on build­ing the app. I had legal cor­re­spon­dence with their lawyers where they acknowl­edged it hap­pened as far back as 2016.’ . . . .”
  6. The deci­sive par­tic­i­pa­tion of “Spy Tech” firm Palan­tir in the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca oper­a­tion: Peter Thiel’s sur­veil­lance firm Palan­tir was appar­ent­ly deeply involved with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s gam­ing of per­son­al data har­vest­ed from Face­book in order to engi­neer an elec­toral vic­to­ry for Trump. Thiel was an ear­ly investor in Face­book, at one point was its largest share­hold­er and is still one of its largest share­hold­ers. In addi­tion to his oppo­si­tion to democ­ra­cy because it alleged­ly is inim­i­cal to wealth cre­ation, Thiel does­n’t think women should be allowed to vote and holds Nazi legal the­o­reti­cian Carl Schmitt in high regard. ” . . . . It was a Palan­tir employ­ee in Lon­don, work­ing close­ly with the data sci­en­tists build­ing Cambridge’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­nol­o­gy, who sug­gest­ed the sci­en­tists cre­ate their own app — a mobile-phone-based per­son­al­i­ty quiz — to gain access to Face­book users’ friend net­works, accord­ing to doc­u­ments obtained by The New York Times. The rev­e­la­tions pulled Palan­tir — co-found­ed by the wealthy lib­er­tar­i­an Peter Thiel — into the furor sur­round­ing Cam­bridge, which improp­er­ly obtained Face­book data to build ana­lyt­i­cal tools it deployed on behalf of Don­ald J. Trump and oth­er Repub­li­can can­di­dates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Trump, serves on the board at Face­book. ‘There were senior Palan­tir employ­ees that were also work­ing on the Face­book data,’ said Christo­pher Wylie, a data expert and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca co-founder, in tes­ti­mo­ny before British law­mak­ers on Tues­day. . . . The con­nec­tions between Palan­tir and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca were thrust into the spot­light by Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny on Tues­day. Both com­pa­nies are linked to tech-dri­ven bil­lion­aires who backed Mr. Trump’s cam­paign: Cam­bridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mer­cer, the com­put­er sci­en­tist and hedge fund mag­nate, while Palan­tir was co-found­ed in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an ini­tial investor in Face­book. . . .”
  7. The use of “dark posts” by the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca team. (We have not­ed that Brad Parscale has reassem­bled the old Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca team for Trump’s 2020 elec­tion cam­paign. It seems prob­a­ble that AOC’s mil­lions of online fol­low­ers, as well as the “Bernie Bots,” will be get­ting “dark posts” craft­ed by AI’s scan­ning their online efforts.) ” . . . . One recent adver­tis­ing prod­uct on Face­book is the so-called ‘dark post’: A news­feed mes­sage seen by no one aside from the users being tar­get­ed. With the help of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, Mr. Trump’s dig­i­tal team used dark posts to serve dif­fer­ent ads to dif­fer­ent poten­tial vot­ers, aim­ing to push the exact right but­tons for the exact right peo­ple at the exact right times. . . .”

Peter Thiel

Sup­ple­ment­ing the dis­cus­sion about Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, the pro­gram reviews infor­ma­tion from FTR #718 about Face­book’s appar­ent involve­ment with ele­ments and indi­vid­u­als linked to CIA and DARPA: ” . . . . Face­book’s most recent round of fund­ing was led by a com­pa­ny called Grey­lock Ven­ture Cap­i­tal, who put in the sum of $27.5m. One of Grey­lock­’s senior part­ners is called Howard Cox, anoth­er for­mer chair­man of the NVCA, who is also on the board of In-Q-Tel. What’s In-Q-Tel? Well, believe it or not (and check out their web­site), this is the ven­ture-cap­i­tal wing of the CIA. After 9/11, the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty became so excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties of new tech­nol­o­gy and the inno­va­tions being made in the pri­vate sec­tor, that in 1999 they set up their own ven­ture cap­i­tal fund, In-Q-Tel, which ‘iden­ti­fies and part­ners with com­pa­nies devel­op­ing cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies to help deliv­er these solu­tions to the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency and the broad­er US Intel­li­gence Com­mu­ni­ty (IC) to fur­ther their mis­sions’. . . .”

More about the CIA/DARPA links to the devel­op­ment of Face­book: ” . . . . The sec­ond round of fund­ing into Face­book ($US12.7 mil­lion) came from ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Accel Part­ners. Its man­ag­er James Brey­er was for­mer­ly chair­man of the Nation­al Ven­ture Cap­i­tal Asso­ci­a­tion, and served on the board with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel, a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm estab­lished by the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency in 1999. One of the com­pa­ny’s key areas of exper­tise are in ‘data min­ing tech­nolo­gies’. Brey­er also served on the board of R&D firm BBN Tech­nolo­gies, which was one of those com­pa­nies respon­si­ble for the rise of the inter­net. Dr Ani­ta Jones joined the firm, which includ­ed Gilman Louie. She had also served on the In-Q-Tel’s board, and had been direc­tor of Defence Research and Engi­neer­ing for the US Depart­ment of Defence. She was also an advis­er to the Sec­re­tary of Defence and over­see­ing the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is respon­si­ble for high-tech, high-end devel­op­ment. . . .”

Oleh Tihany­bok, leader of the OUN/B suc­ces­sor orga­ni­za­tion Svo­bo­da, to which Face­book’s Katery­na Kruk belonged.

Pro­gram High­lights Include: Review of Face­book’s plans to use brain-to-com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy to oper­ate its plat­form, there­by the enabling of record­ing and data­bas­ing peo­ple’s thoughts; Review of Face­book’s employ­ment of for­mer DARPA head Regi­na Dugan to imple­ment the brain-to-com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy; Review of Face­book’s build­ing 8–designed to dupli­cate DARPA; Review of Face­book’s hir­ing of the Atlantic Coun­cil to police the social medi­um’s online con­tent; Review of Face­book’s part­ner­ing with Naren­dra Mod­i’s Hin­dut­va fas­cist gov­ern­ment in India; Review of Face­book’s emloy­ment of Ukrain­ian fas­cist Katery­na Kruk to man­age the social medi­um’s Ukrain­ian con­tent.

1a. Face­book per­son­al­i­ty tests that alleged­ly let you learn things about what make you tick allows who­ev­er set up that test learn what makes you tick too. Since it’s done through Face­book, they can iden­ti­fy your test results with your real iden­ti­ty.

If the Face­book per­son­al­i­ty test in ques­tion hap­pens to report your “Ocean score” (Open­ness, Con­sci­en­tious­ness, Extra­ver­sion, Agree­able­ness and Neu­roti­cism), that means the test your tak­ing was cre­at­ed by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a com­pa­ny with one of Don­ald Trump’s bil­lion­aire sug­ar-dad­dies, Robert Mer­cer, as a major investor. And it’s Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca that gets to learn all those fun facts about your psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­file too. And Steve Ban­non sat on its board:

“The Secret Agen­da of a Face­book Quiz” by McKen­zie Funk; The New York Times; 1/19/2017.

Do you pan­ic eas­i­ly? Do you often feel blue? Do you have a sharp tongue? Do you get chores done right away? Do you believe in the impor­tance of art?

If ever you’ve answered ques­tions like these on one of the free per­son­al­i­ty quizzes float­ing around Face­book, you’ll have learned what’s known as your Ocean score: How you rate accord­ing to the big five psy­cho­log­i­cal traits of Open­ness, Con­sci­en­tious­ness, Extra­ver­sion, Agree­able­ness and Neu­roti­cism. You may also be respon­si­ble the next time Amer­i­ca is shocked by an elec­tion upset.

For sev­er­al years, a data firm even­tu­al­ly hired by the Trump cam­paign, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, has been using Face­book as a tool to build psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files that rep­re­sent some 230 mil­lion adult Amer­i­cans. A spin­off of a British con­sult­ing com­pa­ny and some­time-defense con­trac­tor known for its coun­tert­er­ror­ism “psy ops” work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seed­ing the social net­work with per­son­al­i­ty quizzes. Respon­dents — by now hun­dreds of thou­sands of us, most­ly female and most­ly young but enough male and old­er for the firm to make infer­ences about oth­ers with sim­i­lar behav­iors and demo­graph­ics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Face­book, gains access to their pro­files and real names.

Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca worked on the “Leave” side of the Brex­it cam­paign. In the Unit­ed States it takes only Repub­li­cans as clients: Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz in the pri­maries, Mr. Trump in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Cam­bridge is report­ed­ly backed by Robert Mer­cer, a hedge fund bil­lion­aire and a major Repub­li­can donor; a key board mem­ber is Stephen K. Ban­non, the head of Bre­it­bart News who became Mr. Trump’s cam­paign chair­man and is set to be his chief strate­gist in the White House.

In the age of Face­book, it has become far eas­i­er for cam­paign­ers or mar­keters to com­bine our online per­sonas with our offline selves, a process that was once con­tro­ver­sial but is now so com­mon­place that there’s a term for it, “onboard­ing.” Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca says it has as many as 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each of us, be it vot­ing his­to­ries or full-spec­trum demo­graph­ics — age, income, debt, hob­bies, crim­i­nal his­to­ries, pur­chase his­to­ries, reli­gious lean­ings, health con­cerns, gun own­er­ship, car own­er­ship, home­own­er­ship — from con­sumer-data giants.

No data point is very infor­ma­tive on its own, but pro­fil­ing vot­ers, says Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, is like bak­ing a cake. “It’s the sum of the ingre­di­ents,” its chief exec­u­tive offi­cer, Alexan­der Nix, told NBC News. Because the Unit­ed States lacks Euro­pean-style restric­tions on sec­ond- or third­hand use of our data, and because our free­dom-of-infor­ma­tion laws give data bro­kers broad access to the inti­mate records kept by local and state gov­ern­ments, our lives are open books even with­out social media or per­son­al­i­ty quizzes.

Ever since the adver­tis­ing exec­u­tive Lester Wun­der­man coined the term “direct mar­ket­ing” in 1961, the abil­i­ty to tar­get spe­cif­ic con­sumers with ads — rather than blan­ket­ing the air­waves with mass appeals and hop­ing the right peo­ple will hear them — has been the marketer’s holy grail. What’s new is the effi­cien­cy with which indi­vid­u­al­ly tai­lored dig­i­tal ads can be test­ed and matched to our per­son­al­i­ties. Face­book is the microtargeter’s ulti­mate weapon.

The explo­sive growth of Facebook’s ad busi­ness has been over­shad­owed by its increas­ing role in how we get our news, real or fake. In July, the social net­work post­ed record earn­ings: quar­ter­ly sales were up 59 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year, and prof­its almost tripled to $2.06 bil­lion. While active users of Face­book — now 1.71 bil­lion month­ly active users — were up 15 per­cent, the real sto­ry was how much each indi­vid­ual user was worth. The com­pa­ny makes $3.82 a year from each glob­al user, up from $2.76 a year ago, and an aver­age of $14.34 per user in the Unit­ed States, up from $9.30 a year ago. Much of this growth comes from the fact that adver­tis­ers not only have an enor­mous audi­ence in Face­book but an audi­ence they can slice into the tranch­es they hope to reach.

One recent adver­tis­ing prod­uct on Face­book is the so-called “dark post”: A news­feed mes­sage seen by no one aside from the users being tar­get­ed. With the help of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, Mr. Trump’s dig­i­tal team used dark posts to serve dif­fer­ent ads to dif­fer­ent poten­tial vot­ers, aim­ing to push the exact right but­tons for the exact right peo­ple at the exact right times.

Imag­ine the full capa­bil­i­ty of this kind of “psy­cho­graph­ic” adver­tis­ing. In future Repub­li­can cam­paigns, a pro-gun vot­er whose Ocean score ranks him high on neu­roti­cism could see storm clouds and a threat: The Demo­c­rat wants to take his guns away. A sep­a­rate pro-gun vot­er deemed agree­able and intro­vert­ed might see an ad empha­siz­ing tra­di­tion and com­mu­ni­ty val­ues, a father and son hunt­ing togeth­er.

In this elec­tion, dark posts were used to try to sup­press the African-Amer­i­can vote. Accord­ing to Bloomberg, the Trump cam­paign sent ads remind­ing cer­tain select­ed black vot­ers of Hillary Clinton’s infa­mous “super preda­tor” line. It tar­get­ed Miami’s Lit­tle Haiti neigh­bor­hood with mes­sages about the Clin­ton Foundation’s trou­bles in Haiti after the 2010 earth­quake. Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion rules are unclear when it comes to Face­book posts, but even if they do apply and the facts are skewed and the dog whis­tles loud, the already weak­en­ing pow­er of social oppro­bri­um is gone when no one else sees the ad you see — and no one else sees “I’m Don­ald Trump, and I approved this mes­sage.”

While Hillary Clin­ton spent more than $140 mil­lion on tele­vi­sion spots, old-media experts scoffed at Trump’s lack of old-media ad buys. Instead, his cam­paign pumped its mon­ey into dig­i­tal, espe­cial­ly Face­book. One day in August, it flood­ed the social net­work with 100,000 ad vari­a­tions, so-called A/B test­ing on a bib­li­cal scale, sure­ly more ads than could eas­i­ly be vet­ted by human eyes for com­pli­ance with Facebook’s “com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards.”

1b. Christo­pher Wylie–the for­mer head of research at Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca who became one of the key insid­er whis­tle-blow­ers about how Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca oper­at­ed and the extent of Facebook’s knowl­edge about it–gave an inter­view last month to Cam­paign Mag­a­zine. (We dealt with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca in FTR #‘s 946, 1021.)

Wylie recounts how, as direc­tor of research at Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, his orig­i­nal role was to deter­mine how the com­pa­ny could use the infor­ma­tion war­fare tech­niques used by SCL Group – Cam­bridge Analytica’s par­ent com­pa­ny and a defense con­trac­tor pro­vid­ing psy op ser­vices for the British mil­i­tary. Wylie’s job was to adapt the psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare strate­gies that SCL had been using on the bat­tle­field to the online space. As Wylie put it:

“ . . . . When you are work­ing in infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions projects, where your tar­get is a com­bat­ant, the auton­o­my or agency of your tar­gets is not your pri­ma­ry con­sid­er­a­tion. It is fair game to deny and manip­u­late infor­ma­tion, coerce and exploit any men­tal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties a per­son has, and to bring out the very worst char­ac­ter­is­tics in that per­son because they are an ene­my…But if you port that over to a demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem, if you run cam­paigns designed to under­mine people’s abil­i­ty to make free choic­es and to under­stand what is real and not real, you are under­min­ing democ­ra­cy and treat­ing vot­ers in the same way as you are treat­ing ter­ror­ists. . . . .”

Wylie also draws par­al­lels between the psy­cho­log­i­cal oper­a­tions used on demo­c­ra­t­ic audi­ences and the bat­tle­field tech­niques used to be build an insur­gency. It starts with tar­get­ing peo­ple more prone to hav­ing errat­ic traits, para­noia or con­spir­a­to­r­i­al think­ing, and get them to “like” a group on social media. The infor­ma­tion you’re feed­ing this tar­get audi­ence may or may not be real. The impor­tant thing is that it’s con­tent that they already agree with so that “it feels good to see that infor­ma­tion.” Keep in mind that one of the goals of the ‘psy­cho­graph­ic pro­fil­ing’ that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was to iden­ti­fy traits like neu­roti­cism.

Wylie goes on to describe the next step in this insur­gency-build­ing tech­nique: keep build­ing up the inter­est in the social media group that you’re direct­ing this tar­get audi­ence towards until it hits around 1,000–2,000 peo­ple. Then set up a real life event ded­i­cat­ed to the cho­sen dis­in­for­ma­tion top­ic in some local area and try to get as many of your tar­get audi­ence to show up. Even if only 5 per­cent of them show up, that’s still 50–100 peo­ple con­verg­ing on some local cof­fee shop or what­ev­er. The peo­ple meet each oth­er in real life and start talk­ing about about “all these things that you’ve been see­ing online in the depths of your den and get­ting angry about”. This tar­get audi­ence starts believ­ing that no one else is talk­ing about this stuff because “they don’t want you to know what the truth is”. As Wylie puts it, “What start­ed out as a fan­ta­sy online gets port­ed into the tem­po­ral world and becomes real to you because you see all these peo­ple around you.”

“Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca whistle­blow­er Christo­pher Wylie: It’s time to save cre­ativ­i­ty” by Kate Magee; Cam­paign; 11/05/2018.

In the ear­ly hours of 17 March 2018, the 28-year-old Christo­pher Wylie tweet­ed: “Here we go….”

Lat­er that day, The Observ­er and The New York Times pub­lished the sto­ry of Cam­bridge Analytica’s mis­use of Face­book data, which sent shock­waves around the world, caused mil­lions to #Delete­Face­book, and led the UK Infor­ma­tion Commissioner’s Office to fine the site the max­i­mum penal­ty for fail­ing to pro­tect users’ infor­ma­tion. Six weeks after the sto­ry broke, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca closed. . . .

. . . . He believes that poor use of data is killing good ideas. And that, unless effec­tive reg­u­la­tion is enact­ed, society’s wor­ship of algo­rithms, unchecked data cap­ture and use, and the like­ly spread of AI to all parts of our lives is caus­ing us to sleep­walk into a bleak future.

Not only are such cir­cum­stances a threat to adland – why do you need an ad to tell you about a prod­uct if an algo­rithm is choos­ing it for you? – it is a threat to human free will. “Cur­rent­ly, the only moral­i­ty of the algo­rithm is to opti­mise you as a con­sumer and, in many cas­es, you become the prod­uct. There are very few exam­ples in human his­to­ry of indus­tries where peo­ple them­selves become prod­ucts and those are scary indus­tries – slav­ery and the sex trade. And now, we have social media,” Wylie says.

“The prob­lem with that, and what makes it inher­ent­ly dif­fer­ent to sell­ing, say, tooth­paste, is that you’re sell­ing parts of peo­ple or access to peo­ple. Peo­ple have an innate moral worth. If we don’t respect that, we can cre­ate indus­tries that do ter­ri­ble things to peo­ple. We are [head­ing] blind­ly and quick­ly into an envi­ron­ment where this men­tal­i­ty is going to be ampli­fied through AI every­where. We’re humans, we should be think­ing about peo­ple first.”

His words car­ry weight, because he’s been on the dark side. He has seen what can hap­pen when data is used to spread mis­in­for­ma­tion, cre­ate insur­gen­cies and prey on the worst of people’s char­ac­ters.

The polit­i­cal bat­tle­field

A quick refresh­er on the scan­dal, in Wylie’s words: Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was a com­pa­ny spun out of SCL Group, a British mil­i­tary con­trac­tor that worked in infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions for armed forces around the world. It was con­duct­ing research on how to scale and digi­tise infor­ma­tion war­fare – the use of infor­ma­tion to con­fuse or degrade the effi­ca­cy of an ene­my. . . .

. . . . As direc­tor of research, Wylie’s orig­i­nal role was to map out how the com­pa­ny would take tra­di­tion­al infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions tac­tics into the online space – in par­tic­u­lar, by pro­fil­ing peo­ple who would be sus­cep­ti­ble to cer­tain mes­sag­ing.

This mor­phed into the polit­i­cal are­na. After Wylie left, the com­pa­ny worked on Don­ald Trump’s US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign . . . .

. . . . It was this shift from the bat­tle­field to pol­i­tics that made Wylie uncom­fort­able. “When you are work­ing in infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions projects, where your tar­get is a com­bat­ant, the auton­o­my or agency of your tar­gets is not your pri­ma­ry con­sid­er­a­tion. It is fair game to deny and manip­u­late infor­ma­tion, coerce and exploit any men­tal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties a per­son has, and to bring out the very worst char­ac­ter­is­tics in that per­son because they are an ene­my,” he says.

“But if you port that over to a demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem, if you run cam­paigns designed to under­mine people’s abil­i­ty to make free choic­es and to under­stand what is real and not real, you are under­min­ing democ­ra­cy and treat­ing vot­ers in the same way as you are treat­ing ter­ror­ists.”

One of the rea­sons these tech­niques are so insid­i­ous is that being a tar­get of a dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign is “usu­al­ly a plea­sur­able expe­ri­ence”, because you are being fed con­tent with which you are like­ly to agree. “You are being guid­ed through some­thing that you want to be true,” Wylie says.

To build an insur­gency, he explains, you first tar­get peo­ple who are more prone to hav­ing errat­ic traits, para­noia or con­spir­a­to­r­i­al think­ing, and get them to “like” a group on social media. They start engag­ing with the con­tent, which may or may not be true; either way “it feels good to see that infor­ma­tion”.

When the group reach­es 1,000 or 2,000 mem­bers, an event is set up in the local area. Even if only 5% show up, “that’s 50 to 100 peo­ple flood­ing a local cof­fee shop”, Wylie says. This, he adds, val­i­dates their opin­ion because oth­er peo­ple there are also talk­ing about “all these things that you’ve been see­ing online in the depths of your den and get­ting angry about”.

Peo­ple then start to believe the rea­son it’s not shown on main­stream news chan­nels is because “they don’t want you to know what the truth is”. As Wylie sums it up: “What start­ed out as a fan­ta­sy online gets port­ed into the tem­po­ral world and becomes real to you because you see all these peo­ple around you.” . . . . 

. . . . Psy­cho­graph­ic poten­tial

. . . . But Wylie argues that peo­ple under­es­ti­mate what algo­rithms allow you to do in pro­fil­ing. “I can take pieces of infor­ma­tion about you that seem innocu­ous, but what I’m able to do with an algo­rithm is find pat­terns that cor­re­late to under­ly­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files,” he explains.

“I can ask whether you lis­ten to Justin Bieber, and you won’t feel like I’m invad­ing your pri­va­cy. You aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly aware that when you tell me what music you lis­ten to or what TV shows you watch, you are telling me some of your deep­est and most per­son­al attrib­ut­es.” . . . .

. . . . Clash­es with Face­book

Wylie is opposed to self-reg­u­la­tion, because indus­tries won’t become con­sumer cham­pi­ons – they are, he says, too con­flict­ed.

“Face­book has known about what Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was up to from the very begin­ning of those projects,” Wylie claims. “They were noti­fied, they autho­rised the appli­ca­tions, they were giv­en the terms and con­di­tions of the app that said explic­it­ly what it was doing. They hired peo­ple who worked on build­ing the app. I had legal cor­re­spon­dence with their lawyers where they acknowl­edged it hap­pened as far back as 2016.” . . . . 

1c. In FTR #946, we exam­ined Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, its Trump and Steve Ban­non-linked tech firm that har­vest­ed Face­book data on behalf of the Trump cam­paign.

Peter Thiel’s sur­veil­lance firm Palan­tir was appar­ent­ly deeply involved with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s gam­ing of per­son­al data har­vest­ed from Face­book in order to engi­neer an elec­toral vic­to­ry for Trump. Thiel was an ear­ly investor in Face­book, at one point was its largest share­hold­er and is still one of its largest share­hold­ers. ” . . . . It was a Palan­tir employ­ee in Lon­don, work­ing close­ly with the data sci­en­tists build­ing Cambridge’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­nol­o­gy, who sug­gest­ed the sci­en­tists cre­ate their own app — a mobile-phone-based per­son­al­i­ty quiz — to gain access to Face­book users’ friend net­works, accord­ing to doc­u­ments obtained by The New York Times. The rev­e­la­tions pulled Palan­tir — co-found­ed by the wealthy lib­er­tar­i­an Peter Thiel — into the furor sur­round­ing Cam­bridge, which improp­er­ly obtained Face­book data to build ana­lyt­i­cal tools it deployed on behalf of Don­ald J. Trump and oth­er Repub­li­can can­di­dates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Trump, serves on the board at Face­book. ‘There were senior Palan­tir employ­ees that were also work­ing on the Face­book data,’ said Christo­pher Wylie, a data expert and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca co-founder, in tes­ti­mo­ny before British law­mak­ers on Tues­day. . . . The con­nec­tions between Palan­tir and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca were thrust into the spot­light by Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny on Tues­day. Both com­pa­nies are linked to tech-dri­ven bil­lion­aires who backed Mr. Trump’s cam­paign: Cam­bridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mer­cer, the com­put­er sci­en­tist and hedge fund mag­nate, while Palan­tir was co-found­ed in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an ini­tial investor in Face­book. . . .”

“Spy Contractor’s Idea Helped Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca Har­vest Face­book Data” by NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and MATTHEW ROSENBERG; The New York Times; 03/27/2018

As a start-up called Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca sought to har­vest the Face­book data of tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans in sum­mer 2014, the com­pa­ny received help from at least one employ­ee at Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, a top Sil­i­con Val­ley con­trac­tor to Amer­i­can spy agen­cies and the Pen­ta­gon. It was a Palan­tir employ­ee in Lon­don, work­ing close­ly with the data sci­en­tists build­ing Cambridge’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­nol­o­gy, who sug­gest­ed the sci­en­tists cre­ate their own app — a mobile-phone-based per­son­al­i­ty quiz — to gain access to Face­book users’ friend net­works, accord­ing to doc­u­ments obtained by The New York Times.

Cam­bridge ulti­mate­ly took a sim­i­lar approach. By ear­ly sum­mer, the com­pa­ny found a uni­ver­si­ty researcher to har­vest data using a per­son­al­i­ty ques­tion­naire and Face­book app. The researcher scraped pri­vate data from over 50 mil­lion Face­book users — and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca went into busi­ness sell­ing so-called psy­cho­me­t­ric pro­files of Amer­i­can vot­ers, set­ting itself on a col­li­sion course with reg­u­la­tors and law­mak­ers in the Unit­ed States and Britain.

The rev­e­la­tions pulled Palan­tir — co-found­ed by the wealthy lib­er­tar­i­an Peter Thiel — into the furor sur­round­ing Cam­bridge, which improp­er­ly obtained Face­book data to build ana­lyt­i­cal tools it deployed on behalf of Don­ald J. Trump and oth­er Repub­li­can can­di­dates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a sup­port­er of Pres­i­dent Trump, serves on the board at Face­book.

“There were senior Palan­tir employ­ees that were also work­ing on the Face­book data,” said Christo­pher Wylie, a data expert and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca co-founder, in tes­ti­mo­ny before British law­mak­ers on Tues­day. . . .

. . . .The con­nec­tions between Palan­tir and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca were thrust into the spot­light by Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny on Tues­day. Both com­pa­nies are linked to tech-dri­ven bil­lion­aires who backed Mr. Trump’s cam­paign: Cam­bridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mer­cer, the com­put­er sci­en­tist and hedge fund mag­nate, while Palan­tir was co-found­ed in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an ini­tial investor in Face­book. . . .

. . . . Doc­u­ments and inter­views indi­cate that start­ing in 2013, Mr. Chmieli­auskas began cor­re­spond­ing with Mr. Wylie and a col­league from his Gmail account. At the time, Mr. Wylie and the col­league worked for the British defense and intel­li­gence con­trac­tor SCL Group, which formed Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca with Mr. Mer­cer the next year. The three shared Google doc­u­ments to brain­storm ideas about using big data to cre­ate sophis­ti­cat­ed behav­ioral pro­files, a prod­uct code-named “Big Dad­dy.”

A for­mer intern at SCL — Sophie Schmidt, the daugh­ter of Eric Schmidt, then Google’s exec­u­tive chair­man — urged the com­pa­ny to link up with Palan­tir, accord­ing to Mr. Wylie’s tes­ti­mo­ny and a June 2013 email viewed by The Times.

“Ever come across Palan­tir. Amus­ing­ly Eric Schmidt’s daugh­ter was an intern with us and is try­ing to push us towards them?” one SCL employ­ee wrote to a col­league in the email.

. . . . But he [Wylie] said some Palan­tir employ­ees helped engi­neer Cambridge’s psy­cho­graph­ic mod­els.

“There were Palan­tir staff who would come into the office and work on the data,” Mr. Wylie told law­mak­ers. “And we would go and meet with Palan­tir staff at Palan­tir.” He did not pro­vide an exact num­ber for the employ­ees or iden­ti­fy them.

Palan­tir employ­ees were impressed with Cambridge’s back­ing from Mr. Mer­cer, one of the world’s rich­est men, accord­ing to mes­sages viewed by The Times. And Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca viewed Palantir’s Sil­i­con Val­ley ties as a valu­able resource for launch­ing and expand­ing its own busi­ness.

In an inter­view this month with The Times, Mr. Wylie said that Palan­tir employ­ees were eager to learn more about using Face­book data and psy­cho­graph­ics. Those dis­cus­sions con­tin­ued through spring 2014, accord­ing to Mr. Wylie.

Mr. Wylie said that he and Mr. Nix vis­it­ed Palantir’s Lon­don office on Soho Square. One side was set up like a high-secu­ri­ty office, Mr. Wylie said, with sep­a­rate rooms that could be entered only with par­tic­u­lar codes. The oth­er side, he said, was like a tech start-up — “weird inspi­ra­tional quotes and stuff on the wall and free beer, and there’s a Ping-Pong table.”

Mr. Chmieli­auskas con­tin­ued to com­mu­ni­cate with Mr. Wylie’s team in 2014, as the Cam­bridge employ­ees were locked in pro­tract­ed nego­ti­a­tions with a researcher at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty, Michal Kosin­s­ki, to obtain Face­book data through an app Mr. Kosin­s­ki had built. The data was cru­cial to effi­cient­ly scale up Cambridge’s psy­cho­met­rics prod­ucts so they could be used in elec­tions and for cor­po­rate clients. . . .

2a. There are indi­ca­tions that ele­ments in  and/or asso­ci­at­ed with CIA and Pentagon/DARPA were  involved with Face­book almost from the begin­ning: ” . . . . Face­book’s most recent round of fund­ing was led by a com­pa­ny called Grey­lock Ven­ture Cap­i­tal, who put in the sum of $27.5m. One of Grey­lock­’s senior part­ners is called Howard Cox, anoth­er for­mer chair­man of the NVCA, who is also on the board of In-Q-Tel. What’s In-Q-Tel? Well, believe it or not (and check out their web­site), this is the ven­ture-cap­i­tal wing of the CIA. After 9/11, the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty became so excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties of new tech­nol­o­gy and the inno­va­tions being made in the pri­vate sec­tor, that in 1999 they set up their own ven­ture cap­i­tal fund, In-Q-Tel, which ‘iden­ti­fies and part­ners with com­pa­nies devel­op­ing cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies to help deliv­er these solu­tions to the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency and the broad­er US Intel­li­gence Com­mu­ni­ty (IC) to fur­ther their mis­sions’. . . .”

“With Friends Like These . . .” by Tim Hodgkin­son; guardian.co.uk; 1/14/2008.

. . . . The third board mem­ber of Face­book is Jim Brey­er. He is a part­ner in the ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Accel Part­ners, who put $12.7m into Face­book in April 2005. On the board of such US giants as Wal-Mart and Mar­vel Enter­tain­ment, he is also a for­mer chair­man of the Nation­al Ven­ture Cap­i­tal Asso­ci­a­tion (NVCA). Now these are the peo­ple who are real­ly mak­ing things hap­pen in Amer­i­ca, because they invest in the new young tal­ent, the Zucker­bergs and the like. Face­book’s most recent round of fund­ing was led by a com­pa­ny called Grey­lock Ven­ture Cap­i­tal, who put in the sum of $27.5m. One of Grey­lock­’s senior part­ners is called Howard Cox, anoth­er for­mer chair­man of the NVCA, who is also on the board of In-Q-Tel. What’s In-Q-Tel? Well, believe it or not (and check out their web­site), this is the ven­ture-cap­i­tal wing of the CIA. After 9/11, the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty became so excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties of new tech­nol­o­gy and the inno­va­tions being made in the pri­vate sec­tor, that in 1999 they set up their own ven­ture cap­i­tal fund, In-Q-Tel, which “iden­ti­fies and part­ners with com­pa­nies devel­op­ing cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies to help deliv­er these solu­tions to the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency and the broad­er US Intel­li­gence Com­mu­ni­ty (IC) to fur­ther their mis­sions”. . . .

2b.  More about the CIA/Pentagon link to the devel­op­ment of Face­book: ” . . . . The sec­ond round of fund­ing into Face­book ($US12.7 mil­lion) came from ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Accel Part­ners. Its man­ag­er James Brey­er was for­mer­ly chair­man of the Nation­al Ven­ture Cap­i­tal Asso­ci­a­tion, and served on the board with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel, a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm estab­lished by the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency in 1999. One of the com­pa­ny’s key areas of exper­tise are in ‘data min­ing tech­nolo­gies’.  Brey­er also served on the board of R&D firm BBN Tech­nolo­gies, which was one of those com­pa­nies respon­si­ble for the rise of the inter­net. Dr Ani­ta Jones joined the firm, which includ­ed Gilman Louie. She had also served on the In-Q-Tel’s board, and had been direc­tor of Defence Research and Engi­neer­ing for the US Depart­ment of Defence. She was also an advis­er to the Sec­re­tary of Defence and over­see­ing the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is respon­si­ble for high-tech, high-end devel­op­ment. . . .”

“Facebook–the CIA Con­spir­a­cy” by Matt Greenop; The New Zealand Her­ald; 8/8/2007.

. . . . Face­book’s first round of ven­ture cap­i­tal fund­ing ($US500,000) came from for­mer Pay­pal CEO Peter Thiel. Author of anti-mul­ti­cul­tur­al tome ‘The Diver­si­ty Myth’, he is also on the board of rad­i­cal con­ser­v­a­tive group Van­guard­PAC.

The sec­ond round of fund­ing into Face­book ($US12.7 mil­lion) came from ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Accel Part­ners. Its man­ag­er James Brey­er was for­mer­ly chair­man of the Nation­al Ven­ture Cap­i­tal Asso­ci­a­tion, and served on the board with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel, a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm estab­lished by the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency in 1999. One of the com­pa­ny’s key areas of exper­tise are in “data min­ing tech­nolo­gies”.

Brey­er also served on the board of R&D firm BBN Tech­nolo­gies, which was one of those com­pa­nies respon­si­ble for the rise of the inter­net.

Dr Ani­ta Jones joined the firm, which includ­ed Gilman Louie. She had also served on the In-Q-Tel’s board, and had been direc­tor of Defence Research and Engi­neer­ing for the US Depart­ment of Defence.

She was also an advis­er to the Sec­re­tary of Defence and over­see­ing the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is respon­si­ble for high-tech, high-end devel­op­ment. . . .

3. Face­book wants to read your thoughts.

  1. ” . . . Face­book wants to build its own “brain-to-com­put­er inter­face” that would allow us to send thoughts straight to a com­put­er. ‘What if you could type direct­ly from your brain?’ Regi­na Dugan, the head of the company’s secre­tive hard­ware R&D divi­sion, Build­ing 8, asked from the stage. Dugan then pro­ceed­ed to show a video demo of a woman typ­ing eight words per minute direct­ly from the stage. In a few years, she said, the team hopes to demon­strate a real-time silent speech sys­tem capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a hun­dred words per minute. ‘That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,’ she said. ‘Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.’ . . .”
  2. ” . . . . Brain-com­put­er inter­faces are noth­ing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invest­ed heav­i­ly in brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nolo­gies to do things like cure men­tal ill­ness and restore mem­o­ries to sol­diers injured in war. But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone. . . .”
  3. ” . . . . Facebook’s Build­ing 8 is mod­eled after DARPA and its projects tend to be equal­ly ambi­tious. . . .”
  4. ” . . . . But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone. . . .”

Face­book Lit­er­al­ly Wants to Read Your Thoughts” by Kris­ten V. Brown; Giz­modo; 4/19/2017.

At Facebook’s annu­al devel­op­er con­fer­ence, F8, on Wednes­day, the group unveiled what may be Facebook’s most ambitious—and creepiest—proposal yet. Face­book wants to build its own “brain-to-com­put­er inter­face” that would allow us to send thoughts straight to a com­put­er.

What if you could type direct­ly from your brain?” Regi­na Dugan, the head of the company’s secre­tive hard­ware R&D divi­sion, Build­ing 8, asked from the stage. Dugan then pro­ceed­ed to show a video demo of a woman typ­ing eight words per minute direct­ly from the stage. In a few years, she said, the team hopes to demon­strate a real-time silent speech sys­tem capa­ble of deliv­er­ing a hun­dred words per minute.

“That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,” she said. “Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.”

Brain-com­put­er inter­faces are noth­ing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invest­ed heav­i­ly in brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nolo­gies to do things like cure men­tal ill­ness and restore mem­o­ries to sol­diers injured in war. But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone.

“Our world is both dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal,” she said. “Our goal is to cre­ate and ship new, cat­e­go­ry-defin­ing con­sumer prod­ucts that are social first, at scale.”

She also showed a video that demon­strat­ed a sec­ond tech­nol­o­gy that showed the abil­i­ty to “lis­ten” to human speech through vibra­tions on the skin. This tech has been in devel­op­ment to aid peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, work­ing a lit­tle like a Braille that you feel with your body rather than your fin­gers. Using actu­a­tors and sen­sors, a con­nect­ed arm­band was able to con­vey to a woman in the video a tac­tile vocab­u­lary of nine dif­fer­ent words.

Dugan adds that it’s also pos­si­ble to “lis­ten” to human speech by using your skin. It’s like using braille but through a sys­tem of actu­a­tors and sen­sors. Dugan showed a video exam­ple of how a woman could fig­ure out exact­ly what objects were select­ed on a touch­screen based on inputs deliv­ered through a con­nect­ed arm­band.

Facebook’s Build­ing 8 is mod­eled after DARPA and its projects tend to be equal­ly ambi­tious. Brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nol­o­gy is still in its infan­cy. So far, researchers have been suc­cess­ful in using it to allow peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to con­trol par­a­lyzed or pros­thet­ic limbs. But stim­u­lat­ing the brain’s motor cor­tex is a lot sim­pler than read­ing a person’s thoughts and then trans­lat­ing those thoughts into some­thing that might actu­al­ly be read by a com­put­er.

The end goal is to build an online world that feels more immer­sive and real—no doubt so that you spend more time on Face­book.

“Our brains pro­duce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every sec­ond. The prob­lem is that the best way we have to get infor­ma­tion out into the world — speech — can only trans­mit about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem,” CEO Mark Zucker­berg said in a Face­book post. “We’re work­ing on a sys­tem that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today. Even­tu­al­ly, we want to turn it into a wear­able tech­nol­o­gy that can be man­u­fac­tured at scale. Even a sim­ple yes/no ‘brain click’ would help make things like aug­ment­ed real­i­ty feel much more nat­ur­al.”

“That’s five times faster than you can type on your smart­phone, and it’s straight from your brain,” she said. “Your brain activ­i­ty con­tains more infor­ma­tion than what a word sounds like and how it’s spelled; it also con­tains seman­tic infor­ma­tion of what those words mean.”

Brain-com­put­er inter­faces are noth­ing new. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invest­ed heav­i­ly in brain-com­put­er inter­face tech­nolo­gies to do things like cure men­tal ill­ness and restore mem­o­ries to sol­diers injured in war. But what Face­book is propos­ing is per­haps more radical—a world in which social media doesn’t require pick­ing up a phone or tap­ping a wrist watch in order to com­mu­ni­cate with your friends; a world where we’re con­nect­ed all the time by thought alone.

4. The broad­cast then reviews (from FTR #1074) Face­book’s inex­tri­ca­ble link with the Hin­dut­va fas­cist BJP of Naren­dra Modi:

Key ele­ments of dis­cus­sion and analy­sis include:

  1. Indi­an pol­i­tics has been large­ly dom­i­nat­ed by fake news, spread by social media: ” . . . . In the con­tin­u­ing Indi­an elec­tions, as 900 mil­lion peo­ple are vot­ing to elect rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the low­er house of the Par­lia­ment, dis­in­for­ma­tion and hate speech are drown­ing out truth on social media net­works in the coun­try and cre­at­ing a pub­lic health cri­sis like the pan­demics of the past cen­tu­ryThis con­ta­gion of a stag­ger­ing amount of mor­phed images, doc­tored videos and text mes­sages is spread­ing large­ly through mes­sag­ing ser­vices and influ­enc­ing what India’s vot­ers watch and read on their smart­phones. A recent study by Microsoft found that over 64 per­cent Indi­ans encoun­tered fake news online, the high­est report­ed among the 22 coun­tries sur­veyed. . . . These plat­forms are filled with fake news and dis­in­for­ma­tion aimed at influ­enc­ing polit­i­cal choic­es dur­ing the Indi­an elec­tions. . . .
  2. Naren­dra Mod­i’s Hin­dut­va fas­cist BJP has been the pri­ma­ry ben­e­fi­cia­ry of fake news, and his regime has part­nered with Face­book: ” . . . . The hear­ing was an exer­cise in absur­dist the­ater because the gov­ern­ing B.J.P. has been the chief ben­e­fi­cia­ry of divi­sive con­tent that reach­es mil­lions because of the way social media algo­rithms, espe­cial­ly Face­book, ampli­fy ‘engag­ing’ arti­cles. . . .”
  3. Rajesh Jain is among those BJP func­tionar­ies who serve Face­book, as well as the Hin­dut­va fas­cists: ” . . . . By the time Rajesh Jain was scal­ing up his oper­a­tions in 2013, the BJP’s infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy (IT) strate­gists had begun inter­act­ing with social media plat­forms like Face­book and its part­ner What­sApp. If sup­port­ers of the BJP are to be believed, the par­ty was bet­ter than oth­ers in util­is­ing the micro-tar­get­ing poten­tial of the plat­forms. How­ev­er, it is also true that Facebook’s employ­ees in India con­duct­ed train­ing work­shops to help the mem­bers of the BJP’s IT cell. . . .”
  4. Dr. Hiren Joshi is anoth­er of the BJP oper­a­tives who is heav­i­ly involved with Face­book. ” . . . . Also assist­ing the social media and online teams to build a larg­er-than-life image for Modi before the 2014 elec­tions was a team led by his right-hand man Dr Hiren Joshi, who (as already stat­ed) is a very impor­tant advis­er to Modi whose writ extends way beyond infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy and social media. . . .  Joshi has had, and con­tin­ues to have, a close and long-stand­ing asso­ci­a­tion with Facebook’s senior employ­ees in India. . . .”
  5. Shiv­nath Thukral, who was hired by Face­book in 2017 to be its Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Direc­tor for India & South Asia, worked with Joshi’s team in 2014.  ” . . . . The third team, that was intense­ly focused on build­ing Modi’s per­son­al image, was head­ed by Hiren Joshi him­self who worked out of the then Gujarat Chief Minister’s Office in Gand­hi­na­gar. The mem­bers of this team worked close­ly with staffers of Face­book in India, more than one of our sources told us. As will be detailed lat­er, Shiv­nath Thukral, who is cur­rent­ly an impor­tant exec­u­tive in Face­book, worked with this team. . . .”
  6. An osten­si­bly remorse­ful BJP politician–Prodyut Bora–high­light­ed the dra­mat­ic effect of Face­book and its What­sApp sub­sidiary have had on Indi­a’s pol­i­tics: ” . . . . In 2009, social media plat­forms like Face­book and What­sApp had a mar­gin­al impact in India’s 20 big cities. By 2014, how­ev­er, it had vir­tu­al­ly replaced the tra­di­tion­al mass media. In 2019, it will be the most per­va­sive media in the coun­try. . . .”
  7. A con­cise state­ment about the rela­tion­ship between the BJP and Face­book was issued by BJP tech office Vinit Goen­ka” . . . . At one stage in our inter­view with [Vinit] Goen­ka that last­ed over two hours, we asked him a point­ed ques­tion: ‘Who helped whom more, Face­book or the BJP?’ He smiled and said: ‘That’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. I won­der whether the BJP helped Face­book more than Face­book helped the BJP. You could say, we helped each oth­er.’ . . .”

5. In Ukraine, as well, Face­book and the OUN/B suc­ces­sor orga­ni­za­tions func­tion sym­bi­ot­i­cal­ly:

CrowdStrike–at the epi­cen­ter of the sup­posed Russ­ian hack­ing con­tro­ver­sy is note­wor­thy. Its co-founder and chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer, Dmit­ry Alper­ovitch is a senior fel­low at the Atlantic Coun­cil, financed by ele­ments that are at the foun­da­tion of fan­ning the flames of the New Cold War: “In this respect, it is worth not­ing that one of the com­mer­cial cyber­se­cu­ri­ty com­pa­nies the gov­ern­ment has relied on is Crowd­strike, which was one of the com­pa­nies ini­tial­ly brought in by the DNC to inves­ti­gate the alleged hacks. . . . Dmitri Alper­ovitch is also a senior fel­low at the Atlantic Coun­cil. . . . The con­nec­tion between [Crowd­strike co-founder and chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer Dmitri] Alper­ovitch and the Atlantic Coun­cil has gone large­ly unre­marked upon, but it is rel­e­vant giv­en that the Atlantic Coun­cil—which is is fund­ed in part by the US State Depart­ment, NATO, the gov­ern­ments of Latvia and Lithua­nia, the Ukrain­ian World Con­gress, and the Ukrain­ian oli­garch Vic­tor Pinchuk—has been among the loud­est voic­es call­ing for a new Cold War with Rus­sia. As I point­ed out in the pages of The Nation in Novem­ber, the Atlantic Coun­cil has spent the past sev­er­al years pro­duc­ing some of the most vir­u­lent spec­i­mens of the new Cold War pro­pa­gan­da. . . .

(Note that the Atlantic Coun­cil is dom­i­nant in the array of indi­vid­u­als and insti­tu­tions con­sti­tut­ing the Ukrain­ian fascist/Facebook coop­er­a­tive effort. We have spo­ken about the Atlantic Coun­cil in numer­ous pro­grams, includ­ing FTR #943. The orga­ni­za­tion has deep oper­a­tional links to ele­ments of U.S. intel­li­gence, as well as the OUN/B milieu that dom­i­nates the Ukrain­ian dias­po­ra.)

In May of 2018, Face­book decid­ed to effec­tive­ly out­source the work of iden­ti­fy­ing pro­pa­gan­da and mis­in­for­ma­tion dur­ing elec­tions to the Atlantic Coun­cil.

” . . . . Face­book is part­ner­ing with the Atlantic Coun­cil in anoth­er effort to com­bat elec­tion-relat­ed pro­pa­gan­da and mis­in­for­ma­tion from pro­lif­er­at­ing on its ser­vice. The social net­work­ing giant said Thurs­day that a part­ner­ship with the Wash­ing­ton D.C.-based think tank would help it bet­ter spot dis­in­for­ma­tion dur­ing upcom­ing world elec­tions. The part­ner­ship is one of a num­ber of steps Face­book is tak­ing to pre­vent the spread of pro­pa­gan­da and fake news after fail­ing to stop it from spread­ing on its ser­vice in the run up to the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. . . .”

Since autumn 2018, Face­book has looked to hire a pub­lic pol­i­cy man­ag­er for Ukraine. The job came after years of Ukraini­ans crit­i­ciz­ing the plat­form for take­downs of its activists’ pages and the spread of [alleged] Russ­ian dis­in­fo tar­get­ing Kyiv. Now, it appears to have one: @Kateryna_Kruk.— Christo­pher Miller (@ChristopherJM) June 3, 2019

Oleh Tihany­bok, leader of the OUN/B suc­ces­sor orga­ni­za­tion Svo­bo­da, for which Katery­na Kruk worked.

Katery­na Kruk:

  1. Is Facebook’s Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Man­ag­er for Ukraine as of May of this year, accord­ing to her LinkedIn page.
  2. Worked as an ana­lyst and TV host for the Ukrain­ian ‘anti-Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da’ out­fit Stop­Fake. Stop­Fake is the cre­ation of Ire­na Chalu­pa, who works for the Atlantic Coun­cil and the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment and appears to be the sis­ter of Andrea and Alexan­dra Chalu­pa.
  3. Joined the “Krem­lin Watch” team at the Euro­pean Val­ues think-tank, in Octo­ber of 2017.
  4. Received the Atlantic Coun­cil’s Free­dom award for her com­mu­ni­ca­tions work dur­ing the Euro­maid­an protests in June of 2014.
  5. Worked for OUN/B suc­ces­sor orga­ni­za­tion Svo­bo­da dur­ing the Euro­maid­an protests. “ . . . ‘There are peo­ple who don’t sup­port Svo­bo­da because of some of their slo­gans, but they know it’s the most active polit­i­cal par­ty and go to them for help, said Svo­bo­da vol­un­teer Katery­na Kruk. . . . ” . . . .
  6. Also has a num­ber of arti­cles on the Atlantic Council’s Blog. Here’s a blog post from August of 2018 where she advo­cates for the cre­ation of an inde­pen­dent Ukrain­ian Ortho­dox Church to dimin­ish the influ­ence of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church.
  7. Accord­ing to her LinkedIn page has also done exten­sive work for the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment. From March 2016 to Jan­u­ary 2017 she was the Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Man­ag­er for the Ukrain­ian par­lia­ment where she was respon­si­ble for social media and inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions. From Jan­u­ary-April 2017 she was the Head of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Min­istry of Health.
  8. Was not only was a vol­un­teer for Svo­bo­da dur­ing the 2014 Euro­maid­an protests, but open­ly cel­e­brat­ed on twit­ter the May 2014 mas­sacre in Odessa when the far right burned dozens of pro­tes­tors alive. Kruk’s twit­ter feed is set to pri­vate now so there isn’t pub­lic access to her old tweet, but peo­ple have screen cap­tures of it. Here’s a tweet from Yasha Levine with a screen­shot of Kruk’s May 2, 2014 tweet where she writes: “#Odessa cleaned itself from ter­ror­ists, proud for city fight­ing for its identity.glory to fall­en heroes..” She even threw in a “glo­ry to fall­en heroes” at the end of her tweet cel­e­brat­ing this mas­sacre. Keep in mind that it was month after this tweet that the Atlantic Coun­cil gave her that Free­dom Award for her com­mu­ni­ca­tions work dur­ing the protests.
  9. In 2014, . . .  tweet­ed that a man had asked her to con­vince his grand­son not to join the Azov Bat­tal­ion, a neo-Nazi mili­tia. “I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I thanked that boy and blessed him.” And he then trav­eled to Luhan­sk to fight pro-Russ­ian rebels.
  10. Lion­ized a Nazi sniper killed in Ukraine’s civ­il war. In March 2018, a 19-year neo-Nazi named Andriy “Dil­ly” Krivich was shot and killed by a sniper. Krivich had been fight­ing with the fas­cist Ukrain­ian group Right Sec­tor, and had post­ed pho­tos on social media wear­ing Nazi Ger­man sym­bols. After he was killed, Kruk tweet­ed an homage to the teenage Nazi. (The Nazi was also lion­ized on Euro­maid­an Press’ Face­book page.)
  11. Has staunch­ly defend­ed the use of the slo­gan “Sla­va Ukrai­ni,”which was first coined and pop­u­lar­ized by Nazi-col­lab­o­rat­ing fas­cists, and is now the offi­cial salute of Ukraine’s army.
  12. Has also said that the Ukrain­ian fas­cist politi­cian Andriy Paru­biy, who co-found­ed a neo-Nazi par­ty before lat­er becom­ing the chair­man of Ukraine’s par­lia­ment the Rada, is “act­ing smart,” writ­ing, “Paru­biy touche.” . . . .

Discussion

12 comments for “FTR #1077 Surveillance Valley, Part 3: Cambridge Analytica, Democracy and Counterinsurgency”

  1. It sounds like Palan­tir is expe­ri­enc­ing some sig­nif­i­cant employ­ee morale prob­lems. Why? Because it turns out Palan­tir’s Inves­tiga­tive Case Man­age­ment, or ICM, sys­tem that is cur­rent­ly being used by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) has been used to build pro­files and track undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, includ­ing those immi­grant fam­i­lies where chil­dren have been sep­a­rat­ed by par­ents. Palan­tir’s soft­ware is also used to deter­mine tar­gets for arrest. For exam­ple, ICE agents relied on Palantir’s ICM dur­ing a 2017 oper­a­tion that tar­get­ed fam­i­lies of migrant chil­dren. ICE agents were instruct­ed to use ICM to doc­u­ment any inter­ac­tion they have with unac­com­pa­nied chil­dren try­ing to cross the bor­der and they deter­mined the chil­dren’s par­ents or oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers facil­i­tat­ed smug­gling them across the bor­der, the fam­i­ly mem­bers could be arrest­ed and pros­e­cut­ed for depor­ta­tion. Ear­li­er this month, the ICE unit that car­ried out the recent high-pro­file raid in Mis­sis­sip­pi — where 680 peo­ple were arrest­ed and detained dur­ing a school day, result­ing in hun­dreds of chil­dren be sent home from school to homes with­out their par­ents — uses Palan­tir’s ICM soft­ware. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, Palan­tir was con­tract­ed in 2014 to build this ICM sys­tem that lets agents access dig­i­tal pro­files of peo­ple sus­pect­ed of vio­lat­ing immi­gra­tion laws and orga­nize records about them in one place. The data in the pro­files includes emails, phone records, text mes­sages and data from auto­mat­ic license plate cam­eras so this is poten­tial­ly very inva­sive data­bas­es of infor­ma­tion on the US immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty.

    The fact that the ICM sys­tem is now being used to iden­ti­fy the par­ents and chil­dren who end up get­ting sep­a­rat­ed has under­stand­ably result­ed in a num­ber of Palan­tir employ­ees expe­ri­enc­ing crises of con­science. Although Palan­tir’s lead­er­ship has­n’t expe­ri­ence this cri­sis. Quite the oppo­site. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, Palan­tir has in fact used sim­i­lar sto­ries about employ­ee con­cerns at Google over work the Google was doing for the US mil­i­tary as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to bash Google and declare that Palan­tir would­n’t have such con­cerns about con­tro­ver­sial gov­ern­ment work. And more recent­ly, the com­pa­ny just renewed a $42 mil­lion con­tract with ICE and CEO Alex Karp has defend­ed the role Palan­tir plays with ICE dur­ing com­pa­ny town hall meet­ings. In gen­er­al, it appears that Palan­tir is active­ly try­ing to brand itself in Wash­ing­ton DC as the Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­ny that won’t suf­fer from moral qualms about the work its con­tract­ed to do (even if many of the employ­ees are actu­al­ly suf­fer­ing moral qualms):

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    The war inside Palan­tir: Data-min­ing firm’s ties to ICE under attack by employ­ees

    By Dou­glas MacMil­lan and Eliz­a­beth Dwoskin
    August 22, 2019

    Alex Karp faced a dilem­ma last year, when employ­ees of the data-min­ing com­pa­ny Palan­tir con­front­ed the chief exec­u­tive with their con­cerns over a part­ner­ship with Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment, accord­ing to three peo­ple famil­iar with the inci­dent.

    Palan­tir pro­vid­ed dig­i­tal pro­fil­ing tools to the fed­er­al agency as it car­ried out Pres­i­dent Trump’s increas­ing­ly con­tro­ver­sial poli­cies for appre­hend­ing and deport­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, trou­bling more than 200 employ­ees who signed a let­ter to Karp, the peo­ple said.

    End­ing the con­tracts with ICE would risk a back­lash in Wash­ing­ton, where Palan­tir was quick­ly becom­ing a go-to provider of data-min­ing ser­vices to a wide range of fed­er­al agen­cies. Data min­ing is a process of com­pil­ing mul­ti­tudes of infor­ma­tion from dis­parate sources to show pat­terns and rela­tion­ships. Google’s deci­sion, ear­li­er the same year, to end a con­tract with the Pen­ta­gon over pres­sure from its employ­ees had chilled the Inter­net giant’s rela­tion­ships with some gov­ern­ment lead­ers who accused it of betray­ing Amer­i­can inter­ests.

    Karp refused to budge. He renewed an ICE con­tract worth up to $42 mil­lion and defend­ed the pro­gram at a com­pa­ny town hall meet­ing, the peo­ple said. In media inter­views and an online ad cam­paign this year, Karp bashed Google for back­ing out of its gov­ern­ment con­tract and sug­gest­ed Palan­tir wouldn’t do the same.

    “Sil­i­con Val­ley is telling the aver­age Amer­i­can ‘I will not sup­port your defense needs,’” Karp told an inter­view­er in Jan­u­ary, a quote the com­pa­ny repeat­ed in a recent ad on Twit­ter. Peter Thiel, Palantir’s bil­lion­aire co-founder, echoed that mes­sage at a con­fer­ence last month, when he called Google’s actions “trea­so­nous.”

    “Sil­i­con Val­ley is telling the aver­age Amer­i­can ‘I will not sup­port your defense needs’ while sell­ing prod­ucts to coun­tries that are adver­sar­i­al to Amer­i­ca. That is a los­er posi­tion.”

    — Palan­tir (@PalantirTech) July 18, 2019

    The con­tro­ver­sy around ICE high­lights a ten­sion at the cen­ter of Palantir’s busi­ness, which relies on the U.S. gov­ern­ment for con­tracts and on Sil­i­con Val­ley for tal­ent. As Trump’s poli­cies divide tech work­ers in the large­ly lib­er­al Bay Area, Palan­tir must bal­ance keep­ing work­ers hap­py and pre­serv­ing the trust of its No. 1 cus­tomer.

    Palantir’s predica­ment illus­trates the tightrope walk many busi­ness­es must per­form in an age of ris­ing polit­i­cal activism, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Sil­i­con Val­ley, where tech work­ers have staged walk­outs and cir­cu­lat­ed peti­tions to protest col­lab­o­ra­tions with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. In their respons­es to work­er upris­ings, the lead­ers of Ama­zon, Google, Microsoft and Sales­force have tried to grap­ple with the eth­i­cal con­cerns posed by their employ­ees — Microsoft, for exam­ple, told employ­ees they don’t have to work on mil­i­tary projects if they don’t want to — while mak­ing it clear they want to keep doing busi­ness with the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

    So far, Palan­tir has stood firm in its sup­port of the gov­ern­ment, even as employ­ees and activist groups say there is grow­ing evi­dence that Palan­tir lends sup­port to agents whose work vio­lates the civ­il lib­er­ties of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. A work­place raid result­ing in the arrest of 680 migrant work­ers in Mis­sis­sip­pi on Aug. 7 was car­ried out by the unit of ICE that uses Palan­tir soft­ware to inves­ti­gate poten­tial tar­gets and com­pile evi­dence against them.

    In anoth­er employ­ee peti­tion this month, more than 60 Palan­tir work­ers asked man­age­ment to redi­rect the prof­its from ICE con­tracts to a non­prof­it char­i­ty, the peo­ple said. The com­pa­ny renewed a sec­ond ICE con­tract on Aug. 19.

    In an inter­view with Bloomberg News this week, Karp said the gov­ern­ment should be respon­si­ble for answer­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions about how tech­nolo­gies may be used to sur­veil cit­i­zens.

    “I do not believe that these ques­tions should be decid­ed in Sil­i­con Val­ley by a num­ber of engi­neers at large plat­form com­pa­nies,” Karp said in the inter­view.

    ...

    Found­ed in the patri­ot­ic fer­vor that fol­lowed the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist attacks, with $2 mil­lion in seed mon­ey from a CIA incu­ba­tor, Palan­tir has always pro­mot­ed a mis­sion to defend Amer­i­can inter­ests. Fed­er­al author­i­ties rely on its data plat­form to track down ter­ror­ists, insur­gents, drug smug­glers and insid­er traders, records show.

    Palantir’s busi­ness has flour­ished since Trump took office, with rev­enue from U.S. gov­ern­ment con­tracts under his first two-and-a-half years in office already sur­pass­ing its total under Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s entire sec­ond term. The Army con­tract, award­ed in March and poten­tial­ly worth more than $800 mil­lion, marked the first time a Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­ny had been cho­sen to lead a defense pro­gram of record, a type of con­tract with a ded­i­cat­ed line of fund­ing from Con­gress.

    Many of Palan­tir 2,500 employ­ees have debat­ed the ICE con­tracts in town hall meet­ings, office hall­ways, Slack chan­nels and email threads, accord­ing to cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because the com­pa­ny bound them to con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ments. Palan­tir employ­ees, called “Palan­tiri­ans,” have tak­en both sides of the issue: Immi­grant employ­ees have writ­ten heart­felt let­ters shar­ing why they are opposed to the ICE con­tracts, while at least one for­mer ICE offi­cial who now works at Palan­tir has defend­ed them, accord­ing to a cur­rent engi­neer at the com­pa­ny.

    Employ­ees who sup­port the ICE part­ner­ship believe Palan­tir has helped the agency do more good than bad, includ­ing sup­port­ing mis­sions to appre­hend dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals, accord­ing to two cur­rent employ­ees. But oth­ers have felt deflat­ed by what they see as management’s lack of recep­tiv­i­ty to their con­cerns, two for­mer employ­ees said. A com­pa­ny with a mis­sion to “work for the com­mon good,” accord­ing to recent job list­ings, increas­ing­ly feels to some work­ers like a tool for Trump’s polit­i­cal agen­da.

    “There’s a ver­sion of the sto­ry where they are the good guys,” one for­mer employ­ee said. “Every­one wants to pro­tect ser­vice mem­bers from IEDs. Every­one wants to pre­vent human traf­fick­ing. Not every­one can get behind work­ing for ICE to help deport immi­grants.”

    ‘Sil­i­con Val­ley kids’ earn respect

    For years, Palan­tir was viewed skep­ti­cal­ly by Wash­ing­ton insid­ers, who saw the Palo Alto, Calif.-based com­pa­ny as a rag­tag team of tech pro­gram­mers who wore hood­ies and flip-flops to work. They were “a bunch of Sil­i­con Val­ley kids,” said a for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cial who award­ed Palan­tir a con­tract in 2009.

    That image began to change as ser­vice mem­bers deployed in Afghanistan grew impressed with Palantir’s abil­i­ty to quick­ly assim­i­late troves of data into maps and charts, show­ing the move­ments, for exam­ple, of insur­gents across a land­scape and the like­ly posi­tions of impro­vised explo­sive devices. After tri­al runs with the Navy, Army and Spe­cial Forces, sev­er­al top Pen­ta­gon offi­cials saw Palantir’s plat­form as more pow­er­ful and reli­able than com­pet­ing tools sup­plied by long­time gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors such as Raytheon. The com­pa­ny still strug­gled to win defense busi­ness because of a con­tract pro­cure­ment process that heav­i­ly favored incum­bents.

    The $800 mil­lion Army con­tract, in which Palan­tir will build the nerve cen­ter of a vast intel­li­gence gath­er­ing net­work, was pos­si­ble only because Palan­tir suc­cess­ful­ly argued in court that the gov­ern­ment was required by law to con­sid­er pur­chas­ing com­mer­cial prod­ucts, instead of only cus­tom ones made by con­tract­ing firms. It won the court case in 2016, under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, and won the con­tract this past March, amid a blitz of lob­by­ing and rela­tion­ship-build­ing with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

    Palantir’s most vis­i­ble tie to the White House is Thiel, the company’s out­spo­ken co-founder, chief backer and exec­u­tive chair­man. An avowed lib­er­tar­i­an who has railed against the tech industry’s pre­dom­i­nant­ly lib­er­al pol­i­tics, Thiel fre­quent­ly embraces con­tro­ver­sy. He gained noto­ri­ety for bankrolling a suc­cess­ful law­suit against the news site Gawk­er, lead­ing to its bank­rupt­cy in 2016. (In an inter­view with the New York Times, he said Gawk­er pub­lished arti­cles that were “very painful and par­a­lyz­ing for peo­ple who were tar­get­ed,” adding: “I thought it was worth fight­ing back.”)

    Thiel donat­ed $1.2 mil­lion to Trump’s 2016 cam­paign and stumped for him at the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion, argu­ing he was the leader with the most poten­tial to rebuild the Amer­i­can econ­o­my. He was award­ed a spot on Trump’s tran­si­tion team and helped orga­nize the president’s ini­tial out­reach to tech indus­try lead­ers. At a Trump Tow­er sum­mit for tech CEOs on the eve of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy, Karp was invit­ed to rep­re­sent Palan­tir. Flanked by titans of Ama­zon, Microsoft and Google, his was the small­est com­pa­ny by mar­ket val­ue rep­re­sent­ed at the meet­ing.

    The investor, who now lives in Los Ange­les, makes rare appear­ances in Wash­ing­ton, but remains in favor with the pres­i­dent, accord­ing to a per­son close to him. Thiel joined Trump and Ora­cle CEO Safra Catz for a pri­vate din­ner at the White House ear­li­er this year, accord­ing to two peo­ple briefed on the meet­ing. The trio dis­cussed tech com­pa­nies includ­ing Google and Ama­zon, and the $10 bil­lion cloud-com­put­ing con­tract for which Ama­zon is com­pet­ing with Ora­cle, one of the peo­ple said. (Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.)

    Sev­er­al Thiel asso­ciates have worked in the admin­is­tra­tion, includ­ing on the tran­si­tion teams at the Pen­ta­gon and the Depart­ment of Com­merce. Both agen­cies sub­se­quent­ly award­ed con­tracts to Palan­tir.

    The data-min­ing firm paid lob­by­ists $1.7 mil­lion in 2018 to push for laws that would help open the gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment process to com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy providers.

    The busi­ness of war

    Google’s with­draw­al from the Defense Depart­ment pro­gram called Project Maven in sum­mer 2018 ignit­ed a debate about how U.S. tech giants should bal­ance the eth­i­cal con­cerns of rank-and-file work­ers and the secu­ri­ty inter­ests of the nation. Thou­sands of Google employ­ees signed a peti­tion argu­ing the com­pa­ny “should not be in the busi­ness of war,” but end­ing the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence part­ner­ship may have risked Amer­i­can lives, for­mer deputy defense sec­re­tary Bob Work said at the time.

    With Google pulling out of a Pen­ta­gon part­ner­ship, Palan­tir saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to tell gov­ern­ment cus­tomers they wouldn’t do the same, said Kara Fred­er­ick, an asso­ciate fel­low at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty.

    “They see that there is a gap in the mar­ket for a com­pa­ny that is will­ing to stand up and say, ‘Yes, we are going to help the U.S. gov­ern­ment achieve its ends,’” said Fred­er­ick, who research­es the use of emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies in defense.

    Palantir’s lead­ers joined the crit­i­cism of Google. In a CNBC inter­view in Jan­u­ary, Karp said Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies that refuse to work with the U.S. gov­ern­ment are “bor­der­line craven” and added that he’s hap­py Palan­tir is “not on that side of the debate.” In a speech to the Nation­al Con­ser­vatism Con­fer­ence in July, Thiel claimed, with­out evi­dence, that Google has been “infil­trat­ed by Chi­nese intel­li­gence.”

    Thiel didn’t men­tion his own ties to a com­pa­ny that ben­e­fit­ed from Google’s deci­sion to pull out of the Pen­ta­gon deal. Anduril, a defense start-up backed by Thiel’s invest­ment firm, Founders Fund, was recent­ly award­ed a con­tract on Project Maven.

    In a tweet this month, Trump respond­ed to Thiel’s alle­ga­tions against Google, call­ing the investor “a great and bril­liant guy who knows this sub­ject bet­ter than any­one.” In a sep­a­rate fol­low-up, admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said there was no rea­son to sus­pect espi­onage at Google.

    In a state­ment, a Google spokes­woman said the com­pa­ny con­tin­ues to work with the Defense Depart­ment in areas such as cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and health care, and does not work with the Chi­nese mil­i­tary.

    Raids and depor­ta­tions

    Now, Palan­tir is in the crosshairs of activists.

    Pro­test­ers from civ­il rights groups, includ­ing Mijente and Jews for Racial and Eco­nom­ic Jus­tice, have gath­ered out­side Palantir’s Man­hat­tan offices in recent weeks to call for an end to the company’s work with ICE. As employ­ees filed into work in the morn­ing, vol­un­teers hand­ed out fliers explain­ing how Palantir’s soft­ware has been used by ICE agents tar­get­ing migrant work­ers.

    “Tell man­age­ment that you do not want Palan­tir involved in con­tracts that harm immi­grants,” one fli­er read.

    Palan­tir began work­ing with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, the agency that over­sees ICE, in 2011. The com­pa­ny was involved in an effort called “Oper­a­tion Fall­en Hero,” which hunt­ed down mem­bers of the Los Zetas drug traf­fick­ing ring believed to have mur­dered an ICE spe­cial agent. Palantir’s soft­ware was used to assim­i­late data from the Drug Enforce­ment Admin­is­tra­tion, FBI and DHS — includ­ing sur­veil­lance images, smug­gling routes and elec­tron­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tions — to quick­ly find leads, records show. The oper­a­tion led to 782 arrests for crim­i­nal vio­la­tions and 634 “non­crim­i­nal immi­gra­tion arrests,” accord­ing to an ICE official’s tes­ti­mo­ny.

    In 2014, Palan­tir won a con­tract to build a cen­tral dig­i­tal repos­i­to­ry of records, called an Inves­tiga­tive Case Man­age­ment, or ICM, sys­tem. The ICM sys­tem lets agents access dig­i­tal pro­files of peo­ple sus­pect­ed of vio­lat­ing immi­gra­tion laws and orga­nize records about them in one place, accord­ing to DHS doc­u­ments. These records may include inves­tiga­tive evi­dence such as emails, phone records, text mes­sages and data from auto­mat­ic license plate cam­eras, accord­ing to DHS.

    ICE agents relied on Palantir’s ICM sys­tem dur­ing a 2017 oper­a­tion that tar­get­ed fam­i­lies of migrant chil­dren, accord­ing to an ICE doc­u­ment pub­lished in May by Mijente and the Inter­cept, an online news ser­vice. As part of the mis­sion, ICE agents were instruct­ed to use ICM to doc­u­ment any inter­ac­tion they have with unac­com­pa­nied chil­dren try­ing to cross the bor­der. If the agency deter­mined their par­ents or oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers facil­i­tat­ed smug­gling them across the bor­der, the fam­i­ly mem­bers could be arrest­ed and pros­e­cut­ed for depor­ta­tion, the ICE doc­u­ment said.

    Mijente has argued that by sup­port­ing this oper­a­tion, Palan­tir was com­plic­it in Trump’s pol­i­cy of sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and plac­ing peo­ple in bor­der deten­tion cen­ters with ques­tion­able con­di­tions. Pri­va­cy rights groups includ­ing the Elec­tron­ic Pri­va­cy Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter have raised con­cerns that ICM and FALCON, anoth­er Palan­tir tool used by ICE, may vio­late the pri­va­cy of the peo­ple tracked by these data­bas­es.

    Palan­tir has a con­tract with the divi­sion of ICE called Home­land Secu­ri­ty Inves­ti­ga­tions, or HSI. It does not have a con­tract with anoth­er ICE divi­sion called Enforce­ment and Removal Oper­a­tions, or ERO, the unit that his­tor­i­cal­ly has tak­en the lead on raids and depor­ta­tions of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. Karp has fre­quent­ly brought up this dis­tinc­tion when defend­ing the company’s work with ICE, accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees.

    How­ev­er, this month, author­i­ties con­firmed that the raids in Mis­sis­sip­pi were car­ried out by HSI, the divi­sion that uses Palan­tir. It’s not clear to what extent Palantir’s prod­ucts have been used to plan or exe­cute work­place raids. Dur­ing prepa­ra­tions for an ICE raid of 7‑Eleven stores across the coun­try last year, an ICE super­vi­sor instruct­ed agents to use Palantir’s FALCON mobile app “to share info with the com­mand cen­ter about the sub­jects encoun­tered in the stores as well as team loca­tions,” accord­ing to emails pub­lished by WNYC last month.

    ...

    ———-
    “The war inside Palan­tir: Data-min­ing firm’s ties to ICE under attack by employ­ees” by Dou­glas MacMil­lan and Eliz­a­beth Dwoskin; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 08/22/2019

    End­ing the con­tracts with ICE would risk a back­lash in Wash­ing­ton, where Palan­tir was quick­ly becom­ing a go-to provider of data-min­ing ser­vices to a wide range of fed­er­al agen­cies. Data min­ing is a process of com­pil­ing mul­ti­tudes of infor­ma­tion from dis­parate sources to show pat­terns and rela­tion­ships. Google’s deci­sion, ear­li­er the same year, to end a con­tract with the Pen­ta­gon over pres­sure from its employ­ees had chilled the Inter­net giant’s rela­tion­ships with some gov­ern­ment lead­ers who accused it of betray­ing Amer­i­can inter­ests.

    This is the fun­da­men­tal busi­ness prob­lem Palan­tir faces when con­fronting fun­da­men­tal moral prob­lems: its main cus­tomer is the US fed­er­al gov­ern­ment so if it refus­es a con­tract like the ICE case man­age­ment soft­ware con­tract the com­pa­ny risks the rest of those fed­er­al con­tracts. That’s Palan­tir’s busi­ness mod­el. A busi­ness mod­el that includes build­ing the Inves­tiga­tive Case Man­age­ment (ICM) sys­tem that allows ICE to cre­ate detailed dig­i­tal pro­files on indi­vid­u­als. It’s the kind of pow­er­ful tech­nol­o­gy that all sorts of gov­ern­ment agen­cies might be inter­est­ed ing, and maybe even the Palan­tir’s cor­po­rate clients. Build­ing pow­er­ful pro­files of large num­bers of indi­vid­u­als is a gener­i­cal­ly use­ful capa­bil­i­ty to offer clients. But in the end, it’s the US fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that is Palan­tir’s core client and that’s why the com­pa­ny can’t eas­i­ly dis­miss con­tro­ver­sial con­tracts with agen­cies like ICE and when its tools are being used to break up migrant fam­i­lies:

    ...
    In 2014, Palan­tir won a con­tract to build a cen­tral dig­i­tal repos­i­to­ry of records, called an Inves­tiga­tive Case Man­age­ment, or ICM, sys­tem. The ICM sys­tem lets agents access dig­i­tal pro­files of peo­ple sus­pect­ed of vio­lat­ing immi­gra­tion laws and orga­nize records about them in one place, accord­ing to DHS doc­u­ments. These records may include inves­tiga­tive evi­dence such as emails, phone records, text mes­sages and data from auto­mat­ic license plate cam­eras, accord­ing to DHS.

    ICE agents relied on Palantir’s ICM sys­tem dur­ing a 2017 oper­a­tion that tar­get­ed fam­i­lies of migrant chil­dren, accord­ing to an ICE doc­u­ment pub­lished in May by Mijente and the Inter­cept, an online news ser­vice. As part of the mis­sion, ICE agents were instruct­ed to use ICM to doc­u­ment any inter­ac­tion they have with unac­com­pa­nied chil­dren try­ing to cross the bor­der. If the agency deter­mined their par­ents or oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers facil­i­tat­ed smug­gling them across the bor­der, the fam­i­ly mem­bers could be arrest­ed and pros­e­cut­ed for depor­ta­tion, the ICE doc­u­ment said.

    Mijente has argued that by sup­port­ing this oper­a­tion, Palan­tir was com­plic­it in Trump’s pol­i­cy of sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and plac­ing peo­ple in bor­der deten­tion cen­ters with ques­tion­able con­di­tions. Pri­va­cy rights groups includ­ing the Elec­tron­ic Pri­va­cy Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter have raised con­cerns that ICM and FALCON, anoth­er Palan­tir tool used by ICE, may vio­late the pri­va­cy of the peo­ple tracked by these data­bas­es.

    Palan­tir has a con­tract with the divi­sion of ICE called Home­land Secu­ri­ty Inves­ti­ga­tions, or HSI. It does not have a con­tract with anoth­er ICE divi­sion called Enforce­ment and Removal Oper­a­tions, or ERO, the unit that his­tor­i­cal­ly has tak­en the lead on raids and depor­ta­tions of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. Karp has fre­quent­ly brought up this dis­tinc­tion when defend­ing the company’s work with ICE, accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees.

    How­ev­er, this month, author­i­ties con­firmed that the raids in Mis­sis­sip­pi were car­ried out by HSI, the divi­sion that uses Palan­tir. It’s not clear to what extent Palantir’s prod­ucts have been used to plan or exe­cute work­place raids. Dur­ing prepa­ra­tions for an ICE raid of 7‑Eleven stores across the coun­try last year, an ICE super­vi­sor instruct­ed agents to use Palantir’s FALCON mobile app “to share info with the com­mand cen­ter about the sub­jects encoun­tered in the stores as well as team loca­tions,” accord­ing to emails pub­lished by WNYC last month.
    ...

    It’s that busi­ness mod­el that’s built around keep the US fed­er­al gov­ern­ment as a core client that makes it no sur­prise to learn that Alex Karp not only dis­missed the con­cerns of those 200 employ­ees, but Palan­tir recent­ly renewed a con­tract with ICE worth $42 mil­lion. In addi­tion, Thiel has pub­licly attacked Google for back­ing out of a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­tract and sug­gest­ed that Google was trea­so­nous (as part of alle­ga­tion that the Chi­nese mil­i­tary had infil­trat­ed Google). And Alex Karp recent­ly gave an inter­view where he shared his view that “I do not believe that these ques­tions should be decid­ed in Sil­i­con Val­ley by a num­ber of engi­neers at large plat­form com­pa­nies.” So the mes­sage from Karp appears to be that Palan­tir aren’t actu­al­ly going to engage in any kind of moral deci­sion-mak­ing when it comes to its con­tracts with fed­er­al gov­ern­ment at all. Not con­sid­er­ing the moral­i­ty of its actions is part of this busi­ness mod­el:

    ...
    Palan­tir pro­vid­ed dig­i­tal pro­fil­ing tools to the fed­er­al agency as it car­ried out Pres­i­dent Trump’s increas­ing­ly con­tro­ver­sial poli­cies for appre­hend­ing and deport­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, trou­bling more than 200 employ­ees who signed a let­ter to Karp, the peo­ple said.

    ...

    Karp refused to budge. He renewed an ICE con­tract worth up to $42 mil­lion and defend­ed the pro­gram at a com­pa­ny town hall meet­ing, the peo­ple said. In media inter­views and an online ad cam­paign this year, Karp bashed Google for back­ing out of its gov­ern­ment con­tract and sug­gest­ed Palan­tir wouldn’t do the same.

    “Sil­i­con Val­ley is telling the aver­age Amer­i­can ‘I will not sup­port your defense needs,’” Karp told an inter­view­er in Jan­u­ary, a quote the com­pa­ny repeat­ed in a recent ad on Twit­ter. Peter Thiel, Palantir’s bil­lion­aire co-founder, echoed that mes­sage at a con­fer­ence last month, when he called Google’s actions “trea­so­nous.”

    “Sil­i­con Val­ley is telling the aver­age Amer­i­can ‘I will not sup­port your defense needs’ while sell­ing prod­ucts to coun­tries that are adver­sar­i­al to Amer­i­ca. That is a los­er posi­tion.”

    — Palan­tir (@PalantirTech) July 18, 2019

    The con­tro­ver­sy around ICE high­lights a ten­sion at the cen­ter of Palantir’s busi­ness, which relies on the U.S. gov­ern­ment for con­tracts and on Sil­i­con Val­ley for tal­ent. As Trump’s poli­cies divide tech work­ers in the large­ly lib­er­al Bay Area, Palan­tir must bal­ance keep­ing work­ers hap­py and pre­serv­ing the trust of its No. 1 cus­tomer.

    ...

    In an inter­view with Bloomberg News this week, Karp said the gov­ern­ment should be respon­si­ble for answer­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions about how tech­nolo­gies may be used to sur­veil cit­i­zens.

    “I do not believe that these ques­tions should be decid­ed in Sil­i­con Val­ley by a num­ber of engi­neers at large plat­form com­pa­nies,” Karp said in the inter­view.
    ...

    And that ‘amoral con­trac­tor for hire’ atti­tude has clear­ly paid off. In March of this year, Palan­tir was award­ed a mas­sive $800 mil­lion con­tract to devel­op a new intel­li­gence gath­er­ing net­work for the US mil­i­tary. Inter­est­ing­ly, in order to win this con­tract, Palan­tir first had to win a court case that found that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is required by law to con­sid­er com­mer­cial­ly avail­able prod­ucts instead of only the cus­tom prod­ucts built by con­tract­ing firms. This 2016 court rul­ing essen­tial­ly forced the mil­i­tary into recon­sid­er­ing its deci­sion to go with the estab­lish­ment con­trac­tor, Raytheon, for this big new con­tract and Palan­tir end­ed up win­ning in that con­test. So giv­en that Palan­tir’s com­mer­cial­ly avail­able soft­ware is pre­sum­ably poten­tial­ly applic­a­ble to a lot more gov­ern­ment agen­cies than cur­rent­ly use it, it’s going to be inter­est­ing to see how many new fed­er­al con­tracts with the US gov­ern­ment the com­pa­ny ends up secur­ing in com­ing years:

    ...
    Found­ed in the patri­ot­ic fer­vor that fol­lowed the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist attacks, with $2 mil­lion in seed mon­ey from a CIA incu­ba­tor, Palan­tir has always pro­mot­ed a mis­sion to defend Amer­i­can inter­ests. Fed­er­al author­i­ties rely on its data plat­form to track down ter­ror­ists, insur­gents, drug smug­glers and insid­er traders, records show.

    Palantir’s busi­ness has flour­ished since Trump took office, with rev­enue from U.S. gov­ern­ment con­tracts under his first two-and-a-half years in office already sur­pass­ing its total under Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s entire sec­ond term. The Army con­tract, award­ed in March and poten­tial­ly worth more than $800 mil­lion, marked the first time a Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­ny had been cho­sen to lead a defense pro­gram of record, a type of con­tract with a ded­i­cat­ed line of fund­ing from Con­gress.

    ...

    The $800 mil­lion Army con­tract, in which Palan­tir will build the nerve cen­ter of a vast intel­li­gence gath­er­ing net­work, was pos­si­ble only because Palan­tir suc­cess­ful­ly argued in court that the gov­ern­ment was required by law to con­sid­er pur­chas­ing com­mer­cial prod­ucts, instead of only cus­tom ones made by con­tract­ing firms. It won the court case in 2016, under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, and won the con­tract this past March, amid a blitz of lob­by­ing and rela­tion­ship-build­ing with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

    ...

    The data-min­ing firm paid lob­by­ists $1.7 mil­lion in 2018 to push for laws that would help open the gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment process to com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy providers.
    ...

    So Palan­tir is going to be even more deeply embed­ded into the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state and mil­i­tary fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of this new giant Army con­tract to build the nerve cen­ter of a vast intel­li­gence gath­er­ing net­work. What kinds of giant data­bas­es of per­son­al pro­files might this con­tract involve?

    And since Palan­tir’s case man­age­ment soft­ware (ICM) that allows for the build­ing of detailed pro­files on large num­bers of peo­ple is one of the main prod­ucts ICE is inter­est­ed in, and pre­sum­ably a lot of oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies too, it’s worth recall­ing that the PROMIS mega-scan­dal involved bugged com­mer­cial case man­age­ment soft­ware also devel­oped in coop­er­a­tion with the US gov­ern­ment. It’s espe­cial­ly notable since Palan­tir has oth­er cor­po­rate clients too, as was the case with PROMIS. And, of course, there’s the whole PRISM saga that makes it abun­dant­ly clear Palan­tir is hap­py to assist with spy­ing. In oth­er words, if we were to see a repeat of PROMIS in the mod­ern age, it’s a good bet Palan­tir will be involved. At a min­i­mum, we know the com­pa­ny won’t have any moral qualms about being the next PROMIS.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 27, 2019, 2:20 pm
  2. Here’s the lat­est exam­ple of the GOP’s ongo­ing and grow­ing efforts to ‘work the refs’ in the media and tech indus­try. We’ve already seen how the laugh­able claims of anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias waged against social media com­pa­nies have become a cen­tral part of the core right-wing strat­e­gy of get­ting favor­able social media treat­ment and ensur­ing the plat­forms remain viable out­lets for right-wing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns. Now there appears to be a sig­nif­i­cant fund-rais­ing effort to finance a project ded­i­cat­ed to research­ing the past of jour­nal­ists work­ing for vir­tu­al­ly all major main­stream new out­lets, includ­ing their past social media post­ings, and find any­thing that can be embar­rass­ing. The effort is being led by Arthur Schwartz, a Steve Ban­non ally who is described as Don­ald Trump Jr’s “fix­er”.

    But it get more devi­ous: this group is claim­ing that they aren’t just going to engage in deep oppo­si­tion research of jour­nal­ists who report things crit­i­cal of Trump. They are also going to be look­ing into the fam­i­ly mem­bers of jour­nal­ists who hap­pen to be active in pol­i­tics and any­one else who works at a media orga­ni­za­tion crit­i­cal of Trump. And any lib­er­al activists of oth­er oppo­nents of Trump will also be sub­ject to this oppo­si­tion research cam­paign. In oth­er words, pret­ty much any­one who does­n’t sup­port Trump and their fam­i­ly mem­bers will be sub­ject to this oppo­si­tion research.

    The group has already released dam­ag­ing anti-Semit­ic old tweets from a New York Times edi­tor and a CNN edi­tor. The New York Times edi­tor wrote the tweets while he was in col­lege. The CNN edi­tor wrote them while he was a 15 and 16 year old grow­ing up in Egypt. It under­scores how, after more than a decade of wide­spread social media usage, we now have a large num­ber of peo­ple work­ing in media who were teens clue­less­ly tweet­ing away years ago and now all that old teenage-gen­er­at­ed con­tent is avail­able for use by this net­work.

    We’re told by for­mer Ban­non-ally Sam Nun­berg that part of the motive of this oper­a­tion is revenge. Specif­i­cal­ly, revenge against the media for its depic­tion of Trump as a racist. Yep. It’s all part of the gener­ic ‘no, you’re the real racist’ meme that we so often hear these days. But while revenge is the stat­ed goal of this oper­a­tion, it’s also clear­ly part of a media intim­i­da­tion cam­paign as evi­denced by the fact that they are being very out in the open out this:

    The New York Times

    Trump Allies Tar­get Jour­nal­ists Over Cov­er­age Deemed Hos­tile to White House
    The oper­a­tion has com­piled dossiers of poten­tial­ly embar­rass­ing social media posts and oth­er pub­lic state­ments by hun­dreds of peo­ple who work at promi­nent news orga­ni­za­tions.

    By Ken­neth P. Vogel and Jere­my W. Peters

    Pub­lished Aug. 25, 2019
    Updat­ed Aug. 26, 2019

    WASHINGTON — A loose net­work of con­ser­v­a­tive oper­a­tives allied with the White House is pur­su­ing what they say will be an aggres­sive oper­a­tion to dis­cred­it news orga­ni­za­tions deemed hos­tile to Pres­i­dent Trump by pub­li­ciz­ing dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion about jour­nal­ists.

    It is the lat­est step in a long-run­ning effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to under­cut the influ­ence of legit­i­mate news report­ing. Four peo­ple famil­iar with the oper­a­tion described how it works, assert­ing that it has com­piled dossiers of poten­tial­ly embar­rass­ing social media posts and oth­er pub­lic state­ments by hun­dreds of peo­ple who work at some of the country’s most promi­nent news orga­ni­za­tions.

    The group has already released infor­ma­tion about jour­nal­ists at CNN, The Wash­ing­ton Post and The New York Times — three out­lets that have aggres­sive­ly inves­ti­gat­ed Mr. Trump — in response to report­ing or com­men­tary that the White House’s allies con­sid­er unfair to Mr. Trump and his team or harm­ful to his re-elec­tion prospects.

    Oper­a­tives have close­ly exam­ined more than a decade’s worth of pub­lic posts and state­ments by jour­nal­ists, the peo­ple famil­iar with the oper­a­tion said. Only a frac­tion of what the net­work claims to have uncov­ered has been made pub­lic, the peo­ple said, with more to be dis­closed as the 2020 elec­tion heats up. The research is said to extend to mem­bers of jour­nal­ists’ fam­i­lies who are active in pol­i­tics, as well as lib­er­al activists and oth­er polit­i­cal oppo­nents of the pres­i­dent.

    It is not pos­si­ble to inde­pen­dent­ly assess the claims about the quan­ti­ty or poten­tial sig­nif­i­cance of the mate­r­i­al the pro-Trump net­work has assem­bled. Some involved in the oper­a­tion have his­to­ries of blus­ter and exag­ger­a­tion. And those will­ing to describe its tech­niques and goals may be try­ing to intim­i­date jour­nal­ists or their employ­ers.

    But the mate­r­i­al pub­li­cized so far, while in some cas­es stripped of con­text or pre­sent­ed in mis­lead­ing ways, has proved authen­tic, and much of it has been pro­fes­sion­al­ly harm­ful to its tar­gets.

    It is clear from the cas­es to date that among the cen­tral play­ers in the oper­a­tion is Arthur Schwartz, a com­bat­ive 47-year-old con­ser­v­a­tive con­sul­tant who is a friend and infor­mal advis­er to Don­ald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. Mr. Schwartz has worked with some of the right’s most aggres­sive oper­a­tives, includ­ing the for­mer Trump advis­er Stephen K. Ban­non.

    “If the @nytimes thinks this set­tles the mat­ter we can expose a few of their oth­er big­ots,” Mr. Schwartz tweet­ed on Thurs­day in response to an apolo­getic tweet from a Times jour­nal­ist whose anti-Semit­ic social media posts had just been revealed by the oper­a­tion. “Lots more where this came from.”

    The infor­ma­tion unearthed by the oper­a­tion has been com­ment­ed on and spread by offi­cials inside the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and re-elec­tion cam­paign, as well as con­ser­v­a­tive activists and right-wing news out­lets such as Bre­it­bart News. In the case of the Times edi­tor, the news was first pub­lished by Bre­it­bart, imme­di­ate­ly ampli­fied on Twit­ter by Don­ald Trump Jr. and, among oth­ers, Kat­ri­na Pier­son, a senior advis­er to the Trump cam­paign, and quick­ly became the sub­ject of a Bre­it­bart inter­view with Stephanie Grisham, the White House press sec­re­tary and com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor.

    The White House press office said that nei­ther the pres­i­dent nor any­one in the White House was involved in or aware of the oper­a­tion, and that nei­ther the White House nor the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee was involved in fund­ing it.

    The Trump cam­paign said it was unaware of, and not involved in, the effort, but sug­gest­ed that it served a wor­thy pur­pose. “We know noth­ing about this, but it’s clear that the media has a lot of work to do to clean up its own house,” said Tim Mur­taugh, the campaign’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor.

    The cam­paign is con­sis­tent with Mr. Trump’s long-run­ning effort to dele­git­imize crit­i­cal report­ing and brand the news media as an “ene­my of the peo­ple.” The pres­i­dent has relent­less­ly sought to dimin­ish the cred­i­bil­i­ty of news orga­ni­za­tions and cast them as polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed oppo­nents.

    Jour­nal­ism, he said in a tweet last week, is “noth­ing more than an evil pro­pa­gan­da machine for the Demo­c­rat Par­ty.”

    The oper­a­tion has com­piled social media posts from Twit­ter, Face­book and Insta­gram, and stored images of the posts that can be pub­li­cized even if the user deletes them, said the peo­ple famil­iar with the effort. One claimed that the oper­a­tion had unearthed poten­tial­ly “fire­able” infor­ma­tion on “sev­er­al hun­dred” peo­ple.

    “I am sure there will be more scalps,” said Sam Nun­berg, a for­mer aide to Mr. Trump who is a friend of Mr. Schwartz.

    Mr. Nun­berg and oth­ers who are famil­iar with the cam­paign described it as meant to expose what they see as the hypocrisy of main­stream news out­lets that have report­ed on the president’s inflam­ma­to­ry lan­guage regard­ing race.

    “Two can play at this game,” he said. “The media has long tar­get­ed Repub­li­cans with deep dives into their social media, look­ing to car­i­ca­ture all con­ser­v­a­tives and Trump vot­ers as racists.”

    But using jour­nal­is­tic tech­niques to tar­get jour­nal­ists and news orga­ni­za­tions as ret­ri­bu­tion for — or as a warn­ing not to pur­sue — cov­er­age crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent is fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from the well-estab­lished role of the news media in scru­ti­niz­ing peo­ple in posi­tions of pow­er.

    “If it’s clear­ly retal­ia­to­ry, it’s clear­ly an attack, it’s clear­ly not jour­nal­ism,” said Leonard Down­ie Jr., who was the exec­u­tive edi­tor of The Post from 1991 to 2008. Ten­sion between a pres­i­dent and the news media that cov­ers him is noth­ing new, Mr. Down­ie added. But an orga­nized, wide-scale polit­i­cal effort to inten­tion­al­ly humil­i­ate jour­nal­ists and oth­ers who work for media out­lets is.

    “It’s one thing for Spiro Agnew to call every­one in the press ‘nat­ter­ing nabobs of neg­a­tivism,’” he said, refer­ring to the for­mer vice president’s famous cri­tique of how jour­nal­ists cov­ered Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon. “And anoth­er thing to inves­ti­gate indi­vid­u­als in order to embar­rass them pub­licly and jeop­ar­dize their employ­ment.”

    ...

    The oper­a­tion is tar­get­ing the news media by using one of the most effec­tive weapons of polit­i­cal com­bat — deep and labo­ri­ous research into the pub­lic records of oppo­nents to find con­tra­dic­tions, con­tro­ver­sial opin­ions or tox­ic affil­i­a­tions. The lib­er­al group Media Mat­ters for Amer­i­ca helped pio­neer close scruti­ny of pub­lic state­ments by con­ser­v­a­tive media per­son­al­i­ties.

    The con­ser­v­a­tive oper­a­tive James O’Keefe has twist­ed that con­cept in ways incon­sis­tent with tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­is­tic ethics, using false iden­ti­ties, elab­o­rate cov­er sto­ries and under­cov­er videos to entrap jour­nal­ists and pub­li­cize embar­rass­ing state­ments, often in mis­lead­ing ways, to under­cut the cred­i­bil­i­ty of what he con­sid­ers news media biased in favor of lib­er­als.

    In the case of the pro-Trump net­work, research into jour­nal­ists is being deployed for the polit­i­cal ben­e­fit of the White House. It is tar­get­ing not only high-pro­file jour­nal­ists who chal­lenge the admin­is­tra­tion, but also any­one who works for any news orga­ni­za­tion that mem­bers of the net­work see as hos­tile to Mr. Trump, no mat­ter how tan­gen­tial that job may be to the cov­er­age of his pres­i­den­cy. And it is being used explic­it­ly as ret­ri­bu­tion for cov­er­age.

    Some reporters have been warned that they or their news orga­ni­za­tions could be tar­gets, cre­at­ing the impres­sion that the cam­paign is intend­ed in part to deter them from aggres­sive cov­er­age as well as to inflict pun­ish­ment after an arti­cle has been pub­lished.

    Trained as a lawyer, Mr. Schwartz has endeared him­self to mem­bers of the president’s fam­i­ly by becom­ing one of their most aggres­sive defend­ers, known for bad­ger­ing and threat­en­ing reporters and oth­ers he believes have wronged the Trumps.

    He has pub­licly gone after Repub­li­cans he views as dis­loy­al, includ­ing the for­mer White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, about whom he admit­ted spread­ing an unsub­stan­ti­at­ed rumor. He has called him­self a “troll on Twit­ter,” which is where he has boast­ed of being aware of, or hav­ing access to, dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion on dozens of jour­nal­ists at CNN and The Times that could be deployed if those out­lets ran afoul of Mr. Trump or his allies.

    The operation’s tac­tics were on dis­play last week, seem­ing­ly in response to two pieces in The Times that angered Mr. Trump’s allies. The paper’s edi­to­r­i­al board pub­lished an edi­to­r­i­al on Wednes­day accus­ing Mr. Trump of foment­ing anti-Semi­tism, and the news­room pub­lished a pro­file on Thurs­day morn­ing of Ms. Grisham, the new White House press sec­re­tary, which includ­ed unflat­ter­ing details about her employ­ment his­to­ry.

    One per­son involved in the effort said the pro-Trump forces, aware ahead of time about the cov­er­age of Ms. Grisham, were pre­pared to respond. Ear­ly Thurs­day morn­ing, soon after the pro­file appeared online, Bre­it­bart News pub­lished an arti­cle that doc­u­ment­ed anti-Semit­ic and racist tweets writ­ten a decade ago by Tom Wright-Pier­san­ti, who was in col­lege at the time and has since become an edi­tor on the Times’ pol­i­tics desk. The Times said it was review­ing the mat­ter and con­sid­ered the posts “a clear vio­la­tion of our stan­dards.”

    Mr. Schwartz tweet­ed a link to the Bre­it­bart piece before 7 a.m., which Don­ald Trump Jr. retweet­ed to his 3.8 mil­lion fol­low­ers — the first of about two dozen times that the president’s son shared the arti­cle or its con­tents. Oth­er promi­nent Repub­li­cans, includ­ing Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz of Texas, joined in high­light­ing the report.

    Breitbart’s arti­cle quot­ed sev­er­al peo­ple or groups with close ties to Mr. Schwartz, includ­ing Richard Grenell, Mr. Trump’s ambas­sador to Ger­many, and the Zion­ist Orga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­ca. It was writ­ten by the site’s Wash­ing­ton polit­i­cal edi­tor, Matthew Boyle, whose rela­tion­ship with Mr. Schwartz start­ed when Mr. Ban­non ran the web­site.

    Mr. Boyle’s arti­cle includ­ed a ref­er­ence to the Times pro­file of Ms. Grisham, which it char­ac­ter­ized as “attack­ing White House Press Sec­re­tary Stephanie Grisham.” Mr. Wright-Pier­san­ti was unin­volved in the edit­ing of the arti­cle about Ms. Grisham.

    The tweets revealed in the Bre­it­bart arti­cle quick­ly spread to oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets favored by the pres­i­dent and his allies, includ­ing the radio shows of Rush Lim­baugh and Mark Levin.

    Mr. Wright-Pier­san­ti apol­o­gized on Twit­ter on Thurs­day morn­ing and delet­ed offen­sive tweets. Mr. Schwartz then issued his warn­ing that he had fur­ther dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion about Times employ­ees.

    Mr. Wright-Pier­san­ti, 32, said the tweets, post­ed when he was a col­lege stu­dent with a Twit­ter fol­low­ing con­sist­ing most­ly of per­son­al acquain­tances, were “my lame attempts at edgy humor to try to get a rise out of my friends.”

    But he said “they’re not fun­ny, they’re clear­ly offen­sive,” adding, “I feel deep shame for them, and I am tru­ly, hon­est­ly sor­ry that I wrote these.”

    He said he had for­got­ten about the tweets as he start­ed a career in jour­nal­ism.

    “For my gen­er­a­tion, the gen­er­a­tion that came of age in the inter­net, all the youth­ful mis­takes that you made get pre­served in dig­i­tal amber, and no mat­ter how much you change and mature and grow up, it’s always out there, wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered,” Mr. Wright-Pier­san­ti said.

    Like Mr. Wright-Pier­san­ti, oth­er tar­gets of the pro-Trump net­work have been young peo­ple who grew up with social media and wrote the posts in ques­tion when they were in their teens or ear­ly 20s, in most cas­es before they became pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ists.

    A week after a White House reporter for CNN sparred with Mr. Trump dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, Mr. Schwartz high­light­ed a tweet by the reporter from 2011, when the reporter was in col­lege, that used an anti-gay slur. Oth­er sim­i­lar tweets quick­ly sur­faced, and the reporter apol­o­gized, though Mr. Schwartz has con­tin­ued to antag­o­nize the reporter on Twit­ter.

    In recent months, Mr. Schwartz high­light­ed a near­ly decade-old tweet in which a reporter for The Post had repeat­ed in an ambigu­ous man­ner a slur used by a politi­cian.

    In March, Mr. Schwartz tweet­ed a link to an arti­cle from Bre­it­bart, writ­ten by Mr. Boyle, about a reporter from Busi­ness Insid­er whose Insta­gram account includ­ed anti-Trump ref­er­ences and a pho­to­graph of the reporter demon­strat­ing against the pres­i­dent.

    In July, around the time CNN pub­lished an arti­cle expos­ing old posts by a Trump appointee spread­ing sug­ges­tions that Barack Oba­ma was a Mus­lim whose loy­al­ty to the Unit­ed States was in ques­tion, Mr. Schwartz resur­faced anti-Semit­ic tweets from 2011 by a CNN pho­to edi­tor. Mr. Schwartz sug­gest­ed that a CNN reporter who spe­cial­izes in unearthing prob­lem­at­ic archival con­tent should “look into the social media activ­i­ties of your employ­ees.”

    The tweets became the basis for sev­er­al arti­cles in con­ser­v­a­tive news out­lets and hun­dreds of tweets from con­ser­v­a­tives tar­get­ing the pho­to edi­tor, Mohammed Elshamy, which did not stop even after he resigned under pres­sure from CNN and apol­o­gized.

    “It felt like a coor­di­nat­ed attack,” said Mr. Elshamy, who said he had received death threats. “It was over­whelm­ing.”

    Mr. Elshamy, who is now 25, said he post­ed the tweets when he was 15 and 16 years old, grow­ing up in Egypt, when he was still learn­ing Eng­lish and did not ful­ly grasp the mean­ing of the words.

    “I was repeat­ing slo­gans heard on the streets dur­ing a high­ly emo­tion­al time in my nation’s his­to­ry,” he said. “I believe that my sub­se­quent work and views over the years redeems for the mis­takes I made as a kid.”

    While he said he under­stands “the sever­i­ty and harm of my com­ments,” he ques­tioned the moti­va­tion of the cam­paign that cost him his job. “It is a very dirty tac­tic that they are using to cause as much harm as they can to any­one who is affil­i­at­ed with these media out­lets,” he said. “It actu­al­ly feels like a com­pe­ti­tion and every ter­mi­na­tion or vil­i­fi­ca­tion is a point for them.”

    Mr. Ban­non, at the time the head of Bre­it­bart, over­saw the site’s efforts in 2015 to attack Meg­yn Kel­ly, then of Fox News, after she called out Mr. Trump for tweets dis­parag­ing women as “fat pigs,” “dogs” and “slobs.” In an inter­view, he said the work that Mr. Schwartz was under­tak­ing should be seen as a sign that Mr. Trump’s sup­port­ers were com­mit­ted to exe­cut­ing a frontal assault on news media they con­sid­ered adver­sar­i­al.

    “A cul­ture war is a war,” he said. “There are casu­al­ties in war. And that’s what you’re see­ing.”

    ———-
    “Trump Allies Tar­get Jour­nal­ists Over Cov­er­age Deemed Hos­tile to White House” by Ken­neth P. Vogel and Jere­my W. Peters; The New York Times; 08/25/2019

    “Oper­a­tives have close­ly exam­ined more than a decade’s worth of pub­lic posts and state­ments by jour­nal­ists, the peo­ple famil­iar with the oper­a­tion said. Only a frac­tion of what the net­work claims to have uncov­ered has been made pub­lic, the peo­ple said, with more to be dis­closed as the 2020 elec­tion heats up. The research is said to extend to mem­bers of jour­nal­ists’ fam­i­lies who are active in pol­i­tics, as well as lib­er­al activists and oth­er polit­i­cal oppo­nents of the pres­i­dent.

    Do you sup­port Trump? Nope? Well, get ready for oppo­si­tion research con­duct­ed on you. And this is all being framed as ‘revenge’ against Trump’s oppo­nents for por­tray­ing him, and/or por­tray­ing his sup­port­ers, as racist. This is pre­sum­ably how this kind of intim­i­da­tion cam­paign will be sold to the right-wing audiences...as a ‘we’re fight­ing for you and your hon­or!’ oper­a­tion:

    ...
    Mr. Nun­berg and oth­ers who are famil­iar with the cam­paign described it as meant to expose what they see as the hypocrisy of main­stream news out­lets that have report­ed on the president’s inflam­ma­to­ry lan­guage regard­ing race.

    “Two can play at this game,” he said. “The media has long tar­get­ed Repub­li­cans with deep dives into their social media, look­ing to car­i­ca­ture all con­ser­v­a­tives and Trump vot­ers as racists.”

    ...

    In the case of the pro-Trump net­work, research into jour­nal­ists is being deployed for the polit­i­cal ben­e­fit of the White House. It is tar­get­ing not only high-pro­file jour­nal­ists who chal­lenge the admin­is­tra­tion, but also any­one who works for any news orga­ni­za­tion that mem­bers of the net­work see as hos­tile to Mr. Trump, no mat­ter how tan­gen­tial that job may be to the cov­er­age of his pres­i­den­cy. And it is being used explic­it­ly as ret­ri­bu­tion for cov­er­age.

    Some reporters have been warned that they or their news orga­ni­za­tions could be tar­gets, cre­at­ing the impres­sion that the cam­paign is intend­ed in part to deter them from aggres­sive cov­er­age as well as to inflict pun­ish­ment after an arti­cle has been pub­lished.
    ...

    And the guy behind, Arthur Schwartz, is both an infor­mal advis­er to Trump Jr. with a his­to­ry of work­ing with Steve Ban­non. As Ban­non describes it, the peo­ple tar­get­ed by this are just casu­al­ties in a cul­ture war:

    ...
    It is clear from the cas­es to date that among the cen­tral play­ers in the oper­a­tion is Arthur Schwartz, a com­bat­ive 47-year-old con­ser­v­a­tive con­sul­tant who is a friend and infor­mal advis­er to Don­ald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. Mr. Schwartz has worked with some of the right’s most aggres­sive oper­a­tives, includ­ing the for­mer Trump advis­er Stephen K. Ban­non.

    “If the @nytimes thinks this set­tles the mat­ter we can expose a few of their oth­er big­ots,” Mr. Schwartz tweet­ed on Thurs­day in response to an apolo­getic tweet from a Times jour­nal­ist whose anti-Semit­ic social media posts had just been revealed by the oper­a­tion. “Lots more where this came from.”

    ...

    Mr. Ban­non, at the time the head of Bre­it­bart, over­saw the site’s efforts in 2015 to attack Meg­yn Kel­ly, then of Fox News, after she called out Mr. Trump for tweets dis­parag­ing women as “fat pigs,” “dogs” and “slobs.” In an inter­view, he said the work that Mr. Schwartz was under­tak­ing should be seen as a sign that Mr. Trump’s sup­port­ers were com­mit­ted to exe­cut­ing a frontal assault on news media they con­sid­ered adver­sar­i­al.

    “A cul­ture war is a war,” he said. “There are casu­al­ties in war. And that’s what you’re see­ing.”
    ...

    Of course, the Trump White House and reelec­tion cam­paign is claim­ing it has noth­ing to do it. So if any jour­nal­ist point out the clear con­nec­tions between this oper­a­tion and the Trump White House they will pre­sum­ably become tar­gets:

    ...
    The infor­ma­tion unearthed by the oper­a­tion has been com­ment­ed on and spread by offi­cials inside the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and re-elec­tion cam­paign, as well as con­ser­v­a­tive activists and right-wing news out­lets such as Bre­it­bart News. In the case of the Times edi­tor, the news was first pub­lished by Bre­it­bart, imme­di­ate­ly ampli­fied on Twit­ter by Don­ald Trump Jr. and, among oth­ers, Kat­ri­na Pier­son, a senior advis­er to the Trump cam­paign, and quick­ly became the sub­ject of a Bre­it­bart inter­view with Stephanie Grisham, the White House press sec­re­tary and com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor.

    The White House press office said that nei­ther the pres­i­dent nor any­one in the White House was involved in or aware of the oper­a­tion, and that nei­ther the White House nor the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee was involved in fund­ing it.

    The Trump cam­paign said it was unaware of, and not involved in, the effort, but sug­gest­ed that it served a wor­thy pur­pose. “We know noth­ing about this, but it’s clear that the media has a lot of work to do to clean up its own house,” said Tim Mur­taugh, the campaign’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor.

    The cam­paign is con­sis­tent with Mr. Trump’s long-run­ning effort to dele­git­imize crit­i­cal report­ing and brand the news media as an “ene­my of the peo­ple.” The pres­i­dent has relent­less­ly sought to dimin­ish the cred­i­bil­i­ty of news orga­ni­za­tions and cast them as polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed oppo­nents.

    Jour­nal­ism, he said in a tweet last week, is “noth­ing more than an evil pro­pa­gan­da machine for the Demo­c­rat Par­ty.”

    The oper­a­tion has com­piled social media posts from Twit­ter, Face­book and Insta­gram, and stored images of the posts that can be pub­li­cized even if the user deletes them, said the peo­ple famil­iar with the effort. One claimed that the oper­a­tion had unearthed poten­tial­ly “fire­able” infor­ma­tion on “sev­er­al hun­dred” peo­ple.

    “I am sure there will be more scalps,” said Sam Nun­berg, a for­mer aide to Mr. Trump who is a friend of Mr. Schwartz.
    ...

    And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, Arthur Schwartz has decid­ed to make this intim­i­da­tion cam­paign even more overt­ly intim­i­dat­ing by now open­ly fundrais­ing for this effort. He wants to raise at least $2 mil­lion to fund this oper­a­tion (and clear­ly wants the pub­lic to know this):

    Axios

    Scoop: Trump allies raise mon­ey to tar­get reporters

    Mike Allen
    Sep 3, 2019

    Pres­i­dent Trump’s polit­i­cal allies are try­ing to raise at least $2 mil­lion to inves­ti­gate reporters and edi­tors of the New York Times, Wash­ing­ton Post and oth­er out­lets, accord­ing to a 3‑page fundrais­ing pitch reviewed by Axios.

    Why it mat­ters: Trump’s war on the media is expand­ing. This group will tar­get reporters and edi­tors, while oth­er GOP 2020 enti­ties go after the social media plat­forms, alleg­ing bias, offi­cials tell us.

    * The group claims it will slip dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion about reporters and edi­tors to “friend­ly media out­lets,” such as Bre­it­bart, and tra­di­tion­al media, if pos­si­ble.
    * Peo­ple involved in rais­ing the funds include GOP con­sul­tant Arthur Schwartz and the “loose net­work” that the NY Times report­ed last week is tar­get­ing jour­nal­ists. The oper­a­tions are to be run by undis­closed oth­ers.
    * The prospec­tus for the new project says it’s “tar­get­ing the peo­ple pro­duc­ing the news.”

    The irony: The New York Times exposed an extreme­ly impro­vi­sa­tion­al effort that had out­ed a Times edi­tor for past anti-Semit­ic tweets. This new group is now using the expo­sure to try to for­mal­ize and fund the oper­a­tion.

    ...

    Under “Pri­ma­ry Tar­gets,” the pitch lists:

    * “CNN, MSNBC, all broad­cast net­works, NY Times, Wash­ing­ton Post, Buz­zFeed, Huff­in­g­ton Post, and all oth­ers that rou­tine­ly incor­po­rate bias and mis­in­for­ma­tion in to their cov­er­age. We will also track the reporters and edi­tors of these orga­ni­za­tions.”

    This isn’t an entire­ly new con­cept. The lib­er­al group Media Mat­ters mon­i­tors jour­nal­ists and pub­li­ca­tions and goes pub­lic with com­plaints of bias. But being this bla­tant and spe­cif­ic about try­ing to dis­cred­it indi­vid­ual reporters is new.

    ———-

    “Scoop: Trump allies raise mon­ey to tar­get reporters” by Mike Allen; Axios; 09/03/2019

    “CNN, MSNBC, all broad­cast net­works, NY Times, Wash­ing­ton Post, Buz­zFeed, Huff­in­g­ton Post, and all oth­ers that rou­tine­ly incor­po­rate bias and mis­in­for­ma­tion in to their cov­er­age. We will also track the reporters and edi­tors of these orga­ni­za­tions.”

    Intim­i­dat­ing all of the media that does­n’t rou­tine­ly fête Trump isn’t going to be cheap. But Arthur Schwartz is pub­licly sig­nal­ing that his intim­i­da­tion oper­a­tion is going to all the resources it needs. And don’t for­get that in the age of Big Data and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca-style mass data-col­lec­tion oper­a­tions, a lot of this oppo­si­tion research will prob­a­bly be high­ly automat­able. So if you assume that you’re too insignif­i­cant to end up being tar­get­ed by this oper­a­tion that’s prob­a­bly not a safe assump­tion. And giv­en that it’s not just jour­nal­ists, but lib­er­al activists and any­one else who open­ly oppos­es Trump (nev­er-Trumpers) that are being tar­get­ed too, it points towards the next phase of the far right’s assault on democ­ra­cy and civ­il soci­ety: micro-tar­get­ed intim­i­da­tion cam­paigns against polit­i­cal dis­si­dents. Today it’s jour­nal­ists and lib­er­al activists who don’t sup­port Trump. But in the era of social media and vast data­bas­es of bil­lions of tweets and social media posts there’s no rea­son the intim­i­da­tion needs to be lim­it­ed to jour­nal­ists or activists. Vir­tu­al­ly all cit­i­zens will poten­tial­ly be vul­ner­a­ble.

    So let’s hope today’s teenagers get the memo about their social media use: watch what you post, kids, because some day it might be used against you. Espe­cial­ly by the Repub­li­can Par­ty.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 4, 2019, 12:42 pm
  3. There was a recent sto­ry in Politi­co that appears to solve the mys­tery of who was behind the “stringray” devices found in Wash­ing­ton DC in recent years. The exis­tence of the devices — which col­lects cell-phone data by mim­ic legit­i­mate cell-phone tow­ers — near the White House and oth­er sen­si­tive areas in DC was first pub­licly acknowl­edged by the US gov­ern­ment in April of 2018. These reports were deemed at the time to be extra alarm­ing giv­en the fact that Pres­i­dent Trump was known to use inse­cure cell­phone for sen­si­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Accord­ing to the new Politi­co report, the US gov­ern­ment has con­clud­ed that the sting-ray devices were most like­ly put in place by Israel, and yet there have been no con­se­quences at all fol­low­ing this find­ing. Israel has denied the reports and Trump him­self told Politi­co, “I don’t think the Israelis were spy­ing on us...My rela­tion­ship with Israel has been great...Anything is pos­si­ble but I don’t believe it.”.

    So we have reports about a US gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tion con­clud­ing Israel we behind one of the most mys­te­ri­ous, and poten­tial­ly sig­nif­i­cant, spy­ing oper­a­tion uncov­ered in DC in recent years cou­pled with US gov­ern­ment denials that this hap­pened. Which is large­ly what we should have expect­ed giv­en this find­ing. On the one hand, giv­en the extreme­ly close and long-stand­ing ties between US and Israeli mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence, if this real­ly was an oper­a­tion that Israel was gen­uine­ly behind with­out the tac­it approval of the US gov­ern­ment there would like­ly be an attempt to min­i­mize the diplo­mat­ic fall­out and deal with these things qui­et­ly and out of the pub­lic eye. On the oth­er hand, if this was the kind of oper­a­tion done with the US gov­ern­men­t’s tac­it approval, we would expect at least down­play­ing of the scan­dal too.

    But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle makes clear, there’s anoth­er huge we should expect the down­play­ing by the US gov­ern­ment about a sto­ry like this: The US and Israel have been increas­ing­ly out­sourc­ing their cyber-spy­ing capa­bil­i­ties to the pri­vate sec­tor and joint­ly invest­ing in these com­pa­nies. Beyond that, Jef­frey Epstein appears to be one of the fig­ures who appears to have been work­ing on this merg­ing of US and Israeli cyber-spy­ing tech­nol­o­gy in recent years. So when we talk about Israel spy­ing oper­a­tions in the US involv­ing the covert use of tech­nol­o­gy, we have to ask whether or not this was an oper­a­tion involv­ing a com­pa­ny with US nation­al secu­ri­ty ties.

    The fol­low­ing report, the lat­est for Whit­ney Webb at Mint­Press
    on the Epstein scan­dal, describes this grow­ing joint US/Israeli invest­ment in cyber sec­tor in recent years and some of the fig­ures behind it in addi­tion to Epstein. The piece focus­es on Car­byne (Carbyne911), the Israeli com­pa­ny start­ed in 2014 by for­mer mem­bers of Israel’s Unit 8200 cyber team. Car­byne cre­at­ed Reporty, a smart­phone app that promis­es to pro­vide faster and bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions to pub­lic emer­gency first respon­ders. As we’ve seen, Reporty isn’t just a smart­phone app. It also appears to work by mon­i­tor­ing pub­lic emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems and nation­al civil­ian com­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­ture for the osten­si­ble pur­pose of ensur­ing min­i­mal data loss dur­ing emer­gency response calls, which is the kind of capa­bil­i­ty with obvi­ous dual use poten­tial.

    As we also saw, while for­mer Israeli prime min­is­ter Ehud Barack was pub­licly the big investor who helped start Car­byne back in 2014, it turns out Jef­frey Epstein was qui­et­ly the per­son behind Barack­’s financ­ing. Barack was a known asso­ciate of Epstein and report­ed­ly fre­quent­ed Epstein’s Man­hat­tan man­sion. So we have Epstein, a fig­ure with clear ties to Israeli intel­li­gence but also very clear ties to US intel­li­gence, invest­ing in Car­byne. Well, as the piece describes, it turns out that one of the oth­er investors in Car­byne is Peter Thiel. And Car­byne’s board of advi­sors includes for­mer Palan­tir employ­ee Trae Stephens, who was a mem­ber of the Trump tran­si­tion team. For­mer Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­ri­ty Michael Chertoff is also an advi­so­ry board mem­ber. These are the kinds of investors and advi­sors that make it clear Car­byne isn’t sim­ply an Israeli intel­li­gence front. This is, at a min­i­mum, a joint oper­a­tion between the US and Israel.

    It’s also note­wor­thy that both Thiel and Epstein appear to have been lead­ing financiers for ‘tran­shu­man­ist’ projects like longevi­ty and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Both have a his­to­ry of spon­sor­ing sci­en­tists work­ing in these areas. Both appeared to have very sim­i­lar inter­ests and moved in the same cir­cles and yet there pre­vi­ous­ly weren’t indi­ca­tions that Thiel and Epstein had a rela­tion­ship. Their mutu­al invest­ments in Car­byne helps answer that. The two def­i­nite­ly knew each oth­er because they were secret busi­ness part­ners.

    How many oth­er secret busi­ness part­ner­ships might Epstein and Thiel have been involved in and now many of them involve the Israeli tech sec­tor? We obvi­ous­ly don’t know, but as the fol­low­ing arti­cle points out, Palan­tir opened an R&D branch in Israel in 2013 and there have long been sus­pi­cions that Palan­tir’s ‘pre-cog’ pre­dic­tive crime algo­rithms have been used against Pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tions. So Palan­tir appears to be well posi­tioned to help lead any qui­et joint US-Israeli efforts to devel­op cyber-intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties in the pri­vate sec­tor.

    Omi­nous­ly, as the arti­cle also describes, the idea of a joint US-Israeli project on ‘pre-crime’ detec­tion is one that goes back to 1982 when the “Main Core” data­base of 8 mil­lion Amer­i­cans deemed to be poten­tial sub­ver­sives was devel­oped by Oliv­er North under the “Con­ti­nu­ity of Gov­ern­ment” pro­gram and main­tained using the PROMIS soft­ware (which sounds like a com­pli­men­ta­ry pro­gram to “Rex 84”). Accord­ing to anony­mous intel­li­gence sources talk­ing to Mint­Press, this “Main Core” data­base of US cit­i­zens con­sid­ered “dis­si­dents” still exists today. Accord­ing to these anony­mous U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cials who report­ed­ly have direct knowl­edge of the US intel­li­gence community’s use of PROMIS and Main Core from the 1980s to 2000s, Israeli intel­li­gence played a role in the deploy­ment of PROMIS as the soft­ware used for the Main Core. And Palan­tir, with its PROMIS-like Inves­tiga­tive Case Man­age­ment (ICM) soft­ware already being offered to the US gov­ern­ment for use in track­ing immi­grants, is the com­pa­ny well posi­tioned to be main­tain­ing the cur­rent ver­sion of Main Core. The arti­cle also reports that Main Core was used by at least one for­mer CIA offi­cial on Ronald Reagan’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to black­mail mem­bers of Con­gress, Con­gres­sion­al staffers and jour­nal­ists. That obvi­ous­ly has the­mat­ic ties to the Epstein sex­u­al traf­fick­ing net­work that appears to have black­mail­ing pow­er­ful peo­ple as one of its core func­tions.

    Also note­wor­thy in all this is is that Car­byne’s prod­ucts were ini­tial­ly sold as a solu­tion for mass shoot­ings (‘solu­tion’, in the sense that vic­tims would be able to con­tact emer­gency respon­ders). That’s part of what makes Thiel’s invest­ment in Car­byne extra inter­est­ing giv­en the pre-crime pre­dic­tion tech­nolo­gies capa­bil­i­ties Palan­tir has been offer­ing law enforce­ment in recent years. As the arti­cle notes, this all poten­tial­ly ties in to the recent push by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to cre­ate HARPA, a new US gov­ern­ment agency mod­eled after DARPA, that could cre­ate tools for track­ing the men­tal­ly ill using smart­phones and smart­watch­es and pre­dict­ing when they might become vio­lent. Palan­tir is per­fect­ly sit­u­at­ed to cap­i­tal­ize on an ini­tia­tive like that.

    And that’s all part of the con­text we have to keep in mind when read­ing reports about “string-ray” devices in Wash­ing­ton DC being set up by Israel and the response from the US gov­ern­ment is a big *yawn*. When fig­ures like Thiel and Epstein are act­ing as mid­dle-men in some sort of joint US-Israeli cyber-spy­ing pri­va­ti­za­tion dri­ve, it’s hard not to won­der if those stingray devices aren’t also part of some sort of joint ini­tia­tive:

    Mint­Press

    How the CIA, Mossad and “the Epstein Net­work” are Exploit­ing Mass Shoot­ings to Cre­ate an Orwellian Night­mare

    Fol­low­ing anoth­er cat­a­stroph­ic mass shoot­ing or cri­sis event, Orwellian “solu­tions” are set to be foist­ed on a fright­ened Amer­i­can pub­lic by the very net­work con­nect­ed, not only to Jef­frey Epstein, but to a litany of crimes and a fright­en­ing his­to­ry of plans to crush inter­nal dis­sent in the Unit­ed States.
    by Whit­ney Webb

    Sep­tem­ber 06th, 2019

    Fol­low­ing the arrest and sub­se­quent death in prison of alleged child sex traf­fick­er Jef­frey Epstein, a lit­tle-known Israeli tech com­pa­ny began to receive increased pub­lic­i­ty, but for all the wrong rea­sons. Not long after Epstein’s arrest, and his rela­tion­ships and finances came under scruti­ny, it was revealed that the Israeli com­pa­ny Carbyne911 had received sub­stan­tial fund­ing from Jef­frey Epstein as well as Epstein’s close asso­ciate and for­mer Prime Min­is­ter of Israel Ehud Barak, and Sil­i­con Val­ley ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and promi­nent Trump backer Peter Thiel.

    Carbyne911, or sim­ply Car­byne, devel­ops call-han­dling and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion capa­bil­i­ties for emer­gency response ser­vices in coun­tries around the world, includ­ing the Unit­ed States, where it has already been imple­ment­ed in sev­er­al U.S. coun­ties and has part­nered with major U.S. tech com­pa­nies like Google. It specif­i­cal­ly mar­kets its prod­uct as a way of mit­i­gat­ing mass shoot­ings in the Unit­ed States with­out hav­ing to change exist­ing U.S. gun laws.

    Yet, Car­byne is no ordi­nary tech com­pa­ny, as it is deeply con­nect­ed to the elite Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence divi­sion, Unit 8200, whose “alum­ni” often go on to cre­ate tech com­pa­nies — Car­byne among them — that fre­quent­ly main­tain their ties to Israeli intel­li­gence and, accord­ing to Israeli media reports and for­mer employ­ees, often “blur the line” between their ser­vice to Israel’s defense/intelligence appa­ra­tus and their com­mer­cial activ­i­ty. As this report will reveal, Car­byne is but one of sev­er­al Israeli tech com­pa­nies mar­ket­ing them­selves as a tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tion to mass shoot­ings that has direct ties to Israeli intel­li­gence agen­cies.

    In each case, these com­pa­nies’ prod­ucts are built in such a way that they can eas­i­ly be used to ille­gal­ly sur­veil the gov­ern­ments, insti­tu­tions and civil­ians that use them, a trou­bling fact giv­en Unit 8200’s doc­u­ment­ed prowess in sur­veil­lance as a means of obtain­ing black­mail and Israel’s his­to­ry of using tech com­pa­nies to aggres­sive­ly spy on the U.S. gov­ern­ment. This is fur­ther com­pound­ed by the fact that Unit 8200-linked tech com­pa­nies have pre­vi­ous­ly received U.S. gov­ern­ment con­tracts to place “back­doors” into the U.S.’ entire telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem as well as into the pop­u­lar prod­ucts of major Amer­i­can tech com­pa­nies includ­ing Google, Microsoft and Face­book, many of whose key man­agers and exec­u­tives are now for­mer Unit 8200 offi­cers.

    ...

    Anoth­er fun­der of Car­byne, Peter Thiel, has his own com­pa­ny that, like Car­byne, is set to prof­it from the Trump administration’s pro­posed hi-tech solu­tions to mass shoot­ings. Indeed, after the recent shoot­ing in El Paso, Texas, Pres­i­dent Trump — who received polit­i­cal dona­tions from and has been advised by Thiel fol­low­ing his elec­tion — asked tech com­pa­nies to “detect mass shoot­ers before they strike,” a ser­vice already per­fect­ed by Thiel’s com­pa­ny Palan­tir, which has devel­oped “pre-crime soft­ware” already in use through­out the coun­try. Palan­tir is also a con­trac­tor for the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty and also has a branch based in Israel.

    Per­haps most dis­turb­ing of all, what­ev­er tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tion is adopt­ed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, it is set to use a con­tro­ver­sial data­base first devel­oped as part of a secre­tive U.S. gov­ern­ment pro­gram that involved noto­ri­ous Iran-Con­tra fig­ures like Oliv­er North as a means of track­ing and flag­ging poten­tial Amer­i­can dis­si­dents for increased sur­veil­lance and deten­tion in the event of a vague­ly defined “nation­al emer­gency.”

    As this report will reveal, this data­base — often referred to as “Main Core” — was cre­at­ed with the involve­ment of Israeli intel­li­gence and Israel remained involved years after it was devel­oped, and poten­tial­ly to the present. It was also used by at least one for­mer CIA offi­cial on Pres­i­dent Reagan’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to black­mail mem­bers of Con­gress, Con­gres­sion­al staffers and jour­nal­ists, among oth­ers.

    ...

    Demys­ti­fy­ing Car­byne

    Carbyne911, which will be referred to sim­ply as Car­byne in this report, is an Israeli tech-start­up that promis­es to rev­o­lu­tion­ize how calls are han­dled by emer­gency ser­vice providers, as well as by gov­ern­ments, cor­po­ra­tions and edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions. Not long after it was found­ed in 2014 by vet­er­ans of Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence, Car­byne began to be specif­i­cal­ly mar­ket­ed as a solu­tion to mass shoot­ings in the Unit­ed States that goes “beyond the gun debate” and improves the “intel­li­gence that armed emer­gency respon­ders receive before enter­ing an armed shoot­er sit­u­a­tion” by pro­vid­ing video-stream­ing and acoustic input from civil­ian smart­phones and oth­er devices con­nect­ed to the Car­byne net­work.

    ...

    As a result of increased scruti­ny of Epstein’s busi­ness activ­i­ties and his ties to Israel, par­tic­u­lar­ly to Barak, Epstein’s con­nec­tion to Car­byne was revealed and exten­sive­ly report­ed on by the inde­pen­dent media out­let Nar­a­tiv, whose exposé on Car­byne revealed not only some of the key intel­li­gence con­nec­tions of the start-up com­pa­ny but also how the archi­tec­ture of Carbyne’s prod­uct itself rais­es “seri­ous pri­va­cy con­cerns.”

    Mint­Press detailed many of Carbyne’s main intel­li­gence con­nec­tions in Part III of the inves­tiga­tive series “Inside the Jef­frey Epstein Scan­dal: Too Big to Fail.” In addi­tion to Barak — for­mer Israeli prime min­is­ter and for­mer head of Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence — serv­ing as Carbyne’s chair­man and a key financer, the company’s exec­u­tive team are all for­mer mem­bers of Israeli intel­li­gence, includ­ing the elite mil­i­tary intel­li­gence unit, Unit 8200, which is often com­pared to the U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency (NSA).

    ...

    Notably, the NSA and Unit 8200 have col­lab­o­rat­ed on numer­ous projects, most infa­mous­ly on the Stuxnet virus as well as the Duqu mal­ware. In addi­tion, the NSA is known to work with vet­er­ans of Unit 8200 in the pri­vate sec­tor, such as when the NSA hired two Israeli com­pa­nies, to cre­ate back­doors into all the major U.S. telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems and major tech com­pa­nies, includ­ing Face­book, Microsoft and Google. Both of those com­pa­nies, Verint and Narus, have top exec­u­tives with ties to Israeli intel­li­gence and one of those com­pa­nies, Verint (for­mer­ly Com­verse Infos­ys), has a his­to­ry of aggres­sive­ly spy­ing on U.S. gov­ern­ment facil­i­ties. Unit 8200 is also known for spy­ing on civil­ians in the occu­pied Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries for “coer­cion pur­pos­es” — i.e., gath­er­ing info for black­mail — and also for spy­ing on Pales­tin­ian-Amer­i­cans via an intel­li­gence-shar­ing agree­ment with the NSA.

    Unlike many oth­er Unit 8200-linked start-ups, Car­byne also boasts sev­er­al tie-ins to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, includ­ing Palan­tir founder and Trump ally Peter Thiel — anoth­er investor in Car­byne. In addi­tion, Carbyne’s board of advis­ers includes for­mer Palan­tir employ­ee Trae Stephens, who was a mem­ber of the Trump tran­si­tion team, as well as for­mer Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­ri­ty Michael Chertoff. Trump donor and New York real-estate devel­op­er Eliot Taw­ill is also on Carbyne’s board, along­side Ehud Barak and Pin­chas Buchris.

    Yet, pri­va­cy con­cerns with Car­byne go beyond the company’s ties to Israeli intel­li­gence and U.S. intel­li­gence con­trac­tors like Peter Thiel. For instance, Carbyne’s smart­phone app extracts the fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion from the phones on which it is installed:

    Device loca­tion, video live-streamed from the smart­phone to the call cen­ter, text mes­sages in a two-way chat win­dow, any data from a user’s phone if they have the Car­byne app and ESInet, and any infor­ma­tion that comes over a data link, which Car­byne opens in case the caller’s voice link drops out.” (empha­sis added)

    ...

    Anoth­er cause for con­cern is how oth­er coun­tries have used plat­forms like Car­byne, which were first mar­ket­ed as emer­gency response tools, for the pur­pose of mass sur­veil­lance. Nar­a­tiv not­ed the fol­low­ing in its inves­ti­ga­tion of Car­byne:

    In May, Human Rights Watch revealed Chi­nese author­i­ties use a plat­form not unlike Car­byne to ille­gal­ly sur­veil Uyghurs. China’s Inte­grat­ed Joint Oper­a­tions Plat­form brings in a much big­ger data-set and sources of video, which includes an app on people’s phones. Like Car­byne, the plat­form was designed to report emer­gen­cies. Chi­nese author­i­ties have turned it into a tool of mass sur­veil­lance.

    Human Rights Watch reverse-engi­neered the app. The group dis­cov­ered the app auto­mat­i­cal­ly pro­files a user under 36 “per­son types” includ­ing “fol­low­ers of Six Lines” which is the term used to iden­ti­fy Uyghurs. Anoth­er term refers to “Hajj,” the annu­al Islam­ic pil­grim­age to Mec­ca. The app mon­i­tors every aspect of a user’s life, includ­ing per­son­al con­ver­sa­tions [and] pow­er usage, and tracks a user’s move­ment.”

    Such tech­nol­o­gy is cur­rent­ly used by Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence and Israel’s domes­tic intel­li­gence agency Shin Bet to jus­ti­fy “pre-crime” deten­tions of Pales­tini­ans in the occu­pied West Bank. As will be not­ed in greater detail lat­er in this report, Pales­tini­ans’ com­ments on social media are tracked by arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence algo­rithms that flag them for indef­i­nite deten­tion if they write social media posts that con­tain “trip­wire” phras­es such as “the sword of Allah.”

    Carbyne’s plat­form has its own “pre-crime” ele­ments, such as it’s c‑Records com­po­nent, which stores and ana­lyzes infor­ma­tion on past calls and events that pass through its net­work. This infor­ma­tion “enables deci­sion mak­ers to accu­rate­ly ana­lyze the past and present behav­ior of their callers, react accord­ing­ly, and in time pre­dict future pat­terns.” (empha­sis added)

    ...

    Israeli intel­li­gence, Black­mail and Sil­i­con Val­ley

    Though many of the indi­vid­u­als involved in fund­ing or man­ag­ing Car­byne have proven ties to intel­li­gence, a clos­er look into sev­er­al of these play­ers reveals even deep­er con­nec­tions to both Israeli and U.S. intel­li­gence.

    One of Carbyne’s clear­est con­nec­tions to Israeli intel­li­gence is through its chair­man and one of its fun­ders, Ehud Barak. Though Barak is best known for being a for­mer prime min­is­ter of Israel, he is also a for­mer min­is­ter of defense and the for­mer head of Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence. He over­saw Unit 8200’s oper­a­tions, as well as oth­er units of Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence, in all three of those posi­tions. For most of his mil­i­tary and lat­er polit­i­cal career, Barak has been close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with covert oper­a­tions.

    ...

    Yet, more recent­ly, it has been Barak’s close rela­tion­ship to Epstein that has raised eye­brows and opened him up to polit­i­cal attacks from his rivals. Epstein and Barak were first intro­duced by for­mer Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Shi­mon Peres in 2002, a time when Epstein’s pedophile black­mail and sex traf­fick­ing oper­a­tion was in full swing.

    ...

    In 2015, Barak formed a lim­it­ed part­ner­ship com­pa­ny in Israel for the explic­it pur­pose of invest­ing in Car­byne (then known as Reporty) and invest­ed mil­lions of dol­lars in the com­pa­ny, quick­ly becom­ing a major share­hold­er and sub­se­quent­ly the company’s pub­lic face and the chair­man of its board. At least $1 mil­lion of the mon­ey invest­ed in this Barak-cre­at­ed com­pa­ny that was lat­er used to invest in Car­byne came from the South­ern Trust Com­pa­ny, which was owned by Jef­frey Epstein.

    In July, Bloomberg report­ed that Epstein’s South­ern Trust Com­pa­ny is iden­ti­fied in U.S. Vir­gin Islands fil­ings as “a DNA data­base and data min­ing” com­pa­ny. Giv­en Carbyne’s clear poten­tial for data-min­ing and civil­ian pro­fil­ing, Epstein’s invest­ment in Car­byne using this spe­cif­ic com­pa­ny sug­gests that Carbyne’s investors have long been aware of this lit­tle adver­tised aspect of Carbyne’s prod­uct.

    In a state­ment to the Israeli news­pa­per Haaretz, Barak assert­ed:

    I saw the busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ty and reg­is­tered a part­ner­ship in my con­trol in Israel. A small num­ber of peo­ple I know invest in it…Since these are pri­vate invest­ments, it wouldn’t be prop­er or right for me to expose the investors’ details.”

    How­ev­er, Barak lat­er admit­ted that Epstein had been one of the investors.

    Mint­Press’ recent series on the Jef­frey Epstein scan­dal not­ed in detail Epstein’s ties to CIA/Mossad intel­li­gence assets, such as Adnan Khashog­gi; CIA front com­pa­nies, such as South­ern Air Trans­port; and orga­nized crime, through his close asso­ci­a­tion with Leslie Wexn­er. In addi­tion, Epstein’s long-time “girl­friend” and alleged madam, Ghis­laine Maxwell, has fam­i­ly links to Israeli intel­li­gence through her father, Robert Maxwell. While it appears that Epstein may have been work­ing for more than one intel­li­gence agency, Zev Shalev, for­mer exec­u­tive pro­duc­er for CBS News and jour­nal­ist at Nar­a­tiv, recent­ly stat­ed that he had inde­pen­dent­ly con­firmed with two uncon­nect­ed sources “close­ly con­nect­ed to the Epstein sto­ry and in a posi­tion to know” that Epstein had “worked for Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence.”

    Exclu­sive: We have two inde­pen­dent sources con­firm­ing Jef­frey Epstein worked for Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence. In each case the source is close­ly con­nect­ed to the Epstein sto­ry and in a posi­tion to know. You can take it to the bank. @narativlive https://t.co/BdK1DrZEO6

    — Zev Shalev (@ZevShalev) August 20, 2019

    Notably, Epstein, who was known for his inter­est in obtain­ing black­mail through the sex­u­al abuse of the under­aged girls he exploit­ed, also claimed to have “dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion” on promi­nent fig­ures in Sil­i­con Val­ley. In a con­ver­sa­tion last year with New York Times reporter James Stew­art, Epstein claimed to have “poten­tial­ly dam­ag­ing or embar­rass­ing” infor­ma­tion on Sil­i­con Valley’s elite and told Stew­art that these top fig­ures in the Amer­i­can tech indus­try “were hedo­nis­tic and reg­u­lar users of recre­ation­al drugs.” Epstein also told Stew­art that he had “wit­nessed promi­nent tech fig­ures tak­ing drugs and arrang­ing for sex” and claimed to know “details about their sup­posed sex­u­al pro­cliv­i­ties.”

    In the lead-up to his recent arrest, Jef­frey Epstein appeared to have been attempt­ing to rebrand as a “tech investor,” as he had done inter­views with sev­er­al jour­nal­ists includ­ing Stew­art about tech­nol­o­gy invest­ing in the months before he was hit with fed­er­al sex traf­fick­ing charges.

    ...

    It is unknown whether Epstein’s “dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion” and appar­ent black­mail on notable indi­vid­u­als in the Amer­i­can tech­nol­o­gy indus­try were used to advance the objec­tives of Car­byne, which recent­ly part­nered with tech giants Google and Cis­co Sys­tems — and, more broad­ly, the expan­sion of Israeli intel­li­gence-linked tech com­pa­nies into the Amer­i­can tech sec­tor, par­tic­u­lar­ly through the acqui­si­tion of Israeli tech start-ups linked to Unit 8200 by major U.S. tech com­pa­nies.

    ...

    Carbyne’s ties to U.S. intel­li­gence

    While Epstein and Barak are the two financiers of Car­byne whose ties to intel­li­gence are clear­est, anoth­er fun­der of Car­byne, Peter Thiel, has ties to U.S. intel­li­gence and a his­to­ry of invest­ing in oth­er com­pa­nies found­ed by for­mer mem­bers of Unit 8200. Thiel co-found­ed and still owns a con­trol­ling stake in the com­pa­ny Palan­tir, which was ini­tial­ly fund­ed with a $2 mil­lion invest­ment from the CIA’s ven­ture cap­i­tal fund In-Q-Tel and quick­ly there­after became a con­trac­tor for the CIA.

    After the suc­cess of its con­tract with the CIA, Palan­tir became a con­trac­tor for a vari­ety of fed­er­al agen­cies, includ­ing the FBI, the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency (DIA), the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency (NSA), the Depart­ment of Home­land Security(DHS) and the military’s Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, among oth­ers. Last year, it won a con­tract to cre­ate a new bat­tle­field intel­li­gence sys­tem for the U.S. Army. Palan­tir is also in demand for its “pre-crime tech­nol­o­gy,” whichhas been used by sev­er­al U.S. police depart­ments. Accord­ing to the Guardian, “Palan­tir tracks every­one from poten­tial ter­ror­ist sus­pects to cor­po­rate fraud­sters, child traf­fick­ers and what they refer to as ‘sub­ver­sives’… it is all done using pre­dic­tion.”

    Thiel has gained atten­tion in recent years for his sup­port of Pres­i­dent Trump and for becom­ing an advis­er to Trump fol­low­ing the 2016 elec­tion, when he was “a major force in the tran­si­tion,” accord­ing to Politi­co, and “helped fill posi­tions in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion with for­mer staff.” One of those for­mer staffers was Trae Stephens, who is also on Carbyne’s board of advis­ers. Thiel also has busi­ness ties to Trump’s son-in-law and influ­en­tial advis­er, Jared Kush­n­er, as well as to Kushner’s broth­er Josh. A senior Trump cam­paign aide told Politi­co in 2017 that “Thiel is immense­ly pow­er­ful with­in the admin­is­tra­tion through his con­nec­tion to Jared.”

    ...

    Anoth­er Car­byne-con­nect­ed indi­vid­ual worth not­ing is the for­mer head of the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, Michael Chertoff, who serves on Carbyne’s board of advis­ers. In addi­tion to Chertoff’s ties to DHS, Chertoff’s com­pa­ny, The Chertoff Group, employ­ees sev­er­al promi­nent for­mer mem­bers of the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty as prin­ci­pals, includ­ing Michael Hay­den, for­mer direc­tor of the CIA and for­mer direc­tor of the NSA; and Charles Allen, for­mer assis­tant direc­tor of Cen­tral Intel­li­gence for Col­lec­tion at the CIA, who worked at the agency for over 40 years.

    ...

    Meld­ing into Sil­i­con Val­ley

    Beyond its trou­bling con­nec­tions to Sil­i­con Val­ley oli­garchs, Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence and the U.S.-military indus­tri­al com­plex, Carbyne’s recent part­ner­ships with two spe­cif­ic tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies — Google and Cis­co Sys­tems — raise even more red flags.

    Car­byne announced its part­ner­ship with Cis­co Sys­tems this past April, with the lat­ter announc­ing that it would begin “align­ing its uni­fied call man­ag­er with Carbyne’s call-han­dling plat­form, allow­ing emer­gency call cen­ters to col­lect data from both 911 callers and near­by gov­ern­ment-owned IoT [Inter­net of Things] devices.” A report on the part­ner­ship pub­lished by Gov­ern­ment Tech­nol­o­gy mag­a­zine stat­ed that “Carbyne’s plat­form will be inte­grat­ed into Cis­co Kinet­ic for Cities, an IoT data plat­form that shares data across com­mu­ni­ty infra­struc­ture, smart city solu­tions, appli­ca­tions and con­nect­ed devices.” The report also not­ed that “Car­byne will also be the only 911 solu­tion in the Cis­co Mar­ket­place.”

    As part of the part­ner­ship, Carbyne’s Pres­i­dent of North Amer­i­can Oper­a­tions Paul Tatro told Gov­ern­ment Tech­nol­o­gy that the Car­byne plat­form would com­bine the data it obtains from smart­phones and oth­er Car­byne-con­nect­ed devices with “what’s avail­able through near­by Cis­co-con­nect­ed road cam­eras, road­side sen­sors, smart street­lamps, smart park­ing meters or oth­er devices.” Tatro fur­ther assert­ed that “Car­byne can also ana­lyze data that’s being col­lect­ed by Cis­co IoT devices … and alert 911 auto­mat­i­cal­ly, with­out any per­son mak­ing a phone call, if there appears to be a wor­thy prob­lem,” and expressed his view that soon most emer­gency calls will not be made by human beings but “by smart cars, telem­at­ics or oth­er smart city devices.”

    A few months after part­ner­ing with Cis­co Sys­tems, Car­byne announced its part­ner­ship with Google on July 10, just three days after Car­byne fun­der Jef­frey Epstein was arrest­ed in New York on fed­er­al sex traf­fick­ing charges. Carbyne’s press release of the part­ner­ship described how the com­pa­ny and Google would be team­ing up in Mex­i­co “to offer advanced mobile loca­tion to emer­gency com­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­ters (ECCs) through­out Mex­i­co” fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of a suc­cess­ful four-week pilot pro­gram between Car­byne and Google in the Cen­tral Amer­i­can nation.

    The press release also stat­ed:

    Car­byne will pro­vide Google’s Android ELS (Emer­gency Loca­tion Ser­vice) in real time from emer­gency calls made on AndroidTM devices. Deploy­ment for any ECC in the coun­try won’t require any inte­gra­tion, with Car­byne pro­vid­ing numer­ous options for con­nec­tion to their secure ELS Gate­way once an ECC is approved. The Car­byne auto­mat­ed plat­form, requir­ing no human inter­ac­tion, has the poten­tial to save thou­sands of lives each year through­out Mex­i­co.”

    The rea­son Carybne’s part­ner­ships with Cis­co Sys­tems and Google are sig­nif­i­cant lies in the role that Cis­co and for­mer Google CEO Eric Schmidt have played in the cre­ation of a con­tro­ver­sial “incu­ba­tor” for Israeli tech start-ups with deep ties to Israeli mil­i­tary intel­li­gence, Amer­i­can neo­con­ser­v­a­tive donor Paul Singer, and the U.S.’ Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency (NSA).

    This com­pa­ny, called Team8, is an Israeli com­pa­ny-cre­ation plat­form whose CEO and co-founder is Nadav Zafrir, for­mer com­man­der of Unit 8200. Two of the company’s oth­er three co-founders are also “alum­ni” of Unit 8200. Among Team8’s top investors is Schmidt, the for­mer CEO of Google, who also joined Peter Thiel in fund­ing the Unit 8200-linked Bill­Guard, as well as major tech com­pa­nies includ­ing Cis­co Sys­tems and Microsoft.

    Last year, Team8 con­tro­ver­sial­ly hired the for­mer head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Com­mand, Retired Admi­ral Mike Rogers, and Zafrir stat­ed that his inter­est in hir­ing Rogers was that Rogers would be “instru­men­tal in help­ing strate­gize” Team8’s expan­sion in the Unit­ed States. Jake Williams, a vet­er­an of NSA’s Tai­lored Access Oper­a­tions (TAO) hack­ing unit, told Cyber­Scoop:

    Rogers is not being brought into this role because of his tech­ni­cal expe­ri­ence. …It’s pure­ly because of his knowl­edge of clas­si­fied oper­a­tions and his abil­i­ty to influ­ence many in the U.S. gov­ern­ment and pri­vate-sec­tor con­trac­tors.”

    ...

    Mossad gets its own In-Q-Tel

    This “delib­er­ate pol­i­cy” of Netanyahu’s also recent­ly result­ed in the cre­ation of a Mossad-run ven­ture cap­i­tal fund that is specif­i­cal­ly focused on financ­ing Israeli tech start-ups. The ven­ture cap­i­tal fund, called Lib­er­tad, was first announced by Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office and was cre­at­ed with the explic­it pur­pose of “increas­ing the Israeli intel­li­gence agency’s knowl­edge base and fos­ter­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with Israel’s vibrant start­up scene” It was mod­eled after the CIA’s ven­ture cap­i­tal fund In-Q-Tel, which invest­ed in sev­er­al Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies turned gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence con­trac­tors — includ­ing Google and Palan­tir — with a sim­i­lar goal in mind.

    Lib­er­tad declines to reveal the recip­i­ents of its fund­ing, but announced last Decem­ber that it had cho­sen five com­pa­nies in the fields of robot­ics, ener­gy, encryp­tion, web intel­li­gence, and nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing and text analy­sis. In regard to its inter­est in web intel­li­gence, a Mossad employ­ee told the Jerusalem Post that the intel­li­gence agency was specif­i­cal­ly inter­est­ed in “inno­v­a­tive tech­nolo­gies for [the] auto­mat­ic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of per­son­al­i­ty char­ac­ter­is­tics – per­son­al­i­ty pro­fil­ing – based on online behav­ior and activ­i­ty, using meth­ods based on sta­tis­tics, machine learn­ing, and oth­er areas.” (empha­sis added)

    ...

    The road to fas­cism, paved by a cor­rupt­ed PROMIS

    Though Israeli intelligence’s inter­est in tech com­pa­nies goes back sev­er­al years, there is a well-doc­u­ment­ed his­to­ry of Israeli intel­li­gence using bugged soft­ware to sur­veil and gain “back­door” access to gov­ern­ment data­bas­es around the world, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Unit­ed States.

    ...

    While the PROMIS soft­ware is per­haps best known for offer­ing Israeli intel­li­gence a back­door into as many as 80 intel­li­gence agen­cies and oth­er sen­si­tive loca­tions around the world for near­ly a decade, it was also used for a very dif­fer­ent pur­pose by promi­nent offi­cials linked to Iran-Con­tra.

    One key Iran-Con­tra fig­ure — Lt. Col. Oliv­er North, then serv­ing on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil — decid­ed to use PROMIS nei­ther for espi­onage nor for for­eign pol­i­cy. Instead, North turned PROMIS’ pow­er against Amer­i­cans, par­tic­u­lar­ly per­ceived dis­si­dents, a fact that remained unknown for years.

    Begin­ning in 1982, as part of the high­ly clas­si­fied Con­ti­nu­ity of Gov­ern­ment (COG) pro­gram, North used the PROMIS soft­wareat a 6,100-square-foot “com­mand cen­ter” in the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, as well as at a small­er oper­a­tions room at the White House, to com­pile a list of Amer­i­can dis­si­dents and “poten­tial trou­ble­mak­ers” if the COG pro­to­col was ever invoked.

    Accord­ing to a senior gov­ern­ment offi­cial with a high-rank­ing secu­ri­ty clear­ance and ser­vice in five pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tions who spoke to Radar in 2008 , this was:

    A data­base of Amer­i­cans, who, often for the slight­est and most triv­ial rea­son, are con­sid­ered unfriend­ly, and who, in a time of pan­ic might be incar­cer­at­ed. The data­base can iden­ti­fy and locate per­ceived ‘ene­mies of the state’ almost instan­ta­neous­ly.”

    In 1993, Wired described North’s use of PROMIS in com­pil­ing this data­base as fol­lows:

    Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of any­one ever arrest­ed for a polit­i­cal protest, for exam­ple, or any­one who had ever refused to pay their tax­es. Com­pared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s ene­mies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy’s black­list look down­right crude.”

    The COG pro­gram defined this “time of pan­ic” as “a nation­al cri­sis, such as nuclear war, vio­lent and wide­spread inter­nal dis­sent, or nation­al oppo­si­tion to a US mil­i­tary inva­sion abroad,” where­by the gov­ern­ment would sus­pend the Con­sti­tu­tion, declare mar­tial law, and incar­cer­ate per­ceived dis­si­dents and oth­er “unfriend­lies” in order to pre­vent the government’s (or then-serv­ing administration’s) over­throw.

    This secre­tive data­base has often been referred to as “Main Core” by gov­ern­ment insid­ers and, most trou­bling of all, it still exists today. Jour­nal­ist Christ Ketcham, cit­ing senior gov­ern­ment offi­cials, report­ed in 2008 that, at that time, Main Core was believed to con­tain the names of as many as 8 mil­lion Amer­i­cans. Eleven years lat­er, it is high­ly like­ly that the num­ber of Amer­i­cans includ­ed in the Main Core data­base has grown con­sid­er­ably.

    Author and inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Tim Shorrock also cov­ered oth­er dis­turb­ing aspects of the evo­lu­tion of Main Core back in 2008 for Salon. At the time, Shorrock report­ed that the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion was believed to have used Main Core to guide its domes­tic sur­veil­lance activ­i­ties fol­low­ing the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks.

    Cit­ing “sev­er­al for­mer U.S. gov­ern­ment offi­cials with exten­sive knowl­edge of intel­li­gence oper­a­tions,” Shorrock fur­ther not­ed that Main Core — as it was 11 years ago at the time his report was pub­lished — was said to con­tain “a vast amount of per­son­al data on Amer­i­cans, includ­ing NSA inter­cepts of bank and cred­it card trans­ac­tions and the results of sur­veil­lance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and oth­er agen­cies.”

    Bill Hamil­ton, for­mer NSA intel­li­gence offi­cer and the orig­i­nal cre­ator of the PROMIS soft­ware, told Shorrock at the time that he believed that “U.S. intel­li­gence uses PROMIS as the pri­ma­ry soft­ware for search­ing the Main Core data­base” and had been told as much by an intel­li­gence offi­cial in 1992 and an NSA offi­cial in 1995. Dan Mur­phy, for­mer deputy direc­tor at the CIA, had told Hamil­ton that the NSA’s use of PROMIS was “so seri­ous­ly wrong that mon­ey alone can­not cure the prob­lem.” “I believe in ret­ro­spect that Mur­phy was allud­ing to Main Core,” Hamil­ton had told Shorrock.

    Though most report­ing on Main Core, from the time its exis­tence was first revealed to the present, has treat­ed the data­base as some­thing used by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and U.S. intel­li­gence for domes­tic pur­pos­es, Mint­Press has learned that Israeli intel­li­gence was also involved with the cre­ation of the Main Core data­base. Accord­ing to a for­mer U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cial with direct knowl­edge of the U.S. intel­li­gence community’s use of PROMIS and Main Core from the 1980s to 2000s, Israeli intel­li­gence played a role in the U.S. government’s deploy­ment of PROMIS as the soft­ware used for the Main Core domes­tic sur­veil­lance data­base sys­tem.

    Israeli intel­li­gence remained involved with Main Core at the time of the August 1991 death of jour­nal­ist Dan­ny Caso­laro, who was inves­ti­gat­ing not only the government’s mis­use of the stolen PROMIS soft­ware but also the Main Core data­base. This same offi­cial, who chose to remain anony­mous, told Mint­Press that, short­ly before his death, Caso­laro had obtained copies of com­put­er print­outs from the PROMIS-based Main Core domes­tic sur­veil­lance data­base sys­tem from NSA whistle­blow­er Alan Stan­dorf, who was found mur­dered a few months before Casolaro’s life­less body would be found in a West Vir­ginia hotel room.

    The source also stat­ed that Main Core’s con­tents had been used for the polit­i­cal black­mail of mem­bers of Con­gress and their staff, jour­nal­ists, and oth­ers by Wal­ter Ray­mond, a senior CIA covert oper­a­tor in psy­ops and dis­in­for­ma­tion who served on Pres­i­dent Reagan’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil dur­ing and after Main Core’s cre­ation. If used for this pur­pose by Ray­mond in the 1980s, Main Core has also like­ly been used by oth­er indi­vid­u­als with access to the data­base for black­mail­ing pur­pos­es in the years since.

    ...

    Peter Thiel’s See­ing Stone

    As was men­tioned ear­li­er in this report, Palan­tir — the com­pa­ny co-found­ed by Peter Thiel — is set to prof­it hand­some­ly from the Trump administration’s plans to use its “pre-crime” tech­nol­o­gy, which is already used by police depart­ments through­out the coun­try and also used to track Amer­i­cans based on the company’s inte­gra­tive data-min­ing approach. Palan­tir, named for the “see­ing stones” in the Lord of the Rings nov­els, also mar­kets soft­ware to for­eign (and domes­tic) intel­li­gence agen­cies that pre­dicts the like­li­hood that an indi­vid­ual will com­mit an act of ter­ror­ism or vio­lence.

    Aside from its “pre-crime” prod­ucts, Palan­tir has come under fire in recent years as a result of the company’s con­tracts with Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), where it cre­at­ed an intel­li­gence sys­tem known as Inves­tiga­tive Case Man­age­ment (ICM). The IB Times described ICM as “a vast ‘ecosys­tem’ of data to help immi­gra­tion offi­cials in iden­ti­fy­ing tar­gets and cre­at­ing cas­es against them” and also “pro­vides ICE agents with access to data­bas­es man­aged by oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies.” ICM fur­ther gives ICE access to “tar­gets’ per­son­al and sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, such as back­ground on school­ing, employ­ment, fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships, phone records, immi­gra­tion his­to­ry, bio­met­rics data, crim­i­nal records as well as home and work address­es.” In oth­er words, Palantir’s ICM is essen­tial­ly a “Main Core” for immi­grants.

    Notably, part of Oliv­er North’s orig­i­nal inten­tions in “Main Core” was to track immi­grants then com­ing from Cen­tral Amer­i­ca as well as Amer­i­cans who opposed Rea­gan era pol­i­cy with respect to Cen­tral Amer­i­ca. At that time, Main Core was believed to be con­trolled by the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Admin­is­tra­tion (FEMA), which is now part of the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (DHS).

    ...

    If the Trump admin­is­tra­tion moves for­ward with its pro­pos­al of employ­ing tech­nol­o­gy to detect poten­tial mass shoot­ers before they strike, Palantir’s tech­nol­o­gy is set to be used, giv­en that it has already been used by U.S. law enforce­ment and U.S. intel­li­gence to deter­mine which peo­ple run “the high­est risk of being involved in gun vio­lence,” accord­ing to an inves­ti­ga­tion of Palan­tir by The Verge. Fur­ther­more, Palantir’s close ties to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion make the company’s role in a future nation­wide “pre-crime” pre­ven­tion sys­tem based on tech­nol­o­gy appear inevitable.

    Worse still is the appar­ent over­lap between Palan­tir and Main Core. Palan­tir — which has obvi­ous sim­i­lar­i­ties to PROMIS — is already known to use its soft­ware to track poten­tial ter­ror threats, includ­ing domes­tic ter­ror threats, and a cat­e­go­ry of peo­ple it refers to as “sub­ver­sives.” Palantir’s track­ing of these indi­vid­u­als “is all done using pre­dic­tion.” Palantir’s close ties to the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty sug­gest that Palan­tir may already have access to the Main Core data­base. Tim Shorrock told Mint­Press that Palantir’s use of Main Core is “cer­tain­ly pos­si­ble,” par­tic­u­lar­ly in light of the company’s use of the term “sub­ver­sive” to describe a cat­e­go­ry of peo­ple that its soft­ware tracks.

    Palan­tir also has alleged ties to Israeli intel­li­gence, as there have long been sus­pi­cions that Israeli intel­li­gence has used Palan­tir as part of its AI “pre-crime” algo­rithms tar­get­ing Pales­tini­ans after Palan­tir opened a research and devel­op­ment (R&D) cen­ter in Israel in 2013. The cur­rent head of Palan­tir Israel, Hamul­tal Meri­dor, pre­vi­ous­ly found­ed a brain-machine inter­face orga­ni­za­tion and was senior direc­tor of web intel­li­gence at Verint (for­mer­ly Com­verse Infos­ys), which has deep con­nec­tions to Unit 8200, a his­to­ry of espi­onage in the Unit­ed States and was one of the two com­pa­nies con­tract­ed by the NSA to insert a “back­door” into the U.S. telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem and pop­u­lar prod­ucts of major Amer­i­can tech com­pa­nies.

    Giv­en the above, Peter Thiel’s 2018 deci­sion to fund Car­byne, the Unit 8200-linked start-up that mar­kets itself as a tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tion to mass shoot­ings in the U.S., strong­ly sug­gests that Thiel has been antic­i­pat­ing for some time the now-pub­lic efforts of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to employ “pre-crime” tech­nol­o­gy to track and tar­get Amer­i­cans who show signs of “men­tal ill­ness” and “vio­lent ten­den­cies.”

    A night­mare even Orwell could not have pre­dict­ed

    In ear­ly August, in the wake of the shoot­ing at an El Paso Wal­mart, Pres­i­dent Trump called on big tech com­pa­nies to col­lab­o­rate with the Jus­tice Depart­ment in the cre­ation of soft­ware that “stops mass mur­ders before they start” by detect­ing poten­tial mass shoot­ers before they cnm act. Though Trump’s ideas were short on specifics, there is now a new pro­pos­al that would cre­ate a new gov­ern­ment agency that will use data gath­ered from civil­ian elec­tron­ic devices to iden­ti­fy “neu­robe­hav­ioral” warn­ing signs, there­by flag­ging “poten­tial shoot­ers” for increased sur­veil­lance and poten­tial­ly deten­tion.

    This new agency, as pro­posed by the foun­da­tion led by for­mer NBC Uni­ver­sal pres­i­dent and vice chair­man of Gen­er­al Elec­tric Robert Wright, would be known as the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA) and would be mod­eled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Per the pro­pos­al, recent­ly detailed by the Wash­ing­ton Post, the flag­ship pro­gram of HARPA would be “Safe Home” (Stop­ping Aber­rant Fatal Events by Help­ing Over­come Men­tal Extremes), which would use “break­through tech­nolo­gies with high speci­fici­ty and sen­si­tiv­i­ty for ear­ly diag­no­sis of neu­ropsy­chi­atric vio­lence,” specif­i­cal­ly “advanced ana­lyt­i­cal tools based on arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and machine learn­ing.”

    The pro­gram would cost an esti­mat­ed $60 mil­lion over four years and would use data from “Apple Watch­es, Fit­bits, Ama­zon Echo and Google Home” and oth­er con­sumer elec­tron­ic devices, as well as infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed by health-care providers to iden­ti­fy who may be a threat.

    The Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed that Pres­i­dent Trump has react­ed “very pos­i­tive­ly” to the pro­pos­al and that he was “sold on the con­cept.” The Post also not­ed that Wright sees the president’s daugh­ter, Ivan­ka, as “the most effec­tive cham­pi­on of the pro­pos­al and has pre­vi­ous­ly briefed her on HARPA him­self.” Ivan­ka has pre­vi­ous­ly been cit­ed as a dri­ving force behind some of her father’s pol­i­cy deci­sions, includ­ing his deci­sion to bomb Syr­ia after an alleged chem­i­cal weapons attack in 2017.

    ...

    For any­one famil­iar with DARPA, such claims should imme­di­ate­ly sound loud alarm bells, espe­cial­ly since DARPA is already devel­op­ing its own solu­tion to “men­tal health” issues in the form of a “brain-machine inter­face” as part of its N3 pro­gram. That pro­gram, accord­ing to reports, involves “non­in­va­sive and ‘minute­ly’ inva­sive neur­al inter­faces to both read and write into the brain,” help dis­tance sol­diers “from the emo­tion­al guilt of war­fare” by “cloud­ing their per­cep­tion” and “to pro­gram arti­fi­cial mem­o­ries of fear, desire, and expe­ri­ences direct­ly into the brain.” Though N3 is intend­ed to improve the prowess of Amer­i­can sol­diers, it is also set to be used as a means of pur­su­ing DARPA’s Sys­tems-Based Neu­rotech­nol­o­gy for Emerg­ing Ther­a­pies (SUBNETS) project, which aims to “to devel­op a tiny, implant­ed chip in the skull to treat psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders such as anx­i­ety, PTSD and major depres­sion.”

    ...

    ———-

    “How the CIA, Mossad and “the Epstein Net­work” are Exploit­ing Mass Shoot­ings to Cre­ate an Orwellian Night­mare” by Whit­ney Webb; Mint­Press; 09/06/2019

    Anoth­er fun­der of Car­byne, Peter Thiel, has his own com­pa­ny that, like Car­byne, is set to prof­it from the Trump administration’s pro­posed hi-tech solu­tions to mass shoot­ings. Indeed, after the recent shoot­ing in El Paso, Texas, Pres­i­dent Trump — who received polit­i­cal dona­tions from and has been advised by Thiel fol­low­ing his elec­tion — asked tech com­pa­nies to “detect mass shoot­ers before they strike,” a ser­vice already per­fect­ed by Thiel’s com­pa­ny Palan­tir, which has devel­oped “pre-crime soft­ware” already in use through­out the coun­try. Palan­tir is also a con­trac­tor for the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty and also has a branch based in Israel.”

    As we can see, Peter Thiel and Jef­frey Epstein’s paths did indeed cross with their mutu­al invest­ments in Car­byne. And while we should have expect­ed their paths to cross giv­en the enor­mous over­lap between their inter­ests and activ­i­ties, this is the first con­fir­ma­tion we’ve found. It’s also a big rea­son we should­n’t assume that sto­ries about Israeli spy­ing on the US gov­ern­ment aren’t being done with the US gov­ern­men­t’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. Don’t for­get that let­ting Israel spy on US cit­i­zens and oth­ers in the DC area could be a means of the US intel­li­gence ser­vices get­ting around legal and con­sti­tu­tion­al restric­tions on domes­tic sur­veil­lance. In oth­er words, there are a some poten­tial­ly huge incen­tives for a joint US-Israeli spy­ing oper­a­tion that includes spy­ing on Amer­i­cans. Espe­cial­ly if that spy­ing allows for the black­mail­ing of US politi­cians. And based on the his­to­ry of pro­grams like the “Main Core” dis­si­dent data­base that was report­ed­ly used for black­mail­ing mem­bers of con­gress, and the sup­port­ing role Israeli intel­li­gence report­ed­ly played in set­ting “Main Core” up, we should­n’t be sur­prised by any sto­ries at all about Israel spy­ing oper­a­tions in DC. Giv­en that his­to­ry, the only thing we should be sur­prised by is if this oper­a­tion was­n’t done in coor­di­na­tion with US intel­li­gence:

    ...
    Per­haps most dis­turb­ing of all, what­ev­er tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tion is adopt­ed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, it is set to use a con­tro­ver­sial data­base first devel­oped as part of a secre­tive U.S. gov­ern­ment pro­gram that involved noto­ri­ous Iran-Con­tra fig­ures like Oliv­er North as a means of track­ing and flag­ging poten­tial Amer­i­can dis­si­dents for increased sur­veil­lance and deten­tion in the event of a vague­ly defined “nation­al emer­gency.”

    As this report will reveal, this data­base — often referred to as “Main Core” — was cre­at­ed with the involve­ment of Israeli intel­li­gence and Israel remained involved years after it was devel­oped, and poten­tial­ly to the present. It was also used by at least one for­mer CIA offi­cial on Pres­i­dent Reagan’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to black­mail mem­bers of Con­gress, Con­gres­sion­al staffers and jour­nal­ists, among oth­ers.

    ...

    While the PROMIS soft­ware is per­haps best known for offer­ing Israeli intel­li­gence a back­door into as many as 80 intel­li­gence agen­cies and oth­er sen­si­tive loca­tions around the world for near­ly a decade, it was also used for a very dif­fer­ent pur­pose by promi­nent offi­cials linked to Iran-Con­tra.

    One key Iran-Con­tra fig­ure — Lt. Col. Oliv­er North, then serv­ing on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil — decid­ed to use PROMIS nei­ther for espi­onage nor for for­eign pol­i­cy. Instead, North turned PROMIS’ pow­er against Amer­i­cans, par­tic­u­lar­ly per­ceived dis­si­dents, a fact that remained unknown for years.

    Begin­ning in 1982, as part of the high­ly clas­si­fied Con­ti­nu­ity of Gov­ern­ment (COG) pro­gram, North used the PROMIS soft­wareat a 6,100-square-foot “com­mand cen­ter” in the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, as well as at a small­er oper­a­tions room at the White House, to com­pile a list of Amer­i­can dis­si­dents and “poten­tial trou­ble­mak­ers” if the COG pro­to­col was ever invoked.

    Accord­ing to a senior gov­ern­ment offi­cial with a high-rank­ing secu­ri­ty clear­ance and ser­vice in five pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tions who spoke to Radar in 2008 , this was:

    A data­base of Amer­i­cans, who, often for the slight­est and most triv­ial rea­son, are con­sid­ered unfriend­ly, and who, in a time of pan­ic might be incar­cer­at­ed. The data­base can iden­ti­fy and locate per­ceived ‘ene­mies of the state’ almost instan­ta­neous­ly.”

    In 1993, Wired described North’s use of PROMIS in com­pil­ing this data­base as fol­lows:

    Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of any­one ever arrest­ed for a polit­i­cal protest, for exam­ple, or any­one who had ever refused to pay their tax­es. Com­pared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s ene­mies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy’s black­list look down­right crude.”

    The COG pro­gram defined this “time of pan­ic” as “a nation­al cri­sis, such as nuclear war, vio­lent and wide­spread inter­nal dis­sent, or nation­al oppo­si­tion to a US mil­i­tary inva­sion abroad,” where­by the gov­ern­ment would sus­pend the Con­sti­tu­tion, declare mar­tial law, and incar­cer­ate per­ceived dis­si­dents and oth­er “unfriend­lies” in order to pre­vent the government’s (or then-serv­ing administration’s) over­throw.

    This secre­tive data­base has often been referred to as “Main Core” by gov­ern­ment insid­ers and, most trou­bling of all, it still exists today. Jour­nal­ist Christ Ketcham, cit­ing senior gov­ern­ment offi­cials, report­ed in 2008 that, at that time, Main Core was believed to con­tain the names of as many as 8 mil­lion Amer­i­cans. Eleven years lat­er, it is high­ly like­ly that the num­ber of Amer­i­cans includ­ed in the Main Core data­base has grown con­sid­er­ably.

    Author and inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Tim Shorrock also cov­ered oth­er dis­turb­ing aspects of the evo­lu­tion of Main Core back in 2008 for Salon. At the time, Shorrock report­ed that the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion was believed to have used Main Core to guide its domes­tic sur­veil­lance activ­i­ties fol­low­ing the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks.

    Cit­ing “sev­er­al for­mer U.S. gov­ern­ment offi­cials with exten­sive knowl­edge of intel­li­gence oper­a­tions,” Shorrock fur­ther not­ed that Main Core — as it was 11 years ago at the time his report was pub­lished — was said to con­tain “a vast amount of per­son­al data on Amer­i­cans, includ­ing NSA inter­cepts of bank and cred­it card trans­ac­tions and the results of sur­veil­lance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and oth­er agen­cies.”

    Bill Hamil­ton, for­mer NSA intel­li­gence offi­cer and the orig­i­nal cre­ator of the PROMIS soft­ware, told Shorrock at the time that he believed that “U.S. intel­li­gence uses PROMIS as the pri­ma­ry soft­ware for search­ing the Main Core data­base” and had been told as much by an intel­li­gence offi­cial in 1992 and an NSA offi­cial in 1995. Dan Mur­phy, for­mer deputy direc­tor at the CIA, had told Hamil­ton that the NSA’s use of PROMIS was “so seri­ous­ly wrong that mon­ey alone can­not cure the prob­lem.” “I believe in ret­ro­spect that Mur­phy was allud­ing to Main Core,” Hamil­ton had told Shorrock.

    Though most report­ing on Main Core, from the time its exis­tence was first revealed to the present, has treat­ed the data­base as some­thing used by the U.S. gov­ern­ment and U.S. intel­li­gence for domes­tic pur­pos­es, Mint­Press has learned that Israeli intel­li­gence was also involved with the cre­ation of the Main Core data­base. Accord­ing to a for­mer U.S. intel­li­gence offi­cial with direct knowl­edge of the U.S. intel­li­gence community’s use of PROMIS and Main Core from the 1980s to 2000s, Israeli intel­li­gence played a role in the U.S. government’s deploy­ment of PROMIS as the soft­ware used for the Main Core domes­tic sur­veil­lance data­base sys­tem.

    Israeli intel­li­gence remained involved with Main Core at the time of the August 1991 death of jour­nal­ist Dan­ny Caso­laro, who was inves­ti­gat­ing not only the government’s mis­use of the stolen PROMIS soft­ware but also the Main Core data­base. This same offi­cial, who chose to remain anony­mous, told Mint­Press that, short­ly before his death, Caso­laro had obtained copies of com­put­er print­outs from the PROMIS-based Main Core domes­tic sur­veil­lance data­base sys­tem from NSA whistle­blow­er Alan Stan­dorf, who was found mur­dered a few months before Casolaro’s life­less body would be found in a West Vir­ginia hotel room.

    The source also stat­ed that Main Core’s con­tents had been used for the polit­i­cal black­mail of mem­bers of Con­gress and their staff, jour­nal­ists, and oth­ers by Wal­ter Ray­mond, a senior CIA covert oper­a­tor in psy­ops and dis­in­for­ma­tion who served on Pres­i­dent Reagan’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil dur­ing and after Main Core’s cre­ation. If used for this pur­pose by Ray­mond in the 1980s, Main Core has also like­ly been used by oth­er indi­vid­u­als with access to the data­base for black­mail­ing pur­pos­es in the years since.
    ...

    So is the sto­ry about Israeli “stingrays” in DC real­ly just a sto­ry about an Israeli spy­ing oper­a­tion? Or is it a sto­ry about a joint US-Isre­ali spy­ing oper­a­tion? And if it is a joint oper­a­tion, is it part of a black­mail oper­a­tion too? Is Palan­tir involved? These are the kinds of ques­tions we have to ask now that we’ve learned that Peter Thiel and Jef­frey Epstein were qui­et co-investors in Israeli tech com­pa­nies with clear ‘dual use’ capa­bil­i­ties.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 14, 2019, 4:31 pm
  4. Here’s some arti­cles are worth keep­ing in mind regard­ing the ongo­ing ques­tion of who Jef­frey Epstein was coor­di­nat­ing with in his Sil­i­con Val­ley invest­ments and the peo­ple involved with reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Epstein’s rep­u­ta­tion in recent years. We’ve already seen how one of Epstein’s co-investors in Carbyne911 — the Israeli tech com­pa­ny that makes emer­gency respon­der com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy with what appears to be pos­si­ble ‘dual use’ intel­li­gence capa­bil­i­ties — is Peter Thiel. Epstein was report­ed­ly the financier behind the 2015 invest­ments in Car­byne by for­mer Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Barak. Thiel’s Founders Fund invest­ed in Car­byne in 2018. But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, Epstein was get­ting intro­duced to major Sil­i­con Val­ley financiers like Thiel back in 2015. And it was appar­ent­ly Sil­i­con Val­ley investor Reid Hoff­man, a mem­ber of the ‘Pay­Pal Mafia’, who arranged for an August 2015 din­ner where Epstein was a guest along with Elon Musk, Mark Zucker­berg, and Peter Thiel.

    Hoff­man has sub­se­quent­ly pub­licly apol­o­gized for invit­ing Epstein to this din­ner, say­ing in an email, “By agree­ing to par­tic­i­pate in any fundrais­ing activ­i­ty where Epstein was present, I helped to repair his rep­u­ta­tion and per­pet­u­ate injus­tice. For this, I am deeply regret­ful.” So Hoff­man acknowl­edges that this din­ner helped repair Epstein’s rep­u­ta­tion.

    Hoff­man also acknowl­edges sev­er­al inter­ac­tions with Epstein that he says were for the pur­pose of fundrais­ing for MIT’s Media Lab, which has been reel­ing for the rev­e­la­tions of the exten­sive dona­tions it received from Epstein even after his 2009 child sex traf­fick­ing con­vic­tions. Hoff­man asserts that Epstein’s pres­ence at this din­ner was at the request of Joi Ito, then the head of Media Lab, for the pur­pose of fund-rais­ing for Media Lab. Giv­en that Epstein had already been donat­ing to MIT Media Lab for years, it’s unclear how Epstein’s pres­ence at the din­ner would assist in that fundrais­ing effort. Was Epstein sup­posed to con­vince Musk, Thiel, and Zucker­berg to donate too?

    Recall that Hoff­man was report­ed­ly the fig­ure who financed the oper­a­tion by New Knowl­edge to run a fake ‘Russ­ian Bot’ net­work in the 2017 Alaba­ma spe­cial Sen­ate race. Also recall how, while Hoff­man’s polit­i­cal dona­tions are pri­mar­i­ly to Democ­rats, he’s also expressed some views strong­ly against the New Deal and gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. If he’s a real Demo­c­rat, he’s decid­ed­ly in the ‘cor­po­rate Demo­c­rat’ wing of the par­ty.

    So Hoff­man invit­ed Epstein to an August 2015 din­ner with lead­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley investors like Thiel, Zucker­berg, and Musk, appar­ent­ly at the request of the head of the MIT Media Lab to help with fundrais­ing despite Epstein hav­ing donat­ed to the lab for years. At least that’s the expla­na­tion we’re being giv­en for this August 2015 din­ner:

    Busi­ness Insid­er

    LinkedIn founder and Grey­lock part­ner Reid Hoff­man apol­o­gizes for his role in rehab­bing Jef­frey Epstein’s pub­lic image in 2015

    * In an email to Axios on Thurs­day, LinkedIn founder and Grey­lock part­ner Reid Hoff­man apol­o­gized for his role in help­ing repair Jef­frey Epstein’s image in 2015.
    * Hoff­man invit­ed Joi Ito, direc­tor of the MIT Media Lab, and Epstein to an August 2015 din­ner in Palo Alto with Elon Musk, Mark Zucker­berg, and Peter Thiel.
    * Epstein had finan­cial­ly backed Ito’s Media Lab in addi­tion to per­son­al­ly help­ing fund Ito’s ven­ture cap­i­tal fund.
    * In the email, Hoff­man says his inter­ac­tions with Epstein “came at the request of Joi Ito, for the pur­pos­es of fundrais­ing for the MIT Media Lab.”

    Megan Hern­broth
    09/13/2019

    Reid Hoff­man, the founder of LinkedIn and one of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s most high-pro­file ven­ture cap­i­tal investors, apol­o­gized on Thurs­day for his role in help­ing to repair the image of con­vict­ed sex offend­er Jef­frey Epstein.

    In an email to Axios, Hoff­man acknowl­edged sev­er­al inter­ac­tions with Epstein, which he said were for the pur­pose of fundrais­ing for MIT’s renown Media Lab. Hoff­man said he had been told that MIT had vet­ted and approved Epstein’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in fundrais­ing, but said his deci­sion to be involved with Epstein was nonethe­less a mis­take.

    By agree­ing to par­tic­i­pate in any fundrais­ing activ­i­ty where Epstein was present, I helped to repair his rep­u­ta­tion and per­pet­u­ate injus­tice. For this, I am deeply regret­ful,” Hoff­man said in the email.

    Epstein’s ties to Sil­i­con Val­ley and to MIT have come under scruti­ny in recent weeks, fol­low­ing the financier’s arrest on sex traf­fick­ing charges and his sub­se­quent death by sui­cide.

    Hoff­man invit­ed Joi Ito, direc­tor of the MIT Media Lab, and Epstein to an August 2015 din­ner in Palo Alto with Tes­la CEO Elon Musk, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg, and Palan­tir founder Peter Thiel.

    “My few inter­ac­tions with Jef­frey Epstein came at the request of Joi Ito, for the pur­pos­es of fundrais­ing for the MIT Media Lab. Pri­or to these inter­ac­tions, I was told by Joi that Epstein had cleared the MIT vet­ting process, which was the basis for my par­tic­i­pa­tion,” Hoff­man wrote.

    In addi­tion to back­ing MIT Media Lab, Epstein also report­ed­ly helped per­son­al­ly finance Ito’s ven­ture cap­i­tal fund. Grey­lock, the ven­ture cap­i­tal firm at which Hoff­man is a part­ner, has denied that Epstein had invest­ed in any funds as a lim­it­ed part­ner. There remains the pos­si­bil­i­ty, how­ev­er, that Epstein invest­ed in Grey­lock and oth­ers through a ” fund of funds,” which does not have to dis­close its investors to ven­ture firms it backs.

    Accord­ing to Axios, Hoff­man fund­ed the Media Lab’s Dis­obe­di­ence Award for “indi­vid­u­als and groups who engage in respon­si­ble, eth­i­cal dis­obe­di­ence aimed at chal­leng­ing norms, rules, or laws that sus­tain soci­ety’s injus­tices,” which last year went to lead­ers of the #MeToo move­ment.

    Hoff­man’s email was made pub­lic only min­utes after a let­ter from MIT pres­i­dent L. Rafael Reif, which also blamed Ito for the uni­ver­si­ty’s over­sight of Epstein’s involve­ment. The let­ter report­ed “pre­lim­i­nary” find­ings of an inves­ti­ga­tion that was sparked by rev­e­la­tions that Epstein had fund­ed Ito’s Media Lab in addi­tion to his ven­ture cap­i­tal fund.

    ...

    ———-

    “LinkedIn founder and Grey­lock part­ner Reid Hoff­man apol­o­gizes for his role in rehab­bing Jef­frey Epstein’s pub­lic image in 2015” by Megan Hern­broth; Busi­ness Insid­er; 09/13/2019

    ““By agree­ing to par­tic­i­pate in any fundrais­ing activ­i­ty where Epstein was present, I helped to repair his rep­u­ta­tion and per­pet­u­ate injus­tice. For this, I am deeply regret­ful,” Hoff­man said in the email.”

    So the way Hoff­man is spin­ning this, he was help­ing to repair Epstein’s rep­u­ta­tion by hav­ing him present at this august 2015 meet­ing for “fundrais­ing activ­i­ties” for MIT’s Media Lab. And Epstein’s involve­ment in this fundrais­ing was done at the behest of Joi Ito:

    ...
    Hoff­man invit­ed Joi Ito, direc­tor of the MIT Media Lab, and Epstein to an August 2015 din­ner in Palo Alto with Tes­la CEO Elon Musk, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg, and Palan­tir founder Peter Thiel.

    My few inter­ac­tions with Jef­frey Epstein came at the request of Joi Ito, for the pur­pos­es of fundrais­ing for the MIT Media Lab. Pri­or to these inter­ac­tions, I was told by Joi that Epstein had cleared the MIT vet­ting process, which was the basis for my par­tic­i­pa­tion,” Hoff­man wrote.
    ...

    But, again, Epstein has been donat­ed to the Media Lab for years. So why would he need to attend anoth­er fundrais­ing din­ner? Was Epstein mak­ing future dona­tions con­tin­gent on Media Lab some­how rehab­bing his rep­u­ta­tion? Or was he at this meet­ing to make a pitch to Musk, Zucker­berg, and Thiel for why they should donate to Media Lab too?

    Note that, in addi­tion to Hoff­man fund­ing the Media Lab’s Dis­obe­di­ence Award, he also sites on Media Lab’s advi­so­ry coun­cil. So he’s more than just a donor and fundrais­er for Media Lab.

    It’s also worth not­ing that, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, some­one in Sil­i­con Val­ley appeared to be try­ing to assist Epstein in the pub­lic reha­bil­i­ta­tion of his rep­u­ta­tion as late as this sum­mer, after the Mia­mi Her­ald’s explo­sive report­ing on him in Decem­ber. So Epstein has some pret­ty huge mys­tery fans in Sil­i­con Val­ley:

    Busi­ness Insid­er

    Jef­frey Epstein was meet­ing with Sil­i­con Val­ley reporters before his arrest, ‘ram­bling’ about all the peo­ple he knew in tech

    * Jef­frey Epstein met with at least three reporters, two of them for The New York Times, in the months lead­ing up to his arrest on child-sex-traf­fick­ing charges.
    * The inter­views seemed to touch on Epstein’s rela­tion­ship with Sil­i­con Val­ley, sug­gest­ing that he was try­ing to reha­bil­i­tate his image and become known as a tech investor.
    * Yes­ter­day, The New York Times pub­lished a year-old inter­view that Epstein gave to the colum­nist James B. Stew­art, but it has not pub­lished a sep­a­rate inter­view that the Times reporter Nel­lie Bowles con­duct­ed at Epstein’s Man­hat­tan man­sion before his arrest.
    * A reporter for The Infor­ma­tion inter­viewed Epstein in June about “tech­nol­o­gy invest­ing.” The site’s edi­tor-in-chief said Epstein “ram­bled about peo­ple he knew in the indus­try” but that she was­n’t pub­lish­ing the inter­view because it “was­n’t news­wor­thy.”

    John Cook
    Aug. 13, 2019, 2:33 PM

    The new­ly deceased sex crim­i­nal Jef­frey Epstein spoke from beyond the grave yes­ter­day, thanks to report from the New York Times colum­nist James B. Stew­art, who spilled his note­book from a year-old “back­ground” inter­view Epstein had giv­en at his Man­hat­tan man­sion.

    Busi­ness Insid­er has learned that Stew­art isn’t the only reporter that vis­it­ed Epstein in recent months. The sex offend­er also grant­ed inter­views to anoth­er New York Times reporter, Nel­lie Bowles, and a reporter for tech site The Infor­ma­tion in the weeks and months lead­ing up to his most recent arrest on child-sex-traf­fick­ing charges in July. Nei­ther The Times nor The Infor­ma­tion has yet pub­lished the fruits of those inter­views, and the edi­tor-in-chief of The Infor­ma­tion said she had no plans to do so.

    Epstein’s meet­ings with reporters, one of which took place as recent­ly as June, sug­gest that the dis­graced financier was try­ing to reha­bil­i­tate his image — or at least fos­ter rela­tion­ships with news out­lets — even as fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors were clos­ing in.

    All three inter­views seem to have touched on Epstein’s rela­tion­ship with Sil­i­con Val­ley. Stew­art wrote that he con­tact­ed Epstein to con­firm a rumor that Epstein was advis­ing Tes­la founder Elon Musk, and both The Infor­ma­tion and Bowles cov­er the tech sec­tor. Stew­art reached out direct­ly to Epstein, but it’s unclear who bro­kered the oth­er meet­ings. The tech focus sug­gests that some­one in Sil­i­con Val­ley may have been try­ing to help Epstein con­nect with reporters.

    A jour­nal­ist for The Infor­ma­tion met with Epstein in June to dis­cuss “tech­nol­o­gy invest­ing,” Jes­si­ca Lessin, the site’s edi­tor-in-chief, con­firmed to Busi­ness Insid­er. That was just weeks before his July arrest and sev­en months after the Mia­mi Her­ald’s bru­tal inves­ti­ga­tion laid bare the extent to which Epstein escaped account­abil­i­ty for his crimes against under­age vic­tims.

    “One of our reporters met with Jef­frey Epstein, in June, to talk about tech­nol­o­gy invest­ing,” Lessin said in a state­ment to Busi­ness Insid­er. “This was before his July arrest. She was intro­duced to him because he was believed to be an investor in ven­ture cap­i­tal funds, which we could not ver­i­fy. The dis­cus­sion was­n’t news­wor­thy; he ram­bled about peo­ple he knew in the indus­try. His death has not changed our judg­ment about the news­wor­thi­ness.”

    Since Epstein’s arrest in July, his con­nec­tions to fig­ures in the tech, finan­cial, phil­an­thropic, polit­i­cal, and sci­en­tif­ic worlds have become of intense inter­est to reporters, who have spent thou­sands of hours attempt­ing to deter­mine whom, pre­cise­ly, Epstein knew and where, pre­cise­ly, he invest­ed his mon­ey.

    Stew­art, who believes that Epstein’s death released him from an oblig­a­tion to con­sid­er the inter­view “on back­ground” and thus anony­mous, revealed that Epstein claimed to have ongo­ing rela­tion­ships with Sau­di Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the dis­graced direc­tor Woody Allen, the for­mer Trump advis­er Steve Ban­non, and the jour­nal­ist Michael Wolff.

    Busi­ness Insid­er has also learned that Stew­art’s Times col­league Bowles, who has made a name for her­self skew­er­ing tech oli­garchs and iden­ti­fy­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley cul­tur­al trends, also recent­ly met with Epstein in his Man­hat­tan town­house for an inter­view. It’s unclear if that inter­view was on or off the record, and it’s unclear pre­cise­ly when it occurred. Bowles was list­ed as a con­tribut­ing reporter on a July Times sto­ry fea­tur­ing archi­tec­tur­al and design details about the inte­ri­or of Epstein’s $56 mil­lion town­home, but The Times does not appear to have pub­lished any oth­er report­ing from Bowles’ con­ver­sa­tion with Epstein.

    ...

    The Times and oth­er out­lets have cov­ered Epstein’s efforts, in the wake of his 2008 plea deal, to reha­bil­i­tate his image as a sex offend­er by pay­ing free­lance writ­ers and pub­li­cists to write pos­i­tive sto­ries about him on sites like Huff­Post, Nation­al Review, and Forbes. He also lever­aged a friend­ship with Peg­gy Sie­gal, a pub­li­cist for A‑list celebri­ties, to intro­duce him to a social net­work that includ­ed George Stephanopou­los and Katie Couric.

    Town & Coun­try report­ed that Epstein also sought the pub­lic-rela­tions advice of the New York pub­li­cist R. Couri Hay, though Hay nev­er signed him as a client. Hay’s free advice, the mag­a­zine report­ed, was that Epstein should offer him­self up as an exclu­sive inter­view to The Times. Hay declined to com­ment for the record; Sie­gal did not return a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

    ———-

    “Jef­frey Epstein was meet­ing with Sil­i­con Val­ley reporters before his arrest, ‘ram­bling’ about all the peo­ple he knew in tech” by John Cook; Busi­ness Insid­er; 08/13/2019

    All three inter­views seem to have touched on Epstein’s rela­tion­ship with Sil­i­con Val­ley. Stew­art wrote that he con­tact­ed Epstein to con­firm a rumor that Epstein was advis­ing Tes­la founder Elon Musk, and both The Infor­ma­tion and Bowles cov­er the tech sec­tor. Stew­art reached out direct­ly to Epstein, but it’s unclear who bro­kered the oth­er meet­ings. The tech focus sug­gests that some­one in Sil­i­con Val­ley may have been try­ing to help Epstein con­nect with reporters.

    Was Hoff­man the mys­tery per­son who may have been bro­ker­ing inter­views with Epstein? Recall that Peter Thiel became an Epstein co-investor in Carbyne911 last year. Might Thiel have been the mys­tery bro­ker? We have no idea, and giv­en the num­ber of con­tacts Epstein has in Sil­i­con Val­ley it’s not like Hoff­man or Thiel are the only sus­pects. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle by Epstein’s biog­ra­ph­er, James B. Stew­art, describes, Epstein was alleged­ly involved with help­ing Elon Musk find a new Tes­la chair­man (some­thing Musk denies). Beyond that, Epstein told Stew­art dur­ing an inter­view last year that he had per­son­al­ly wit­nessed promi­nent tech fig­ures tak­ing drugs and arrang­ing for sex. So when we think about the poten­tial black­mail Epstein’s prob­a­bly had a Sil­i­con Val­ley fig­ures, the num­ber of pos­si­ble fig­ures who may have will­ing­ly or unwill­ing­ly been work­ing to reha­bil­i­tate Epstein’s rep­u­ta­tion is a pret­ty long list:

    The New York Times

    The Day Jef­frey Epstein Told Me He Had Dirt on Pow­er­ful Peo­ple

    By James B. Stew­art
    Aug. 12, 2019

    Almost exact­ly a year ago, on Aug. 16, 2018, I vis­it­ed Jef­frey Epstein at his cav­ernous Man­hat­tan man­sion.

    The over­rid­ing impres­sion I took away from our rough­ly 90-minute con­ver­sa­tion was that Mr. Epstein knew an aston­ish­ing num­ber of rich, famous and pow­er­ful peo­ple, and had pho­tos to prove it. He also claimed to know a great deal about these peo­ple, some of it poten­tial­ly dam­ag­ing or embar­rass­ing, includ­ing details about their sup­posed sex­u­al pro­cliv­i­ties and recre­ation­al drug use.

    So one of my first thoughts on hear­ing of Mr. Epstein’s sui­cide was that many promi­nent men and at least a few women must be breath­ing sighs of relief that what­ev­er Mr. Epstein knew, he has tak­en it with him.

    Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, Mr. Epstein made no secret of his own scan­dalous past — he’d plead­ed guilty to state charges of solic­it­ing pros­ti­tu­tion from under­age girls and was a reg­is­tered sex offend­er — and acknowl­edged to me that he was a pari­ah in polite soci­ety. At the same time, he seemed unapolo­getic. His very noto­ri­ety, he said, was what made so many peo­ple will­ing to con­fide in him. Every­one, he sug­gest­ed, has secrets and, he added, com­pared with his own, they seemed innocu­ous. Peo­ple con­fid­ed in him with­out feel­ing awk­ward or embar­rassed, he claimed.

    I’d nev­er met Mr. Epstein before. I had con­tact­ed him because my col­leagues and I had heard a rumor that he was advis­ing Tesla’s embat­tled chief exec­u­tive, Elon Musk, who was in trou­ble after announc­ing on Twit­ter that he had lined up the fund­ing to take Tes­la pri­vate.

    The Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion began an inves­ti­ga­tion into Mr. Musk’s remarks, which moved mar­kets but didn’t appear to have much basis in fact. There were calls for Mr. Musk to relin­quish his posi­tion as Tesla’s chair­man and for Tes­la to recruit more inde­pen­dent direc­tors. I’d heard that Mr. Epstein was com­pil­ing a list of can­di­dates at Mr. Musk’s behest — and that Mr. Epstein had an email from Mr. Musk autho­riz­ing the search for a new chair­man.

    Mr. Musk and Tes­la vehe­ment­ly deny this. “It is incor­rect to say that Epstein ever advised Elon on any­thing,” a spokes­woman for Mr. Musk, Keely Sul­prizio, said Mon­day.

    When I con­tact­ed Mr. Epstein, he read­i­ly agreed to an inter­view. The caveat was that the con­ver­sa­tion would be “on back­ground,” which meant I could use the infor­ma­tion as long as I didn’t attribute it direct­ly to him. (I con­sid­er that con­di­tion to have lapsed with his death.)

    He insist­ed that I meet him at his house, which I’d seen referred to as the largest sin­gle-fam­i­ly home in Man­hat­tan. This seems plau­si­ble: I ini­tial­ly walked past the build­ing, on East 71st Street, because it looked more like an embassy or muse­um than a pri­vate home. Next to the impos­ing dou­ble doors was a pol­ished brass plaque with the ini­tials “J.E.” and a bell. After I rang, the door was opened by a young woman, her blond hair pulled back in a chignon, who greet­ed me with what sound­ed like an East­ern Euro­pean accent.

    I can’t say how old she was, but my guess would be late teens or per­haps 20. Giv­en Mr. Epstein’s past, this struck me as far too close to the line. Why would Mr. Epstein want a reporter’s first impres­sion to be that of a young woman open­ing his door?

    The woman led me up a mon­u­men­tal stair­case to a room on the sec­ond floor over­look­ing the Frick muse­um across the street. It was qui­et, the light­ing dim, and the air-con­di­tion­ing was set very low. After a few min­utes, Mr. Epstein bound­ed in, dressed casu­al­ly in jeans and a polo shirt, shook my hand and said he was a big fan of my work. He had a big smile and warm man­ner. He was trim and ener­getic, per­haps from all the yoga he said he was prac­tic­ing. He was unde­ni­ably charis­mat­ic.

    Before we left the room he took me to a wall cov­ered with framed pho­tographs. He point­ed to a full-length shot of a man in tra­di­tion­al Arab dress. “That’s M.B.S.,” he said, refer­ring to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Sau­di Ara­bia. The crown prince had vis­it­ed him many times, and they spoke often, Mr. Epstein said.

    He led me to a large room at the rear of the house. There was an expan­sive table with about 20 chairs. Mr. Epstein took a seat at the head, and I sat to his left. He had a com­put­er, a small black­board and a phone to his right. He said he was doing some for­eign-cur­ren­cy trad­ing.

    Behind him was a table cov­ered with more pho­tographs. I noticed one of Mr. Epstein with for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, and anoth­er of him with the direc­tor Woody Allen. Dis­play­ing pho­tos of celebri­ties who had been caught up in sex scan­dals of their own also struck me as odd.

    Mr. Epstein avoid­ed specifics about his work for Tes­la. He told me that he had good rea­son to be cryp­tic: Once it became pub­lic that he was advis­ing the com­pa­ny, he’d have to stop doing so, because he was “radioac­tive.” He pre­dict­ed that every­one at Tes­la would deny talk­ing to him or being his friend.

    He said this was some­thing he’d become used to, even though it didn’t stop peo­ple from vis­it­ing him, com­ing to his din­ner par­ties or ask­ing him for mon­ey. (That was why, Mr. Epstein told me with­out any trace of irony, he was con­sid­er­ing becom­ing a min­is­ter so that his acquain­tances would be con­fi­dent that their con­ver­sa­tions would be kept con­fi­den­tial.)

    If he was ret­i­cent about Tes­la, he was more at ease dis­cussing his inter­est in young women. He said that crim­i­nal­iz­ing sex with teenage girls was a cul­tur­al aber­ra­tion and that at times in his­to­ry it was per­fect­ly accept­able. He point­ed out that homo­sex­u­al­i­ty had long been con­sid­ered a crime and was still pun­ish­able by death in some parts of the world.

    Mr. Epstein then mean­dered into a dis­cus­sion of oth­er promi­nent names in tech­nol­o­gy cir­cles. He said peo­ple in Sil­i­con Val­ley had a rep­u­ta­tion for being geeky worka­holics, but that was far from the truth: They were hedo­nis­tic and reg­u­lar users of recre­ation­al drugs. He said he’d wit­nessed promi­nent tech fig­ures tak­ing drugs and arrang­ing for sex (Mr. Epstein stressed that he nev­er drank or used drugs of any kind).

    I kept try­ing to steer the con­ver­sa­tion back to Tes­la, but Mr. Epstein remained eva­sive. He said he’d spo­ken to the Saud­is about pos­si­bly invest­ing in Tes­la, but he wouldn’t pro­vide any specifics or names. When I pressed him on the pur­port­ed email from Mr. Musk, he said the email wasn’t from Mr. Musk him­self, but from some­one very close to him. He wouldn’t say who that per­son was. I asked him if that per­son would talk to me, and he said he’d ask. He lat­er said the per­son declined; I doubt he asked.

    When I lat­er reflect­ed on our inter­view, I was struck by how lit­tle infor­ma­tion Mr. Epstein had actu­al­ly pro­vid­ed. While I can’t say any­thing he said was an explic­it lie, much of what he said was vague or spec­u­la­tive and couldn’t be proved or dis­proved. He did have at least some ties to Mr. Musk — a wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed pho­to shows Mr. Musk with Ghis­laine Maxwell, Mr. Epstein’s con­fi­dante and for­mer com­pan­ion, at the 2014 Van­i­ty Fair Oscars par­ty.

    “Ghis­laine sim­ply insert­ed her­self behind him in a pho­to he was pos­ing for with­out his knowl­edge,” Ms. Sul­prizio, the spokes­woman for Mr. Musk, said.

    It seemed clear Mr. Epstein had embell­ished his role in the Tes­la sit­u­a­tion to enhance his own impor­tance and gain atten­tion — some­thing that now seems to have been a pat­tern.

    About a week after that inter­view, Mr. Epstein called and asked if I’d like to have din­ner that Sat­ur­day with him and Woody Allen. I said I’d be out of town. A few weeks after that, he asked me to join him for din­ner with the author Michael Wolff and Don­ald J. Trump’s for­mer advis­er, Steve Ban­non. I declined. (I don’t know if these din­ners actu­al­ly hap­pened. Mr. Ban­non has said he didn’t attend. Mr. Wolff and a spokes­woman for Mr. Allen didn’t respond to requests for com­ment on Mon­day.)

    Sev­er­al months passed. Then ear­ly this year Mr. Epstein called to ask if I’d be inter­est­ed in writ­ing his biog­ra­phy. He sound­ed almost plain­tive. I sensed that what he real­ly want­ed was com­pan­ion­ship. As his biog­ra­ph­er, I’d have no choice but to spend hours lis­ten­ing to his saga. Already leery of any fur­ther ties to him, I was relieved I could say that I was already busy with anoth­er book.

    ...

    ———-

    “The Day Jef­frey Epstein Told Me He Had Dirt on Pow­er­ful Peo­ple” by James B. Stew­art; The New York Times; 08/12/2019

    “Mr. Epstein then mean­dered into a dis­cus­sion of oth­er promi­nent names in tech­nol­o­gy cir­cles. He said peo­ple in Sil­i­con Val­ley had a rep­u­ta­tion for being geeky worka­holics, but that was far from the truth: They were hedo­nis­tic and reg­u­lar users of recre­ation­al drugs. He said he’d wit­nessed promi­nent tech fig­ures tak­ing drugs and arrang­ing for sex (Mr. Epstein stressed that he nev­er drank or used drugs of any kind).”

    Hav­ing Jef­frey Epstein wit­ness you arrang­ing for sex is prob­a­bly the kind of sit­u­a­tion that will make you high­ly com­pli­ant when it comes to help­ing his rep­u­ta­tion. Or make donations...might that be part of the val­ue Epstein pro­vid­ed for that 2015 din­ner par­ty that was osten­si­bly a fundrais­ing oper­a­tion for Media Lab? Epstein’s pres­ence could pre­sum­ably make any for­mer ‘clients’ of his much more like­ly to open their check­books.

    It’s also worth not­ing that Mohammed bin Salman could arguably be con­sid­ered a promi­nent Sil­i­con Val­ley indi­vid­ual giv­en the exten­sive Sau­di invest­ments in Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies:

    ...
    Before we left the room he took me to a wall cov­ered with framed pho­tographs. He point­ed to a full-length shot of a man in tra­di­tion­al Arab dress. “That’s M.B.S.,” he said, refer­ring to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Sau­di Ara­bia. The crown prince had vis­it­ed him many times, and they spoke often, Mr. Epstein said.
    ...

    So when Epstein talks about M.B.S. speak­ing to him often and vis­it­ing him many times, while part of the nature of those vis­its could obvi­ous­ly include pros­ti­tu­tion, it’s also very pos­si­ble M.B.S. was using Epstein as a kind of Sil­i­con Val­ley invest­ment front too.

    And that’s part of what makes the mys­tery of the iden­ti­ty of Epstein’s main Sil­i­con Val­ley bene­fac­tor so mys­te­ri­ous: there are just way too many viable sus­pects.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 19, 2019, 12:26 pm
  5. Remem­ber when a group of Repub­li­can mem­bers of con­gress stormed into the secure room for high­ly sen­si­tive work (the SCIF) where the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee was hold­ing a impeach­ment hear­ing last month, prompt­ing secu­ri­ty con­cerns over the fact that they brought their cell phones into this room where smart­phones aren’t allowed? Well, here’s an exam­ple of why bring­ing those smart­phones into that room real­ly did pose a very real secu­ri­ty risk. It also hap­pens to be an exam­ple of how smart­phone rep­re­sent a secu­ri­ty risk to pret­ty much any­one:

    A new secu­ri­ty flaw was just dis­cov­ered in Google’s wide­ly-used Android oper­at­ing sys­tem for smart­phones. Secu­ri­ty firm Check­marx dis­cov­ered the flaw and cre­at­ed an app demon­strat­ing the large num­ber of ways it can be exploit­ed. It’s like the per­fect flaw for sur­rep­ti­tious tar­get­ed spy­ing or mass spy­ing. The flaw enables any app to poten­tial­ly take con­trol of your smart­phone’s cam­era and micro­phone. Audio and video record­ings and pic­tures can be made and sent back to a com­mand and con­trol serv­er. The attack appears to rely on Google Cam­era app to get around these per­mis­sions. The flaw also allows the attack­er to search through your entire col­lec­tion of pho­tos and videos already stored on the phone and send them back to the serv­er. It can col­lect your GPS loca­tion data too. So it basi­cal­ly turns your smart­phone into the per­fect spy­ing device.

    But it gets worse. Because while the use of this flaw would be notice­able if it was being exe­cut­ed while a user was look­ing at their phone (for exam­ple, they would see the video being record­ed in the app), it’s pos­si­ble to use a phone’s prox­im­i­ty sen­sor to deter­mine when the phone is face down when it would be safe to start record­ing with­out the user notic­ing. Anoth­er high­ly oppor­tune time to exploit this vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is when you are hold­ing your phone up to your ear allow­ing for pic­tures and video to be tak­en of the sur­round­ing room. This is also some­thing apps can detect. Check­marx’s exam­ple mal­ware had both of these capa­bil­i­ties.

    Per­haps the worst part of this dis­cov­ered vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is that it demon­strat­ed how apps were able to eas­i­ly bypass the restric­tions in Android’s oper­at­ing sys­tem that is sup­posed to pre­vent apps from access­ing things like cam­eras or micro­phones with­out users explic­it­ly giv­ing their per­mis­sions. So apps that did­n’t request access to cam­eras and micro­phones could still poten­tial­ly access them on Android phones until this vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty was found. And to upload and videos to the attack­ers’ com­mand and con­trol serv­er only required that the app be giv­en access to phone’s stor­age, which is an extreme­ly com­mon per­mis­sion for apps to request.

    At this point we that Android phones built by Google and Sam­sung are vul­ner­a­ble to this attack. We’re also told by Check­marx that Google has pri­vate­ly informed them that oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers are vul­ner­a­ble, but they haven’t been dis­closed yet. Google issued a state­ment claim­ing that the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty was addressed on impact­ed Google devices with a July 2019 patch to the Google Cam­era Appli­ca­tion and that patch­es have been made avail­able to all part­ners. Note that in the time­line pro­vid­ed by Check­marx, they informed Google of the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty on July 4th. So it should have hope­ful­ly been fixed for at least some of the impact­ed peo­ple back in July. At least for Android phones built by Google or Sam­sung. But that still leaves the ques­tion of how long this kind of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty has been exploitable:

    Ars Tech­ni­ca

    Google & Sam­sung fix Android spy­ing flaw. Oth­er mak­ers may still be vul­ner­a­ble
    Cam­era and mic could be con­trolled by any app, no per­mis­sion required.

    Dan Good­in — 11/19/2019, 6:32 AM

    Until recent­ly, weak­ness­es in Android cam­era apps from Google and Sam­sung made it pos­si­ble for rogue apps to record video and audio and take images and then upload them to an attack­er-con­trolled server—without any per­mis­sions to do so. Cam­era apps from oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers may still be sus­cep­ti­ble.

    The weak­ness, which was dis­cov­ered by researchers from secu­ri­ty firm Check­marx, rep­re­sent­ed a poten­tial pri­va­cy risk to high-val­ue tar­gets, such as those preyed upon by nation-spon­sored spies. Google care­ful­ly designed its Android oper­at­ing sys­tem to bar apps from access­ing cam­eras and micro­phones with­out explic­it per­mis­sion from end users. An inves­ti­ga­tion pub­lished Tues­day showed it was triv­ial to bypass those restric­tions. The inves­ti­ga­tion found that an app need­ed no per­mis­sions at all to cause the cam­era to shoot pic­tures and record video and audio. To upload the images and video—or any oth­er image and video stored on the phone—to an attack­er-con­trolled serv­er, an app need­ed only per­mis­sion to access stor­age, which is among one of the most com­mon­ly giv­en usage rights.

    The weak­ness, which is tracked as CVE-2019–2234, also allowed would-be attack­ers to track the phys­i­cal loca­tion of the device, assum­ing GPS data was embed­ded into images or videos. Google closed the eaves­drop­ping hole in its Pix­el line of devices with a cam­era update that became avail­able in July. Check­marx said Sam­sung has also fixed the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, although it was­n’t clear when that hap­pened. Check­marx said Google has indi­cat­ed that Android phones from oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers may also be vul­ner­a­ble. The spe­cif­ic mak­ers and mod­els haven’t been dis­closed.

    “The abil­i­ty for an appli­ca­tion to retrieve input from the cam­era, micro­phone, and GPS loca­tion is con­sid­ered high­ly inva­sive by Google them­selves,” Check­marx Direc­tor of Secu­ri­ty Research Erez Yalon wrote in Tues­day’s analy­sis. “As a result, AOSP cre­at­ed a spe­cif­ic set of per­mis­sions that an appli­ca­tion must request from the user.”

    To demon­strate the risk, Check­marx devel­oped a proof-of-con­cept rogue app that exploit­ed the weak­ness. It mas­quer­ad­ed as a sim­ple weath­er app. Hid­den inside were func­tions that could:

    * Take pic­tures and record videos, even when the phone was locked, the screen was off, or the app was closed
    * Pull GPS data embed­ded into any pho­to or video stored on the phone
    * Eaves­drop and record two-way phone con­ver­sa­tions and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly record video or take images
    * Silence the cam­era shut­ter to make the spy­ing hard­er to detect
    * Trans­fer any pho­to or video stored on the phone to an attack­er-con­trolled serv­er
    * List and down­load any JPG image or MP4 video stored on the phone’s SD card

    An attack would­n’t be com­plete­ly sur­rep­ti­tious. The screen of an exploit­ed device would dis­play the cam­era as it record­ed video or shot an image. That would tip off any­one who was look­ing at the hand­set at the time the attack was being car­ried out. Still, the attack would be able to cap­ture video, sound, and images at times when a phone dis­play was out of eye­sight, such as when the device was placed screen down. The app was able to use the prox­im­i­ty sen­sor to deter­mine when the device is face down.

    Check­marx’s PoC app was also able to use a phone’s prox­im­i­ty sen­sor to detect when it was held to a tar­get’s ear, as often hap­pens dur­ing phone calls. The app was able to record both sides of the con­ver­sa­tion. It could also record video or take images, a use­ful capa­bil­i­ty in the event the back of the phone was fac­ing a white­board or some­thing else of inter­est to an attack­er. Check­marx’s report includes a video demon­strat­ing the capa­bil­i­ties of the PoC app.

    In a state­ment, Google offi­cials wrote: “We appre­ci­ate Check­marx bring­ing this to our atten­tion and work­ing with Google and Android part­ners to coor­di­nate dis­clo­sure. The issue was addressed on impact­ed Google devices via a Play Store update to the Google Cam­era Appli­ca­tion in July 2019. A patch has also been made avail­able to all part­ners.”

    Sam­sung offi­cials wrote: “Since being noti­fied of this issue by Google, we have sub­se­quent­ly released patch­es to address all Sam­sung device mod­els that may be affect­ed. We val­ue our part­ner­ship with the Android team that allowed us to iden­ti­fy and address this mat­ter direct­ly.”

    ...

    Check­marx said Google has pri­vate­ly indi­cat­ed that oth­er mak­ers of Android phones besides Sam­sung may also be vul­ner­a­ble. Google’s state­ment did­n’t direct­ly con­firm this or say if any oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers have installed an update.

    In an email, Check­marx’s Yalon said it was­n’t clear why apps could access the cam­era with­out the user pro­vid­ing per­mis­sion. He spec­u­lat­ed that the weak­ness may be the result of Google mak­ing the cam­era work with the voice-acti­vat­ed Google Assis­tant and oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers fol­low­ing suit.

    Users of Pix­el phones can con­firm they aren’t vul­ner­a­ble by access­ing Apps and Noti­fi­ca­tions from the set­tings menu, choos­ing Cam­era > Advanced > and App details. The screen should show that the app has been updat­ed since July (and ide­al­ly much more recent­ly than that).

    Check­ing if oth­er Android phones are sus­cep­ti­ble will be dif­fi­cult for most users. Those who are more tech­ni­cal­ly skilled can run the fol­low­ing com­mand:

    $ adb shell am start-activ­i­ty ‑n
    com.google.android.GoogleCamera/com.android.camera.CameraActivity –ez
    extra_turn_screen_on true ‑a android.media.action.VIDEO_CAMERA –ez
    android.intent.extra.USE_FRONT_CAMERA true

    The above com­mand will force the phone to take video. The fol­low­ing com­mand will force the phone to take a pho­to:

    $ adb shell am start-activ­i­ty ‑n
    com.google.android.GoogleCamera/com.android.camera.CameraActivity –ez
    extra_turn_screen_on true ‑a android.media.action.STILL_IMAGE_CAMERA -
    ‑ez android.intent.extra.USE_FRONT_CAMERA true –ei
    android.intent.extra.TIMER_DURATION_SECONDS 3

    The skill and luck required to make the attack work reli­ably and with­out detec­tion are high enough that this type of exploit isn’t like­ly to be used against the vast major­i­ty of Android users. Still, the ease of sneak­ing mali­cious apps into the Google Play store sug­gests it would­n’t be hard for a deter­mined and sophis­ti­cat­ed attack­er to pull off some­thing like this. No won­der phones and oth­er elec­tron­ics are barred from SCIFs and oth­er sen­si­tive envi­ron­ments.

    ———-

    “Google & Sam­sung fix Android spy­ing flaw. Oth­er mak­ers may still be vul­ner­a­ble” by Dan Good­in; Ars Tech­ni­ca; 11/19/2019

    “The skill and luck required to make the attack work reli­ably and with­out detec­tion are high enough that this type of exploit isn’t like­ly to be used against the vast major­i­ty of Android users. Still, the ease of sneak­ing mali­cious apps into the Google Play store sug­gests it would­n’t be hard for a deter­mined and sophis­ti­cat­ed attack­er to pull off some­thing like this. No won­der phones and oth­er elec­tron­ics are barred from SCIFs and oth­er sen­si­tive envi­ron­ments.

    Have sophis­ti­cat­ed attack­ers been using this vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty all along? We don’t know, but it did­n’t sound like Check­marx had a very hard time dis­cov­er­ing this. And giv­en how Check­marx was able to build their proof-of-con­cept app to only oper­ate when the phone was either face down or being held up to some­one’s ear, it’s pos­si­ble this has been a wide­ly used hack that no one noticed:

    ...
    To demon­strate the risk, Check­marx devel­oped a proof-of-con­cept rogue app that exploit­ed the weak­ness. It mas­quer­ad­ed as a sim­ple weath­er app. Hid­den inside were func­tions that could:

    * Take pic­tures and record videos, even when the phone was locked, the screen was off, or the app was closed
    * Pull GPS data embed­ded into any pho­to or video stored on the phone
    * Eaves­drop and record two-way phone con­ver­sa­tions and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly record video or take images
    * Silence the cam­era shut­ter to make the spy­ing hard­er to detect
    * Trans­fer any pho­to or video stored on the phone to an attack­er-con­trolled serv­er
    * List and down­load any JPG image or MP4 video stored on the phone’s SD card

    An attack would­n’t be com­plete­ly sur­rep­ti­tious. The screen of an exploit­ed device would dis­play the cam­era as it record­ed video or shot an image. That would tip off any­one who was look­ing at the hand­set at the time the attack was being car­ried out. Still, the attack would be able to cap­ture video, sound, and images at times when a phone dis­play was out of eye­sight, such as when the device was placed screen down. The app was able to use the prox­im­i­ty sen­sor to deter­mine when the device is face down.

    Check­marx’s PoC app was also able to use a phone’s prox­im­i­ty sen­sor to detect when it was held to a tar­get’s ear, as often hap­pens dur­ing phone calls. The app was able to record both sides of the con­ver­sa­tion. It could also record video or take images, a use­ful capa­bil­i­ty in the event the back of the phone was fac­ing a white­board or some­thing else of inter­est to an attack­er. Check­marx’s report includes a video demon­strat­ing the capa­bil­i­ties of the PoC app.
    ...

    So if you have an Android phone with some ques­tion­able apps , espe­cial­ly phones not man­u­fac­tured by Google or Sam­sung and there­fore poten­tial­ly still vul­ner­a­ble, it might be worth run­ning that app and then lay­ing the phone down a glass sur­face so you can still see what’s hap­pen­ing on the phone’s screen.

    Also note how Check­marx’s report isn’t just dis­clos­ing this vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty exploit­ed via the Google Cam­era app. It’s also a reminder that when apps are access to a phone’s stor­age device, there’s noth­ing real­ly stop­ping those apps from root­ing through all of the oth­er data on your phone’s stor­age card. Like all your pho­tos and videos. And then upload­ing them to a serv­er:

    ...
    The weak­ness, which was dis­cov­ered by researchers from secu­ri­ty firm Check­marx, rep­re­sent­ed a poten­tial pri­va­cy risk to high-val­ue tar­gets, such as those preyed upon by nation-spon­sored spies. Google care­ful­ly designed its Android oper­at­ing sys­tem to bar apps from access­ing cam­eras and micro­phones with­out explic­it per­mis­sion from end users. An inves­ti­ga­tion pub­lished Tues­day showed it was triv­ial to bypass those restric­tions. The inves­ti­ga­tion found that an app need­ed no per­mis­sions at all to cause the cam­era to shoot pic­tures and record video and audio. To upload the images and video—or any oth­er image and video stored on the phone—to an attack­er-con­trolled serv­er, an app need­ed only per­mis­sion to access stor­age, which is among one of the most com­mon­ly giv­en usage rights.
    ...

    As Check­marx describes in their report, when you give an app in Android access to the stor­age on the device, you aren’t just giv­ing it access to its own stored data. You are giv­ing the app access to every­thing stored on that SD card:

    Check­marx

    How Attack­ers Could Hijack Your Android Cam­era to Spy on You

    Nov 19, 2019 by Erez Yalon

    In today’s dig­i­tal­ly-con­nect­ed soci­ety, smart­phones have become an exten­sion of us. Advanced cam­era and video capa­bil­i­ties in par­tic­u­lar are play­ing a mas­sive role in this, as users are able to quick­ly take out their phones and cap­ture any moment in real-time with the sim­ple click of a but­ton. How­ev­er, this presents a dou­ble-edged sword as these mobile devices are con­stant­ly col­lect­ing, stor­ing, and shar­ing var­i­ous types of data – with and with­out our know­ing – mak­ing our devices gold­mines for attack­ers.

    In order to bet­ter under­stand how smart­phone cam­eras may be open­ing users up to pri­va­cy risks, the Check­marx Secu­ri­ty Research Team cracked into the appli­ca­tions them­selves that con­trol these cam­eras to iden­ti­fy poten­tial abuse sce­nar­ios. Hav­ing a Google Pix­el 2 XL and Pix­el 3 on-hand, our team began research­ing the Google Cam­era app [1], ulti­mate­ly find­ing mul­ti­ple con­cern­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties stem­ming from per­mis­sion bypass issues. After fur­ther dig­ging, we also found that these same vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties impact the cam­era apps of oth­er smart­phone ven­dors in the Android ecosys­tem – name­ly Sam­sung – pre­sent­ing sig­nif­i­cant impli­ca­tions to hun­dreds-of-mil­lions of smart­phone users.

    In this blog, we’ll explain the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties dis­cov­ered (CVE-2019–2234), pro­vide details of how they were exploit­ed, explain the con­se­quences, and note how users can safe­guard their devices. This blog is also accom­pa­nied by a proof-of-con­cept (PoC) video, as well as a tech­ni­cal report of the find­ings that were shared with Google, Sam­sung, and oth­er Android-based smart­phone OEMs.

    Google & Sam­sung Cam­era Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties

    After a detailed analy­sis of the Google Cam­era app, our team found that by manip­u­lat­ing spe­cif­ic actions and intents [2], an attack­er can con­trol the app to take pho­tos and/or record videos through a rogue appli­ca­tion that has no per­mis­sions to do so. Addi­tion­al­ly, we found that cer­tain attack sce­nar­ios enable mali­cious actors to cir­cum­vent var­i­ous stor­age per­mis­sion poli­cies, giv­ing them access to stored videos and pho­tos, as well as GPS meta­da­ta embed­ded in pho­tos, to locate the user by tak­ing a pho­to or video and pars­ing the prop­er EXIF data [3]. This same tech­nique also applied to Samsung’s Cam­era app.

    In doing so, our researchers deter­mined a way to enable a rogue appli­ca­tion to force the cam­era apps to take pho­tos and record video, even if the phone is locked or the screen is turned off. Our researchers could do the same even when a user was is in the mid­dle of a voice call.

    The Impli­ca­tions

    The abil­i­ty for an appli­ca­tion to retrieve input from the cam­era, micro­phone, and GPS loca­tion is con­sid­ered high­ly inva­sive by Google them­selves. As a result, AOSP cre­at­ed a spe­cif­ic set of per­mis­sions that an appli­ca­tion must request from the user. Since this was the case, Check­marx researchers designed an attack sce­nario that cir­cum­vents this per­mis­sion pol­i­cy by abus­ing the Google Cam­era app itself, forc­ing it to do the work on behalf of the attack­er.

    It is known that Android cam­era appli­ca­tions usu­al­ly store their pho­tos and videos on the SD card. Since pho­tos and videos are sen­si­tive user infor­ma­tion, in order for an appli­ca­tion to access them, it needs spe­cial per­mis­sions: stor­age per­mis­sions. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, stor­age per­mis­sions are very broad and these per­mis­sions give access to the entire SD card. There are a large num­ber of appli­ca­tions, with legit­i­mate use-cas­es, that request access to this stor­age, yet have no spe­cial inter­est in pho­tos or videos. In fact, it’s one of the most com­mon request­ed per­mis­sions observed.

    This means that a rogue appli­ca­tion can take pho­tos and/or videos with­out spe­cif­ic cam­era per­mis­sions, and it only needs stor­age per­mis­sions to take things a step fur­ther and fetch pho­tos and videos after being tak­en. Addi­tion­al­ly, if the loca­tion is enabled in the cam­era app, the rogue appli­ca­tion also has a way to access the cur­rent GPS posi­tion of the phone and user.

    Of course, a video also con­tains sound. It was inter­est­ing to prove that a video could be ini­ti­at­ed dur­ing a voice call. We could eas­i­ly record the receiver’s voice dur­ing the call and we could record the caller’s voice as well.

    ...
    ———-

    “How Attack­ers Could Hijack Your Android Cam­era to Spy on You” by Erez Yalon; Check­marx; 11/19/2019

    “It is known that Android cam­era appli­ca­tions usu­al­ly store their pho­tos and videos on the SD card. Since pho­tos and videos are sen­si­tive user infor­ma­tion, in order for an appli­ca­tion to access them, it needs spe­cial per­mis­sions: stor­age per­mis­sions. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, stor­age per­mis­sions are very broad and these per­mis­sions give access to the entire SD card. There are a large num­ber of appli­ca­tions, with legit­i­mate use-cas­es, that request access to this stor­age, yet have no spe­cial inter­est in pho­tos or videos. In fact, it’s one of the most com­mon request­ed per­mis­sions observed.”

    So while this recent­ly dis­closed vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is pri­mar­i­ly focused on how the Google Cam­era app had this mas­sive vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that allowed for the hijack­ing of cam­eras and micro­phones, it’s also a remind that all of the con­tents of your Smart­phone’s SD cards are poten­tial­ly avail­able to any app on your phone as long as those apps have been giv­en the “Stor­age” per­mis­sions. And that’s not just a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty that needs to be fixed. It’s a basic part of how the Android oper­at­ing sys­tem works.

    Also don’t for­get that Google was start­ed with seed fund­ing from the CIA. So when we learn about these kinds of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties that are almost tai­lor made for spies, maybe that’s what they are.

    It’s all a reminder that mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy regime is pred­i­cat­ed on sys­tems of trust. Trust in soft­ware and hard­ware devel­op­ers that the vast major­i­ty of users can’t real­is­ti­cal­ly have a basis for giv­ing and yet must giv­en in order to use the tech­nol­o­gy. In oth­er words, our mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy regime is pred­i­cat­ed on sys­tems of untrust­wor­thy trust. Which seems like a pret­ty huge secu­ri­ty vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 20, 2019, 2:35 pm
  6. Here’s a sto­ry about Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca that’s real­ly about a much larg­er sto­ry about Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca that’s going to be unfold­ing over the com­ing months: a large leak over over 100,000 Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca doc­u­ments has start­ed trick­ling online from the anony­mous @HindsightFiles twit­ter account. The files came from the emails accounts and hard dri­ves of Brit­tany Kaiser. Recall how Kaiser, the direc­tor of busi­ness devel­op­ment at SCL between Feb­ru­ary 2015 and Jan­u­ary of 2018, has already come for­ward and claimed that the ~87 mil­lion esti­mate of the num­ber of peo­ple who had their Face­book pro­file infor­ma­tion col­lect­ed by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is too low and the real num­ber is “much greater”. We don’t know yet if Kaiser is the direct source of these anony­mous leaks, but it’s her files get­ting leaked. Kaiser has decid­ed to speak out pub­licly about the full scope of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s activ­i­ties fol­low­ing the elec­tion in the UK last month. The way she puts it, her cache of files con­tains thou­sands and thou­sands more pages which showed a “breadth and depth of the work” that went “way beyond what peo­ple think they know about ‘the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal’”. The files also turn out to be the same files sub­poe­naed by the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion.

    So what new infor­ma­tion has been released so far? Well, it’s quite a tease: we’re told the doc­u­ments are going to relate to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s work in 68 coun­tries. And the “indus­tri­al scale” nature of the oper­a­tion is going to be laid bare. The doc­u­ment release began on New Year’s Day and includ­ed mate­ri­als on elec­tions in Malaysia, Kenya, and Brazil. The files also include mate­r­i­al that sug­gests Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was work­ing for a polit­i­cal par­ty in Ukraine in 2017. We don’t yet know which par­ty.

    Unsur­pris­ing­ly, there’s also a Dark Mon­ey angle to the sto­ry. The doc­u­ments include emails between major Trump donors dis­cussing ways of obscur­ing the source of their dona­tions through a series of dif­fer­ent finan­cial vehi­cles. So the unlim­it­ed secret financ­ing of polit­i­cal cam­paigns allowed by US elec­tion law includes the secret financ­ing of secret sophis­ti­cat­ed social media psy­cho­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion cam­paigns too. Sur­prise. Only some of the 100,000+ doc­u­ments have been leaked so far and more are set to be released in com­ing months. So the @HindsightFiles twit­ter account is going to be one to watch:

    The Guardian

    Fresh Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca leak ‘shows glob­al manip­u­la­tion is out of con­trol’

    Company’s work in 68 coun­tries laid bare with release of more than 100,000 doc­u­ments

    Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr
    Sat 4 Jan 2020 11.55 EST
    Last mod­i­fied on Mon 6 Jan 2020 06.37 EST

    An explo­sive leak of tens of thou­sands of doc­u­ments from the defunct data firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is set to expose the inner work­ings of the com­pa­ny that col­lapsed after the Observ­er revealed it had mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ed 87 mil­lion Face­book pro­files.

    More than 100,000 doc­u­ments relat­ing to work in 68 coun­tries that will lay bare the glob­al infra­struc­ture of an oper­a­tion used to manip­u­late vot­ers on “an indus­tri­al scale” are set to be released over the next months.

    It comes as Christo­pher Steele, the ex-head of MI6’s Rus­sia desk and the intel­li­gence expert behind the so-called “Steele dossier” into Trump’s rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia, said that while the com­pa­ny had closed down, the fail­ure to prop­er­ly pun­ish bad actors meant that the prospects for manip­u­la­tion of the US elec­tion this year were even worse.

    The release of doc­u­ments began on New Year’s Day on an anony­mous Twit­ter account, @HindsightFiles, with links to mate­r­i­al on elec­tions in Malaysia, Kenya and Brazil. The doc­u­ments were revealed to have come from Brit­tany Kaiser, an ex-Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca employ­ee turned whistle­blow­er, and to be the same ones sub­poe­naed by Robert Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tion into Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

    Kaiser, who starred in the Oscar-short­list­ed Net­flix doc­u­men­tary The Great Hack, decid­ed to go pub­lic after last month’s elec­tion in Britain. “It’s so abun­dant­ly clear our elec­toral sys­tems are wide open to abuse,” she said. “I’m very fear­ful about what is going to hap­pen in the US elec­tion lat­er this year, and I think one of the few ways of pro­tect­ing our­selves is to get as much infor­ma­tion out there as pos­si­ble.”

    The doc­u­ments were retrieved from her email accounts and hard dri­ves, and though she hand­ed over some mate­r­i­al to par­lia­ment in April 2018, she said there were thou­sands and thou­sands more pages which showed a “breadth and depth of the work” that went “way beyond what peo­ple think they know about ‘the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal’”.

    Steele made a rare pub­lic inter­ven­tion to com­ment on the leaks. He said that while he didn’t know what was in them, the con­text couldn’t be more impor­tant because “on our cur­rent tra­jec­to­ry these prob­lems are like­ly to get worse, not bet­ter, and with cru­cial 2020 elec­tions in Amer­i­ca and else­where approach­ing, this is a very scary prospect. Some­thing rad­i­cal needs to be done about it, and fast.”

    ...

    Kaiser said the Face­book data scan­dal was part of a much big­ger glob­al oper­a­tion that worked with gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies, com­mer­cial com­pa­nies and polit­i­cal cam­paigns to manip­u­late and influ­ence peo­ple, and that raised huge nation­al secu­ri­ty impli­ca­tions.

    The unpub­lished doc­u­ments con­tain mate­r­i­al that sug­gests the firm was work­ing for a polit­i­cal par­ty in Ukraine in 2017 even while under inves­ti­ga­tion as part of Mueller’s inquiry and emails that Kaiser says describe how the firm helped devel­op a “sophis­ti­cat­ed infra­struc­ture of shell com­pa­nies that were designed to fun­nel dark mon­ey into pol­i­tics”.

    “There are emails between these major Trump donors dis­cussing ways of obscur­ing the source of their dona­tions through a series of dif­fer­ent finan­cial vehi­cles. These doc­u­ments expose the entire dark mon­ey machin­ery behind US pol­i­tics.” The same machin­ery, she says, was deployed in oth­er coun­tries that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca worked in, includ­ing, she claims, Britain.

    Emma Bri­ant, an aca­d­e­m­ic at Bard Col­lege, New York, who spe­cialis­es in inves­ti­gat­ing pro­pa­gan­da and has had access to some of the doc­u­ments for research, said that what had been revealed was “the tip of the ice­berg”.

    “The doc­u­ments reveal a much clear­er idea of what actu­al­ly hap­pened in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which has a huge bear­ing on what will hap­pen in 2020. It’s the same peo­ple involved who we know are build­ing on these same tech­niques,” she said.

    “There’s evi­dence of real­ly quite dis­turb­ing exper­i­ments on Amer­i­can vot­ers, manip­u­lat­ing them with fear-based mes­sag­ing, tar­get­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble, that seems to be con­tin­u­ing. This is an entire glob­al indus­try that’s out of con­trol but what this does is lay out what was hap­pen­ing with this one com­pa­ny.”

    ———-

    “Fresh Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca leak ‘shows glob­al manip­u­la­tion is out of con­trol’” by Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr; The Guardian; 01/04/2020

    “The release of doc­u­ments began on New Year’s Day on an anony­mous Twit­ter account, @HindsightFiles, with links to mate­r­i­al on elec­tions in Malaysia, Kenya and Brazil. The doc­u­ments were revealed to have come from Brit­tany Kaiser, an ex-Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca employ­ee turned whistle­blow­er, and to be the same ones sub­poe­naed by Robert Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tion into Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

    So the trove of Kaiser’s doc­u­ments hand­ed over to the Mueller team are set to be released in com­ing months. That’s excit­ing. Espe­cial­ly since she’s describ­ing the full scope of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca oper­a­tion as includ­ing the coor­di­na­tion of gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies, in addi­tion to the polit­i­cal cam­paigns we already knew about. Hope­ful­ly we get to learn about about which Ukrain­ian polit­i­cal par­ty Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was work­ing with in 2017:

    ...
    The doc­u­ments were retrieved from her email accounts and hard dri­ves, and though she hand­ed over some mate­r­i­al to par­lia­ment in April 2018, she said there were thou­sands and thou­sands more pages which showed a “breadth and depth of the work” that went “way beyond what peo­ple think they know about ‘the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal’”.

    ...

    Kaiser said the Face­book data scan­dal was part of a much big­ger glob­al oper­a­tionthat worked with gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies, com­mer­cial com­pa­nies and polit­i­cal cam­paigns to manip­u­late and influ­ence peo­ple, and that raised huge nation­al secu­ri­ty impli­ca­tions.

    The unpub­lished doc­u­ments con­tain mate­r­i­al that sug­gests the firm was work­ing for a polit­i­cal par­ty in Ukraine in 2017 even while under inves­ti­ga­tion as part of Mueller’s inquiry and emails that Kaiser says describe how the firm helped devel­op a “sophis­ti­cat­ed infra­struc­ture of shell com­pa­nies that were designed to fun­nel dark mon­ey into pol­i­tics”.

    “There are emails between these major Trump donors dis­cussing ways of obscur­ing the source of their dona­tions through a series of dif­fer­ent finan­cial vehi­cles. These doc­u­ments expose the entire dark mon­ey machin­ery behind US pol­i­tics.” The same machin­ery, she says, was deployed in oth­er coun­tries that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca worked in, includ­ing, she claims, Britain.
    ...

    So with much greater scope of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca oper­a­tion in mind, here’s a Gray­zone piece from 2018 that describes “Project Tita­nia”, the name for an oper­a­tion focused on psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly pro­fil­ing the Yemeni pop­u­la­tion for the US mil­i­tary. The arti­cle is based on doc­u­ments that describe SCL’s work as a mil­i­tary con­trac­tor in coun­tries around the world and includes some ear­li­er work SCL did in Ukraine. The work is so ear­ly it either pre­ced­ed the for­mal incor­po­ra­tion of SCL or must have been one of SCL’s very first projects. Because accord­ing to the inter­nal SCL doc­u­ments they obtained, SCL was work­ing on the pro­mot­ing the “Orange Rev­o­lu­tion” in Ukraine back in late 2004. SCL was start­ed in 2005. So Ukraine appears to have been one of SCL’s very first projects. The doc­u­ments obtained by the Gray­zone Project also describe oper­a­tions across the Mid­dle East as a US and UK counter-insur­gency con­trac­tor, includ­ing an oper­a­tion in Iran in 2009. It points towards a key con­text to keep in mind as Kaiser’s 100,000+ doc­u­ments are released in com­ing months: while much of what Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and its SCL par­ent com­pa­ny were doing in those 68 coun­tries was prob­a­bly done at the behest of pri­vate clients, we can’t for­get that SCL has a long his­to­ry as a mil­i­tary con­trac­tor too. The US and UK mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence agen­cies were prob­a­bly clients in most of those cas­es, but it’s also prob­a­bly not lim­it­ed to the US and UK. As Kaiser warns us, this is glob­al oper­a­tion. And these ser­vices have been up for sale since as far back as Ukraine’s Orange Rev­o­lu­tion:

    The Gray­zone Project

    Exclu­sive Leaked Docs Expose Yemen-Based Counter-Insur­gency Pro­gram by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca Par­ent Com­pa­ny SCL

    Part one of a two part inves­ti­ga­tion into Cam­bridge Analytica/SCL’s glob­al oper­a­tions

    By Max Blu­men­thal
    May 23, 2018

    Inter­nal doc­u­ments exclu­sive­ly obtained by the Gray­zone Project and embed­ded at the end of this arti­cle show how Cam­bridge Analytica’s UK-based par­ent com­pa­ny, SCL group, con­duct­ed a sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion in Yemen, using psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing, “strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns,” and infil­tra­tion of for­eign oper­a­tives into indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties through unwit­ting local part­ners whom they were instruct­ed to deceive.

    The SCL doc­u­ments describe “a research and analy­sis study under­tak­en by Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Lab­o­ra­to­ries (SCL) on behalf of Archimedes,” a US-based mil­i­tary con­trac­tor. The name of the oper­a­tion was “Project Tita­nia.” It relied heav­i­ly on decep­tion to gain access to the local pop­u­la­tion, order­ing project oper­a­tives to devel­op a “cov­er sto­ry” that placed their pres­ence in the coun­try in a more inno­cent light.

    The geo­graph­ic tar­gets of the project were Yemen’s Hadra­mout and Marib provinces. These regions have served as orga­ni­za­tion­al bases for Al Qae­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la, and were at the time in the crosshairs of then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s drone assas­si­na­tion pro­gram.

    Many of the meth­ods of sur­veil­lance and manip­u­la­tion revealed in these SCL doc­u­ments close­ly mir­ror the tac­tics that were lat­er applied in West­ern elec­toral con­tests. And when these tac­tics were exposed in ear­ly 2018, they ignit­ed a polit­i­cal firestorm.

    The data and behav­ioral ana­lyt­ics firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca closed shop this May fol­low­ing dam­ag­ing rev­e­la­tions that it obtained the raw data of over 80 mil­lion Face­book users dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign, and exploit­ed this infor­ma­tion to influ­ence the out­come of numer­ous polit­i­cal cam­paigns. The dam­age spread across the Atlantic, to Cam­bridge Analytica’s UK-based par­ent com­pa­ny, SCL group, forc­ing it to shut­ter its oper­a­tions as well.

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was par­tial­ly owned by Steve Ban­non, the for­mer man­ag­er of Trump’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and ex-White House chief of staff. It was co-owned by Bannon’s main finan­cial angel at the time, reclu­sive right-wing tech bil­lion­aire Robert Mer­cer, and his daugh­ter, Rebekah Mer­cer, who served as its vice pres­i­dent.

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca debuted its work with a series of Repub­li­can Get Out the Vote efforts in 2014, deploy­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­niques that have become the company’s bread and but­ter. “Its dirty lit­tle secret was that there was no one Amer­i­can involved in [the 2016 effort], that it was a de fac­to for­eign agent, work­ing on an Amer­i­can elec­tion,” for­mer Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca research direc­tor Christo­pher Wylie revealed.

    Dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca played a cen­tral role in Trump’s dig­i­tal out­reach efforts. In a hid­den cam­era inves­ti­ga­tion by the UK’s Chan­nel 4, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca exec­u­tives took cred­it for gen­er­at­ing sev­er­al endur­ing lines of attack against Hillary Clin­ton. “We just put infor­ma­tion into the blood­stream of the inter­net and then watch it grow, give it a lit­tle push every now and again over time to watch it take shape,” one exec­u­tive boast­ed. “And so this stuff infil­trates the online com­mu­ni­ty, but with no brand­ing, so it’s unat­trib­ut­able, untrack­able.”

    SCL Group and ‘Project Tita­nia‘

    The eth­i­cal­ly dubi­ous tac­tics that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca rolled out dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign had been honed by its par­ent com­pa­ny, the Lon­don-based SCL Group, in an array of influ­ence oper­a­tions in con­flict zones and Third World elec­tion con­tests.

    Found­ed in 2005, SCL spe­cial­izes in what com­pa­ny lit­er­a­ture has described as “influ­ence oper­a­tions” and “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” around the globe. An SCL brochure leaked to the BBC revealed how the firm exac­er­bat­ed eth­nic ten­sions in Latvia to assist their client in 2006.

    A year lat­er, the firm orches­trat­ed “anti-elec­tion” ral­lies to sup­press the oppo­si­tion vote in Nigeria’s 2007 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Then, in 2010, accord­ing to the BBC, SCL ini­ti­at­ed an “ambi­tious cam­paign of polit­i­cal graf­fi­ti” that “osten­si­bly came from the youth,” enabling its client to “claim cred­it for lis­ten­ing to a ‘unit­ed youth.’”

    SCL has also applied its influ­ence in Ukraine, first as part of the broad­er pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign dur­ing the country’s NATO-backed 2004 “Orange Rev­o­lu­tion,” then in Ukraine’s con­test­ed Don­bas region, where it boast­ed in com­pa­ny lit­er­a­ture that it “suc­ceed­ed in main­tain­ing the cohe­sion of the coali­tion to ensure a hard fought vic­to­ry.”

    But SCL has also played an equal­ly unset­tling role as a pri­vate arm of British and US counter-insur­gency efforts in the Mid­dle East.

    Inter­nal doc­u­ments legal­ly obtained by the Gray­zone Project pro­vide an exclu­sive look at one such effort over­seen by SCL. The mate­ri­als show how the com­pa­ny used psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing, “strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns,” and for­eign oper­a­tives, in meth­ods of sur­veil­lance and manip­u­la­tion that par­al­lel the tac­tics that were sub­se­quent­ly used to influ­ence West­ern elec­tions.

    A media pro­fes­sion­al whom SCL attempt­ed to recruit for an influ­ence oper­a­tion in Iran described to the Gray­zone Project an array of covert cam­paigns across the region. Speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, the source said they were solicit­ed in 2009 by a SCL staffer seek­ing a per­son to infil­trate Iran under jour­nal­is­tic cov­er and gath­er data on its pop­u­la­tion.

    Though the media pro­fes­sion­al reject­ed the job, express­ing deep reser­va­tions about the company’s empha­sis on sub­terfuge, they described sim­i­lar oper­a­tions they learned about that tar­get­ed pop­u­la­tions in Libya, Pak­istan, and Syr­ia.

    The source was told that the Syr­i­an oper­a­tion gath­ered human intel­li­gence by using for­eign­ers either pos­ing as Ara­bic lan­guage stu­dents or enrolled in study abroad-style pro­grams.

    SCL has acknowl­edged in com­pa­ny doc­u­ments that it has oper­at­ed in Libya, Syr­ia and Iran.

    The doc­u­ments obtained by the Gray­zone Project pro­vide per­haps the first inside look at one of these pro­grams. They shine light on the “research and analy­sis study” that SCL con­duct­ed in Yemen on behalf of the mil­i­tary con­trac­tor Archimedes, known as Project Tita­nia.

    ‘A Cov­er Sto­ry Will Be Used’

    When SCL launched Project Tita­nia, US drones reg­u­lar­ly shad­owed the skies over the Yemeni regions of Marib and Hadra­mout. Al Qae­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la (AQAP) had suc­cess­ful­ly turned both areas into train­ing and recruit­ment grounds, as well as bases for attacks on gov­ern­ment troops.

    In May 2010, an Amer­i­can drone strike acci­den­tal­ly killed the deputy gov­er­nor of Marib, pro­vok­ing his tribe to attack the country’s main oil pipeline in revenge and drain its econ­o­my of $1 bil­lion in rev­enue. A year lat­er in Marib, a drone strike per­son­al­ly autho­rized by then-Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma killed AQAP pro­pa­gan­dist Anwar al-Awla­ki and his son, Abdu­rah­man, who was a US cit­i­zen.

    Project Tita­nia was defined by its authors as a counter-rad­i­cal­iza­tion study aimed at reduc­ing the appeal and influ­ence of AQAP across Yemen. The oper­a­tion first aimed to iden­ti­fy a “Non Desired Behav­ior” — defined as “sup­port for, and engage­ment in, vio­lent Jihadism” — and to explain the fac­tors that account­ed for its exis­tence and growth. Next, the project called for a pro­pos­al for a “Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Cam­paign” to under­mine the spread of jihadist ide­ol­o­gy.

    SCL instruct­ed its field researchers to dis­sem­i­nate ques­tion­naires to Yemeni locals in order to gath­er their psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files. The goal spelled out in Project Titania’s mis­sion plan was to gain a “detailed psy­choso­cial under­stand­ing of the groups that can be used to most effec­tive­ly influ­ence” young Yemeni men deemed vul­ner­a­ble to jihadist recruit­ment. These meth­ods pre­dat­ed the use by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca of Face­book ques­tion­naires to gath­er per­son­al data on Amer­i­can vot­ers.

    The for­eign­ers dis­patched to imple­ment Project Tita­nia were explic­it­ly instruct­ed to deceive the Yemeni cit­i­zens they would rely on for field research. “A cov­er sto­ry will be used to explain the pur­pose of the research to the researchers; the local researchers will not be informed of the objec­tives or spon­sors of the study,” a SCL doc­u­ment states. “The ques­tion­naire and inter­view pro­to­col will be com­plete­ly non-attrib­ut­able to the orig­i­nal source.”

    SCL even pro­posed options for the cov­er sto­ry: “Pri­or to com­plet­ing the inter­view or the ques­tion­naire, all par­tic­i­pants will be giv­en a ratio­nale for the study (i.e., that the study is part of a uni­ver­si­ty research pro­gramme or a mar­ket research pro­gramme) and they will be informed that their respons­es will be kept con­fi­den­tial.”

    The use of cov­er sto­ries in West­ern intel­li­gence oper­a­tions has led to severe social dam­age in some cas­es. In Pak­istan, locals had long sus­pect­ed that the CIA was hunt­ing for drone tar­gets behind the smoke­screen of a vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram run by Pak­istani Polio Erad­i­ca­tion Ini­tia­tive. When news broke that the CIA had run a bogus hepati­tis B erad­i­ca­tion cam­paign in an unsuc­cess­ful bid to obtain the DNA of Osama bin Laden’s fam­i­ly, mil­i­tant ele­ments ini­ti­at­ed a boy­cott of vac­ci­na­tion pro­grams. Over 3 mil­lion chil­dren went with­out polio vac­cines as a result, and the dis­ease spread into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

    Did the UK Gov­ern­ment Con­tract SCL in Yemen?

    The leaked Project Tita­nia doc­u­ments high­light the British government’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in SCL’s covert activ­i­ties in Yemen, and sug­gest that it was the client that had con­tract­ed the pri­vate counter-insur­gency oper­a­tion.

    A sec­tion labeled “risk reg­is­ter” con­tains the fol­low­ing secu­ri­ty guide­line for field oper­a­tives: “All for­eign nation­al team mem­bers to liaise with con­tact at British embassy and reg­is­ter with UK FCO LOCATE ser­vice.” (The British For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Office’s LOCATE ser­vice pro­vid­ed expats with secu­ri­ty issue updates; it was abol­ished in 2013 because so few cit­i­zens enrolled in it).

    Project Tita­nia doc­u­ments list­ed an array of NGOs oper­at­ing in Marib and appeared to sug­gest them as poten­tial vehi­cles for obtain­ing intel­li­gence on the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion. The names of those NGOs have been redact­ed from this report to pro­tect staff from reper­cus­sions that might result from their con­nec­tion to a covert West­ern influ­ence oper­a­tion. If any wound up as par­tic­i­pants in Project Tita­nia, they did so unwit­ting­ly, as project mate­ri­als specif­i­cal­ly demand­ed they be coerced into the oper­a­tion under false pre­tens­es.

    Yasha Levine, a jour­nal­ist and author of “Sur­veil­lance Val­ley: The Hid­den His­to­ry of the Inter­net,” saw SCL’s Project Tita­nia as a fair­ly typ­i­cal counter-insur­gency oper­a­tion. “Look­ing at these doc­u­ments about SCL’s Yemen data-dri­ven coun­terin­sur­gency pro­gram, the most remark­able thing about them is just how unre­mark­able it is,” Levine told the Gray­zone Project.

    “If you change the word­ing a bit,” he con­tin­ued, “SCL’s pro­pos­al could have been writ­ten a half cen­tu­ry ago for the Viet­nam War, where com­put­er-aid­ed coun­terin­sur­gency tech­nolo­gies were first pio­neered. Back then the idea was that to fight insur­gen­cies — wars in which ene­my com­bat­ants came out of the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion — you first need­ed to under­stand the cul­tur­al, social and polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment in which the ene­my oper­at­ed. That meant first and fore­most study­ing and sur­veilling restive pop­u­la­tions as if they were lab rats, and then using advanced com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy to shift through and process all the infor­ma­tion com­ing in.”

    ...

    But there was more to Project Tita­nia than what was revealed in the SCL doc­u­ments. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions obtained by the Gray­zone Project linked the project’s prin­ci­pal direc­tor to a much wider pro­gram of sur­veil­lance and data min­ing aimed not only at a region or two, but at the entire Arab world.

    ———-

    “Exclu­sive Leaked Docs Expose Yemen-Based Counter-Insur­gency Pro­gram by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca Par­ent Com­pa­ny SCL” by Max Blu­men­thal; The Gray­zone Project; 05/23/2018

    Found­ed in 2005, SCL spe­cial­izes in what com­pa­ny lit­er­a­ture has described as “influ­ence oper­a­tions” and “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” around the globe. An SCL brochure leaked to the BBC revealed how the firm exac­er­bat­ed eth­nic ten­sions in Latvia to assist their client in 2006.”

    SCL’s found­ing doc­u­ments going back to 2005 tout its abil­i­ty to wage “influ­ence oper­a­tions” and “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” around the globe. That’s how far back the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca sto­ry goes. Although it appears to go even fur­ther back since SCL’s brochure boast­ed of its suc­cess “in main­tain­ing the cohe­sion of the coali­tion to ensure a hard fought vic­to­ry,” of the 2004 Orange Rev­o­lu­tion in Ukraine:

    ...
    A year lat­er, the firm orches­trat­ed “anti-elec­tion” ral­lies to sup­press the oppo­si­tion vote in Nigeria’s 2007 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Then, in 2010, accord­ing to the BBC, SCL ini­ti­at­ed an “ambi­tious cam­paign of polit­i­cal graf­fi­ti” that “osten­si­bly came from the youth,” enabling its client to “claim cred­it for lis­ten­ing to a ‘unit­ed youth.’”

    SCL has also applied its influ­ence in Ukraine, first as part of the broad­er pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign dur­ing the country’s NATO-backed 2004 “Orange Rev­o­lu­tion,” then in Ukraine’s con­test­ed Don­bas region, where it boast­ed in com­pa­ny lit­er­a­ture that it “suc­ceed­ed in main­tain­ing the cohe­sion of the coali­tion to ensure a hard fought vic­to­ry.”
    ...

    Lat­er, in 2009, SCL was doing some sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing Iran. Along with Libya, Pak­istan, and Syr­ia:

    ...
    But SCL has also played an equal­ly unset­tling role as a pri­vate arm of British and US counter-insur­gency efforts in the Mid­dle East.

    Inter­nal doc­u­ments legal­ly obtained by the Gray­zone Project pro­vide an exclu­sive look at one such effort over­seen by SCL. The mate­ri­als show how the com­pa­ny used psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing, “strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paigns,” and for­eign oper­a­tives, in meth­ods of sur­veil­lance and manip­u­la­tion that par­al­lel the tac­tics that were sub­se­quent­ly used to influ­ence West­ern elec­tions.

    A media pro­fes­sion­al whom SCL attempt­ed to recruit for an influ­ence oper­a­tion in Iran described to the Gray­zone Project an array of covert cam­paigns across the region. Speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, the source said they were solicit­ed in 2009 by a SCL staffer seek­ing a per­son to infil­trate Iran under jour­nal­is­tic cov­er and gath­er data on its pop­u­la­tion.

    Though the media pro­fes­sion­al reject­ed the job, express­ing deep reser­va­tions about the company’s empha­sis on sub­terfuge, they described sim­i­lar oper­a­tions they learned about that tar­get­ed pop­u­la­tions in Libya, Pak­istan, and Syr­ia.

    The source was told that the Syr­i­an oper­a­tion gath­ered human intel­li­gence by using for­eign­ers either pos­ing as Ara­bic lan­guage stu­dents or enrolled in study abroad-style pro­grams.

    SCL has acknowl­edged in com­pa­ny doc­u­ments that it has oper­at­ed in Libya, Syr­ia and Iran.
    ...

    So years before the 2016 elec­tion, SCL was already act­ing as a psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare con­trac­tor in coun­tries around the world. It points to anoth­er impor­tant con­text for the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal: the US pop­u­lace tar­get­ed in 2016 may have effec­tive­ly been guinea pigs for this tech­nol­o­gy in the con­text of using Face­book to gath­er psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files on large num­bers of peo­ple. But they weren’t the first guinea pigs on SCL’s psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­niques because that’s what SCL has been for years in soci­eties across the world. Appar­ent­ly start­ing in Ukraine.

    So this sto­ry is promis­ing to get much big­ger as more doc­u­ments are leaked. It also rais­es an inter­est­ing ques­tion in the con­text of Pres­i­dent Trump’s deci­sion to drone assas­si­nate one of Iran’s most revered lead­ers: from a psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare per­spec­tive, was that a good idea? It does­n’t seem like it was a very good idea, but it would be inter­est­ing to know what the regime change psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare spe­cial­ists say about that. Since Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca has unfor­tu­nate­ly rein­cor­po­rat­ed as Emer­da­ta maybe some­one can ask them about that.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 6, 2020, 2:01 pm
  7. The New York Times had a recent piece about a com­pa­ny that’s described as a lit­tle-known enti­ty that might end pri­va­cy as we know it. Basi­cal­ly, the com­pa­ny, Clearview AI, offers what amounts to a super-facial recog­ni­tion ser­vice. The com­pa­ny appears to have scraped as much image and iden­ti­ty infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble from social media sites like Face­book, YouTube, and Ven­mo and allows clients to upload a pic­ture of any­one and see per­son­al pro­files on all of those match­es. Those pro­files include all of the match­ing pic­tures as well as links to where those pic­tures appeared. So it’s like a search­able data­base of bil­lions of pho­tos and ids, where you start the search with a pho­to and it returns more pho­tos and infor­ma­tion on every­one who is a close enough match. The data­base of more than 3 bil­lion pic­tures is described as being far beyond any­thing ever con­struct­ed by the US gov­ern­ment or Sil­i­con Val­ley giants. In addi­tion, Clearview is devel­op­ing a pair of glass­es that will give the wear­er a heads-up dis­play of the names and infor­ma­tion of any­one you’re look­ing at in real-time.

    And while the com­pa­ny is appar­ent­ly quite tiny and lit­tle known to the pub­lic, it’s ser­vices have already been used by over 600 law enforce­ment agen­cies in the US. But it’s not just law enforce­ment using these ser­vices. We’re also told the soft­ware has been licensed to pri­vate com­pa­nies for secu­ri­ty pur­pos­es, although we aren’t told the names of those com­pa­nies.

    All in all, it’s a pret­ty trou­bling com­pa­ny. But it of course gets much worse. It turns out the com­pa­ny is heav­i­ly con­nect­ed to the Repub­li­can Par­ty and large­ly rely­ing on Repub­li­cans to pro­mote it to poten­tial clients. The com­pa­ny was co-found­ed by an Aus­tralian, Hoan Ton-That, and Richard Schwartz. Ton-That worked on devel­op­ing the ini­tial tech­nol­o­gy and Schwartz was respon­si­ble for lin­ing up poten­tial clients. Schwartz is the long-time senior aide to Rudy Giu­liani and has quite an exten­sive Rolodex. Schwartz report­ed­ly met Ton-That in 2016 at a book event at the con­ser­v­a­tive Man­hat­tan Insti­tute. So it sounds like Ton-That was already work­ing on net­work­ing with­in right-wing cir­cles when he met Schwarz.

    By the end of 2017, the com­pa­ny had its facial recog­ni­tion project ready to start pitch­ing to clients. The way Ton-That describes it, they were try­ing to think of any pos­si­ble client who might be inter­est­ed in this tech­nol­o­gy, like par­ents who want to do a back­ground check on a poten­tial baby-sit­ter or an add-on fea­ture for secu­ri­ty cam­eras. In oth­er words, they have plans on even­tu­al­ly releas­ing this tech­nol­o­gy to any­one.

    One of the peo­ple they made their ini­tial pitch to was Paul Nehlen, the for­mer Repub­li­can ris­ing star who ran for Paul Ryan’s for­mer House seat but even­tu­al­ly out­ed him­self as a vir­u­lent neo-Nazi. Clearview was offer­ing their ser­vices to Nehlen dur­ing his cam­paign for “extreme oppo­si­tion research”. In oth­er words, they were pre­sum­ably going to use the data­base to find all visu­al records of Nehlen’s oppo­nents and the peo­ple work­ing for their cam­paign to dig up dirt. So this com­pa­ny is start­ed by a bunch of Repub­li­cans and one of the first client pitch­es they make is to a neo-Nazi Repub­li­can. It gives us a sense of the pol­i­tics of this com­pa­ny.

    The failed pitch to Nehlen was made in late 2017 and we’re told that soon after that the com­pa­ny got its first round of fund­ing from out­side investors. One of those investors was Peter Thiel, who made a $200,000 invest­ment. Accord­ing to Thiel’s spokesman, “In 2017, Peter gave a tal­ent­ed young founder $200,000, which two years lat­er con­vert­ed to equi­ty in Clearview AI,” and, “That was Peter’s only con­tri­bu­tion; he is not involved in the com­pa­ny.” So Thiel made one of the first invest­ments which was con­vert­ed to equi­ty, mean­ing he’s a share­hold­er now. But we’re told he’s not involved in the com­pa­ny, which sounds like a typ­i­cal Thiel decep­tion.

    Keep in mind that Thiel is in a posi­tion to both encour­age the hand­ing of large vol­umes of faces and IDs to the com­pa­ny while also being a posi­tion to mas­sive­ly exploit Clearview’s tech­nol­o­gy. Thiel co-found­ed Palan­tir, which could obvi­ous­ly have exten­sive uses for this tech­nol­o­gy, and Thiel also sits on the board of Face­book, where much of the pho­tos and ID infor­ma­tion was scraped. When asked about Clearview’s scrap­ing of Face­book data to pop­u­lat­ed its data­base, Face­book said the com­pa­ny if review­ing the sit­u­a­tion and “will take appro­pri­ate action if we find they are vio­lat­ing our rules.” But Face­book had no com­ment on the fact that Thiel sits on its board and is per­son­al­ly invest­ed in Clearview. Accord­ing to Ton-That, “A lot of peo­ple are doing it,” and, “Face­book knows.”

    Oth­er Repub­li­can Par­ty con­nec­tions to the com­pa­ny include Jes­si­ca Medeiros Gar­ri­son and Bran­don Fricke. Medeiros Gar­ris­son, the main con­tact for cus­tomers, man­aged Luther Strange’s Repub­li­can cam­paign for Alaba­ma attor­ney gen­er­al while Fricke, a “growth con­sul­tant” for the com­pa­ny is engaged to right-wing media per­son­al­i­ty Tomi Lahren. Clearview claims it’s also enlist­ed Democ­rats to mar­ket its prod­ucts too but we aren’t giv­en any names of those Democ­rats.

    So how does Clearview assuage con­cerns about the legal­i­ty of its ser­vices? That job falls to Paul D. Clement, a Unit­ed States solic­i­tor gen­er­al under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush. Paul Clement, a for­mer clerk to Antonin Scalia, has the inter­est­ing dis­tinc­tion for a Repub­li­can lawyer. In 2012, Clement was the lawyer who led the Repub­li­can chal­lenge by 26 states in 2012 to repeal Oba­macare over its indi­vid­ual man­date pro­vi­sion. That’s some­thing we would expect for a for­mer Bush admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial. But back in Octo­ber of 2019, Clement was asked by the Supreme Court to defend an Oba­ma-era law after the inde­pen­dence of the head of the Con­sumer Finan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau (CFPB) was chal­lenged by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s Jus­tice Depart­ment. The CFPB itself (which is now head­ed by a Trump appointee) also joined the Jus­tice Depart­ment in the law­suit, leav­ing no enti­ty to defend the orig­i­nal law that pre­vents pres­i­dents from fir­ing the heads of the CFPB. The CFPB was one of the enti­ties set up by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion (and designed by Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren) fol­low­ing the finan­cial cri­sis so it was guar­an­teed the Trump admin­is­tra­tion would oppose it. The fact that it’s ded­i­cat­ed to pro­vid­ing con­sumer finan­cial pro­tec­tion is the oth­er rea­son it was guar­an­teed the Trump admin­is­tra­tion would opposed it. Repub­li­cans don’t do con­sumer pro­tec­tion. The Oba­ma-appoint­ed head of the CFPB, Richard Cor­dray, resigned in Novem­ber of 2017 two years ear­ly after Trump and the Repub­li­cans made it abun­dant­ly clear they want­ed to replace him. The Trump Jus­tice Depart­ment argued back in March of 2017 that this restric­tion on the pres­i­den­t’s abil­i­ty to fire the head of the CFPB made it uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. In Sep­tem­ber of 2019, the Jus­tice Depart­ment as the Supreme Court to take the case, and the fol­low­ing month Clement — who has argued before the Supreme Court more than 95 times — was invit­ed by the Supreme Court to defend the exist­ing struc­ture of the CFPB.

    Oh, and Paul D. Clement also hap­pens to be one of the lawyers who suc­cess­ful­ly argued on behalf of the Repub­li­cans in Rucho v. Com­mon Cause, a case that has now con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly enshrined hyper-par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing that the fed­er­al courts can do noth­ing about. So that gives us a sense of the impor­tance of hav­ing some­how like Paul D. Clements solitic­ing clients for a com­pa­ny like ClearView: while he’s an extreme­ly high pro­file and respect­ed lawyer, he’s also a par­ti­san hack. But the kind of hack whose words will car­ry a lot of weight when it comes to assur­ing poten­tial clients about the legal­i­ty of Clearview’s prod­ucts.

    And if that all was­n’t shady enough, the author of the fol­low­ing report shares an anec­dote that should raise big red flags about the char­ac­ter of the peo­ple behind this com­pa­ny: When the author test­ed the sys­tem on his own pho­to by ask­ing a friend in law enforce­ment to run his pic­ture through it, the jour­nal­ist got dozens of pic­tures of him­self back includ­ing some pic­tures he did­n’t even know exist­ed. But his law enforce­ment friend was soon con­tact­ed by Clearview to ask if he had been speak­ing to the media. So Clearview is either active­ly mon­i­tor­ing and doing its own search­es on the peo­ple run through its sys­tem or it has sys­tem set up to flag ‘trou­ble­mak­ers’ like jour­nal­ists. Ton-That claims that the rea­son this search prompt­ed a call from the com­pa­ny is because the sys­tem is set up to flag “pos­si­ble anom­alous search behav­ior” in order to pre­vent “inap­pro­pri­ate search­es.” But after that inci­dent, the report­ed found that his results were removed from future search­es, which Ton-That dis­missed as a “soft­ware bug”. So the com­pa­ny appears to be active­ly mon­i­tor­ing and manip­u­lat­ing search results. As the arti­cle notes, since the pri­ma­ry users of Clearview are police agen­cies at this point, the com­pa­ny can get a detailed list of peo­ple who have received the inter­est of law enforce­ment sim­ply by look­ing at the search­es used, which is the kind of infor­ma­tion that can be poten­tial­ly abused. It’s an exam­ple of why the char­ac­ter of the peo­ple behind this firm is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for a firm offer­ing these kinds of ser­vices and why the more we’re learn­ing about this com­pa­ny the more cause there is for seri­ous con­cern.

    It remains unclear how many clients out­side of law enforce­ment will be allowed to pur­chase Clearview’s ser­vices. But as the arti­cle notes, now that Clearview has bro­ken the taboo of offer­ing facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware data­base ser­vices like this, it’s just a mat­ter of time before com­pa­nies do the same thing. And that’s why Clearview might end up end­ing pri­va­cy as we know it: by set­ting a real­ly, real­ly bad exam­ple by show­ing the world this ser­vice is pos­si­ble and there’s a mar­ket for it:

    The New York Times

    The Secre­tive Com­pa­ny That Might End Pri­va­cy as We Know It
    A lit­tle-known start-up helps law enforce­ment match pho­tos of unknown peo­ple to their online images — and “might lead to a dystopi­an future or some­thing,” a backer says.

    By Kash­mir Hill
    Jan. 18, 2020

    Until recent­ly, Hoan Ton-That’s great­est hits includ­ed an obscure iPhone game and an app that let peo­ple put Don­ald Trump’s dis­tinc­tive yel­low hair on their own pho­tos.

    Then Mr. Ton-That — an Aus­tralian techie and one­time mod­el — did some­thing momen­tous: He invent­ed a tool that could end your abil­i­ty to walk down the street anony­mous­ly, and pro­vid­ed it to hun­dreds of law enforce­ment agen­cies, rang­ing from local cops in Flori­da to the F.B.I. and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty.

    His tiny com­pa­ny, Clearview AI, devised a ground­break­ing facial recog­ni­tion app. You take a pic­ture of a per­son, upload it and get to see pub­lic pho­tos of that per­son, along with links to where those pho­tos appeared. The sys­tem — whose back­bone is a data­base of more than three bil­lion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Face­book, YouTube, Ven­mo and mil­lions of oth­er web­sites — goes far beyond any­thing ever con­struct­ed by the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment or Sil­i­con Val­ley giants.

    Fed­er­al and state law enforce­ment offi­cers said that while they had only lim­it­ed knowl­edge of how Clearview works and who is behind it, they had used its app to help solve shoplift­ing, iden­ti­ty theft, cred­it card fraud, mur­der and child sex­u­al exploita­tion cas­es.

    Until now, tech­nol­o­gy that read­i­ly iden­ti­fies every­one based on his or her face has been taboo because of its rad­i­cal ero­sion of pri­va­cy. Tech com­pa­nies capa­ble of releas­ing such a tool have refrained from doing so; in 2011, Google’s chair­man at the time said it was the one tech­nol­o­gy the com­pa­ny had held back because it could be used “in a very bad way.” Some large cities, includ­ing San Fran­cis­co, have barred police from using facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy.

    But with­out pub­lic scruti­ny, more than 600 law enforce­ment agen­cies have start­ed using Clearview in the past year, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny, which declined to pro­vide a list. The com­put­er code under­ly­ing its app, ana­lyzed by The New York Times, includes pro­gram­ming lan­guage to pair it with aug­ment­ed-real­i­ty glass­es; users would poten­tial­ly be able to iden­ti­fy every per­son they saw. The tool could iden­ti­fy activists at a protest or an attrac­tive stranger on the sub­way, reveal­ing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew.

    And it’s not just law enforce­ment: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a hand­ful of com­pa­nies for secu­ri­ty pur­pos­es.

    “The weaponiza­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties of this are end­less,” said Eric Gold­man, co-direc­tor of the High Tech Law Insti­tute at San­ta Clara Uni­ver­si­ty. “Imag­ine a rogue law enforce­ment offi­cer who wants to stalk poten­tial roman­tic part­ners, or a for­eign gov­ern­ment using this to dig up secrets about peo­ple to black­mail them or throw them in jail.”

    Clearview has shroud­ed itself in secre­cy, avoid­ing debate about its bound­ary-push­ing tech­nol­o­gy. When I began look­ing into the com­pa­ny in Novem­ber, its web­site was a bare page show­ing a nonex­is­tent Man­hat­tan address as its place of busi­ness. The company’s one employ­ee list­ed on LinkedIn, a sales man­ag­er named “John Good,” turned out to be Mr. Ton-That, using a fake name. For a month, peo­ple affil­i­at­ed with the com­pa­ny would not return my emails or phone calls.

    While the com­pa­ny was dodg­ing me, it was also mon­i­tor­ing me. At my request, a num­ber of police offi­cers had run my pho­to through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives ask­ing if they were talk­ing to the media — a sign that Clearview has the abil­i­ty and, in this case, the appetite to mon­i­tor whom law enforce­ment is search­ing for.

    Facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy has always been con­tro­ver­sial. It makes peo­ple ner­vous about Big Broth­er. It has a ten­den­cy to deliv­er false match­es for cer­tain groups, like peo­ple of col­or. And some facial recog­ni­tion prod­ucts used by the police — includ­ing Clearview’s — haven’t been vet­ted by inde­pen­dent experts.

    Clearview’s app car­ries extra risks because law enforce­ment agen­cies are upload­ing sen­si­tive pho­tos to the servers of a com­pa­ny whose abil­i­ty to pro­tect its data is untest­ed.

    The com­pa­ny even­tu­al­ly start­ed answer­ing my ques­tions, say­ing that its ear­li­er silence was typ­i­cal of an ear­ly-stage start-up in stealth mode. Mr. Ton-That acknowl­edged design­ing a pro­to­type for use with aug­ment­ed-real­i­ty glass­es but said the com­pa­ny had no plans to release it. And he said my pho­to had rung alarm bells because the app “flags pos­si­ble anom­alous search behav­ior” in order to pre­vent users from con­duct­ing what it deemed “inap­pro­pri­ate search­es.”

    In addi­tion to Mr. Ton-That, Clearview was found­ed by Richard Schwartz — who was an aide to Rudolph W. Giu­liani when he was may­or of New York — and backed finan­cial­ly by Peter Thiel, a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist behind Face­book and Palan­tir.

    Anoth­er ear­ly investor is a small firm called Kire­na­ga Part­ners. Its founder, David Scal­zo, dis­missed con­cerns about Clearview mak­ing the inter­net search­able by face, say­ing it’s a valu­able crime-solv­ing tool.

    “I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that because infor­ma­tion con­stant­ly increas­es, there’s nev­er going to be pri­va­cy,” Mr. Scal­zo said. “Laws have to deter­mine what’s legal, but you can’t ban tech­nol­o­gy. Sure, that might lead to a dystopi­an future or some­thing, but you can’t ban it.”

    Addict­ed to A.I.

    Mr. Ton-That, 31, grew up a long way from Sil­i­con Val­ley. In his native Aus­tralia, he was raised on tales of his roy­al ances­tors in Viet­nam. In 2007, he dropped out of col­lege and moved to San Fran­cis­co. The iPhone had just arrived, and his goal was to get in ear­ly on what he expect­ed would be a vibrant mar­ket for social media apps. But his ear­ly ven­tures nev­er gained real trac­tion.

    In 2009, Mr. Ton-That cre­at­ed a site that let peo­ple share links to videos with all the con­tacts in their instant mes­sen­gers. Mr. Ton-That shut it down after it was brand­ed a “phish­ing scam.” In 2015, he spun up Trump Hair, which added Mr. Trump’s dis­tinc­tive coif to peo­ple in a pho­to, and a pho­to-shar­ing pro­gram. Both fiz­zled.

    Dispir­it­ed, Mr. Ton-That moved to New York in 2016. Tall and slen­der, with long black hair, he con­sid­ered a mod­el­ing career, he said, but after one shoot he returned to try­ing to fig­ure out the next big thing in tech. He start­ed read­ing aca­d­e­m­ic papers on arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, image recog­ni­tion and machine learn­ing.

    Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Ton-That met in 2016 at a book event at the Man­hat­tan Insti­tute, a con­ser­v­a­tive think tank. Mr. Schwartz, now 61, had amassed an impres­sive Rolodex work­ing for Mr. Giu­liani in the 1990s and serv­ing as the edi­to­r­i­al page edi­tor of The New York Dai­ly News in the ear­ly 2000s. The two soon decid­ed to go into the facial recog­ni­tion busi­ness togeth­er: Mr. Ton-That would build the app, and Mr. Schwartz would use his con­tacts to drum up com­mer­cial inter­est.

    Police depart­ments have had access to facial recog­ni­tion tools for almost 20 years, but they have his­tor­i­cal­ly been lim­it­ed to search­ing gov­ern­ment-pro­vid­ed images, such as mug shots and driver’s license pho­tos. In recent years, facial recog­ni­tion algo­rithms have improved in accu­ra­cy, and com­pa­nies like Ama­zon offer prod­ucts that can cre­ate a facial recog­ni­tion pro­gram for any data­base of images.

    Mr. Ton-That want­ed to go way beyond that. He began in 2016 by recruit­ing a cou­ple of engi­neers. One helped design a pro­gram that can auto­mat­i­cal­ly col­lect images of people’s faces from across the inter­net, such as employ­ment sites, news sites, edu­ca­tion­al sites, and social net­works includ­ing Face­book, YouTube, Twit­ter, Insta­gram and even Ven­mo. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of those com­pa­nies said their poli­cies pro­hib­it such scrap­ing, and Twit­ter said it explic­it­ly banned use of its data for facial recog­ni­tion.

    Anoth­er engi­neer was hired to per­fect a facial recog­ni­tion algo­rithm that was derived from aca­d­e­m­ic papers. The result: a sys­tem that uses what Mr. Ton-That described as a “state-of-the-art neur­al net” to con­vert all the images into math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­las, or vec­tors, based on facial geom­e­try — like how far apart a person’s eyes are. Clearview cre­at­ed a vast direc­to­ry that clus­tered all the pho­tos with sim­i­lar vec­tors into “neigh­bor­hoods.” When a user uploads a pho­to of a face into Clearview’s sys­tem, it con­verts the face into a vec­tor and then shows all the scraped pho­tos stored in that vector’s neigh­bor­hood — along with the links to the sites from which those images came.

    Mr. Schwartz paid for serv­er costs and basic expens­es, but the oper­a­tion was bare bones; every­one worked from home. “I was liv­ing on cred­it card debt,” Mr. Ton-That said. “Plus, I was a Bit­coin believ­er, so I had some of those.”

    Going Viral With Law Enforce­ment

    By the end of 2017, the com­pa­ny had a for­mi­da­ble facial recog­ni­tion tool, which it called Smartcheckr. But Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Ton-That weren’t sure whom they were going to sell it to.

    Maybe it could be used to vet babysit­ters or as an add-on fea­ture for sur­veil­lance cam­eras. What about a tool for secu­ri­ty guards in the lob­bies of build­ings or to help hotels greet guests by name? “We thought of every idea,” Mr. Ton-That said.

    One of the odd­er pitch­es, in late 2017, was to Paul Nehlen — an anti-Semi­te and self-described “pro-white” Repub­li­can run­ning for Con­gress in Wis­con­sin — to use “uncon­ven­tion­al data­bas­es” for “extreme oppo­si­tion research,” accord­ing to a doc­u­ment pro­vid­ed to Mr. Nehlen and lat­er post­ed online. Mr. Ton-That said the com­pa­ny nev­er actu­al­ly offered such ser­vices.

    The com­pa­ny soon changed its name to Clearview AI and began mar­ket­ing to law enforce­ment. That was when the com­pa­ny got its first round of fund­ing from out­side investors: Mr. Thiel and Kire­na­ga Part­ners. Among oth­er things, Mr. Thiel was famous for secret­ly financ­ing Hulk Hogan’s law­suit that bank­rupt­ed the pop­u­lar web­site Gawk­er. Both Mr. Thiel and Mr. Ton-That had been the sub­ject of neg­a­tive arti­cles by Gawk­er.

    “In 2017, Peter gave a tal­ent­ed young founder $200,000, which two years lat­er con­vert­ed to equi­ty in Clearview AI,” said Jere­mi­ah Hall, Mr. Thiel’s spokesman. “That was Peter’s only con­tri­bu­tion; he is not involved in the com­pa­ny.”

    Even after a sec­ond fund­ing round in 2019, Clearview remains tiny, hav­ing raised $7 mil­lion from investors, accord­ing to Pitch­book, a web­site that tracks invest­ments in start-ups. The com­pa­ny declined to con­firm the amount.

    In Feb­ru­ary, the Indi­ana State Police start­ed exper­i­ment­ing with Clearview. They solved a case with­in 20 min­utes of using the app. Two men had got­ten into a fight in a park, and it end­ed when one shot the oth­er in the stom­ach. A bystander record­ed the crime on a phone, so the police had a still of the gunman’s face to run through Clearview’s app.

    They imme­di­ate­ly got a match: The man appeared in a video that some­one had post­ed on social media, and his name was includ­ed in a cap­tion on the video. “He did not have a driver’s license and hadn’t been arrest­ed as an adult, so he wasn’t in gov­ern­ment data­bas­es,” said Chuck Cohen, an Indi­ana State Police cap­tain at the time.

    The man was arrest­ed and charged; Mr. Cohen said he prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been iden­ti­fied with­out the abil­i­ty to search social media for his face. The Indi­ana State Police became Clearview’s first pay­ing cus­tomer, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny. (The police declined to com­ment beyond say­ing that they test­ed Clearview’s app.)

    Clearview deployed cur­rent and for­mer Repub­li­can offi­cials to approach police forces, offer­ing free tri­als and annu­al licens­es for as lit­tle as $2,000. Mr. Schwartz tapped his polit­i­cal con­nec­tions to help make gov­ern­ment offi­cials aware of the tool, accord­ing to Mr. Ton-That. (“I’m thrilled to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to help Hoan build Clearview into a mis­sion-dri­ven orga­ni­za­tion that’s help­ing law enforce­ment pro­tect chil­dren and enhance the safe­ty of com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try,” Mr. Schwartz said through a spokes­woman.)

    The company’s main con­tact for cus­tomers was Jes­si­ca Medeiros Gar­ri­son, who man­aged Luther Strange’s Repub­li­can cam­paign for Alaba­ma attor­ney gen­er­al. Bran­don Fricke, an N.F.L. agent engaged to the Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, said in a finan­cial dis­clo­sure report dur­ing a con­gres­sion­al cam­paign in Cal­i­for­nia that he was a “growth con­sul­tant” for the com­pa­ny. (Clearview said that it was a brief, unpaid role, and that the com­pa­ny had enlist­ed Democ­rats to help mar­ket its prod­uct as well.)

    The company’s most effec­tive sales tech­nique was offer­ing 30-day free tri­als to offi­cers, who then encour­aged their acqui­si­tion depart­ments to sign up and praised the tool to offi­cers from oth­er police depart­ments at con­fer­ences and online, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny and doc­u­ments pro­vid­ed by police depart­ments in response to pub­lic-record requests. Mr. Ton-That final­ly had his viral hit.

    In July, a detec­tive in Clifton, N.J., urged his cap­tain in an email to buy the soft­ware because it was “able to iden­ti­fy a sus­pect in a mat­ter of sec­onds.” Dur­ing the department’s free tri­al, Clearview had iden­ti­fied shoplifters, an Apple Store thief and a good Samar­i­tan who had punched out a man threat­en­ing peo­ple with a knife.

    Pho­tos “could be covert­ly tak­en with tele­pho­to lens and input into the soft­ware, with­out ‘burn­ing’ the sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion,” the detec­tive wrote in the email, pro­vid­ed to The Times by two researchers, Beryl Lip­ton of Muck­Rock and Fred­dy Mar­tinez of Open the Gov­ern­ment. They dis­cov­ered Clearview late last year while look­ing into how local police depart­ments are using facial recog­ni­tion.

    ...

    In Gainesville, Fla., Detec­tive Sgt. Nick Fer­rara heard about Clearview last sum­mer when it adver­tised on CrimeDex, a list-serv for inves­ti­ga­tors who spe­cial­ize in finan­cial crimes. He said he had pre­vi­ous­ly relied sole­ly on a state-pro­vid­ed facial recog­ni­tion tool, FACES, which draws from more than 30 mil­lion Flori­da mug shots and Depart­ment of Motor Vehi­cle pho­tos.

    Sergeant Fer­rara found Clearview’s app supe­ri­or, he said. Its nation­wide data­base of images is much larg­er, and unlike FACES, Clearview’s algo­rithm doesn’t require pho­tos of peo­ple look­ing straight at the cam­era.

    “With Clearview, you can use pho­tos that aren’t per­fect,” Sergeant Fer­rara said. “A per­son can be wear­ing a hat or glass­es, or it can be a pro­file shot or par­tial view of their face.”

    He uploaded his own pho­to to the sys­tem, and it brought up his Ven­mo page. He ran pho­tos from old, dead-end cas­es and iden­ti­fied more than 30 sus­pects. In Sep­tem­ber, the Gainesville Police Depart­ment paid $10,000 for an annu­al Clearview license.

    Fed­er­al law enforce­ment, includ­ing the F.B.I. and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, are try­ing it, as are Cana­di­an law enforce­ment author­i­ties, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny and gov­ern­ment offi­cials.

    Despite its grow­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty, Clearview avoid­ed pub­lic men­tion until the end of 2019, when Flori­da pros­e­cu­tors charged a woman with grand theft after two grills and a vac­u­um were stolen from an Ace Hard­ware store in Cler­mont. She was iden­ti­fied when the police ran a still from a sur­veil­lance video through Clearview, which led them to her Face­book page. A tat­too vis­i­ble in the sur­veil­lance video and Face­book pho­tos con­firmed her iden­ti­ty, accord­ing to an affi­davit in the case.

    ‘We’re All Screwed’

    Mr. Ton-That said the tool does not always work. Most of the pho­tos in Clearview’s data­base are tak­en at eye lev­el. Much of the mate­r­i­al that the police upload is from sur­veil­lance cam­eras mount­ed on ceil­ings or high on walls.

    “They put sur­veil­lance cam­eras too high,” Mr. Ton-That lament­ed. “The angle is wrong for good face recog­ni­tion.”

    Despite that, the com­pa­ny said, its tool finds match­es up to 75 per­cent of the time. But it is unclear how often the tool deliv­ers false match­es, because it has not been test­ed by an inde­pen­dent par­ty such as the Nation­al Insti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nol­o­gy, a fed­er­al agency that rates the per­for­mance of facial recog­ni­tion algo­rithms.

    “We have no data to sug­gest this tool is accu­rate,” said Clare Garvie, a researcher at George­town University’s Cen­ter on Pri­va­cy and Tech­nol­o­gy, who has stud­ied the government’s use of facial recog­ni­tion. “The larg­er the data­base, the larg­er the risk of misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion because of the dop­pel­gänger effect. They’re talk­ing about a mas­sive data­base of ran­dom peo­ple they’ve found on the inter­net.”

    But cur­rent and for­mer law enforce­ment offi­cials say the app is effec­tive. “For us, the test­ing was whether it worked or not,” said Mr. Cohen, the for­mer Indi­ana State Police cap­tain.

    One rea­son that Clearview is catch­ing on is that its ser­vice is unique. That’s because Face­book and oth­er social media sites pro­hib­it peo­ple from scrap­ing users’ images — Clearview is vio­lat­ing the sites’ terms of ser­vice.

    “A lot of peo­ple are doing it,” Mr. Ton-That shrugged. “Face­book knows.”

    Jay Nan­car­row, a Face­book spokesman, said the com­pa­ny was review­ing the sit­u­a­tion with Clearview and “will take appro­pri­ate action if we find they are vio­lat­ing our rules.”

    Mr. Thiel, the Clearview investor, sits on Facebook’s board. Mr. Nan­car­row declined to com­ment on Mr. Thiel’s per­son­al invest­ments.

    Some law enforce­ment offi­cials said they didn’t real­ize the pho­tos they uploaded were being sent to and stored on Clearview’s servers. Clearview tries to pre-empt con­cerns with an F.A.Q. doc­u­ment giv­en to would-be clients that says its cus­tomer-sup­port employ­ees won’t look at the pho­tos that the police upload.

    Clearview also hired Paul D. Clement, a Unit­ed States solic­i­tor gen­er­al under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush, to assuage con­cerns about the app’s legal­i­ty.

    In an August memo that Clearview pro­vid­ed to poten­tial cus­tomers, includ­ing the Atlanta Police Depart­ment and the Pinel­las Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office in Flori­da, Mr. Clement said law enforce­ment agen­cies “do not vio­late the fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion or rel­e­vant exist­ing state bio­met­ric and pri­va­cy laws when using Clearview for its intend­ed pur­pose.”

    Mr. Clement, now a part­ner at Kirk­land & Ellis, wrote that the author­i­ties don’t have to tell defen­dants that they were iden­ti­fied via Clearview, as long as it isn’t the sole basis for get­ting a war­rant to arrest them. Mr. Clement did not respond to mul­ti­ple requests for com­ment.

    The memo appeared to be effec­tive; the Atlanta police and Pinel­las Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office soon start­ed using Clearview.

    Because the police upload pho­tos of peo­ple they’re try­ing to iden­ti­fy, Clearview pos­sess­es a grow­ing data­base of indi­vid­u­als who have attract­ed atten­tion from law enforce­ment. The com­pa­ny also has the abil­i­ty to manip­u­late the results that the police see. After the com­pa­ny real­ized I was ask­ing offi­cers to run my pho­to through the app, my face was flagged by Clearview’s sys­tems and for a while showed no match­es. When asked about this, Mr. Ton-That laughed and called it a “soft­ware bug.”

    “It’s creepy what they’re doing, but there will be many more of these com­pa­nies. There is no monop­oly on math,” said Al Gidari, a pri­va­cy pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford Law School. “Absent a very strong fed­er­al pri­va­cy law, we’re all screwed.”

    Mr. Ton-That said his com­pa­ny used only pub­licly avail­able images. If you change a pri­va­cy set­ting in Face­book so that search engines can’t link to your pro­file, your Face­book pho­tos won’t be includ­ed in the data­base, he said.

    But if your pro­file has already been scraped, it is too late. The com­pa­ny keeps all the images it has scraped even if they are lat­er delet­ed or tak­en down, though Mr. Ton-That said the com­pa­ny was work­ing on a tool that would let peo­ple request that images be removed if they had been tak­en down from the web­site of ori­gin.

    Woodrow Hart­zog, a pro­fes­sor of law and com­put­er sci­ence at North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ty in Boston, sees Clearview as the lat­est proof that facial recog­ni­tion should be banned in the Unit­ed States.

    “We’ve relied on indus­try efforts to self-police and not embrace such a risky tech­nol­o­gy, but now those dams are break­ing because there is so much mon­ey on the table,” Mr. Hart­zog said. “I don’t see a future where we har­ness the ben­e­fits of face recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy with­out the crip­pling abuse of the sur­veil­lance that comes with it. The only way to stop it is to ban it.”

    Where Every­body Knows Your Name

    Dur­ing a recent inter­view at Clearview’s offices in a WeWork loca­tion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neigh­bor­hood, Mr. Ton-That demon­strat­ed the app on him­self. He took a self­ie and uploaded it. The app pulled up 23 pho­tos of him. In one, he is shirt­less and light­ing a cig­a­rette while cov­ered in what looks like blood.

    Mr. Ton-That then took my pho­to with the app. The “soft­ware bug” had been fixed, and now my pho­to returned numer­ous results, dat­ing back a decade, includ­ing pho­tos of myself that I had nev­er seen before. When I used my hand to cov­er my nose and the bot­tom of my face, the app still returned sev­en cor­rect match­es for me.

    Police offi­cers and Clearview’s investors pre­dict that its app will even­tu­al­ly be avail­able to the pub­lic.

    Mr. Ton-That said he was reluc­tant. “There’s always going to be a com­mu­ni­ty of bad peo­ple who will mis­use it,” he said.

    Even if Clearview doesn’t make its app pub­licly avail­able, a copy­cat com­pa­ny might, now that the taboo is bro­ken. Search­ing some­one by face could become as easy as Googling a name. Strangers would be able to lis­ten in on sen­si­tive con­ver­sa­tions, take pho­tos of the par­tic­i­pants and know per­son­al secrets. Some­one walk­ing down the street would be imme­di­ate­ly iden­ti­fi­able — and his or her home address would be only a few clicks away. It would her­ald the end of pub­lic anonymi­ty.

    Asked about the impli­ca­tions of bring­ing such a pow­er into the world, Mr. Ton-That seemed tak­en aback.

    “I have to think about that,” he said. “Our belief is that this is the best use of the tech­nol­o­gy.”

    ———–

    “The Secre­tive Com­pa­ny That Might End Pri­va­cy as We Know It” by Kash­mir Hill; The New York Times; 01/18/2020

    “Even if Clearview doesn’t make its app pub­licly avail­able, a copy­cat com­pa­ny might, now that the taboo is bro­ken. Search­ing some­one by face could become as easy as Googling a name. Strangers would be able to lis­ten in on sen­si­tive con­ver­sa­tions, take pho­tos of the par­tic­i­pants and know per­son­al secrets. Some­one walk­ing down the street would be imme­di­ate­ly iden­ti­fi­able — and his or her home address would be only a few clicks away. It would her­ald the end of pub­lic anonymi­ty.”

    An end to pri­va­cy as we know it. Every­one will be able to just look at some­one and imme­di­ate­ly access a data­base of per­son­al infor­ma­tion about them. That’s the dark path Clearview’s tech­nol­o­gy is send­ing us down:

    ...
    But with­out pub­lic scruti­ny, more than 600 law enforce­ment agen­cies have start­ed using Clearview in the past year, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny, which declined to pro­vide a list. The com­put­er code under­ly­ing its app, ana­lyzed by The New York Times, includes pro­gram­ming lan­guage to pair it with aug­ment­ed-real­i­ty glass­es; users would poten­tial­ly be able to iden­ti­fy every per­son they saw. The tool could iden­ti­fy activists at a protest or an attrac­tive stranger on the sub­way, reveal­ing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew.

    And it’s not just law enforce­ment: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a hand­ful of com­pa­nies for secu­ri­ty pur­pos­es.

    “The weaponiza­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties of this are end­less,” said Eric Gold­man, co-direc­tor of the High Tech Law Insti­tute at San­ta Clara Uni­ver­si­ty. “Imag­ine a rogue law enforce­ment offi­cer who wants to stalk poten­tial roman­tic part­ners, or a for­eign gov­ern­ment using this to dig up secrets about peo­ple to black­mail them or throw them in jail.”
    ...

    And both police offi­cer and Clearview’s own investors pre­dict that its app will even­tu­al­ly be avail­able to the pub­lic. And yet if you ask investor David Scal­zo about the pri­va­cy con­cerns, he appears to take the stance that it’s sim­ply impos­si­ble to ban this use of this tech­nol­o­gy whether or leads to a dystopi­an future or not:

    ...
    Anoth­er ear­ly investor is a small firm called Kire­na­ga Part­ners. Its founder, David Scal­zo, dis­missed con­cerns about Clearview mak­ing the inter­net search­able by face, say­ing it’s a valu­able crime-solv­ing tool.

    “I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that because infor­ma­tion con­stant­ly increas­es, there’s nev­er going to be pri­va­cy,” Mr. Scal­zo said. “Laws have to deter­mine what’s legal, but you can’t ban tech­nol­o­gy. Sure, that might lead to a dystopi­an future or some­thing, but you can’t ban it.”

    ...

    “It’s creepy what they’re doing, but there will be many more of these com­pa­nies. There is no monop­oly on math,” said Al Gidari, a pri­va­cy pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford Law School. “Absent a very strong fed­er­al pri­va­cy law, we’re all screwed.”

    ...

    Woodrow Hart­zog, a pro­fes­sor of law and com­put­er sci­ence at North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ty in Boston, sees Clearview as the lat­est proof that facial recog­ni­tion should be banned in the Unit­ed States.

    “We’ve relied on indus­try efforts to self-police and not embrace such a risky tech­nol­o­gy, but now those dams are break­ing because there is so much mon­ey on the table,” Mr. Hart­zog said. “I don’t see a future where we har­ness the ben­e­fits of face recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy with­out the crip­pling abuse of the sur­veil­lance that comes with it. The only way to stop it is to ban it.”

    ...

    Police offi­cers and Clearview’s investors pre­dict that its app will even­tu­al­ly be avail­able to the pub­lic.

    Mr. Ton-That said he was reluc­tant. “There’s always going to be a com­mu­ni­ty of bad peo­ple who will mis­use it,” he said.

    ...

    Asked about the impli­ca­tions of bring­ing such a pow­er into the world, Mr. Ton-That seemed tak­en aback.

    “I have to think about that,” he said. “Our belief is that this is the best use of the tech­nol­o­gy.”
    ...

    But while Clearview’s investors appear to have no prob­lem at all with blaz­ing the trail of this dystopi­an post-pri­va­cy future, the com­pa­ny itself has tak­en pains to get as lit­tle expo­sure as pos­si­ble. It even freaked out when a jour­nal­ist’s pho­to was run through the sys­tem:

    ...
    Clearview has shroud­ed itself in secre­cy, avoid­ing debate about its bound­ary-push­ing tech­nol­o­gy. When I began look­ing into the com­pa­ny in Novem­ber, its web­site was a bare page show­ing a nonex­is­tent Man­hat­tan address as its place of busi­ness. The company’s one employ­ee list­ed on LinkedIn, a sales man­ag­er named “John Good,” turned out to be Mr. Ton-That, using a fake name. For a month, peo­ple affil­i­at­ed with the com­pa­ny would not return my emails or phone calls.

    While the com­pa­ny was dodg­ing me, it was also mon­i­tor­ing me. At my request, a num­ber of police offi­cers had run my pho­to through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives ask­ing if they were talk­ing to the media — a sign that Clearview has the abil­i­ty and, in this case, the appetite to mon­i­tor whom law enforce­ment is search­ing for.

    ...

    The com­pa­ny even­tu­al­ly start­ed answer­ing my ques­tions, say­ing that its ear­li­er silence was typ­i­cal of an ear­ly-stage start-up in stealth mode. Mr. Ton-That acknowl­edged design­ing a pro­to­type for use with aug­ment­ed-real­i­ty glass­es but said the com­pa­ny had no plans to release it. And he said my pho­to had rung alarm bells because the app “flags pos­si­ble anom­alous search behav­ior” in order to pre­vent users from con­duct­ing what it deemed “inap­pro­pri­ate search­es.”

    ...

    Because the police upload pho­tos of peo­ple they’re try­ing to iden­ti­fy, Clearview pos­sess­es a grow­ing data­base of indi­vid­u­als who have attract­ed atten­tion from law enforce­ment. The com­pa­ny also has the abil­i­ty to manip­u­late the results that the police see. After the com­pa­ny real­ized I was ask­ing offi­cers to run my pho­to through the app, my face was flagged by Clearview’s sys­tems and for a while showed no match­es. When asked about this, Mr. Ton-That laughed and called it a “soft­ware bug.”
    ...

    Beyond that, the tech­nol­o­gy has­n’t even been val­i­dat­ed. Accord­ing to Ton-That, it works about 75 per­cent of the time, which sounds pret­ty good until you real­ize you’re talk­ing about mis­match­es that could lead to the wrong per­son being arrest­ed and charged with a crime:

    ...
    Facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy has always been con­tro­ver­sial. It makes peo­ple ner­vous about Big Broth­er. It has a ten­den­cy to deliv­er false match­es for cer­tain groups, like peo­ple of col­or. And some facial recog­ni­tion prod­ucts used by the police — includ­ing Clearview’s — haven’t been vet­ted by inde­pen­dent experts.

    Clearview’s app car­ries extra risks because law enforce­ment agen­cies are upload­ing sen­si­tive pho­tos to the servers of a com­pa­ny whose abil­i­ty to pro­tect its data is untest­ed.

    ...

    Anoth­er engi­neer was hired to per­fect a facial recog­ni­tion algo­rithm that was derived from aca­d­e­m­ic papers. The result: a sys­tem that uses what Mr. Ton-That described as a “state-of-the-art neur­al net” to con­vert all the images into math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­las, or vec­tors, based on facial geom­e­try — like how far apart a person’s eyes are. Clearview cre­at­ed a vast direc­to­ry that clus­tered all the pho­tos with sim­i­lar vec­tors into “neigh­bor­hoods.” When a user uploads a pho­to of a face into Clearview’s sys­tem, it con­verts the face into a vec­tor and then shows all the scraped pho­tos stored in that vector’s neigh­bor­hood — along with the links to the sites from which those images came.

    ...

    Mr. Ton-That said the tool does not always work. Most of the pho­tos in Clearview’s data­base are tak­en at eye lev­el. Much of the mate­r­i­al that the police upload is from sur­veil­lance cam­eras mount­ed on ceil­ings or high on walls.

    “They put sur­veil­lance cam­eras too high,” Mr. Ton-That lament­ed. “The angle is wrong for good face recog­ni­tion.”

    Despite that, the com­pa­ny said, its tool finds match­es up to 75 per­cent of the time. But it is unclear how often the tool deliv­ers false match­es, because it has not been test­ed by an inde­pen­dent par­ty such as the Nation­al Insti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nol­o­gy, a fed­er­al agency that rates the per­for­mance of facial recog­ni­tion algo­rithms.

    “We have no data to sug­gest this tool is accu­rate,” said Clare Garvie, a researcher at George­town University’s Cen­ter on Pri­va­cy and Tech­nol­o­gy, who has stud­ied the government’s use of facial recog­ni­tion. “The larg­er the data­base, the larg­er the risk of misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion because of the dop­pel­gänger effect. They’re talk­ing about a mas­sive data­base of ran­dom peo­ple they’ve found on the inter­net.”
    ...

    But while the pos­si­ble mis­us­es of unproven tech­nol­o­gy by law enforce­ment is obvi­ous­ly a prob­lem, it’s the fact that the com­pa­ny appears to run by par­ti­san Repub­li­cans that points towards one of the biggest poten­tial sources of abuse. It’s a polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion research dream tool and the firm is using Repub­li­cans find clients:

    ...
    In addi­tion to Mr. Ton-That, Clearview was found­ed by Richard Schwartz — who was an aide to Rudolph W. Giu­liani when he was may­or of New York — and backed finan­cial­ly by Peter Thiel, a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist behind Face­book and Palan­tir.

    Anoth­er ear­ly investor is a small firm called Kire­na­ga Part­ners. Its founder, David Scal­zo, dis­missed con­cerns about Clearview mak­ing the inter­net search­able by face, say­ing it’s a valu­able crime-solv­ing tool.

    ...

    Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Ton-That met in 2016 at a book event at the Man­hat­tan Insti­tute, a con­ser­v­a­tive think tank. Mr. Schwartz, now 61, had amassed an impres­sive Rolodex work­ing for Mr. Giu­liani in the 1990s and serv­ing as the edi­to­r­i­al page edi­tor of The New York Dai­ly News in the ear­ly 2000s. The two soon decid­ed to go into the facial recog­ni­tion busi­ness togeth­er: Mr. Ton-That would build the app, and Mr. Schwartz would use his con­tacts to drum up com­mer­cial inter­est.

    ...

    Mr. Schwartz paid for serv­er costs and basic expens­es, but the oper­a­tion was bare bones; every­one worked from home. “I was liv­ing on cred­it card debt,” Mr. Ton-That said. “Plus, I was a Bit­coin believ­er, so I had some of those.”

    ...

    Clearview deployed cur­rent and for­mer Repub­li­can offi­cials to approach police forces, offer­ing free tri­als and annu­al licens­es for as lit­tle as $2,000. Mr. Schwartz tapped his polit­i­cal con­nec­tions to help make gov­ern­ment offi­cials aware of the tool, accord­ing to Mr. Ton-That. (“I’m thrilled to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to help Hoan build Clearview into a mis­sion-dri­ven orga­ni­za­tion that’s help­ing law enforce­ment pro­tect chil­dren and enhance the safe­ty of com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try,” Mr. Schwartz said through a spokes­woman.)

    The company’s main con­tact for cus­tomers was Jes­si­ca Medeiros Gar­ri­son, who man­aged Luther Strange’s Repub­li­can cam­paign for Alaba­ma attor­ney gen­er­al. Bran­don Fricke, an N.F.L. agent engaged to the Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, said in a finan­cial dis­clo­sure report dur­ing a con­gres­sion­al cam­paign in Cal­i­for­nia that he was a “growth con­sul­tant” for the com­pa­ny. (Clearview said that it was a brief, unpaid role, and that the com­pa­ny had enlist­ed Democ­rats to help mar­ket its prod­uct as well.)
    ...

    And “extreme oppo­si­tion research” is one of the ser­vices Clearview offered one of its first poten­tial clients. That client hap­pened to be Paul Nehlen, the GOP ris­ing-star who saw his polit­i­cal future implode after it became clear he was an open neo-Nazi. That’s the per­son Clearview offered ser­vices to right after the com­pa­ny fin­ished its ini­tial prod­uct in late 2017 and those ser­vices hap­pened to be “extreme oppo­si­tion research”. It tells us A LOT about the real intent of the fig­ures behind this com­pa­ny. It’s not just for law enforce­ment. It’s also a reminder that the com­pa­ny’s will­ing­ness to manip­u­late the search results could be very hand for right-wing politi­cians who would pre­fer embar­rass­ing pics not be read­i­ly avail­able for oppo­nents to find:

    ...
    By the end of 2017, the com­pa­ny had a for­mi­da­ble facial recog­ni­tion tool, which it called Smartcheckr. But Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Ton-That weren’t sure whom they were going to sell it to.

    Maybe it could be used to vet babysit­ters or as an add-on fea­ture for sur­veil­lance cam­eras. What about a tool for secu­ri­ty guards in the lob­bies of build­ings or to help hotels greet guests by name? “We thought of every idea,” Mr. Ton-That said.

    One of the odd­er pitch­es, in late 2017, was to Paul Nehlen — an anti-Semi­te and self-described “pro-white” Repub­li­can run­ning for Con­gress in Wis­con­sin — to use “uncon­ven­tion­al data­bas­es” for “extreme oppo­si­tion research,” accord­ing to a doc­u­ment pro­vid­ed to Mr. Nehlen and lat­er post­ed online. Mr. Ton-That said the com­pa­ny nev­er actu­al­ly offered such ser­vices.
    ...

    And then, short­ly after mak­ing that offer to Nehlen, Clearview gets its first out­side invest­ment, includ­ing $200,000 from Peter Thiel that was lat­er con­vert­ed to equi­ty. So in addi­tion to co-found­ing Palan­tir and sit­ting on the board of Face­book, Thiel owns an undis­closed amount of this com­pa­ny too. And Ton-That claims Face­book is aware that Clearview’s data­base is heav­i­ly pop­u­lat­ed with data scraped from Face­book:

    ...
    The com­pa­ny soon changed its name to Clearview AI and began mar­ket­ing to law enforce­ment. That was when the com­pa­ny got its first round of fund­ing from out­side investors: Mr. Thiel and Kire­na­ga Part­ners. Among oth­er things, Mr. Thiel was famous for secret­ly financ­ing Hulk Hogan’s law­suit that bank­rupt­ed the pop­u­lar web­site Gawk­er. Both Mr. Thiel and Mr. Ton-That had been the sub­ject of neg­a­tive arti­cles by Gawk­er.

    “In 2017, Peter gave a tal­ent­ed young founder $200,000, which two years lat­er con­vert­ed to equi­ty in Clearview AI,” said Jere­mi­ah Hall, Mr. Thiel’s spokesman. “That was Peter’s only con­tri­bu­tion; he is not involved in the com­pa­ny.”

    Even after a sec­ond fund­ing round in 2019, Clearview remains tiny, hav­ing raised $7 mil­lion from investors, accord­ing to Pitch­book, a web­site that tracks invest­ments in start-ups. The com­pa­ny declined to con­firm the amount.

    ...

    One rea­son that Clearview is catch­ing on is that its ser­vice is unique. That’s because Face­book and oth­er social media sites pro­hib­it peo­ple from scrap­ing users’ images — Clearview is vio­lat­ing the sites’ terms of ser­vice.

    “A lot of peo­ple are doing it,” Mr. Ton-That shrugged. “Face­book knows.”

    Jay Nan­car­row, a Face­book spokesman, said the com­pa­ny was review­ing the sit­u­a­tion with Clearview and “will take appro­pri­ate action if we find they are vio­lat­ing our rules.”

    Mr. Thiel, the Clearview investor, sits on Facebook’s board. Mr. Nan­car­row declined to com­ment on Mr. Thiel’s per­son­al invest­ments.

    ...

    Mr. Ton-That said his com­pa­ny used only pub­licly avail­able images. If you change a pri­va­cy set­ting in Face­book so that search engines can’t link to your pro­file, your Face­book pho­tos won’t be includ­ed in the data­base, he said.

    But if your pro­file has already been scraped, it is too late. The com­pa­ny keeps all the images it has scraped even if they are lat­er delet­ed or tak­en down, though Mr. Ton-That said the com­pa­ny was work­ing on a tool that would let peo­ple request that images be removed if they had been tak­en down from the web­site of ori­gin.
    ...

    Beyond that, Clearview hired high-pro­file Repub­li­can lawyer Paul D. Clement to assure clients that the ser­vices are legal. Giv­en who Clement is in the legal world that’s a major legal endorse­ment:

    ...
    Clearview also hired Paul D. Clement, a Unit­ed States solic­i­tor gen­er­al under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush, to assuage con­cerns about the app’s legal­i­ty.

    In an August memo that Clearview pro­vid­ed to poten­tial cus­tomers, includ­ing the Atlanta Police Depart­ment and the Pinel­las Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office in Flori­da, Mr. Clement said law enforce­ment agen­cies “do not vio­late the fed­er­al Con­sti­tu­tion or rel­e­vant exist­ing state bio­met­ric and pri­va­cy laws when using Clearview for its intend­ed pur­pose.”

    Mr. Clement, now a part­ner at Kirk­land & Ellis, wrote that the author­i­ties don’t have to tell defen­dants that they were iden­ti­fied via Clearview, as long as it isn’t the sole basis for get­ting a war­rant to arrest them. Mr. Clement did not respond to mul­ti­ple requests for com­ment.

    The memo appeared to be effec­tive; the Atlanta police and Pinel­las Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office soon start­ed using Clearview.
    ...

    Oh, and it turns out the FBI and DHS are also try­ing out Clearview’s ser­vices, along with Cana­di­an law enforce­ment agen­cies:

    ...
    Fed­er­al law enforce­ment, includ­ing the F.B.I. and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, are try­ing it, as are Cana­di­an law enforce­ment author­i­ties, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny and gov­ern­ment offi­cials.
    ...

    It does­n’t sound like fed­er­al agen­cies have a prob­lem with using a data­base of images that was improp­er­ly scraped off of major social media sites. That’s appar­ent­ly legal and fine. And that’s why Clearview appears to be on track to becom­ing the ‘Palan­tir’ of facial recog­ni­tion com­pa­nies: a high­ly secre­tive com­pa­ny owned by polit­i­cal con­nect­ed shady fig­ures that some­how man­ages to get mas­sive num­bers of gov­ern­ment clients by offer­ing ser­vices that have obvi­ous intel­li­gence appli­ca­tions. And it’s co-owned by Peter Thiel, fur­ther solid­i­fy­ing Thiel’s posi­tion as the US’s pri­vate intel­li­gence oli­garch. It’s quite a posi­tion for an open fas­cist like Thiel.

    So when ser­vices like this end pri­va­cy as we know it ends soon­er than you expect, don’t for­get that this was brought to you by Repub­li­cans who did­n’t want you to know about those ser­vices in the first place.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 23, 2020, 4:11 pm
  8. Oh look at that, Face­book just hired a new head of video strat­e­gy per­son to head up the video divi­sion for the “Face­book News” fea­ture that its cre­at­ing for 2020. Guess who: Jen­nifer William, an 18-year vet­er­an of Fox News. Sur­prise!

    And Williams isn’t just a Fox News vet­er­an. She’s was a long-time senior pro­duc­er of Fox & Friends (from 1997–2009), one of the chan­nel’s most egre­gious out­lets of dis­in­for­ma­tion. Fox & Friends is bad even by Fox News stan­dards. That’s who is head­ing up the video sec­tion of Face­book’s new News sec­tion:

    Media Mat­ters

    After enabling right-wing pro­pa­gan­da, Face­book hires a Fox News vet­er­an in a key news role

    Social media giant again moves to bol­ster the right as 2020 elec­tions loom

    Writ­ten by Matt Gertz
    Pub­lished 01/28/20 12:01 PM EST

    In 2007, after Fox & Friends pro­mot­ed a quick­ly debunked report that then-Sen. Barack Oba­ma had gone to school at an extrem­ist Islam­ic madras­sa as a child, a top Fox News exec­u­tive issued a tru­ly star­tling inter­nal memo to the network’s news­room. “For the record,” then-Vice Pres­i­dent of News John Moody wrote, “see­ing an item on a web­site does not mean it is right. Nor does it mean it is ready for air on FNC.”

    Thir­teen years lat­er, Face­book has report­ed­ly named Jen­nifer Williams, who was a Fox & Friends senior pro­duc­er at the time that memo was sent, to head video strat­e­gy for the social media giant’s forth­com­ing Face­book News, NBC News report­ed Tues­day. Face­book News will serve its bil­lions of users with a ded­i­cat­ed tab includ­ing news con­tent curat­ed by a team of jour­nal­ists from a list of pub­lish­ers cho­sen by the com­pa­ny. As Face­book exec­u­tives plan a shift in the way the nation con­sumes news that will almost cer­tain­ly impact the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, they are staffing up with an 18-year vet­er­an of the right-wing cable net­work that effec­tive­ly serves as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s per­son­al mouth­piece.

    Facebook’s mas­sive audi­ence and immense pow­er have placed the com­pa­ny at the cen­ter of a polit­i­cal mael­strom over the last half decade. The 2016 deci­sion by its CEO, Mark Zucker­berg, to bow to a bogus right-wing pres­sure cam­paign and elim­i­nate the human cura­tors who man­aged its Trend­ing Top­ics sec­tion helped turn the plat­form into a tox­ic fake news ecosys­tem rid­dled with for­eign inter­fer­ence in the days lead­ing up to Trump’s elec­tion.

    That campaign’s suc­cess only embold­ened the right, which has con­tin­ued to offer flawed attacks on Facebook’s pur­port­ed anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias even as the plat­form has “become a hub for some of the most insid­i­ous con­ser­v­a­tive false talk­ing points about immi­gra­tion, abor­tion, cli­mate change, and trans rights,” as my col­league Park­er Mol­loy has not­ed. (Media Mat­ters has pub­lished mul­ti­ple stud­ies demon­strat­ing that con­ser­v­a­tives are not cen­sored on Face­book.) And while fac­ing a left that threat­ens to aggres­sive­ly reg­u­late or even break up the com­pa­ny — and the prospect of high­er tax­es for its top exec­u­tives under a Demo­c­ra­t­ic admin­is­tra­tion — Face­book has repeat­ed­ly act­ed to bol­ster Trump and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tives.

    The hir­ing of Williams, who spent 12 years at Fox’s insipid morn­ing show and lat­er served as exec­u­tive pro­duc­er for Gretchen Carl­son and Bush admin­is­tra­tion press sec­re­tary Dana Peri­no, is sim­ply the lat­est exam­ple of Face­book sid­ing with the right. While Zucker­berg has been hold­ing cozy din­ners with right-wing media fig­ures and meet­ing with Trump in the White House, his com­pa­ny has stocked its pow­er­ful Wash­ing­ton, D.C., office with Repub­li­can polit­i­cal oper­a­tives, hired a for­mer Repub­li­can sen­a­tor to pro­duce a report on Facebook’s alleged lib­er­al bias, encour­aged its fact-check­ing con­sor­tium to part­ner with Tuck­er Carlson’s tox­ic Dai­ly Caller web­site, com­mis­sioned research on oppo­nents that was steeped in anti-Semit­ic tropes, and altered and selec­tive­ly enforced its ad poli­cies in ways that will like­ly ben­e­fit Trump’s reelec­tion cam­paign. Just last week, Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion’s Judd Legum report­ed that Face­book was allow­ing a major Trump super PAC to run ads fea­tur­ing a lie that the plat­for­m’s own fact-check­ing part­ners had debunked.

    Face­book News pos­es a new chal­lenge for the com­pa­ny, requir­ing it to make affir­ma­tive jour­nal­is­tic deci­sions rather than allow­ing its algo­rithm to deter­mine what users see. Its exec­u­tives will need to decide if they want to sup­port a fac­tu­al news envi­ron­ment, or cater to a right-wing media that often pro­duces con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and big­ot­ed con­tent.

    Face­book hasn’t rolled out the news tab yet, but ear­ly indi­ca­tions sug­gest the com­pa­ny may plan to take the lat­ter path. Camp­bell Brown, a for­mer NBC News anchor who has been at Face­book since 2017, has been tapped to lead the pro­gram. Before join­ing Face­book, Brown served as edi­tor-in-chief of The 74, an edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy news web­site that was fund­ed by the fam­i­ly foun­da­tion of Bet­sy DeVos, who sub­se­quent­ly joined Trump’s cab­i­net, as Judd Legum has report­ed. And under Brown’s tenure, Face­book News has cre­den­tialed the nox­ious hate site Breitbart.com as one of the sites the tab will pro­mote. Brown’s defense of that deci­sion — that Breitbart.com “meets our integri­ty stan­dards for mis­in­for­ma­tion” — sug­gests that those stan­dards will be absurd­ly low for right-wing media.

    ...

    ———-

    “After enabling right-wing pro­pa­gan­da, Face­book hires a Fox News vet­er­an in a key news role” by Matt Gertz; Media Mat­ters; 01/28/2020

    “Thir­teen years lat­er, Face­book has report­ed­ly named Jen­nifer Williams, who was a Fox & Friends senior pro­duc­er at the time that memo was sent, to head video strat­e­gy for the social media giant’s forth­com­ing Face­book News, NBC News report­ed Tues­day. Face­book News will serve its bil­lions of users with a ded­i­cat­ed tab includ­ing news con­tent curat­ed by a team of jour­nal­ists from a list of pub­lish­ers cho­sen by the com­pa­ny. As Face­book exec­u­tives plan a shift in the way the nation con­sumes news that will almost cer­tain­ly impact the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, they are staffing up with an 18-year vet­er­an of the right-wing cable net­work that effec­tive­ly serves as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s per­son­al mouth­piece.

    An 18-year vet­er­an of Fox News. That’s who is going to be ulti­mate­ly curat­ing the ‘news’ videos served up to Face­book read­ers. As the arti­cle notes, the fact that Face­book decid­ed to make a spe­cial ‘news’ sec­tion osten­si­bly man­aged with a jour­nal­is­tic intent behind it, and not just run by an algo­rithm, meant the com­pa­ny was going to have to get in the busi­ness of hav­ing humans make active deci­sions on whether or not news is wor­thy of being includ­ed in the new News sec­tion of the site or if it’s ‘fake news’. So Face­book chose the vet­er­an of the lead­ing pur­vey­or fake news.

    But Jen­nifer Williams isn’t the only high­ly ques­tion­able fig­ure who is going to be run­ning Face­book’s new News divi­sion. the com­pa­ny already hired Camp­bell Brown to lead the News divi­sion. And it turns out Brown is close to Bet­sy DeVos, the far right sis­ter of Erik Prince and Trump’s Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary. As we should expect, Brown has already decid­ed to cre­den­tial Breibart.com as one of the new sites that Face­book News will pro­mote:

    ...
    Face­book News pos­es a new chal­lenge for the com­pa­ny, requir­ing it to make affir­ma­tive jour­nal­is­tic deci­sions rather than allow­ing its algo­rithm to deter­mine what users see. Its exec­u­tives will need to decide if they want to sup­port a fac­tu­al news envi­ron­ment, or cater to a right-wing media that often pro­duces con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and big­ot­ed con­tent.

    Face­book hasn’t rolled out the news tab yet, but ear­ly indi­ca­tions sug­gest the com­pa­ny may plan to take the lat­ter path. Camp­bell Brown, a for­mer NBC News anchor who has been at Face­book since 2017, has been tapped to lead the pro­gram. Before join­ing Face­book, Brown served as edi­tor-in-chief of The 74, an edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy news web­site that was fund­ed by the fam­i­ly foun­da­tion of Bet­sy DeVos, who sub­se­quent­ly joined Trump’s cab­i­net, as Judd Legum has report­ed. And under Brown’s tenure, Face­book News has cre­den­tialed the nox­ious hate site Breitbart.com as one of the sites the tab will pro­mote. Brown’s defense of that deci­sion — that Breitbart.com “meets our integri­ty stan­dards for mis­in­for­ma­tion” — sug­gests that those stan­dards will be absurd­ly low for right-wing media.
    ...

    And now here’s Judd Legum’s Popular.Info piece with more on Cam­bell Brown and her exten­sive ties to Bet­sy DeVos. As the arti­cle notes, the pub­li­ca­tion Brown co-found­ed, The 74, is large­ly focused on edu­ca­tion news, which got rather awk­ward after Bet­sy DeVos became Trump’s edu­ca­tion sec­re­tary. DeVos calls Brown a “friend” and The 74 was start­ed, in part, with a $200,000 grant from Bet­sy DeVos’s fam­i­ly foun­da­tion. Most of the arti­cles in The 74 cov­er­ing DeVos have been large­ly lauda­to­ry.
    Brown is also a mem­ber of the board of The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for Chil­dren (AFC), a right-wing non-prof­it start­ed and chaired by DeVos that spends heav­i­ly on get­ting Repub­li­cans elect­ed at the state lev­el. The 74 and the AFC co-spon­sored a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial forum in Iowa in 2015.

    It’s also worth recall­ing the recent sto­ry describ­ing how the DeVos’s and oth­er far right oli­garchs asso­ci­at­ed with the theo­crat­ic Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP) have been qui­et­ly financ­ing the pur­chase of local and region­al radio sta­tions to ensure the explo­sive growth of region­al right-wing talk radio. It’s a reminder that the dam­age Bet­sy DeVos is doing to the intel­lec­tu­al sta­tus of Amer­i­ca isn’t lim­it­ed to the dam­age she’s doing to Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion.

    As anoth­er sign of Brown’s edi­to­r­i­al lean­ings, while edi­tor-in-chief of The 74, the pub­li­ca­tion fea­tured at least 11 pieces from Eric Owens, a Dai­ly Caller edi­tor with a long his­to­ry of mak­ing trans­pho­bic attacks on stu­dents and teach­ers. The 74 also appears to real­ly hate Eliz­a­beth War­ren. Inter­est­ing­ly, Mark Zucker­berg’s foun­da­tion, the Chan Zucker­berg Ini­tia­tive, donat­ed $600,000 to The 74, describ­ing it as “a non-prof­it, non­par­ti­san news site cov­er­ing edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca.” Zucker­berg has pre­vi­ous­ly expressed his extreme dis­like of War­ren’s pres­i­den­tial ambi­tions, describ­ing her as an “exis­ten­tial” threat to the com­pa­ny.

    So that’s who Jen­nifer Williams is going to be report­ing to in her new role as the head of Video at Face­book News: Cam­bell Brown, the right-wing friend of Bet­sy DeVos:

    Popular.info

    Face­book’s top news exec­u­tive has her own media out­let — and it’s been sav­aging Eliz­a­beth War­ren

    Judd Legum
    Nov 11, 2019

    For­mer NBC News anchor Camp­bell Brown is a top Face­book exec­u­tive who was hired in Jan­u­ary 2017 to lead the com­pa­ny’s “news part­ner­ships team.” That means Brown is in charge of “Face­book News,” the com­pa­ny’s high-pro­file new effort to fea­ture “qual­i­ty news” in a ded­i­cat­ed tab. She is also a co-founder and direc­tor of her own media out­let that, in recent weeks, has harsh­ly attacked one of the lead­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates for pres­i­dent, Eliz­a­beth War­ren.

    In 2015, Brown co-found­ed The 74, which focus­es on the pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem, and served as edi­tor-in-chief. Even after join­ing Face­book in 2017, Brown has main­tained an active role in The 74, where she is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors. Accord­ing to doc­u­ments filed with the IRS in 2017, Brown ded­i­cat­ed five hours per week — the equiv­a­lent of a month-and-a-half of full-time work — work­ing for The 74.

    [see image of IRS for­mer indi­cat­ing Brown was work­ing for The 74 for 5 hours a week]

    That’s the same amount of time Brown spent on The 74 pri­or to join­ing Face­book. (2017 is the most recent year that this infor­ma­tion is pub­licly avail­able.)

    Begin­ning this fall, The 74 has harsh­ly crit­i­cized pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Eliz­a­beth War­ren. On Octo­ber 23, The 74 pub­lished an arti­cle with this head­line: “Eliz­a­beth Warren’s Edu­ca­tion Plan Is Exact­ly What We Need — If Our Goal Is to Make the Achieve­ment Gap Per­ma­nent.” The piece described War­ren’s detailed edu­ca­tion plan as “a cut-and-paste gen­u­flect to the pub­lic rela­tions depart­ments of America’s nation­al teach­ers unions.” It goes on to claim that War­ren is not a “straight shoot­er” and lacks a “moral cen­ter.” The piece even­tu­al­ly dis­pens­es with edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy alto­geth­er and launch­es into a dia­tribe of attacks on War­ren:

    She’s a mil­lion­aire who raves about social­ism. She was Repub­li­can before she was a Demo­c­rat. She was for school choice before she was against it. She was for char­ter schools before she was against them. She was for stan­dard­ized test­ing before she was against it.

    She was Native Amer­i­can before she wasn’t.

    This piece is not an aber­ra­tion. An Octo­ber 10 piece described War­ren as “the sec­ond com­ing of Karl Marx.”

    An Octo­ber 24 col­umn accus­es War­ren of stand­ing “against an insti­tu­tion designed to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ty for our nation’s chil­dren.” War­ren, accord­ing to the arti­cle, wants to “over­ride… the clear pref­er­ences of the black and brown vot­ers whom pro­gres­sives claim to fight for.”

    An Octo­ber 28 piece describes War­ren as “anoth­er tired politi­cian sign­ing up to pledge undy­ing loy­al­ty to a sys­tem that is so clear­ly fail­ing too many of our chil­dren.” The col­umn says War­ren backs “the regres­sive sta­tus quo that leads our chil­dren into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

    Brown fea­tures her affil­i­a­tion with The 74 on both her Face­book page and her Twit­ter pro­file.

    Face­book did not answer a detailed set of ques­tions about Brown’s cur­rent duties at The 74 and whether there was a con­flict with her work at Face­book. But the com­pa­ny sent Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion the fol­low­ing state­ment: “The 74 is not part of Face­book News. Campbell’s work with The 74 is well-known and she’s been trans­par­ent about her role with the non­prof­it for many years.“

    Camp­bell Brown’s friend Bet­sy DeVos

    Both Brown and The 74 are tight­ly linked to Bet­sy DeVos, Trump’s Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion. DeVos, who Brown calls a “friend,” pro­vid­ed a two-year grant through her fam­i­ly foun­da­tion to help launch The 74. (The 74 has not dis­closed the amount of DeVos’ con­tri­bu­tion.) Brown also served on the board of The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for Chil­dren (AFC), a non-prof­it that DeVos found­ed and chaired.

    The AFC is a right-wing orga­ni­za­tion that spends heav­i­ly to sup­port Repub­li­cans at the state lev­el. It spent mil­lions, for exam­ple, to sup­port for­mer Wis­con­sin Gov­er­nor Scott Walk­er ® and his allies. The 74 and the AFC co-spon­sored a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial forum in Iowa in 2015.

    In a a col­umn pub­lished after DeVos’ nom­i­na­tion was announced, Brown lav­ished praise on DeVos. Brown called DeVos “tena­cious in defend­ing the best inter­ests of chil­dren rather than inter­est groups and their polit­i­cal patrons.” She described DeVos as “a born deci­sion-mak­er, thick-skinned, nev­er long dis­cour­aged by set­backs and imper­vi­ous to hos­tile crit­i­cism.”

    After DeVos was nom­i­nat­ed by Trump, The 74 began includ­ing a dis­claimer on arti­cles about DeVos, not­ing her role in fund­ing the site. The dis­claimer also said that Brown did not edit sto­ries involv­ing DeVos. That dis­claimer, how­ev­er, last appeared in 2017.

    The 74’s cov­er­age of DeVos has been occa­sion­al­ly crit­i­cal, but most­ly lauda­to­ry. Head­lines about DeVos’ tenure as Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary on The 74 include:

    DeVos Pro­posed $50 Mil­lion for Dis­tricts to Decen­tral­ize Fed­er­al Mon­ey, to Put Schools in the Driver’s Seat. It’s a Smart Idea.

    Teach­ers Nation­wide Say Obama’s Dis­ci­pline ‘Reform’ Put Them in Dan­ger. So Why Are the Unions Fight­ing DeVos on Repeal?

    Ivan­ka Trump, Bet­sy DeVos Tout STEM Edu­ca­tion to 200 Stu­dents at Air & Space Muse­um

    Resis­tance to DeVos Has Obscured the True Record of Michigan’s Strong Char­ter Schools

    While DeVos has been exco­ri­at­ed by civ­il rights groups, includ­ing the NAACP, The 74 inter­viewed a civ­il rights leader who praised DeVos. In June, DeVos her­self gave an exclu­sive inter­view to The 74. The inter­view, which did not men­tion DeVos’ con­tro­ver­sial pol­i­cy moves on sex­u­al assault and LGBTQ rights, did not include any dis­clo­sure of DeVos’ pri­or fund­ing for the site.

    Brown’s The 74 fea­tured big­ot­ed Dai­ly Caller edi­tor

    While Brown served as edi­tor-in-chief of The 74, the site fea­tured at least 11 pieces from Eric Owens, an edi­tor at The Dai­ly Caller. Owens “has a long his­to­ry of pen­ning racial­ly insen­si­tive, sex­ist, and trans­pho­bic attacks on stu­dents and teach­ers.”

    Owens, for exam­ple, wrote in The Dai­ly Caller that white priv­i­lege is a “rad­i­cal and bizarre polit­i­cal the­o­ry that white peo­ple enjoy a bunch of won­der­ful priv­i­leges while every­one else suf­fers under the yoke of invis­i­ble oppres­sion.” In anoth­er Dai­ly Caller col­umn, Owens called col­lege stu­dents “del­i­cate, imma­ture wuss­es who become trau­ma­tized, get the vapors and seek pro­fes­sion­al coun­sel­ing any time they face adver­si­ty.”

    ...

    After Brown joined Face­book, The Dai­ly Caller was named an offi­cial Face­book fact-check­ing part­ner, despite The Dai­ly Caller’s his­to­ry of inac­cu­rate report­ing.

    Brown thinks Bre­it­bart is a “qual­i­ty” news source

    Brown’s role with The 74 rais­es fur­ther ques­tions about the ide­o­log­i­cal under­pin­nings of Face­book’s nascent news tab, which has not been rolled out to all users. Brown’s team elect­ed to include Bre­it­bart — an unre­li­able and nox­ious right-wing site that was lit­er­al­ly caught laun­der­ing white nation­al­ist talk­ing points — among the 200 “qual­i­ty” sources includ­ed in the launch.

    On Face­book, Brown defend­ed the deci­sion:

    I also believe that in build­ing out a des­ti­na­tion for news on Face­book, we should include con­tent from ide­o­log­i­cal pub­lish­ers on both the left and the right — as long as that con­tent meets our integri­ty stan­dards for mis­in­for­ma­tion. All the con­tent on Face­book News today meets those stan­dards. If a pub­lish­er vio­lates our stan­dards by post­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion or hate speech on our plat­form, they will be removed from Face­book News.

    It’s unclear how Bre­it­bart could meet any “integri­ty stan­dard for mis­in­for­ma­tion.” In 2017, for exam­ple, Bre­it­bart “made up a false sto­ry that an immi­grant start­ed dead­ly Sono­ma wild­fires.” The sto­ry, which was not backed by “any evi­dence,” was picked up by oth­er right-wing out­lets like The Drudge Report and InfoWars, and spread quick­ly on Face­book. In 2016, Bre­it­bart dis­patched a reporter to a small Ida­ho town to report on a fake “Mus­lim inva­sion.” It hawks scam cryp­tocur­ren­cies to its read­er­ship.

    Bre­it­bart is banned from being cit­ed as a source on Wikipedia. The online ency­clo­pe­dia says Bre­it­bart “should not be used, ever, as a ref­er­ence for facts, due to its unre­li­a­bil­i­ty.” Brown, how­ev­er, believes it is a qual­i­ty news source for Face­book read­ers.

    Face­book has refused to release a list of the 200 pub­li­ca­tions approved for inclu­sion in the news tab.

    Face­book’s hos­til­i­ty toward War­ren

    The 74’s hos­til­i­ty toward War­ren echoes com­ments by Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg. In leaked audio of a com­pa­ny meet­ing, Zucker­berg said it would “suck” if War­ren became pres­i­dent because she posed an “exis­ten­tial” threat to the com­pa­ny. Zucker­berg promised to “go to the mat” to fight War­ren’s agen­da. An excerpt:

    I mean, if [War­ren] gets elect­ed pres­i­dent, then I would bet that we will have a legal chal­lenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal chal­lenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major law­suit against our own gov­ern­ment. I mean, that’s not the posi­tion that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … it’s like, we care about our coun­try and want to work with our gov­ern­ment and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threat­en some­thing that exis­ten­tial, you go to the mat and you fight.

    After the audio leaked, Zucker­berg did not express regret for trash­ing one of the lead­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates for pres­i­dent in a com­pa­ny meet­ing. Instead, he linked to a tran­script of the audio from his Face­book page page, call­ing it an “unfil­tered ver­sion of what I’m think­ing and telling employ­ees on a bunch of top­ics.”

    Zucker­berg has donat­ed $600,000 to The 74 in 2019 through his foun­da­tion, the Chan Zucker­berg Ini­tia­tive. Zucker­berg’s foun­da­tion describes The 74 as “a non-prof­it, non­par­ti­san news site cov­er­ing edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca.”
    ———–

    “Face­book’s top news exec­u­tive has her own media out­let — and it’s been sav­aging Eliz­a­beth War­ren” by Judd Legum; Popular.info; 11/11/2019

    In 2015, Brown co-found­ed The 74, which focus­es on the pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem, and served as edi­tor-in-chief. Even after join­ing Face­book in 2017, Brown has main­tained an active role in The 74, where she is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors. Accord­ing to doc­u­ments filed with the IRS in 2017, Brown ded­i­cat­ed five hours per week — the equiv­a­lent of a month-and-a-half of full-time work — work­ing for The 74.”

    The head of Face­book’s new News fea­ture co-found­ed The 74, a pub­li­ca­tion in 2015 focused on edu­ca­tion and remained on the board of direc­tors even after join­ing Face­book. That would­n’t be a huge deal if The 74 was just a blah non-ide­o­log­i­cal out­let. But it turns out to have been found­ed in part with a grant from Bet­sy DeVos’s fam­i­ly foun­da­tion:

    ...
    Both Brown and The 74 are tight­ly linked to Bet­sy DeVos, Trump’s Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion. DeVos, who Brown calls a “friend,” pro­vid­ed a two-year grant through her fam­i­ly foun­da­tion to help launch The 74. (The 74 has not dis­closed the amount of DeVos’ con­tri­bu­tion.) Brown also served on the board of The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion for Chil­dren (AFC), a non-prof­it that DeVos found­ed and chaired.

    The AFC is a right-wing orga­ni­za­tion that spends heav­i­ly to sup­port Repub­li­cans at the state lev­el. It spent mil­lions, for exam­ple, to sup­port for­mer Wis­con­sin Gov­er­nor Scott Walk­er ® and his allies. The 74 and the AFC co-spon­sored a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial forum in Iowa in 2015.

    In a a col­umn pub­lished after DeVos’ nom­i­na­tion was announced, Brown lav­ished praise on DeVos. Brown called DeVos “tena­cious in defend­ing the best inter­ests of chil­dren rather than inter­est groups and their polit­i­cal patrons.” She described DeVos as “a born deci­sion-mak­er, thick-skinned, nev­er long dis­cour­aged by set­backs and imper­vi­ous to hos­tile crit­i­cism.”

    ...

    While DeVos has been exco­ri­at­ed by civ­il rights groups, includ­ing the NAACP, The 74 inter­viewed a civ­il rights leader who praised DeVos. In June, DeVos her­self gave an exclu­sive inter­view to The 74. The inter­view, which did not men­tion DeVos’ con­tro­ver­sial pol­i­cy moves on sex­u­al assault and LGBTQ rights, did not include any dis­clo­sure of DeVos’ pri­or fund­ing for the site.
    ...

    And the con­tent of The 74 has a clear right-wing ori­en­ta­tion, with arti­cles that describe Eliz­a­beth War­ren as “the sec­ond com­ing of Karl Marx”. And it turns out The 74 received a $600,000 dona­tion from none oth­er than Mark Zucker­berg, who open­ly fears and loathes War­ren:

    ...
    Begin­ning this fall, The 74 has harsh­ly crit­i­cized pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Eliz­a­beth War­ren. On Octo­ber 23, The 74 pub­lished an arti­cle with this head­line: “Eliz­a­beth Warren’s Edu­ca­tion Plan Is Exact­ly What We Need — If Our Goal Is to Make the Achieve­ment Gap Per­ma­nent.” The piece described War­ren’s detailed edu­ca­tion plan as “a cut-and-paste gen­u­flect to the pub­lic rela­tions depart­ments of America’s nation­al teach­ers unions.” It goes on to claim that War­ren is not a “straight shoot­er” and lacks a “moral cen­ter.” The piece even­tu­al­ly dis­pens­es with edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy alto­geth­er and launch­es into a dia­tribe of attacks on War­ren:

    She’s a mil­lion­aire who raves about social­ism. She was Repub­li­can before she was a Demo­c­rat. She was for school choice before she was against it. She was for char­ter schools before she was against them. She was for stan­dard­ized test­ing before she was against it.

    She was Native Amer­i­can before she wasn’t.

    This piece is not an aber­ra­tion. An Octo­ber 10 piece described War­ren as “the sec­ond com­ing of Karl Marx.”

    An Octo­ber 24 col­umn accus­es War­ren of stand­ing “against an insti­tu­tion designed to cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ty for our nation’s chil­dren.” War­ren, accord­ing to the arti­cle, wants to “over­ride… the clear pref­er­ences of the black and brown vot­ers whom pro­gres­sives claim to fight for.”

    An Octo­ber 28 piece describes War­ren as “anoth­er tired politi­cian sign­ing up to pledge undy­ing loy­al­ty to a sys­tem that is so clear­ly fail­ing too many of our chil­dren.” The col­umn says War­ren backs “the regres­sive sta­tus quo that leads our chil­dren into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

    ...

    The 74’s hos­til­i­ty toward War­ren echoes com­ments by Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg. In leaked audio of a com­pa­ny meet­ing, Zucker­berg said it would “suck” if War­ren became pres­i­dent because she posed an “exis­ten­tial” threat to the com­pa­ny. Zucker­berg promised to “go to the mat” to fight War­ren’s agen­da. An excerpt:

    I mean, if [War­ren] gets elect­ed pres­i­dent, then I would bet that we will have a legal chal­lenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal chal­lenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major law­suit against our own gov­ern­ment. I mean, that’s not the posi­tion that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … it’s like, we care about our coun­try and want to work with our gov­ern­ment and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threat­en some­thing that exis­ten­tial, you go to the mat and you fight.

    After the audio leaked, Zucker­berg did not express regret for trash­ing one of the lead­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates for pres­i­dent in a com­pa­ny meet­ing. Instead, he linked to a tran­script of the audio from his Face­book page page, call­ing it an “unfil­tered ver­sion of what I’m think­ing and telling employ­ees on a bunch of top­ics.”

    Zucker­berg has donat­ed $600,000 to The 74 in 2019 through his foun­da­tion, the Chan Zucker­berg Ini­tia­tive. Zucker­berg’s foun­da­tion describes The 74 as “a non-prof­it, non­par­ti­san news site cov­er­ing edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca.”
    ...

    Then there’s the fact that The 74 fea­tures writ­ers like Eric Owens, an edi­tor at The Dai­ly Caller. After Brown was hired by Face­book to head up its news divi­sion, The Dai­ly Caller was an an offi­cial fact-check­ing part­ner at Face­book:

    ...
    While Brown served as edi­tor-in-chief of The 74, the site fea­tured at least 11 pieces from Eric Owens, an edi­tor at The Dai­ly Caller. Owens “has a long his­to­ry of pen­ning racial­ly insen­si­tive, sex­ist, and trans­pho­bic attacks on stu­dents and teach­ers.”

    Owens, for exam­ple, wrote in The Dai­ly Caller that white priv­i­lege is a “rad­i­cal and bizarre polit­i­cal the­o­ry that white peo­ple enjoy a bunch of won­der­ful priv­i­leges while every­one else suf­fers under the yoke of invis­i­ble oppres­sion.” In anoth­er Dai­ly Caller col­umn, Owens called col­lege stu­dents “del­i­cate, imma­ture wuss­es who become trau­ma­tized, get the vapors and seek pro­fes­sion­al coun­sel­ing any time they face adver­si­ty.”

    ...

    After Brown joined Face­book, The Dai­ly Caller was named an offi­cial Face­book fact-check­ing part­ner, despite The Dai­ly Caller’s his­to­ry of inac­cu­rate report­ing.
    ...

    Oh, and Brown’s team at Face­book end­ed up select­ing Bre­it­bart, which is banned as a cita­tion source for Wikipedia, as one of its 200 “qual­i­ty” news sources:

    ...
    Brown’s role with The 74 rais­es fur­ther ques­tions about the ide­o­log­i­cal under­pin­nings of Face­book’s nascent news tab, which has not been rolled out to all users. Brown’s team elect­ed to include Bre­it­bart — an unre­li­able and nox­ious right-wing site that was lit­er­al­ly caught laun­der­ing white nation­al­ist talk­ing points — among the 200 “qual­i­ty” sources includ­ed in the launch.

    ...

    Bre­it­bart is banned from being cit­ed as a source on Wikipedia. The online ency­clo­pe­dia says Bre­it­bart “should not be used, ever, as a ref­er­ence for facts, due to its unre­li­a­bil­i­ty.” Brown, how­ev­er, believes it is a qual­i­ty news source for Face­book read­ers.

    Face­book has refused to release a list of the 200 pub­li­ca­tions approved for inclu­sion in the news tab.
    ...

    So as we can see, the head of Face­book’s new News fea­ture that’s going to roll out some time in 2020 is a close friend of Bet­sy DeVos and has already made moves to ensure right-wing garbage sites that should be banned from Face­book pure­ly for jour­nal­is­tic integri­ty pur­pos­es will instead be trust­ed con­tent pro­duc­ers and fact-check­ers. And now long-time Fox News vet­er­an Jen­nifer Williams will be work­ing under Brown head­ing up the Face­book News video divi­sion. Because of course.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 28, 2020, 1:52 pm
  9. The impeach­ment of Trump appears to be on course for a quick end fol­low­ing the deci­sion of Sen­ate Repub­li­cans to not call any wit­ness­es and pro­ceed to an acquit­tal vote. The ulti­mate polit­i­cal con­se­quences of acquit­ting Trump with­out call­ing wit­ness­es in the Sen­ate is hard to esti­mate, but it seems like a pret­ty sure bet that the Trump team is going to inter­pret this acquit­tal as a green­light to engage in pret­ty much any polit­i­cal dirty tricks cam­paign it can imag­ine. After all, when Sen­a­tor Lamar Alexan­der — one of the hold out Sen­a­tors who was report­ed­ly on the fence about whether to vote for call­ing wit­ness­es or not — final­ly decid­ed to vote against wit­ness­es late last night, Alexan­der’s rea­son­ing was that House Democ­rats had already proven their case and Trump real­ly did what they accused him of doing but it does­n’t rise to an impeach­able offense so no wit­ness­es were need­ed. So the Repub­li­cans have basi­cal­ly ruled that invit­ing and then extort­ing a for­eign gov­ern­ment to get involved in a US elec­toral dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign is accept­able even if they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly think its fine. It an open invi­ta­tion for not just every Repub­li­can dirty trick imag­in­able but an invi­ta­tion for for­eign gov­ern­ment med­dling too. The Trump pres­i­dent has now become not just the cul­mi­na­tion of Amer­i­ca’s inun­da­tion with dis­in­for­ma­tion but now a val­i­da­tion of it.

    So it’s worth not­ing that, days before this deci­sion by the Sen­ate, the Bul­letin of the Atom­ic Sci­en­tists updat­ed the ‘Dooms­day Clock’. It’s now 100 sec­onds from ‘Mid­night’, clos­er than ever. And the explo­sion of dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns and dis­in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy like ‘deep fakes’ that can send a soci­ety into tur­moil was appar­ent­ly a big part of their rea­son­ing:

    ZDNet

    The Dooms­day Clock just moved clos­er to mid­night again. Tech is get­ting some of the blame.

    Infor­ma­tion war­fare, deep fakes and AI are all adding to the risk of cat­a­stro­phe, sci­en­tists warn.

    By Steve Ranger
    Jan­u­ary 24, 2020 — 12:37 GMT (04:37 PST)

    The Dooms­day Clock has moved clos­er to mid­night than ever before, as sci­en­tists warn that the threats of nuclear war and cat­a­stroph­ic cli­mate change are being com­pound­ed by dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion war­fare, which is mak­ing it hard­er for democ­ra­cies to respond to these dan­gers.

    “Human­i­ty con­tin­ues to face two simul­ta­ne­ous exis­ten­tial dangers—nuclear war and cli­mate change—that are com­pound­ed by a threat mul­ti­pli­er, cyber-enabled infor­ma­tion war­fare, that under­cuts soci­ety’s abil­i­ty to respond,” said the Bul­letin of the Atom­ic Sci­en­tists as it moved the Dooms­day Clock from two min­utes to mid­night to 100 sec­onds to mid­night. This shows that they feel the risk of cat­a­stro­phe is greater than ever — even high­er than dur­ing the Cold War.

    ...

    Glob­al insta­bil­i­ty

    The group of sci­en­tists warned that sev­er­al major arms con­trol treaties and nego­ti­a­tions have end­ed or been under­mined dur­ing the past year, cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment con­ducive to a renewed nuclear arms race. They warned that gov­ern­ment action on cli­mate change still falls short.

    But they also said that threats to the “infor­ma­tion ecos­phere” — like the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion and fake news — could also cre­ate dan­ger­ous glob­al insta­bil­i­ty. Ongo­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are cor­rupt­ing the deci­sion-mak­ing process­es need­ed to tack­le nuclear and cli­mate threats, the sci­en­tists said.

    “In the last year, many gov­ern­ments used cyber-enabled dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns to sow dis­trust in insti­tu­tions and among nations, under­min­ing domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al efforts to fos­ter peace and pro­tect the plan­et,” the group said.

    While coun­tries have long attempt­ed to use pro­pa­gan­da to dri­ve their par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal agen­das, the inter­net now pro­vides wide­spread, inex­pen­sive access to world­wide audi­ences. The recent arrival of ‘deep­fake’ audio and video could also under­mine our abil­i­ty to sep­a­rate truth from fic­tion.

    “The result­ing false­hoods hold the poten­tial to cre­ate eco­nom­ic, social, and mil­i­tary chaos, increas­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of mis­un­der­stand­ings or provo­ca­tions that could lead to war, and foment­ing pub­lic con­fu­sion that leads to inac­tion on seri­ous issues fac­ing the plan­et. Agree­ment on facts is essen­tial to democ­ra­cy and effec­tive col­lec­tive action.”

    They sci­en­tists also wor­ry about the impact of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and its use in mil­i­tary deci­sion mak­ing and com­mand and con­trol sys­tems.

    “The over­all glob­al trend is toward com­plex, high-tech, high­ly auto­mat­ed, high-speed war­fare. The com­put­er­ized and increas­ing­ly AI-assist­ed nature of mil­i­taries, the sophis­ti­ca­tion of their weapons, and the new, more aggres­sive mil­i­tary doc­trines assert­ed by the most heav­i­ly armed coun­tries could result in glob­al cat­a­stro­phe,” the group said.

    ———–

    “The Dooms­day Clock just moved clos­er to mid­night again. Tech is get­ting some of the blame.” by Steve Ranger; ZDNet; 01/24/2020

    ““Human­i­ty con­tin­ues to face two simul­ta­ne­ous exis­ten­tial dangers—nuclear war and cli­mate change—that are com­pound­ed by a threat mul­ti­pli­er, cyber-enabled infor­ma­tion war­fare, that under­cuts soci­ety’s abil­i­ty to respond,” said the Bul­letin of the Atom­ic Sci­en­tists as it moved the Dooms­day Clock from two min­utes to mid­night to 100 sec­onds to mid­night. This shows that they feel the risk of cat­a­stro­phe is greater than ever — even high­er than dur­ing the Cold War.

    A greater risk of man-made cat­a­stro­phe than dur­ing the Cold War. This is where we are. The rea­sons include ‘oldies’ like the risk of nuclear war. But even there the risks are high­er (thanks in large part to Trump’s shred­ding of nuclear arms treaties). And then there’s the risk of what sound like a ‘Skynet’ sce­nario involv­ing mil­i­taries rely­ing on AI for deci­sion mak­ing and com­mand and con­trol sys­tems:

    ...
    The group of sci­en­tists warned that sev­er­al major arms con­trol treaties and nego­ti­a­tions have end­ed or been under­mined dur­ing the past year, cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment con­ducive to a renewed nuclear arms race. They warned that gov­ern­ment action on cli­mate change still falls short.

    ...

    They sci­en­tists also wor­ry about the impact of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and its use in mil­i­tary deci­sion mak­ing and com­mand and con­trol sys­tems.

    “The over­all glob­al trend is toward com­plex, high-tech, high­ly auto­mat­ed, high-speed war­fare. The com­put­er­ized and increas­ing­ly AI-assist­ed nature of mil­i­taries, the sophis­ti­ca­tion of their weapons, and the new, more aggres­sive mil­i­tary doc­trines assert­ed by the most heav­i­ly armed coun­tries could result in glob­al cat­a­stro­phe,” the group said.
    ...

    But it’s the grow­ing threats to the “infor­ma­tion ecos­phere” that runs the risk of dam­ag­ing our abil­i­ty to man­age vir­tu­al­ly every oth­er threat because dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are already cor­rup­tion the deci­sion-mak­ing process­es need­ed to address all those oth­er threats:

    ...
    But they also said that threats to the “infor­ma­tion ecos­phere” — like the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion and fake news — could also cre­ate dan­ger­ous glob­al insta­bil­i­ty. Ongo­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are cor­rupt­ing the deci­sion-mak­ing process­es need­ed to tack­le nuclear and cli­mate threats, the sci­en­tists said.

    ...

    While coun­tries have long attempt­ed to use pro­pa­gan­da to dri­ve their par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal agen­das, the inter­net now pro­vides wide­spread, inex­pen­sive access to world­wide audi­ences. The recent arrival of ‘deep­fake’ audio and video could also under­mine our abil­i­ty to sep­a­rate truth from fic­tion.
    ...

    And that warn­ing about how dis­in­for­ma­tion threat­ens out col­lec­tive abil­i­ty to deal with ALL OF THE OTHER exis­ten­tial threats is a reminder that sys­tem­at­ic dis­in­for­ma­tion is kind of a meta-exis­ten­tial threat. It lit­er­al­ly makes all oth­er exis­ten­tial threats more like­ly to hap­pen, which arguably makes it the great­est threat of all. If human­i­ty was­n’t so sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­in­for­ma­tion this would­n’t be such a mas­sive threat. But that’s clear­ly not the case. Dis­in­for­ma­tion is win­ning. It real­ly works and is increas­ing­ly cheap and easy to deploy, which is why some­one like Trump can become pres­i­dent and why the far right has been ris­ing across the globe with one big lie cam­paign after anoth­er. And that’s what the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans just rub­ber-stamped and endorsed: the meta-exis­ten­tial threat of sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly trash­ing the infor­ma­tion ecos­phere and the result­ing col­lec­tive insan­i­ty.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 31, 2020, 12:19 pm
  10. Yasha Levine has a short new piece about an inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal inter­sec­tion between the US’s reha­bil­i­ta­tion of fas­cists and Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors in the post-WWII era and the coun­terin­sur­gency ori­gins of the devel­op­ment of the inter­net. It’s the kind of his­to­ry that’s long been impor­tant but has sud­den­ly gained a new lev­el of impor­tance now that Pres­i­dent Trump appears to feel ‘unleashed’ fol­low­ing his impeach­ment acquit­tal and will­ing to use the pow­er of his office to pro­tect his friends and attack his polit­i­cal ene­mies:

    Levine was giv­en a num­ber of declas­si­fied US Army Counter Intel­li­gence Corp file on Myko­la Lebed. Lebed was one of the many OUN‑B Ukraine fas­cist Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors who was basi­cal­ly wel­comed into the US’s nation­al secu­ri­ty com­plex and Levine is work­ing on a short biog­ra­phy on him. One par­tic­u­lar file on Lebed was from 1947 and most­ly illeg­i­ble, but it did have a clear stamp at the bot­tom that had the name Col W.P. Yarbor­ough. Yarbor­ough turns out to be a cen­tral fig­ure in the devel­op­ment of the US Army’s spe­cial forces dur­ing this peri­od. Beyond that, he was also a lead­ing fig­ure in the US’s coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence oper­a­tions in the 1960s and it’s in that con­text that Yarbor­ough played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the devel­op­ment of the inter­net’s pre­de­ces­sor, the ARPANET. Levine cov­ered Yarbor­ough’s role in the devel­op­ment of the ARPANET as a coun­terin­sur­gency tool in his book Sur­veil­lance Val­ley. And as he cov­ered in the book, while the coun­terin­sur­gency appli­ca­tions of the orig­i­nal ARPANET was used for the war in Viet­nam, it was also used to com­pile a mas­sive unprece­dent­ed com­put­er­ized data­base on domes­tic polit­i­cal oppo­nents of the war and left-wing groups in gen­er­al.

    That’s the main point of Levine’s new piece: the obser­va­tion that the fig­ure who led the devel­op­ment of what was a cut­ting-edge domes­tic sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion pri­mar­i­ly tar­get­ing left-wing polit­i­cal move­ments was also involved with the recruit­ment and uti­liza­tion of WWII fas­cists and Nazis for use in the nation­al secu­ri­ty appa­ra­tus. It’s one of those his­tor­i­cal fun-facts that high­lights how the US’s long-stand­ing ‘anti-com­mu­nism’ agen­da was real­ly an anti-left-wing agen­da that includ­ed the covert sup­pres­sion of domes­tic left-wing move­ments. Fas­cists are fine. Anti-war pro­tes­tors are sub­ver­sives that need to be sur­veilled an ulti­mate­ly neu­tral­ized. It’s a pre­vail­ing theme through­out the Cold War exem­pli­fied by Yarbor­ough’s career. A career that should serve as a warn­ing now that Pres­i­dent Trump appears to feel like he’s been giv­en per­mis­sion to use the full force of the gov­ern­ment to attack per­ceived his polit­i­cal ene­mies:

    Yasha.substack.com

    From reha­bil­i­tat­ing Nazis to run­ning data-based coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paigns against the Amer­i­can left

    The life of a true Amer­i­can hero!

    Yasha Levine
    02/13/2020

    Jared McBride — an amaz­ing his­to­ri­an of nation­al­ism and nation­al­ist iden­ti­ty war­fare in 20th cen­tu­ry Rus­sia, Ukraine, and East­ern Europe — was kind enough to send me the US Army Counter Intel­li­gence Corps’ declas­si­fied file on Myko­la Lebed.

    Lebed is not well known out­side a small cir­cle of his­to­ri­ans and jour­nal­ists. But he was an influ­en­tial Ukrain­ian fas­cist and Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor — a sadist and a mass mur­der­er who after World War II was reha­bil­i­tat­ed and weaponized by the Unit­ed States. He’s an inter­est­ing case and I’ve been try­ing to work up a short biog­ra­phy of him.

    I was look­ing through his US Army file when a doc­u­ment from Decem­ber 1947 caught my atten­tion. It had to do with Lebed but was fad­ed and most­ly illeg­i­ble. One thing stood out clear­ly, though. A stamp at the bot­tom that fea­tured a famil­iar name: Col W.P. YARBOROUGH.

    From 1945 to 1947, Colonel William P. Yarbor­ough was the Provost Mar­shal of Amer­i­can forces in Vien­na — basi­cal­ly, he was the top mil­i­tary cop of America’s slice of a city that was divid­ed between Britain, France, the Sovi­et Union, and the Unit­ed States. The place, like Berlin, was a spook fest and Yarbor­ough was clear­ly involved in all sorts covert ops.

    Why do I know his name?

    Turns out Yarbor­ough a tan­gen­tial but very impor­tant fig­ure in the his­to­ry of the ear­ly Inter­net. I wrote a whole sec­tion about him and his work in my book Sur­veil­lance Val­ley.

    By the time the 1960s rolled around, Yarbor­ough was regard­ed as an expert on anti-guer­ril­la and coun­terin­sur­gency war­fare. In 1967, while in charge of the U.S. Army’s Intel­li­gence Com­mand, he ini­ti­at­ed a mas­sive, ille­gal domes­tic coun­terin­sur­gency sur­veil­lance pro­gram inside Amer­i­ca that tar­get­ed civ­il rights activists, anti­war pro­test­ers, left­wing stu­dent groups, and any­one who sym­pa­thized with to the oppressed.

    It was called CONUS Intel.

    Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans got swept up in his para­noid coun­terin­sur­gency pro­gram. Sit­ting sen­a­tors, pro­gres­sive cler­gy, left­ist orga­niz­ers of youth ski clubs, anti­war pro­test­ers, peo­ple who sim­ply attend­ed Mar­tin Luther King’s funer­al — all were spied on and tracked. The scheme explod­ed into a nation­al scan­dal when it was exposed in 1971.

    Ulti­mate­ly, the data and sur­veil­lance files that were col­lect­ed by Yarborough’s pro­gram would be dig­i­tized and shared through the ARPANET between the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the White House — as part of an ARPA ini­tia­tive to devel­op dig­i­tal coun­terin­sur­gency tools. We know this hap­pened thanks to the incred­i­ble report­ing of a NBC jour­nal­ist named Ford Rowan.

    So Yarbor­ough is con­nect­ed to a big his­tor­i­cal moment: the first known case of the ear­ly Inter­net being used to spy on Amer­i­can civil­ians.

    It was fun­ny to see his name on a doc­u­ment con­nect­ed to a Ukrain­ian fas­cist intel­li­gence asset like Myko­la Lebed. From weaponiz­ing Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors to run­ning com­put­er-based coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paigns against the Amer­i­can left — Yarbor­ough sure lived the life of a true Amer­i­can hero. A lot to be proud of!

    It just goes to show how much all of this is linked. The devel­op­ment of coun­terin­sur­gency tech that birthed the Inter­net, the covert reha­bil­i­ta­tion and use of East­ern Euro­pean fas­cists, even the weaponiza­tion of Sovi­et Jews like me — all are part of a larg­er, con­tigu­ous pro­gram of anti-com­mu­nism and Amer­i­can empire expan­sion.

    ...

    ————-

    “From reha­bil­i­tat­ing Nazis to run­ning data-based coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paigns against the Amer­i­can left” by Yasha Levine; Yasha.substack.com; 02/13/2020

    “By the time the 1960s rolled around, Yarbor­ough was regard­ed as an expert on anti-guer­ril­la and coun­terin­sur­gency war­fare. In 1967, while in charge of the U.S. Army’s Intel­li­gence Com­mand, he ini­ti­at­ed a mas­sive, ille­gal domes­tic coun­terin­sur­gency sur­veil­lance pro­gram inside Amer­i­ca that tar­get­ed civ­il rights activists, anti­war pro­test­ers, left­wing stu­dent groups, and any­one who sym­pa­thized with to the oppressed.

    A mas­sive ILLEGAL domes­tic sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion pri­mar­i­ly tar­get­ing the left. That’s what the first ver­sion of the inter­net was used for under the CONUS Intel project. And it was Yarbor­ough — some­one involved with the ear­ly Cold War uti­liza­tion of fas­cists and Nazi — who led that ini­tia­tive:

    ...
    Lebed is not well known out­side a small cir­cle of his­to­ri­ans and jour­nal­ists. But he was an influ­en­tial Ukrain­ian fas­cist and Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor — a sadist and a mass mur­der­er who after World War II was reha­bil­i­tat­ed and weaponized by the Unit­ed States. He’s an inter­est­ing case and I’ve been try­ing to work up a short biog­ra­phy of him.

    I was look­ing through his US Army file when a doc­u­ment from Decem­ber 1947 caught my atten­tion. It had to do with Lebed but was fad­ed and most­ly illeg­i­ble. One thing stood out clear­ly, though. A stamp at the bot­tom that fea­tured a famil­iar name: Col W.P. YARBOROUGH.

    From 1945 to 1947, Colonel William P. Yarbor­ough was the Provost Mar­shal of Amer­i­can forces in Vien­na — basi­cal­ly, he was the top mil­i­tary cop of America’s slice of a city that was divid­ed between Britain, France, the Sovi­et Union, and the Unit­ed States. The place, like Berlin, was a spook fest and Yarbor­ough was clear­ly involved in all sorts covert ops.
    ...

    It’s a his­tor­i­cal anec­dote that’s a big reminder that the use state pow­ers to sup­press and min­i­mize left-wing move­ments and indi­vid­u­als is a sig­nif­i­cant part of chap­ter of Amer­i­can his­to­ry that led to where we are today.

    It’s worth recall­ing at this point the inter­est­ing sto­ry John Lof­tus had about the white­wash­ing of Myko­la Lebed involv­ing Whitey Bul­ger. It turns out Lebed was cast as an anti-Nazi fight­er in WWII in order to be allowed to get a US visa and become US asset work­ing for the CIA. That white­wash­ing was car­ried about by Dick Sul­li­van, a US Army attor­ney oper­at­ing out of Boston. Lebed was just one of the fas­cists and Nazis who had his back­ground cov­ered up by Sul­li­van. Sul­li­van also hap­pened to be secret mem­ber of Irish Repub­li­can Par­ty (IRA), an alle­giance shared by Bul­ger. Sul­li­van even­tu­al­ly told Bul­ger about an IRA FBI infor­mant, who Bul­ger sub­se­quent­ly killed (this is dis­cussed by Lof­tus on side B of FTR#749).

    Now here’s a look at that 1971 NY Times report that ini­tial­ly exposed the Army’s CONUS Intel pro­gram. As the arti­cle describes, while most of the infor­ma­tion fed into this data­base was pro­vid­ed by local police, the FBI, or pub­lic sources, the pro­gram still involved send­ing over 1,000 under­cov­er US Army agents to direct­ly gath­er intel­li­gence. It was only exposed when Sen­a­tor Sam J. Ervin Jr., Demo­c­rat of North Car­oli­na, con­tend­ed that promi­nent polit­i­cal fig­ures in Illi­nois had been under mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance since 1968.

    The arti­cle also describes how then-Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough was replaced as the head of CONUS Intel in August of 1968 by Maj. Gen. Joseph McChris­t­ian. AFter McChris­t­ian was briefed on the pro­gram he imme­di­ate­ly asked his sub­or­di­nates for ways to cut it back. But McChris­t­ian ran into resis­tance from the “domes­tic war room” and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which said it need­ed this domes­tic intel­li­gence. All in all, the CONUS Intel chap­ter of Amer­i­can his­to­ry is a chap­ter that’s become omi­nous­ly rel­e­vant for the age of ‘Trump unleashed’:

    The New York Times

    Army Spied on 18,000 Civil­ians in 2‑Year Oper­a­tion

    By Richard Hal­lo­ran Spe­cial to The New York Times
    Jan. 18, 1971

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 17—The Unit­ed States Army fed the names of about 18,000 Amer­i­can civil­ians into its com­put­ers, dossiers and files in a wide rang­ing intel­li­gence oper­a­tion dur­ing the tumul­tuous days of civ­il dis­tur­bances from the sum­mer of 1967 through the fall of 1969.

    In the oper­a­tion, which was ordered end­ed last year, 1,000 Army agents gath­ered per­son­al and polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion on obscure per­sons, as well as the promi­nent, on advo­cates of vio­lent protest arid par­tic­i­pants in legit­i­mate polit­i­cal activ­i­ty, on the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple and the John Birch Soci­ety, on the Black Pan­thers and the Ku Klux Klan, on the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety and the Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. The empha­sis was on rad­i­cals, black mil­i­tants and dis­senters against the war in Viet­nam.

    The mil­i­tary intel­li­gence oper­a­tion picked up much of its infor­ma­tion from local police offi­cials and the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion, but sup­ple­ment­ed that data and col­lect­ed its own through agents pos­ing as mem­bers of the groups under sur­veil­lance, as news­men, or mere­ly as inter est­ed bystanders.

    Thus, a black agent reg­is­tered at New York Uni­ver­si­ty in 1968 to report on stu­dents tak­ing a course in black stud­ies. An oth­er agent joined the Youth Inter­na­tion­al par­ty, or Yip­pies, and slept along­side its can­di­date, a pig named “Piga­sus,” dur­ing the counter-inau­gur­al demon­stra­tion here in Jan­u­ary, 1969.

    The Army now autho­rizes only lim­it­ed intel­li­gence gath­er­ing on inci­dents that might lead to a Pres­i­den­tial call for Fed­er­al troops. But atten­tion was sharply focused last month on the Army oper­a­tion when Sen­a­tor Sam J. Ervin Jr., Demo­c­rat of North Car­oli­na, con­tend­ed that promi­nent polit­i­cal fig­ures in Illi­nois had been under mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance since 1968.

    Sen­a­tor Ervin is skep­ti­cal of the Army’s announce­ment about halt­ing the spy­ing and has sched­uled hear­ings by the Sub­com­mit­tee on Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights, of which he is chair­man, to begin Feb. 23. He said the Army “must dis­close in full what hap­pened and why it hap­pened and what has been done to insure that it will nev­er hap­pen again.”

    Details of the oper­a­tion, known as Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States Intel­li­gence, or Conus Intel, emerged from inter­views with civil­ian and uni­formed Pen­ta­gon offi­cials, Con­gres­sion­al sources, agents of the Secret Ser­vice and for­mer agents, and from a study of Army doc­u­ments and files.

    The find­ings includ­ed the fol­low­ing:

    ¶Direc­tives from Cab­i­net-lev­el offi­cials, autho­riz­ing intel­li­gence gath­er­ing to help the Army car­ry out its mis­sion of quelling civ­il dis­or­ders, were impre­cise. Army guide­lines for sub­or­di­nate com­mands were loose­ly drawn—like “a license to steal,” one Pen­ta­gon source said.

    ¶In a vari­a­tion of an old Army game, each sub­or­di­nate expand­ed on his instruc­tions to please his supe­ri­ors and to pro­tect him­self from charges that he had not done his job.

    ¶Once start­ed, the intel­li­gence oper­a­tion gen­er­at­ed a demand for its prod­uct from the Jus­tice Depart­ment, the F.B.I., police depart­ments and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies. A source close to the oper­a­tion said, “We cre­at­ed addicts for this stuff all over the Gov­ern­ment.”

    ¶Some younger agents enjoyed play­ing James Bond. Large­ly col­lege-edu­cat­ed and work­ing away from reg­u­lar Army dis­ci­pline, these men found it more fun to spy on polit­i­cal agi­ta­tors than to make the rou­tine secu­ri­ty checks that have long been a pri­ma­ry task of mil­i­tary intel­li­gence.

    ¶Conus Intel was but one part of a vast, inter­lock­ing intel­li­gence exchange that Pres­i­dents Kennedy and John­son, and prob­a­bly Pres­i­dent Nixon, knew was in oper­a­tion, although they may not have been aware of all of its details.

    ¶There was no con­spir­a­cy, as far as could be dis­cerned, by the mil­i­tary to sub­vert polit­i­cal lib­er­ties. One crit­i­cal for­mer agent said that “these were not malev­o­lent men.” Rather, he said, they were well-inten­tioned men car­ry­ing out what they con­sid­ered to be legit­i­mate orders from polit­i­cal author­i­ties.

    Com­ment­ing on this last point, the Army’s gen­er­al coun­sel, Robert E. Jor­dan 3d, said, “I hon­est­ly believe we drift­ed into this area with­out quite real­iz­ing what we were get­ting into and because no one else was around to do the job.” He added:

    “I’m con­vinced that no one intend­ed to spy on indi­vid­u­als or con­trol civil­ian life in any way. But I also believe that some of the things begun, if expand­ed, sure as hell posed a real risk.”

    Over­hauled in 1963

    The domes­tic mil­i­tary intel­li­gence appa­ra­tus, which was first involved in a civ­il dis­tur­bance dur­ing the riots at Oxford, Miss., in 1962, was over­hauled when a delayed secu­ri­ty check in 1963 showed that an Army sergeant in a sen­si­tive post had been a Sovi­et agent. That led to the for­ma­tion, on Jan. 1, 1965, of the Army Intel ligence Com­mand at Fort Holabird Md.

    The eight mil­i­tary intel­li­gence groups around the coun­try, each with about 400 men, were trans­ferred from area com­man­ders to the cen­tral­ized con­trol of the Army Intel­li­gence Com­mand to make secu­ri­ty clear­ances and oth­er anti sub­ver­sive oper­a­tions more effi­cient.

    That set up the appa­ra­tus for the sub­se­quent col­lec­tion of in for­ma­tion from the 1,000 agents in the 300 mil­i­tary intel­li­gence field offices across the nation. The intel­li­gence was ana­lyzed by the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment, or CIAD, in the office of the Army’s assis­tant chief of staff for intel­li­gence.

    Riots and Protests

    Dur­ing the sum­mer and fall of 1965, the nation was shak­en by racial riots in the Watts sec­tion of Los Ange­les and else­where, and by the first protests against the increas­ing Amer­i­can involve­ment in Viet­nam. Fed­er­al troops were not called to curb the riots and protests, but it became evi­dent that they might be need­ed.

    In 1966, the Army Intel­li­gence Com­mand instruct­ed the mil­i­tary intel­li­gence groups to col­lect basic infor­ma­tion about cities that might be use­ful if the Army were called.

    Not much was done about gath­er­ing the infor­ma­tion, but agents mak­ing rou­tine vis­its to cam­pus­es for back­ground in ves­ti­ga­tions began pick­ing up leaflets from anti­war dis­senters and lis­ten­ing in on their ral­lies. The Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment start­ed mon­i­tor­ing expres­sions of dis­sent and black mil­i­tance, most­ly by hav­ing a few men clip news­pa­pers. Agents in an unmarked truck fol­lowed James Mered­ith on his “walk against fear” through Mis­sis­sip­pi.

    Caught Unpre­pared

    In 1967, the Army was caught unpre­pared when racial riots broke out in Newark and Detroit. Army troops called in to help restore order had lit­tle more than Esso road maps to guide them in both cities.

    The Army’s chief intel­li­gence offi­cer then was Maj. Gen. William P. Yarbor­ough, a long time coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence and psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare spe­cial ist. The flam­boy­ant gen­er­al, known as “Big Y” for the way he signed mem­o­ran­dums, told sub­or­di­nates that the riot­ers were “insur­gents” manip­u­lat­ed by the Communists—and he began try­ing to find out more about them.

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough, now a lieu­tenant gen­er­al serv­ing in. Hawaii, said last week through a Pen­ta­gon spokesman that “my rec­om­men­da­tion that Unit­ed States Army plan­ners use the coun­terin­sur­gency plan­ning guide in con­nec­tion with mas­sive civ­il dis­tur­bances inside the Unit­ed States did not in any way imply that I believed those phe­nom­e­na con­sti­tut­ed actu­al insur­gency.”

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough ordered a Conus Intel com­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­ter known as “Oper­a­tions IV” to be set up at Fort Holabird and a nation­wide tele­type net­work that would feed infor­ma­tion to it. Large amounts of infor­ma­tion came from the F.B.I. and local police depart ments, but he also instruct­ed mil­i­tary intel­li­gence agents to pick up infor­ma­tion on their own.

    Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States Intel­li­gence paid par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the well-pub­li­cized plans for the anti-Viet­nam march on the Pen­ta­gon in Octo­ber, 1967. Agents from the New York field office of the 108th Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence Group, for exam­ple, rode bus­es into Wash­ing­ton and stayed with the crowd all through the demon­stra­tion.

    But the Army under­es­ti­mat­ed the num­ber of peo­ple that would show up, how long they would stay, and the degree of vio­lence they would attempt. For those fail­ures, senior offi­cers caught what one source described as “undi­lut­ed hell” from high polit­i­cal lead­ers, appar­ent­ly includ­ing Pres­i­dent John­son.

    Review Urged

    Imme­di­ate­ly after the march on the Pen­ta­gon, Sec­re­tary of Defense Robert S. McNa­ma­ra asked the Under Sec­re­tary of the Army, David E. McGif­fert, to review the entire role of Fed­er­al troops in civ­il dis­tur­bances. Mr. McGif­fert called meet­ing that includ­ed War­ren Christo­pher, the Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al; Stephen Pol­lak, spe­cial assis­tant to the Pres­i­dent, and numer­ous oth­ers from the Depart­ments of Defense and Jus­tice, the F.B.I., the Secret Ser­vice and local police offi­cials.

    Out of their study came the Army’s civ­il dis­tur­bance plan in Decem­ber, 1967. Two months lat­er, an intel­li­gence annex that set out infor­ma­tion require­ments for Army field com­man­ders was added to the plan. That was the begin­ning of the “city books” that detailed the infor­ma­tion a com­man­der might need if he moved troops into an urban area.

    Much of the infor­ma­tion involved tac­ti­cal intel­li­gence— where troops would land, where they would bivouac, where the hos­pi­tals and the police sta­tions were sit­u­at­ed. Army offi­cers met with the police offi­cials to see where trou­ble might occur. They talked with police offi­cers down to the precinct lev­el to spot gun shops and liquor stores that might be tar­gets for riot­ers.

    Pos­si­ble Agi­ta­tors

    In addi­tion, Army offi­cers slid into the polit­i­cal sphere by ask­ing the police for the names and pic­tures of pos­si­ble riot agi­ta­tors. They also asked the police for the names and pic­tures of peo­ple who might be will­ing to help calm a crowd.

    That infor­ma­tion, along with oth­er mate­r­i­al from the F.B.I. and the Secret Ser­vice, was fed back to Wash­ing­ton, where it went into the com­pendi­um” com­piled by the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment. “The com­pendi­um” was a two-vol­ume ency­clo­pe­dia that con ained pic­tures and data, includ­ing the polit­i­cal beliefs, on peo­ple who might either foment or help stop a civ­il dis­tur­bance. The coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence group was also charged by Mr. Mc Gif­fert with try­ing to pre­dict when and where a civ­il dis­tur­bance might break out.

    But the assas­si­na­tion of the Rev. Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr., in April, 1968, put an end to that idea. The riot­ing that occurred in 100 cities after his assas­si­na­tion showed that the site of a civ­il dis­tur­bance could not be pre­dict­ed.

    High-Lev­el Review

    Although the Army was bet­ter pre­pared to han­dle the dis­or­ders in Wash­ing­ton, Balti more and Chica­go than it had been dur­ing ear­li­er riots in Newark and Detroit, the need for Fed­er­al troops and the nation­wide ten­sion stim­u­lat­ed an oth­er high-lev­el review. At meet­ings in the Pen­ta­gon on April 12 and in the White House on April 15, 1968, Mr. McGif­fert pro­posed that Army intel­li­gence con­cen­trate on civ­il dis­tur­bance warn­ings.

    Out of those meet­ings also came a require­ment that the Army be pre­pared to send 10,000 troops on short notice to any one of 25 cities. That num­ber was lat­er reduced to about 10 cities where the Nation­al Guard and the local police were con­sid­ered unable to han­dle things on their own.

    Through the sum­mer of 1968, Army intel­li­gence oper­a­tions inten­si­fied. The Army put into effect its civ­il dis­tur­bance in for­ma­tion plan on May 2, giv­ing its agents more col­lec­tion require­ments.

    They were told to report on every­thing that bore there motest con­nec­tion to civ­il dis­tur­bances. Maj. Gen. William H. Blake­field, the intel­li­gence com­man­der, told his sub­or­di­nates to “beat the Asso­ci­at­ed Press” in their report­ing.

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough set up a task force in the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment to study infor­ma­tion about the 1968 poor peo­ple’s cam­paign and Res­ur­rec­tion City in Wash­ing­ton, which were close­ly scru­ti­nized by mil­i­tary intel­li­gence agents.

    The intel­li­gence com­mand start­ed dis­trib­ut­ing its “black list,” which includ­ed names, pic­tures, per­son­al data and polit­i­cal char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, such as “rad­i­cal” or “mil­i­tant,” of poten­tial trou­ble­mak­ers. The “black­list” went to law enforce­ment agen­cies at all lev­els, as well as Army com­man­ders and mil­i­tary intel­li­gence groups.

    In June, 1968, Sen­a­tor Robert F. Kennedy was assas­si­nat­ed and Con­gress passed a res­o­lu­tion giv­ing the Secret Ser­vice the author­i­ty to draw on the Army and oth­er Fed­er­al agen­cies for help in pro­tect­ing nation­al polit­i­cal can­di­dates.

    Paul Nitze, the Deputy Sec­re­tary of Defense, signed an order on June 8 that was the most explic­it direc­tive until then on the Army’s intel­li­gence gath­er­ing pro­ce­dures. The order gave for­mal instruc­tions to pro­vide to the Pen­ta­gon all of the essen­tial intel­li­gence data on civ­il dis­tur­bances.

    The intel­li­gence com­mand at Fort Holabird began using com­put­ers to store infor­ma­tion on civ­il dis­tur­bances. One data bank con­tained a file on inci­dents, a sec­ond a bio­graph­i­cal file on sol­diers who were con sidered pos­si­ble dis­senters.

    A sim­i­lar data bank was opened at the Con­ti­nen­tal Army Com­mand head­quar­ters at Fort Mon­roe, Va., for a pro­gram called Rita, for Resis­tance in the Army. Still anoth­er data bank was at III Corps head quar­ters at Fort Hood, Tex. This data bank con­cen­trat­ed on civ­il dis­tur­bance infor­ma­tion because two Army divi­sions at Fort Hood had antiri­ot respon sibil­i­ties.

    ‘Domes­tic War Room’

    The Direc­torate for Civ­il Dis­tur­bance Plan­ning and Oper­a­tions was set up in June, 1968, in what came to be known as the “domes­tic war room” in the base­ment of the Pen­ta­gon. This group was respon­si­ble for order­ing air­lifts, troop deploy­ment and logis­tics in a civ­il dis­or­der and became a major con­sumer of Conus Intel’s in for­ma­tion.

    When the Repub­li­cans con­vened in Mia­mi in July, 1968, to nom­i­nate Mr. Nixon as their Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, the Air Force was in charge of the Defense Depart­men­t’s role there. The Army, how­ev­er, fur­nished about 30 men from the Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tion Divi­sion of the mil­i­tary police, plus 17 dog han­dlers and 40 bomb dis­pos­al spe­cial­ists, to pro­tect the can­di­dates and the del­e­gates.

    Mil­i­tary intel­li­gence agents from the 111th Group at Fort McPher­son, Ga., were in Mia­mi to watch for civ­il dis­tur­bances. Most of the agents were post­ed out­side the con­ven­tion hall and in Lib­er­ty City, near Mia­mi, where racial dis­or­ders occurred.

    Min­gled With Del­e­gates

    But there was also an intel­li­gence com­mand post inside the hall. Agents were sta­tioned around the edge of the floor, and sev­er­al offi­cers in civil­ian clothes min­gled with the del­e­gates. No polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion, how­ev­er, appeared to have been col­lect­ed.

    At the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion in Chica­go the next month, the Army again sent mil­i­tary police in civil­ian clothes to help the Secret Ser­vice pro­tect the can­di­dates. Intel­li­gence agents from the 113th Group, con­sid­ered among the most effec­tive, report­ed on civ­il dis­tur­bances to inform the 7,000 troops posi­tioned near the city.

    In addi­tion, elec­tron­ic spe­cial­ists from the Army Secu­ri­ty Agency inter­cept­ed radio mes­sages trans­mit­ted on walkie-talkies used by lead­ers of the anti-Viet­nam demon­stra­tors. Pen­ta­gon offi­cials adamant­ly assert­ed that no tele­phones were tapped or rooms bugged.

    Cov­er Orga­ni­za­tion

    An intel­li­gence crew of cam­era­men, pos­ing as news­men from a cov­er orga­ni­za­tion called Mid-West Video News, took pic­tures of the demon­stra­tors and obtained a filmed inter­view with Abbie Hoff­man, who lat­er was one of the defen­dants at the tri­al of the Chica­go Sev­en.

    By the end of 1968, the Army intel­li­gence oper­a­tion was mov­ing at top speed. When dis­senters planned their counter-inau­gur­al demon­stra­tions in Wash­ing­ton in Jan­u­ary, 1969, the Army knew how many pro­test­ers would show up and what they planned to do.

    Through­out 1969, Army intel­li­gence turned out an aver­age of 1,200 spot reports each month on inci­dents around the nation. By that time, there were exten­sive inci­dent and per­son­al­i­ty files in every mil­i­tary intel­li­gence field, region­al and group head­quar­ters, plus the com­put­er banks at Fort Holabird, Fort Mon­roe and Fort Hood. In addi­tion, the counter-intel­li­gence detach­men­t’s 120,000 pages of micro­film con tained about 5,000 pages on civil­ians.

    At one mil­i­tary intel­li­gence group, a file was opened on the D.A.R. When a man rep­re­sent­ing him­self as an offi­cial of the orga­ni­za­tion asked the Army for a senior offi­cer as a speak­er, mil­i­tary intel­li­gence was asked to check the D.A.R. to see whether it had male employes. It did.

    Just how exten­sive all those files were, nobody knows pre­cise­ly. The main com­put­er was pro­gramed for inci­dents rather than peo­ple. Not all of the files were ever com­piled in one place to elim­i­nate dupli­ca­tion. More over, the Army says most of them have been destroyed by now and those that remain have been sealed for pos­si­ble use in appeals to suits brought by the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union.

    Laws of Physics

    Even as the Army intel­li­gence oper­a­tion was speed­ing along, how­ev­er, some efforts were begin­ning to be made to slow it down. But stop­ping it proved dif­fi­cult. Bureau­cra­cies seem to fol­low the laws of physics—a bureau­cra­cy at rest tends to stay at rest; a bureau­cra­cy in motion tends to remain in motion.

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough, who had start­ed the Army’s domes­tic intel­li­gence oper­a­tions, was replaced in August, 1968, by Maj. Gen. Joseph A. McChris­t­ian, a for­mer head of all mil­i­tary intel­li­gence in Viet­nam.

    In tak­ing over his new as sign­ment, Gen­er­al McChris­t­ian was briefed on Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States Intel­li­gence, and imme­di­ate­ly asked his sub­or­di­nates to find ways to cut it back. He was pri­mar­i­ly con cerned with the time it was tak­ing away from oth­er tasks in mil­i­tary intel­li­gence.

    But the gen­er­al ran into resis­tance from the “domes­tic war room” and oth­er Gov­ern ment agen­cies, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Jus­tice Depart­ment, that said they need­ed the infor­ma­tion com­ing from the intel­li­gence oper­a­tion.

    Request for Film

    The Under Sec­re­tary of the Army, Mr. McGif­fert, start­ed to won­der, how­ev­er, about the pro­pri­ety of the oper­a­tion in Octo­ber, when he dis­cov­ered that agents had filmed a demon­stra­tion dur­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion in Chica­go. That came to his atten­tion when the Jus­tice De part­ment asked him for the video tape for pos­si­ble use in the Chica­go Sev­en tri­al.

    In a mem­o­ran­dum dat­ed Feb. 5, 1969, short­ly before he left the Gov­ern­ment after the Nixon Admin­is­tra­tion took over, Mr. McGif­fert said that mil­i­tary intel­li­gence might be in dan­ger of exceed­ing its author­i­ty and that hence­forth no covert oper­a­tions would be con­duct­ed.

    Short­ly after, the intel­li­gence com­mand stopped dis­trib­ut­ing its “black­list,” but kept it up to date until the end of 1969, when it was ordered with­drawn. Because so many copies had been sent out, the Pen­ta­gon could not be sure that they were all returned for destruc­tion.

    Agree­ment Sought

    About the same time, Mr. Jor­dan, the Army gen­er­al coun­sel, began explor­ing with Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al Richard G. Klein­di­enst the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment take over intel­li­gence gath­er­ing on civ­il dis­tur­bances. But at a meet­ing on April 1, he was unable to obtain an agree­ment. Mr. Klein­di­enst con­tend­ed that his depart­ment lacked the man­pow­er to do the job.

    Nev­er­the­less, Gen­er­al McChris­t­ian ordered some restric­tions on his own author­i­ty, instruct­ing that more time be put on secu­ri­ty clear­ances and oth­er tasks of pro­tect­ing Army instal­la­tions.

    That is appar­ent­ly where the mat­ter stood until last Jan­u­ary, when a for­mer cap­tain of mil­i­tary intel­li­gence, Christo­pher H. Pyle, pub­lished a long arti­cle in The Wash­ing­ton Month­ly describ­ing some of the oper­a­tions of Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States Intel­li­gence. He crit­i­cized the Army for going beyond the needs for infor­ma­tion on civ­il dis­tur­bances.

    In response, Gen­er­al McChris­t­ian instruct­ed Gen­er­al Blake­field to exam­ine all pro­ce­dures in the intel­li­gence com­mand that might threat­en polit­i­cal free­dom and ordered the head of coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in the Pen­ta­gon, Col. John W. Down­ie, to do the same with pol­i­cy direc­tives.

    Print­out on Mrs. King

    Mr. Jor­dan, the gen­er­al coun­sel, then went to Fort Holabird to exam­ine the com­put­er data bank. He asked for a print­out on sev­er­al names, includ­ing that of Mrs. Coret­ta King, Dr. King’s wid­ow. The print­out showed the pos­si­bil­i­ties for using the data bank to check on peo­ple rather than mere­ly inci­dents.

    Last Feb. 19, there­fore, Gen­er­al McChris­t­ian ordered that both data banks at Fort Hola bird be destroyed. The data banks at Fort Hood and Fort Mon­roe were destroyed lat­er. One print­out from each was kept for pos­si­ble court pro­ceed­ings.

    Mean­while, Mr. Pyle’s arti­cle prompt­ed sev­er­al Con­gres­sion­al inquiries, includ­ing one from Sen­a­tor Ervin. Mr. Jor­dan, in a let­ter to the Sen­a­tor on Feb. 25, said the Army had restrict­ed report­ing “to inci­dents which may be beyond the capa­bil­i­ty of local and state author­i­ties to con­trol and may require the deploy­ment of Fed­er­al troops.”

    Thad­deus R. Beal, the Under Sec­re­tary of the Army, said in anoth­er let­ter to Sen­a­tor Ervin on March 20 that spot reports on out­breaks of vio­lence would con­tin­ue but that they would be kept only for 60 days.

    Three Army direc­tives, last April 1, June 9 and Dec, 15, increas­ing­ly tight­ened the restric­tions on col­lect­ing and report­ing infor­ma­tion and on the use of data banks. They flat­ly pro­hib­it­ed the use of com­put­ers to store infor­ma­tion on civil­ians.

    Last sum­mer, Colonel Down­ie, the Pen­tagon’s coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence chief, vis­it­ed var­i­ous group head­quar­ters and field offices to see that files on civil­ians were destroyed. For­mer agents said, how­ev­er, that some agents had evad­ed the order by hid­ing files or tak­ing them home as “per­son­al” papers. Gen­er­al McChris­t­ian also ordered the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence detach ment to cleanse its micro­film of infor­ma­tion on civil­ians.

    Things were qui­et then until last month, when Sen­a­tor Ervin opened the issue up again by charg­ing that Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States intel­li­gence had spied on Sen­a­tor Adlai E. Steven­son 3d, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Abn­er Mik­va, and for­mer Gov. Otto Kern­er, all of Illi­nois.

    Sen­a­tor Erv­in’s alle­ga­tions were based on state­ments by John M. O’Brien, a for­mer staff sergeant who had served with the 113th Group in Chica­go. He made them again under oath in a suit brought by the A.C.L.U. in Chica­go. But Sec­re­tary Resor cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly denied the charges.

    ....

    ———–

    “Army Spied on 18,000 Civil­ians in 2‑Year Oper­a­tion” by Richard Hal­lo­ran; The New York Times; 01/18/1971

    “In the oper­a­tion, which was ordered end­ed last year, 1,000 Army agents gath­ered per­son­al and polit­i­cal infor­ma­tion on obscure per­sons, as well as the promi­nent, on advo­cates of vio­lent protest arid par­tic­i­pants in legit­i­mate polit­i­cal activ­i­ty, on the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple and the John Birch Soci­ety, on the Black Pan­thers and the Ku Klux Klan, on the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety and the Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. The empha­sis was on rad­i­cals, black mil­i­tants and dis­senters against the war in Viet­nam.”

    1,000 Army agents col­lect­ing domes­tic intel­li­gence. Some­times pos­ing as mem­bers of the groups under sur­veil­lance, or mem­bers of the press, or just ran­dom bystanders. It’s kind of a night­mare sit­u­a­tion from a con­sti­tu­tion­al per­spec­tive:

    ...
    The mil­i­tary intel­li­gence oper­a­tion picked up much of its infor­ma­tion from local police offi­cials and the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion, but sup­ple­ment­ed that data and col­lect­ed its own through agents pos­ing as mem­bers of the groups under sur­veil­lance, as news­men, or mere­ly as inter­est­ed bystanders.

    Thus, a black agent reg­is­tered at New York Uni­ver­si­ty in 1968 to report on stu­dents tak­ing a course in black stud­ies. An oth­er agent joined the Youth Inter­na­tion­al par­ty, or Yip­pies, and slept along­side its can­di­date, a pig named “Piga­sus,” dur­ing the counter-inau­gur­al demon­stra­tion here in Jan­u­ary, 1969.
    ...

    The pro­gram emerged from cre­ation of the Army Intel­li­gence Com­mand at Fort Holabird Md. in 1965 that con­nect­ed 300 mil­i­tary intel­li­gence field offices across the US:

    ...
    Over­hauled in 1963

    The domes­tic mil­i­tary intel­li­gence appa­ra­tus, which was first involved in a civ­il dis­tur­bance dur­ing the riots at Oxford, Miss., in 1962, was over­hauled when a delayed secu­ri­ty check in 1963 showed that an Army sergeant in a sen­si­tive post had been a Sovi­et agent. That led to the for­ma­tion, on Jan. 1, 1965, of the Army Intel­li­gence Com­mand at Fort Holabird Md.

    The eight mil­i­tary intel­li­gence groups around the coun­try, each with about 400 men, were trans­ferred from area com­man­ders to the cen­tral­ized con­trol of the Army Intel­li­gence Com­mand to make secu­ri­ty clear­ances and oth­er anti sub­ver­sive oper­a­tions more effi­cient.

    That set up the appa­ra­tus for the sub­se­quent col­lec­tion of in for­ma­tion from the 1,000 agents in the 300 mil­i­tary intel­li­gence field offices across the nation. The intel­li­gence was ana­lyzed by the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment, or CIAD, in the office of the Army’s assis­tant chief of staff for intel­li­gence.
    ...

    Then in 1966, fol­low­ing the race riots of 1965 and the first protests against the US war in Viet­nam, when fed­er­al troops were called in, the Army Intel­li­gence Com­mand instruct­ed those mil­i­tary intel­li­gence offices to start col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion that might be use­ful if the Army was called into a city. A side effect of this order was agents mak­ing reg­u­lar vis­its to cam­pus­es and col­lect­ing anti-war lit­er­a­ture. This result­ed in the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment mon­i­tor­ing expres­sions of dis­sent and black mil­i­tants:

    ...
    Riots and Protests

    Dur­ing the sum­mer and fall of 1965, the nation was shak­en by racial riots in the Watts sec­tion of Los Ange­les and else­where, and by the first protests against the increas­ing Amer­i­can involve­ment in Viet­nam. Fed­er­al troops were not called to curb the riots and protests, but it became evi­dent that they might be need­ed.

    In 1966, the Army Intel­li­gence Com­mand instruct­ed the mil­i­tary intel­li­gence groups to col­lect basic infor­ma­tion about cities that might be use­ful if the Army were called.

    Not much was done about gath­er­ing the infor­ma­tion, but agents mak­ing rou­tine vis­its to cam­pus­es for back­ground in ves­ti­ga­tions began pick­ing up leaflets from anti­war dis­senters and lis­ten­ing in on their ral­lies. The Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment start­ed mon­i­tor­ing expres­sions of dis­sent and black mil­i­tance, most­ly by hav­ing a few men clip news­pa­pers. Agents in an unmarked truck fol­lowed James Mered­ith on his “walk against fear” through Mis­sis­sip­pi.
    ...

    After race riots broke out in Newark and Detroit in 1967, Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough ordered a Conus Intel com­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­ter known as “Oper­a­tions IV” to be set up at Fort Holabird and a nation­wide tele­type net­work that would feed infor­ma­tion to it. It was this ear­ly telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion infra­struc­ture that allowed for col­lec­tion of infor­ma­tion from around the coun­try that we now know was the ear­ly incar­na­tion of the inter­net:

    ...
    Caught Unpre­pared

    In 1967, the Army was caught unpre­pared when racial riots broke out in Newark and Detroit. Army troops called in to help restore order had lit­tle more than Esso road maps to guide them in both cities.

    The Army’s chief intel­li­gence offi­cer then was Maj. Gen. William P. Yarbor­ough, a long time coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence and psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare spe­cial ist. The flam­boy­ant gen­er­al, known as “Big Y” for the way he signed mem­o­ran­dums, told sub­or­di­nates that the riot­ers were “insur­gents” manip­u­lat­ed by the Communists—and he began try­ing to find out more about them.

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough, now a lieu­tenant gen­er­al serv­ing in. Hawaii, said last week through a Pen­ta­gon spokesman that “my rec­om­men­da­tion that Unit­ed States Army plan­ners use the coun­terin­sur­gency plan­ning guide in con­nec­tion with mas­sive civ­il dis­tur­bances inside the Unit­ed States did not in any way imply that I believed those phe­nom­e­na con­sti­tut­ed actu­al insur­gency.”

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough ordered a Conus Intel com­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­ter known as “Oper­a­tions IV” to be set up at Fort Holabird and a nation­wide tele­type net­work that would feed infor­ma­tion to it. Large amounts of infor­ma­tion came from the F.B.I. and local police depart ments, but he also instruct­ed mil­i­tary intel­li­gence agents to pick up infor­ma­tion on their own.

    Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States Intel­li­gence paid par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the well-pub­li­cized plans for the anti-Viet­nam march on the Pen­ta­gon in Octo­ber, 1967. Agents from the New York field office of the 108th Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence Group, for exam­ple, rode bus­es into Wash­ing­ton and stayed with the crowd all through the demon­stra­tion.

    But the Army under­es­ti­mat­ed the num­ber of peo­ple that would show up, how long they would stay, and the degree of vio­lence they would attempt. For those fail­ures, senior offi­cers caught what one source described as “undi­lut­ed hell” from high polit­i­cal lead­ers, appar­ent­ly includ­ing Pres­i­dent John­son.
    ...

    Fol­low­ing a mas­sive anti-war march on the Pen­ta­gon in 1967, a review of the role of fed­er­al troops in civ­il dis­tur­bances was set up, lead­ing to “city books” plans that detailed how a mil­i­tary com­man­der might need to move troops into an urban area:

    ...
    Review Urged

    Imme­di­ate­ly after the march on the Pen­ta­gon, Sec­re­tary of Defense Robert S. McNa­ma­ra asked the Under Sec­re­tary of the Army, David E. McGif­fert, to review the entire role of Fed­er­al troops in civ­il dis­tur­bances. Mr. McGif­fert called meet­ing that includ­ed War­ren Christo­pher, the Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al; Stephen Pol­lak, spe­cial assis­tant to the Pres­i­dent, and numer­ous oth­ers from the Depart­ments of Defense and Jus­tice, the F.B.I., the Secret Ser­vice and local police offi­cials.

    Out of their study came the Army’s civ­il dis­tur­bance plan in Decem­ber, 1967. Two months lat­er, an intel­li­gence annex that set out infor­ma­tion require­ments for Army field com­man­ders was added to the plan. That was the begin­ning of the “city books” that detailed the infor­ma­tion a com­man­der might need if he moved troops into an urban area.

    Much of the infor­ma­tion involved tac­ti­cal intel­li­gence— where troops would land, where they would bivouac, where the hos­pi­tals and the police sta­tions were sit­u­at­ed. Army offi­cers met with the police offi­cials to see where trou­ble might occur. They talked with police offi­cers down to the precinct lev­el to spot gun shops and liquor stores that might be tar­gets for riot­ers.
    ...

    Anoth­er goal of Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment was pre­dict­ing when and where a civ­il dis­tur­bance might break out. The MLK was assas­si­nat­ed and protests broke out in 100 cities, mak­ing clear that pre­dict­ing civ­il dis­tur­bances when and where civ­il dis­tur­bances break out might not be fea­si­ble:

    ...
    Pos­si­ble Agi­ta­tors

    In addi­tion, Army offi­cers slid into the polit­i­cal sphere by ask­ing the police for the names and pic­tures of pos­si­ble riot agi­ta­tors. They also asked the police for the names and pic­tures of peo­ple who might be will­ing to help calm a crowd.

    That infor­ma­tion, along with oth­er mate­r­i­al from the F.B.I. and the Secret Ser­vice, was fed back to Wash­ing­ton, where it went into the com­pendi­um” com­piled by the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment. “The com­pendi­um” was a two-vol­ume ency­clo­pe­dia that con­tained pic­tures and data, includ­ing the polit­i­cal beliefs, on peo­ple who might either foment or help stop a civ­il dis­tur­bance. The coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence group was also charged by Mr. Mc Gif­fert with try­ing to pre­dict when and where a civ­il dis­tur­bance might break out.

    But the assas­si­na­tion of the Rev. Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr., in April, 1968, put an end to that idea. The riot­ing that occurred in 100 cities after his assas­si­na­tion showed that the site of a civ­il dis­tur­bance could not be pre­dict­ed.
    ...

    In 1968, Under Sec­re­tary of the Army, David E. McGif­fert order the Army to be pre­pared to send 10,000 troops on short notice to 25 Amer­i­can cities:

    ...
    High-Lev­el Review

    Although the Army was bet­ter pre­pared to han­dle the dis­or­ders in Wash­ing­ton, Bal­ti­more and Chica­go than it had been dur­ing ear­li­er riots in Newark and Detroit, the need for Fed­er­al troops and the nation­wide ten­sion stim­u­lat­ed an oth­er high-lev­el review. At meet­ings in the Pen­ta­gon on April 12 and in the White House on April 15, 1968, Mr. McGif­fert pro­posed that Army intel­li­gence con­cen­trate on civ­il dis­tur­bance warn­ings.

    Out of those meet­ings also came a require­ment that the Army be pre­pared to send 10,000 troops on short notice to any one of 25 cities. That num­ber was lat­er reduced to about 10 cities where the Nation­al Guard and the local police were con­sid­ered unable to han­dle things on their own.

    Through the sum­mer of 1968, Army intel­li­gence oper­a­tions inten­si­fied. The Army put into effect its civ­il dis­tur­bance in for­ma­tion plan on May 2, giv­ing its agents more col­lec­tion require­ments.

    They were told to report on every­thing that bore there motest con­nec­tion to civ­il dis­tur­bances. Maj. Gen. William H. Blake­field, the intel­li­gence com­man­der, told his sub­or­di­nates to “beat the Asso­ci­at­ed Press” in their report­ing.

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough set up a task force in the Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence Analy­sis Detach­ment to study infor­ma­tion about the 1968 poor peo­ple’s cam­paign and Res­ur­rec­tion City in Wash­ing­ton, which were close­ly scru­ti­nized by mil­i­tary intel­li­gence agents.

    The intel­li­gence com­mand start­ed dis­trib­ut­ing its “black list,” which includ­ed names, pic­tures, per­son­al data and polit­i­cal char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, such as “rad­i­cal” or “mil­i­tant,” of poten­tial trou­ble­mak­ers. The “black­list” went to law enforce­ment agen­cies at all lev­els, as well as Army com­man­ders and mil­i­tary intel­li­gence groups.
    ...

    Lat­er that year, RFL was assas­si­nat­ed and Con­gress passed a res­o­lu­tion giv­ing the Secret Ser­vice the author­i­ty to draw on the Army to pro­tect nation­al polit­i­cal can­di­dates. ON June 8, 1968, Paul Nitze, the Deputy Sec­re­tary of Defense, signed an order that gave for­mal instruc­tions to pro­vide the Pen­ta­gon with all essen­tial intel­li­gence data on civ­il dis­tur­bances. This led to the cre­ation of com­put­er data­bas­es of civ­il dis­tur­bances and infor­ma­tion on indi­vid­u­als are inter­est

    ...
    In June, 1968, Sen­a­tor Robert F. Kennedy was assas­si­nat­ed and Con­gress passed a res­o­lu­tion giv­ing the Secret Ser­vice the author­i­ty to draw on the Army and oth­er Fed­er­al agen­cies for help in pro­tect­ing nation­al polit­i­cal can­di­dates.

    Paul Nitze, the Deputy Sec­re­tary of Defense, signed an order on June 8 that was the most explic­it direc­tive until then on the Army’s intel­li­gence gath­er­ing pro­ce­dures. The order gave for­mal instruc­tions to pro­vide to the Pen­ta­gon all of the essen­tial intel­li­gence data on civ­il dis­tur­bances.

    The intel­li­gence com­mand at Fort Holabird began using com­put­ers to store infor­ma­tion on civ­il dis­tur­bances. One data bank con­tained a file on inci­dents, a sec­ond a bio­graph­i­cal file on sol­diers who were con­sid­ered pos­si­ble dis­senters.

    A sim­i­lar data bank was opened at the Con­ti­nen­tal Army Com­mand head­quar­ters at Fort Mon­roe, Va., for a pro­gram called Rita, for Resis­tance in the Army. Still anoth­er data bank was at III Corps head quar­ters at Fort Hood, Tex. This data bank con­cen­trat­ed on civ­il dis­tur­bance infor­ma­tion because two Army divi­sions at Fort Hood had antiri­ot respon sibil­i­ties.
    ...

    Also in June of 1968, the Direc­torate for Civ­il Dis­tur­bance Plan­ning and Oper­a­tions was set up at the Pen­ta­gon. This becamse known as the “domes­tic war room”. By the end of 1968, this whole oper­a­tion gave Army intel­li­gence the infor­ma­tion it need­ed to pre­dict how many pro­tes­tors were going to show up for a planned counter-demon­stra­tion for Nixon’s inau­gu­ra­tion and what they were plan­ning on doing:

    ...
    ‘Domes­tic War Room’

    The Direc­torate for Civ­il Dis­tur­bance Plan­ning and Oper­a­tions was set up in June, 1968, in what came to be known as the “domes­tic war room” in the base­ment of the Pen­ta­gon. This group was respon­si­ble for order­ing air­lifts, troop deploy­ment and logis­tics in a civ­il dis­or­der and became a major con­sumer of Conus Intel’s in for­ma­tion.

    ...

    By the end of 1968, the Army intel­li­gence oper­a­tion was mov­ing at top speed. When dis­senters planned their counter-inau­gur­al demon­stra­tions in Wash­ing­ton in Jan­u­ary, 1969, the Army knew how many pro­test­ers would show up and what they planned to do.

    Through­out 1969, Army intel­li­gence turned out an aver­age of 1,200 spot reports each month on inci­dents around the nation. By that time, there were exten­sive inci­dent and per­son­al­i­ty files in every mil­i­tary intel­li­gence field, region­al and group head­quar­ters, plus the com­put­er banks at Fort Holabird, Fort Mon­roe and Fort Hood. In addi­tion, the counter-intel­li­gence detach­men­t’s 120,000 pages of micro­film con­tained about 5,000 pages on civil­ians.
    ...

    But it was also around this time, right when this vast sur­veil­lance bureau­cra­cy was set and up deliv­er­ing results, that Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough was replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph A. McChris­t­ian. After being briefed on the oper­a­tion, McChris­t­ian ordered that ways be found to cut back on this vast domes­tic sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion. But the “domes­tic war room” and Jus­tice Depart­ment pushed back, argu­ing they need­ed this infor­ma­tion:

    ...
    Laws of Physics

    Even as the Army intel­li­gence oper­a­tion was speed­ing along, how­ev­er, some efforts were begin­ning to be made to slow it down. But stop­ping it proved dif­fi­cult. Bureau­cra­cies seem to fol­low the laws of physics—a bureau­cra­cy at rest tends to stay at rest; a bureau­cra­cy in motion tends to remain in motion.

    Gen­er­al Yarbor­ough, who had start­ed the Army’s domes­tic intel­li­gence oper­a­tions, was replaced in August, 1968, by Maj. Gen. Joseph A. McChris­t­ian, a for­mer head of all mil­i­tary intel­li­gence in Viet­nam.

    In tak­ing over his new as sign­ment, Gen­er­al McChris­t­ian was briefed on Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States Intel­li­gence, and imme­di­ate­ly asked his sub­or­di­nates to find ways to cut it back. He was pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with the time it was tak­ing away from oth­er tasks in mil­i­tary intel­li­gence.

    But the gen­er­al ran into resis­tance from the “domes­tic war room” and oth­er Gov­ern­ment agen­cies, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Jus­tice Depart­ment, that said they need­ed the infor­ma­tion com­ing from the intel­li­gence oper­a­tion.
    ...

    Final­ly, in Feb­ru­ary of 1969, Under Sec­re­tary McGif­fert won­dered whether the Army might be exceed­ing its author­i­ty and ordered that covert oper­a­tions end:

    ...
    Request for Film

    The Under Sec­re­tary of the Army, Mr. McGif­fert, start­ed to won­der, how­ev­er, about the pro­pri­ety of the oper­a­tion in Octo­ber, when he dis­cov­ered that agents had filmed a demon­stra­tion dur­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion in Chica­go. That came to his atten­tion when the Jus­tice Depart­ment asked him for the video tape for pos­si­ble use in the Chica­go Sev­en tri­al.

    In a mem­o­ran­dum dat­ed Feb. 5, 1969, short­ly before he left the Gov­ern­ment after the Nixon Admin­is­tra­tion took over, Mr. McGif­fert said that mil­i­tary intel­li­gence might be in dan­ger of exceed­ing its author­i­ty and that hence­forth no covert oper­a­tions would be con­duct­ed.

    Short­ly after, the intel­li­gence com­mand stopped dis­trib­ut­ing its “black­list,” but kept it up to date until the end of 1969, when it was ordered with­drawn. Because so many copies had been sent out, the Pen­ta­gon could not be sure that they were all returned for destruc­tion.
    ...

    But around the same time McGif­fert ordered the end of the covert oper­a­tions, the Army gen­er­al coun­sel explored with the Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al Richard G. Klein­di­enst whether or not the Jus­tice Depart­ment could take over these intel­li­gence gath­er­ing oper­a­tions. Klein­di­enst assert­ed that the Jus­tice Depart­ment lacked the man­pow­er:

    ...
    Agree­ment Sought

    About the same time, Mr. Jor­dan, the Army gen­er­al coun­sel, began explor­ing with Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al Richard G. Klein­di­enst the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment take over intel­li­gence gath­er­ing on civ­il dis­tur­bances. But at a meet­ing on April 1, he was unable to obtain an agree­ment. Mr. Klein­di­enst con­tend­ed that his depart­ment lacked the man­pow­er to do the job.

    Nev­er­the­less, Gen­er­al McChris­t­ian ordered some restric­tions on his own author­i­ty, instruct­ing that more time be put on secu­ri­ty clear­ances and oth­er tasks of pro­tect­ing Army instal­la­tions.
    ...

    And it was­n’t just pro­tes­tors and dis­si­dents who were tar­get­ed for sur­veil­lance. Sen­a­tor Sam J. Ervin Jr., Demo­c­rat of North Car­oli­na, charged that CONUS Intel was also spy­ing on politi­cians:

    ...
    The Army now autho­rizes only lim­it­ed intel­li­gence gath­er­ing on inci­dents that might lead to a Pres­i­den­tial call for Fed­er­al troops. But atten­tion was sharply focused last month on the Army oper­a­tion when Sen­a­tor Sam J. Ervin Jr., Demo­c­rat of North Car­oli­na, con­tend­ed that promi­nent polit­i­cal fig­ures in Illi­nois had been under mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance since 1968.

    Sen­a­tor Ervin is skep­ti­cal of the Army’s announce­ment about halt­ing the spy­ing and has sched­uled hear­ings by the Sub­com­mit­tee on Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights, of which he is chair­man, to begin Feb. 23. He said the Army “must dis­close in full what hap­pened and why it hap­pened and what has been done to insure that it will nev­er hap­pen again.”

    ...

    Things were qui­et then until last month, when Sen­a­tor Ervin opened the issue up again by charg­ing that Con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States intel­li­gence had spied on Sen­a­tor Adlai E. Steven­son 3d, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Abn­er Mik­va, and for­mer Gov. Otto Kern­er, all of Illi­nois.

    Sen­a­tor Erv­in’s alle­ga­tions were based on state­ments by John M. O’Brien, a for­mer staff sergeant who had served with the 113th Group in Chica­go. He made them again under oath in a suit brought by the A.C.L.U. in Chica­go. But Sec­re­tary Resor cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly denied the charges.
    ...

    And that’s what we learned about this oper­a­tion back in 1971. So were the lessons of this expe­ri­ence actu­al­ly learned by the Amer­i­can peo­ple? We’ll prob­a­bly find out as we see this ‘Trump unleashed’ peri­od of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy unfold. But it’s pret­ty clear that all of the pieces are in place for a major domes­tic oper­a­tion that uti­lizes the full pow­er of the state to attack the per­ceived polit­i­cal ene­mies of the White House. Trump him­self has now made this clear.

    Also note how the assas­si­na­tions of MLK and RFK played into the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this domes­tic mil­i­tary intel­li­gence oper­a­tion. The mass riots that broke out in cities across the coun­try only fueled the call for the capa­bil­i­ty of send­ing thou­sands of troops into a large num­ber of cities in short order simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and RFK’s assas­si­na­tion result­ed in Con­gress­ing allow­ing the Secret Ser­vice to call in fed­er­al troops to pro­tect can­di­dates. And yet both the MLK and RFK assas­si­na­tions had gov­ern­ment fin­ger­prints all over them. See AFA #46 for much more on the gov­ern­ment role in the assas­si­na­tion of MLK (part 2 includes ref­er­ences to Yarbor­ough and the domes­tic mil­i­tary intel­li­gence gath­er­ing going on at this time) and FTR#789 for more on RFK’s assas­si­na­tion and how the US’s pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship was being sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly killed out dur­ing this peri­od. It’s a huge and dark aspect of the sto­ry of CONUS Intel: it was a mil­i­tary intel­li­gence oper­a­tion that did­n’t just involve gath­er­ing mas­sive amounts of data on domes­tic dis­si­dents. It also involved plan­ning for fed­er­al troops to move into cities and took place dur­ing a peri­od when Amer­i­can’s left-wing lead­ers were get­ting killed off by right-wing forces oper­at­ing with­in and out­side the gov­ern­ment (i.e. the real ‘Deep State’). So now that Pres­i­dent Trump has made it clear that he feels embold­ened to do pret­ty much what­ev­er he wants to do against his oppo­nents, now is prob­a­bly a good time for Amer­i­can to revis­it Amer­i­ca’s long his­to­ry of cod­dling fas­cists while overt­ly and covert­ly using the full pow­er of the nation­al secu­ri­ty state against for domes­tic polit­i­cal agen­das. Domes­ti­cal­ly polit­i­cal­ly agen­das that were vir­tu­al­ly always tar­get­ing pro­gres­sives.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 14, 2020, 5:31 pm
  11. Here’s a pair of sto­ries that high­light one of the Big Data areas of infor­ma­tion Palan­tir is giv­en access to by the US gov­ern­ment: mas­sive vol­umes of IRS infor­ma­tion.

    First, here’s an arti­cle from Decem­ber 2018 about how the IRS has turned to Palan­tir’s AI to find signs of tax fraud. The IRS had signed a $99 mil­lion sev­en year con­tract with Palan­tir that Sep­tem­ber. The con­tract let’s the IRS search for tax cheats using Palan­tir’s soft­ware by min­ing tax returns, bank reports, prop­er­ty records and even social media posts. As the arti­cle notes, part of the motive for rely­ing on Palan­tir for this work is because the IRS has seen its staff shrink so much in recent years, with over $1 bil­lion in cuts to the IRS bud­get since 2010. The Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tions divi­sion has lost around 150 agents per year as a result of these cuts. These IRS bud­get cuts, of course, are the work of the Repub­li­cans. As a result, AI and machine learn­ing approach­es to find­ing crim­i­nal activ­i­ty are now seen as nec­es­sary for the IRS to do its job with few­er staff and resources. It sounds like the Palan­tir sys­tems have access to the IRS’s Com­pli­ance Data Ware­house, which has 40 data sets on tax­pay­ers stretch­ing back more than 30 years.

    Now, the idea of using AI and machine learn­ing in the IRS’s crim­i­nal divi­sion seems like a very rea­son­able approach in gen­er­al. But this isn’t the IRS imple­ment­ing these approach­es. This is the IRS hand­ing over vast vol­umes of data to Palan­tir and using Palan­tir’s tools to do the analy­sis. Which implies Palan­tir has access to these IRS data­bas­es and, in turn, implic­it con­trol over which poten­tial cas­es get flagged for review by the IRS. So the IRS’s bud­get and staff get slashed and the result is the effec­tive pri­va­ti­za­tion of the IRS’s crime detec­tion capa­bil­i­ties. And the com­pa­ny that is pro­vid­ing these crime detec­tion capa­bil­i­ties is owned by Peter Thiel, a top Repub­li­can donor and one of the biggest anti-tax fas­cists in the world:

    Law 360

    AI Help­ing IRS Detect Tax Crimes With Few­er Resources

    By Vidya Kau­ri
    Decem­ber 5, 2018, 8:58 PM EST

    Law360 (Decem­ber 5, 2018, 8:58 PM EST) — Under the weight of bud­get cuts and decreas­ing staff, the Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice may be find­ing its salve in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence tech­nol­o­gy to detect crim­i­nal tax activ­i­ties more effi­cient­ly.

    Research and inves­tiga­tive tasks that might have tak­en weeks or months in the past may be accom­plished with­in min­utes now thanks to machine learn­ing tech­nol­o­gy the IRS is deploy­ing to detect tax­pay­er non­com­pli­ance, iden­ti­ty theft, mon­ey laun­der­ing and oth­er crim­i­nal activ­i­ties. The tools are also able to detect instances of fraud or poten­tial­ly hid­den tax­pay­er assets that rev­enue agents may not be able to dis­cov­er man­u­al­ly, IRS offi­cials said dur­ing a web­cast host­ed Wednes­day by the Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion.

    The speed of pro­cess­ing data and con­duct­ing inves­ti­ga­tions has now picked up to the extent that agents have been able to catch per­pe­tra­tors “in the act of get­ting mon­ey from a bank,” accord­ing to Todd Egaas, direc­tor of tech­nol­o­gy, oper­a­tions and inves­tiga­tive ser­vices in the IRS’ Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tions office.

    “We’ve been run­ning thin on peo­ple late­ly and rich on data,” Egaas said. “And so what we’ve been work­ing on — and this is where we think data can help us — is how do we make the most use out of our peo­ple?”

    The infor­ma­tion that Egaas and his col­league Ben­jamin Hern­don, the IRS’ chief ana­lyt­ics offi­cer, shared is the first major glimpse of how the rev­enue agency is using advanced tech­nol­o­gy since it signed a sev­en-year, $99 mil­lion deal with Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies in Sep­tem­ber to sniff out tax cheats by min­ing data from tax returns, bank reports, prop­er­ty records and even social media posts.

    Hern­don, who is also the direc­tor of the IRS’ Research, Applied Ana­lyt­ics and Sta­tis­tics divi­sion, said that the agency is using machine learn­ing algo­rithms and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to iden­ti­fy pat­terns in graphs where non­com­pli­ance might be present. Such “graph data tech­niques” have proved par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful in com­bat­ing iden­ti­ty thieves fraud­u­lent­ly apply­ing for tax refunds, he said.

    “One of the things that we have to do to catch iden­ti­ty thieves is to under­stand the pat­tern of behav­ior that they engage in and how we can catch it before we’re already vic­tims of iden­ti­ty theft,” he said.

    The IRS is also using nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing — tech­nol­o­gy that can enable a com­put­er to read — to trans­late fil­ings in for­eign lan­guages, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in its Large Busi­ness and Inter­na­tion­al divi­sion. Although the tech­nol­o­gy has more pow­er­ful uses to ana­lyze the text of these doc­u­ments, instead of just con­vert­ing them into some­thing under­stand­able, Hern­don said the agency is not yet ready to use it for ana­lyt­ics.

    “We have to make sure the trans­la­tion tech­nol­o­gy works first,” he said.

    The IRS is under sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure to be smarter in choos­ing cas­es that are more like­ly to con­clude well. The agency has faced con­sec­u­tive bud­get cuts since 2010, amount­ing to a loss of more than $1 bil­lion. The loss is acute­ly felt with­in the Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tions divi­sion, which los­es about 150 agents a year to attri­tion, accord­ing to Egaas.

    With about 2,100 agents remain­ing, it is espe­cial­ly cru­cial for the divi­sion to use advanced machine lan­guage algo­rithms, nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing and graph ana­lyt­ics.

    While Palantir’s tech­nol­o­gy to con­nect rela­tion­ships between dif­fer­ent enti­ties across mul­ti­ple data sources has been used only with­in the CI office so far, the RAAS divi­sion has been cre­at­ing more inex­pen­sive tech­nolo­gies using open source graph data with­in a pro­pri­etary envi­ron­ment. These tools help the IRS iden­ti­fy non­com­pli­ance or help explain anom­alies in indi­vid­ual fil­ings.

    For exam­ple, a fraud tech­ni­cal advi­sor was able to iden­ti­fy 296 sus­pect­ed iden­ti­ty theft returns claim­ing $1.3 mil­lion using such tech­nol­o­gy, accord­ing to Hern­don. Pre­vi­ous­ly, 84 per­cent of these had not been iden­ti­fied.

    The infra­struc­ture that sup­ports RAAS’ explo­ration and pro­to­typ­ing activ­i­ties is sup­port­ed by a Com­pli­ance Data Ware­house, which was orig­i­nal­ly built in the 1990s to col­lect data from mul­ti­ple data­bas­es and begin using for­ward-look­ing data analy­sis to pre­vent fraud. The CDW has about 40 data sets on tax­pay­ers stretch­ing back more than 30 years.

    “This is a large data set with very rich meta­da­ta over it, which is crit­i­cal to mak­ing it use­ful. I think the cur­rent size is some­thing like six petabytes, which makes it a pret­ty rich resource,” Hern­don said.

    Nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing and text ana­lyt­ics are also being used in appeal cas­es to try to under­stand why a par­tic­u­lar case was lost or won, and then to pre­dict the like­li­hood of win­ning, and on what grounds, in oth­er sim­i­lar cas­es.

    The IRS is also using algo­rithms sim­i­lar to those used by online busi­ness­es that can make rec­om­men­da­tions of items to buy based on what a con­sumer has pre­vi­ous­ly bought or searched for. In the IRS’ case, these algo­rithms are used to fill in gaps in data or indi­vid­ual val­ues on tax returns based on a pat­tern of sur­round­ing data. This can be done in real time, once a machine is ade­quate­ly trained, to iden­ti­fy anom­alies and pat­terns as they come in, Hern­don said.

    This rec­om­men­da­tion machine can also be work­ing in the back­ground look­ing for records that might be of inter­est while an agent looks at a case, and the agent can enhance the machine’s learn­ing by let­ting it know if the records dug up are tru­ly rel­e­vant or not, Egaas said.

    “The rec­om­men­da­tion engine for us helps us avoid blind spots,” Egaas said. “We are a small agency tasked with enforc­ing tax law across 250 mil­lion Amer­i­cans. It’s easy to get blind spots and tech­nol­o­gy is help­ing address that for us.”

    In June, the IRS issued a request for infor­ma­tion seek­ing com­ments on AI, machine learn­ing, cus­tomiz­able user inter­faces and cloud com­put­ing. The agency said that it was look­ing for ways to pro­vide con­text for alerts or cas­es used for inves­ti­ga­tion, iden­ti­fy pre­vi­ous­ly unknown threats and sup­port stream­ing data sources to pro­vide near real-time assess­ment with­in 48 hours.

    As the agency expands its tech­no­log­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties, the IRS offi­cials stressed that tax­pay­er pri­va­cy remains para­mount and that any ven­dors it con­tracts with have to go through the same secu­ri­ty and com­pli­ance checks that IRS staff must go through. Even data that is main­tained in cloud sys­tems is under the full con­trol of the IRS, they said.

    ...

    ———-

    “AI Help­ing IRS Detect Tax Crimes With Few­er Resources” by Vidya Kau­ri; Law 360; 12/05/2018

    “The infor­ma­tion that Egaas and his col­league Ben­jamin Hern­don, the IRS’ chief ana­lyt­ics offi­cer, shared is the first major glimpse of how the rev­enue agency is using advanced tech­nol­o­gy since it signed a sev­en-year, $99 mil­lion deal with Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies in Sep­tem­ber to sniff out tax cheats by min­ing data from tax returns, bank reports, prop­er­ty records and even social media posts.”

    After $1 bil­lion in IRS cuts over the past eight years, the IRS signs a 7 year $99 mil­lion deal with Palan­tir to help make up for the lost man­pow­er. It’s a pret­ty nice deal with Palan­tir, which now has access to more than three decades of infor­ma­tion from the IRS’s Com­pli­ance Data Ware­house:

    ...
    The IRS is under sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure to be smarter in choos­ing cas­es that are more like­ly to con­clude well. The agency has faced con­sec­u­tive bud­get cuts since 2010, amount­ing to a loss of more than $1 bil­lion. The loss is acute­ly felt with­in the Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tions divi­sion, which los­es about 150 agents a year to attri­tion, accord­ing to Egaas.

    With about 2,100 agents remain­ing, it is espe­cial­ly cru­cial for the divi­sion to use advanced machine lan­guage algo­rithms, nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing and graph ana­lyt­ics.

    While Palantir’s tech­nol­o­gy to con­nect rela­tion­ships between dif­fer­ent enti­ties across mul­ti­ple data sources has been used only with­in the CI office so far, the RAAS divi­sion has been cre­at­ing more inex­pen­sive tech­nolo­gies using open source graph data with­in a pro­pri­etary envi­ron­ment. These tools help the IRS iden­ti­fy non­com­pli­ance or help explain anom­alies in indi­vid­ual fil­ings.

    ...

    The infra­struc­ture that sup­ports RAAS’ explo­ration and pro­to­typ­ing activ­i­ties is sup­port­ed by a Com­pli­ance Data Ware­house, which was orig­i­nal­ly built in the 1990s to col­lect data from mul­ti­ple data­bas­es and begin using for­ward-look­ing data analy­sis to pre­vent fraud. The CDW has about 40 data sets on tax­pay­ers stretch­ing back more than 30 years.

    “This is a large data set with very rich meta­da­ta over it, which is crit­i­cal to mak­ing it use­ful. I think the cur­rent size is some­thing like six petabytes, which makes it a pret­ty rich resource,” Hern­don said.
    ...

    And we’re assured that any ven­dors the IRS con­tracts with to car­ry out its tasks will have to go through the same secu­ri­ty and com­pli­ance checks that IRS staff go through because pri­va­cy is para­mount. So don’t wor­ry about giv­ing even more infor­ma­tion to Palan­tir because its employ­ees giv­en access to this data have to go through secu­ri­ty checks. That’s the lev­el of assur­ance we’re get­ting about hand­ing over this vast amount of finan­cial data to a com­pa­ny run by a lib­er­tar­i­an fas­cist:

    ...
    As the agency expands its tech­no­log­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties, the IRS offi­cials stressed that tax­pay­er pri­va­cy remains para­mount and that any ven­dors it con­tracts with have to go through the same secu­ri­ty and com­pli­ance checks that IRS staff must go through. Even data that is main­tained in cloud sys­tems is under the full con­trol of the IRS, they said.
    ...

    This is also a good time to recall the sto­ry about JP Mor­gan hir­ing Palan­tir to pro­vide AI over­sight of JP Mor­gan’s employ­ees. It turns out the JP Mor­gan secu­ri­ty offi­cer who was giv­en access to Palan­tir’s obser­va­tion sys­tems, Peter Cav­ic­chia, ‘went rogue’ and start­ed spy­ing on peo­ple all over the com­pa­ny, includ­ing the exec­u­tives. Cav­ic­chia had a team of Palan­tir employ­ees work­ing for him and unprece­dent­ed access to the bank’s inter­nal infor­ma­tion, like emails, and the Palan­tir sys­tem had no real lim­its. Cav­ic­chia went wild spy­ing on peo­ple at the bank, result­ing in JP Mor­gan cur­tail­ing its use of Palan­tir’s sys­tems. That’s the kind of com­pa­ny that’s being trust­ed with these data­bas­es of US tax records. And keep in mind that there’s noth­ing stop­ping Palan­tir from com­bin­ing the infor­ma­tion it gets from the IRS with the finan­cial infor­ma­tion its get­ting from the banks too. It’s lit­er­al­ly posi­tioned to become the lead­ing Big Data pri­vate repos­i­to­ry of sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion and its run by a Trump-lov­ing fas­cist.

    Now here’s an exam­ple of, iron­i­cal­ly, an IRS work­er who was just sen­tenced to five years pro­ba­tion for leak­ing an IRS “sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty report”. The IRS analy­sis, John Fry, is charged with pulling a “sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty report” report relat­ed to Pres­i­dent Trump’s per­son­al attor­ney, Michael Cohen. Fry grabbed the report from a con­fi­den­tial law enforce­ment data­base and leaked it to Stormy Daniel’s attor­ney, Michael Ave­nat­ti, in May of 2018. Fry grabbed the reports from the Palan­tir data­base used by the IRS Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tion divi­sion. It’s an exam­ple of the kind of poten­tial­ly polit­i­cal pow­er­ful infor­ma­tion Palan­tir was giv­en access to with its IRS con­tract:

    Cour­t­house News

    IRS Work­er Who Leaked Cohen Docs Sen­tenced to Five Years Pro­ba­tion

    NICHOLAS IOVINO
    Jan­u­ary 17, 2020

    SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – An IRS employ­ee accused of ille­gal­ly leak­ing for­mer Trump attor­ney Michael Cohen’s bank infor­ma­tion to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer was sen­tenced to five years pro­ba­tion Fri­day after plead­ing guilty to one count of dis­clos­ing unau­tho­rized doc­u­ments.

    Pros­e­cu­tors with the Depart­ment of Trea­sury say John Fry, an IRS ana­lyst, pulled “sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty reports” relat­ed to Cohen’s accounts from con­fi­den­tial law enforce­ment data­bas­es and leaked the infor­ma­tion to Stormy Daniels’ attor­ney, Michael Ave­nat­ti, in May 2018.

    On May 8, Ave­nat­ti post­ed per­son­al doc­u­ments relat­ed to Cohen and Cohen’s shell com­pa­ny, Essen­tial Con­sul­tants LLC, on Twit­ter. From there, the Wash­ing­ton Post picked up the infor­ma­tion, fol­lowed by an inves­tiga­tive sto­ry by the New York­er.

    Essen­tial Con­sul­tants is the com­pa­ny Cohen used to pay porn actor Stormy Daniels to keep qui­et about her alleged affair with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

    The May 8 Wash­ing­ton Post sto­ry not­ed that Ave­nat­ti refused to reveal where he received his doc­u­ments, say­ing, “The source or sources of our infor­ma­tion is our work prod­uct, and nobody’s busi­ness … They can inves­ti­gate all they want, but what they should be doing is releas­ing to the Amer­i­can pub­lic the three Sus­pi­cious Activ­i­ty Reports filed on Michael Cohen’s account.”

    Fry has worked for the IRS since 2008 and was work­ing in the agency’s San Fran­cis­co office as of Feb­ru­ary last year. As an IRS ana­lyst, he had access to var­i­ous law enforce­ment data­bas­es, includ­ing the Palan­tir data­base used by the IRS Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tion divi­sion to col­lect inves­tiga­tive data from mul­ti­ple sources, accord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint filed in Feb­ru­ary 2019.

    Pros­e­cu­tors claimed Fry logged into the Palan­tir data­base at 2:54 p.m. on May 4, 2018, and down­loaded five sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty reports relat­ed Michael Cohen and his shell com­pa­ny. One of the reports detailed deposits of three checks in the amounts of $505,000, $250,000 and $250,000 from the shell company’s First Repub­lic Bank account.

    Imme­di­ate­ly after down­load­ing the files, Fry placed two phone calls to Daniels’ lawyer Ave­nat­ti. He lat­er had a phone con­ver­sa­tion with and exchanged texts with an unnamed reporter on the What­sApp mes­sag­ing app, accord­ing to the com­plaint.

    Pros­e­cu­tors said Fry also searched for and attempt­ed to retrieve oth­er unau­tho­rized reports in a sep­a­rate crim­i­nal data­base, but because those reports were restrict­ed, he could not access them.

    Accord­ing to the com­plaint, Fry ver­bal­ly con­fessed to leak­ing the reports when con­front­ed by two spe­cial agents at the IRS office in San Fran­cis­co on Nov. 26, 2018.

    Fry was charged with one count of unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sure of sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty reports, two counts of mis­use of a com­put­er and one count of unau­tho­rized use of a social secu­ri­ty num­ber. He faced a max­i­mum 20 years in prison and $1 mil­lion fine.

    Pros­e­cu­tors dropped three of the charges after Fry agreed to plead guilty to one count of unau­tho­rized use of sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty reports in August 2019.

    Fry will pay a $5,000 fine and be sub­ject to a five-year pro­ba­tion term with stan­dard pro­ba­tion con­di­tions imposed, includ­ing a require­ment that he not leave the North­ern Dis­trict of California’s bound­aries with­out advanced per­mis­sion from his pro­ba­tion offi­cer.

    ...

    ———–

    “IRS Work­er Who Leaked Cohen Docs Sen­tenced to Five Years Pro­ba­tion” by NICHOLAS IOVINO; Cour­t­house News; 01/17/2020

    “Fry has worked for the IRS since 2008 and was work­ing in the agency’s San Fran­cis­co office as of Feb­ru­ary last year. As an IRS ana­lyst, he had access to var­i­ous law enforce­ment data­bas­es, includ­ing the Palan­tir data­base used by the IRS Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tion divi­sion to col­lect inves­tiga­tive data from mul­ti­ple sources, accord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint filed in Feb­ru­ary 2019.

    Yep, as an IRS ana­lyst, Fry had access to var­i­ous law enforce­ment data­bas­es, includ­ing the Palan­tir data­base used by the IRS Crim­i­nal Inves­ti­ga­tion divi­sion to col­lect inves­tiga­tive data from mul­ti­ple sources. IRS ana­lysts have access to those data­bas­es and now Palan­tir employ­ees have access too thanks to these kinds of con­tracts with the IRS. And Fry tried to access even more reports in a sep­a­rate crim­i­nal data­base but those reports were restrict­ed. It rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not that sep­a­rate restrict­ed data­base was one of the data­bas­es main­tained by Palan­tir or not. Because if it was main­tained by Palan­tir we should keep in mind that Palan­tir’s engi­neers pre­sum­ably have access to those restrict­ed files even if IRS agents like Fry don’t have access. It’s one of the caveats with the assur­ances we get that the employ­ees for ven­dors like Palan­tir who are giv­en access to these data­bas­es are going to go through secu­ri­ty checks like gov­ern­ment employ­ees. Those Palan­tir employ­ees might effec­tive­ly access to ALL of the infor­ma­tion that their gov­ern­ment employ­ee coun­ter­parts can’t nec­es­sar­i­ly access so if a Palan­tir employ­ee ‘goes rogue’ the dam­age they could do is prob­a­bly far greater than an IRS or oth­er gov­ern­ment employ­ee going rogue:

    ...
    Pros­e­cu­tors claimed Fry logged into the Palan­tir data­base at 2:54 p.m. on May 4, 2018, and down­loaded five sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty reports relat­ed Michael Cohen and his shell com­pa­ny. One of the reports detailed deposits of three checks in the amounts of $505,000, $250,000 and $250,000 from the shell company’s First Repub­lic Bank account.

    Imme­di­ate­ly after down­load­ing the files, Fry placed two phone calls to Daniels’ lawyer Ave­nat­ti. He lat­er had a phone con­ver­sa­tion with and exchanged texts with an unnamed reporter on the What­sApp mes­sag­ing app, accord­ing to the com­plaint.

    Pros­e­cu­tors said Fry also searched for and attempt­ed to retrieve oth­er unau­tho­rized reports in a sep­a­rate crim­i­nal data­base, but because those reports were restrict­ed, he could not access them.
    ...

    Now, in this case, it was an IRS employ­ee, not a Palan­tir employ­ee, who did the leak­ing. But we have no choice in giv­ing IRS employ­ees to this infor­ma­tion. They’re sup­posed to have access to it and the risk of leaks like this is an unavoid­able risk that comes with the ter­ri­to­ry. But the risk of Palan­tir employ­ees abus­ing this kind of infor­ma­tion it’s a com­plete­ly avoid­able risk. It’s a choice to out­source these AI capa­bil­i­ties to Palan­tir. There’s no com­pelling rea­son to out­source these giant sen­si­tive data oper­a­tions. Yes, it would be more expen­sive for the IRS to devel­op­ing these kinds of AI capa­bil­i­ties on their own, but that high­er cost comes with the ben­e­fit of not hand­ing over giant data­bas­es of sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion to pri­vate com­pa­nies. At this point, Palan­tir is the AI/machine learn­ing out­sourc­ing enti­ty of choice for the US gov­ern­ment. It has the sys­tems set up to incor­po­rate new clients and teams trained to car­ry it out. And that was a choice. There’s no rea­son there could­n’t have been a gov­ern­ment agency set up to pro­vide these ser­vices to oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies like IRS. We could have lim­it­ed access to these vast data­bas­es to gov­ern­ment employ­ees but thanks to the reli­gion of pri­va­ti­za­tion that dom­i­nates the US gov­ern­ment Palan­tir was tapped as a Big Data/AI pri­vate out­sourc­ing enti­ty that the US gov­ern­ment could trust and now it has access to prob­a­bly more infor­ma­tion on indi­vid­ual Amer­i­cans than any oth­er sin­gle enti­ty on the plan­et. If the US gov­ern­ment set out to cre­ate a pri­va­tized ver­sion of J. Edgar Hoover’s black­mail oper­a­tion it could­n’t have done a bet­ter job than putting Peter Thiel in the posi­tion he’s in today with Palan­tir.

    And that’s per­haps the biggest les­son from this to keep in mind: While grant­i­ng access to these vast troves of gov­ern­ment data­bas­es to Palan­tir employ­ees is obvi­ous­ly prob­lem­at­ic, there’s one par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual at Palan­tir that we need to be extra con­cerned about hav­ing access to this infor­ma­tion because he’s a fas­cist with insa­tiable per­son­al ambi­tion and appears to be amoral and more than will­ing to abuse such pow­ers if it suits his per­son­al goals. And he’s not an employ­ee. He’s the own­er.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 17, 2020, 2:58 pm
  12. Here’s a dis­turb­ing update on the bureau­crat­ic maneu­ver­ings involv­ing the US Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing, a lead­ing role for devel­op­ing next-gen­er­a­tion weapon sys­tems and tech­nolo­gies. First, recall how for­mer NASA admin­is­tra­tor Mike Grif­f­en was appoint­ed as act­ing Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing with an agen­da of over­haul­ing and stream­lin­ing the mil­i­tary’s defense tech­nol­o­gy pro­cure­ment process­es with the goal of facil­i­tat­ing the rapid devel­op­ment of next-gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies uti­liz­ing exist­ing com­mer­cial­ly avail­able tech­nolo­gies when­ev­er pos­si­ble and reduc­ing delays caused by cost/risk assess­ments. Grif­fin was also a major advo­cate of the cre­ation of the Space Defense Agency (‘Space Force’), a favorite pet project of Pres­i­dent Trump. Also recall how Grif­fin appeared to be behind the push to end the Pen­tagon’s con­tract with the JASON group, which was part of his larg­er agen­da of min­i­miz­ing the review process for approv­ing the devel­op­ment of new plat­forms.

    So Grif­fin had major visions for over­haul­ing how the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state makes deci­sions on which hi-tech projects to invest in with an eye on speed­ing the process up by rely­ing more on com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy and dra­mat­i­cal­ly lim­it­ing the num­ber of peo­ple involved with review­ing the pro­pos­als. And while it remains to be seen whether or not Griffin’s vision will be ful­ly real­ized, we do now know that it won’t be Grif­fin who com­pletes this vision because he just announced his res­ig­na­tion a few weeks ago, along with his deputy Lisa Porter. The news came a day after the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee rec­om­mend­ed remov­ing the Mis­sile Defense Agency from Griffin’s con­trol. So the Pen­tagon’s two top tech­nol­o­gy experts are set to be replaced:

    Defense News

    Pentagon’s top tech experts, Grif­fin and Porter, resign

    By: Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould
    June 23, 2020

    WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top two tech­nol­o­gy experts have sub­mit­ted their res­ig­na­tions.

    Mike Grif­fin, who became the Defense Department’s first under­sec­re­tary of research and engi­neer­ing in ear­ly 2018, and his deputy Lisa Porter have both sub­mit­ted their res­ig­na­tions, a defense offi­cial con­firmed to Defense News. The two will be exit­ing the build­ing July 10.

    In a let­ter to R&E staff, Grif­fin and Porter wrote that “a pri­vate-sec­tor oppor­tu­ni­ty has pre­sent­ed itself to us, offer­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty we have decid­ed to pur­sue togeth­er.”

    “It has been a plea­sure lead­ing this great team over the past few years. We great­ly appre­ci­ate your hard work, dili­gence, integri­ty, and devo­tion to tech­ni­cal excel­lence and tech­ni­cal truth in fur­ther­ance of the R&E mis­sion,” the duo wrote. “We wish you all the very best.”

    They become the third and fourth offi­cials to sub­mit res­ig­na­tions in the last week. On June 16, Elaine McCusker, the department’s act­ing comp­trol­ler, sub­mit­ted her res­ig­na­tion, fol­lowed two days lat­er by Kathryn Wheel­barg­er, the act­ing assis­tant defense sec­re­tary for inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty affairs.

    ...

    In his role as R&E head, Grif­fin had the lead on devel­op­ing new capa­bil­i­ties for the depart­ment, such as hyper­son­ic weapons, direct­ed ener­gy and a vari­ety of space-based pro­grams. Includ­ed in his port­fo­lio were the Mis­sile Defense Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

    Porter, who pre­vi­ous­ly was exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and direc­tor of In-Q-Tel Labs, served as Griffin’s deputy from 2018 onward. Although high­ly respect­ed, she kept a low pro­file, large­ly avoid­ing media engage­ments dur­ing her time in office.

    A for­mer NASA head under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush, Grif­fin entered the Depart­ment of Defense with a rep­u­ta­tion as an inno­v­a­tive thinker, but also as some­one who could be prick­ly with oth­ers. In his first pub­lic speech after tak­ing office, he infa­mous­ly bragged that he answered to no one but the sec­re­tary and deputy sec­re­tary of defense — a state­ment that ran­kled mem­bers of Con­gress.

    At the DoD, Grif­fin showed a strong per­son­al­i­ty that clashed with var­i­ous ser­vice-lev­el exec­u­tives, with the most pub­lic fight com­ing with for­mer Air Force Sec­re­tary Heather Wil­son. The news emerged a day after the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee rec­om­mend­ed remov­ing the Mis­sile Defense Agency from under Griffin’s con­trol.

    Mem­bers of Con­gress have expressed frus­tra­tion with Griffin’s deci­sion to can­cel the Redesigned Kill Vehi­cle. Alas­ka Repub­li­can Sen. Dan Sul­li­van said the move would mean 20 mis­sile silos at Fort Gree­ley will be emp­ty for a decade, and meant Grif­fin was out of step with the pres­i­dent.

    “Heck, if you were at the Pen­ta­gon when the pres­i­dent was announc­ing the Mis­sile Defense Review, he specif­i­cal­ly men­tioned these silos at Fort Gree­ley. I’m not even sure he knows about the fact that one of his low­er-lev­el under­sec­re­taries decid­ed on his own to dig 20 holes and not put any­thing in there for at least 10 years,” Sul­li­van, a mem­ber of the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, told Defense News last month. “That just makes no sense. None. Zero.”

    Grif­fin him­self may have hint­ed that his time at the build­ing is com­ing to a close in a May 20 speech, which he opened by not­ing that being a “pres­i­den­tial appointee, I think most of you know, is lit­er­al­ly at the plea­sure of the admin­is­tra­tion. So, we nev­er know for employ­ment is until tomor­row or next year or any­thing in between.

    “But, that’s okay. You don’t you don’t take these jobs unless you under­stand that. This is my third time in that are­na,” he said.

    ———-

    “Pentagon’s top tech experts, Grif­fin and Porter, resign” by Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould; Defense News; 06/23/2020

    “In his role as R&E head, Grif­fin had the lead on devel­op­ing new capa­bil­i­ties for the depart­ment, such as hyper­son­ic weapons, direct­ed ener­gy and a vari­ety of space-based pro­grams. Includ­ed in his port­fo­lio were the Mis­sile Defense Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.”

    As we can see, there’s going to be a new vision for the Pen­tagon’s approach to devel­op­ing new weapons, along with all the oth­er projects being devel­oped by DARPA with dual-use military/commercial appli­ca­tions. And note how Griffin’s deputy, Lisa Porter, pre­vi­ous­ly served as exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and direc­tor of the CIA’s pri­vate invest­ment com­pa­ny, In-Q-Tel Labs. It’s a reflec­tion of how Griffin’s vision or rely­ing more and more on read­i­ly avail­able com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy was like­ly going to involve more nation­al secu­ri­ty state invest­ments in the pri­vate sec­tor via com­pa­nies like In-Q-Tel:

    ...
    Porter, who pre­vi­ous­ly was exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and direc­tor of In-Q-Tel Labs, served as Griffin’s deputy from 2018 onward. Although high­ly respect­ed, she kept a low pro­file, large­ly avoid­ing media engage­ments dur­ing her time in office.
    ...

    And since this is the Trump admin­is­tra­tion that’s going to choos­ing Griffin’s replace­ment in the mid­dle of this push to cut reviews and incor­po­rate more off-the-shelf exist­ing com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy into the devel­op­ment of the Pen­tagon’s next-gen­er­a­tion sys­tems we have to won­der who the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is going to find, espe­cial­ly giv­en the fact that we’re months away from an elec­tion. And we just got our answer: Mike Grif­fin — who for all his faults was actu­al­ly tech­ni­cal­ly extreme­ly com­pe­tent — is going to be replaced by the White House’s chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer Michael Krat­sios. So is Krat­sios qual­i­fied for a posi­tion like this? Well, he’s the White House­’s chief tech­nol­o­gy office so one might assume he’s well qual­i­fied for a posi­tion like this. But as we’ll see, it turns out Krat­sios has no tech­ni­cal edu­ca­tion and his pri­mar­i­ly qual­i­fi­ca­tion is that he worked for Peter Thiel’s invest­ment com­pa­ny, Clar­i­um Cap­i­tal, and end­ed up becom­ing Thiel’s chief of staff. So the main qual­i­fi­ca­tion for next Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing is what­ev­er expe­ri­ence he acquired as an unqual­i­fied White House chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer. Krat­sios will con­tin­ue serv­ing as the White House­’s chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer. It’s the kind of sit­u­a­tion that sug­gests Krat­sios’s real qual­i­fi­ca­tions are large­ly going to be lim­it­ed to his enthu­si­asm at steer­ing more defense spend­ing towards Thiel’s com­pa­nies like Palan­tir:

    Defense One

    Peter Thiel’s New Man In The Defense Depart­ment

    By Patrick Tuck­er Tech­nol­o­gy Edi­tor
    July 13, 2020

    The new head of defense research and engi­neer­ing comes from the White House with a rel­a­tive­ly light resume.

    Updat­ed: 10:20 a.m.

    The Pentagon’s new 33-year-old head of research and engi­neer­ing lacks a basic sci­ence degree but brings deep con­nec­tions to Don­ald Trump and con­tro­ver­sial Sil­i­con Val­ley ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Peter Thiel.

    Defense offi­cials announced Mon­day that Michael Krat­sios, the White House’s chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer, would serve as act­ing under­sec­re­tary for research and engi­neer­ing, a post that over­sees top-pri­or­i­ty projects in hyper­son­ics, quan­tum com­put­ing, micro­elec­tron­ics, and oth­er fields. He will con­tin­ue to serve in his White House role.

    ...

    Krat­sios came to the White House in 2017 as deputy CTO, and moved up to CTO last year. He led efforts to fur­ther White House invest­ment in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and quan­tum sci­ence and to expand U.S. part­ner­ships in those areas. As the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic took hold, he helped launch a project to apply U.S. super­com­put­ers to the U.S response.

    But Krat­sios was a “weird pick” for these senior tech­ni­cal roles, accord­ing to one per­son who has served as both a senior White House and Defense Depart­ment offi­cial advis­ing on tech­nol­o­gy issues.

    Krat­sios grad­u­at­ed from Prince­ton with a bachelor’s degree in polit­i­cal sci­ence and a focus on ancient Greek democ­ra­cy. The per­son he’s replac­ing, Michael Grif­fin, holds a Ph.D. in aero­space engi­neer­ing and served as a NASA admin­is­tra­tor. Indeed, Krat­sios will be less aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly cre­den­tialled than most of the pro­gram-man­agers he over­sees. So how did he get here?

    After Prince­ton, he went to work for Peter Thiel, soon becom­ing CFO of Clar­i­um Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, Thiel’s invest­ment com­pa­ny. He then became “chief of staff” for the tech bil­lion­aire, who was an ear­ly backer of the Trump cam­paign and who has played a key role in the administration’s approach to tech­nol­o­gy.

    Thiel-backed ven­tures like Anduril and Palan­tir are play­ing a grow­ing role in the Defense Depart­ment. The for­mer offi­cial said the over­lap between Thiel-backed defense con­trac­tors and his pro­tege Krat­sios need not be a cause for con­cern. The Depart­ment has spent years try­ing to improve its rela­tion­ship with the pri­vate tech world from which Krat­sios emerged. But the offi­cial said Krat­sios might not prove to be the most effec­tive ambas­sador.

    “It’s not clear to me that Krat­sios is warm­ing up Sil­i­con Val­ley,” the for­mer offi­cial said. “I don’t know how the rest of Sil­i­con Val­ley thinks of Krat­sios.”

    Thiel has made a vari­ety of ene­mies in the tech world and beyond; for exam­ple, he has slammed Google as being too accom­mo­dat­ing to Chi­na.

    The devel­op­ment, how­ev­er, is good news for “the Peter Thiel por­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley,” the for­mer offi­cial said.

    ————

    “Peter Thiel’s New Man In The Defense Depart­ment” by Patrick Tuck­er; Defense One; 07/13/2020

    Krat­sios grad­u­at­ed from Prince­ton with a bachelor’s degree in polit­i­cal sci­ence and a focus on ancient Greek democ­ra­cy. The per­son he’s replac­ing, Michael Grif­fin, holds a Ph.D. in aero­space engi­neer­ing and served as a NASA admin­is­tra­tor. Indeed, Krat­sios will be less aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly cre­den­tialled than most of the pro­gram-man­agers he over­sees. So how did he get here?”

    Yes, how exact­ly did Krat­sios get the job of the Pen­tagon’s top tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer despite hav­ing no dis­cernible tech­nol­o­gy exper­tise? He’s knows the right peo­ple. Specif­i­cal­ly Peter Thiel:

    ...
    After Prince­ton, he went to work for Peter Thiel, soon becom­ing CFO of Clar­i­um Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, Thiel’s invest­ment com­pa­ny. He then became “chief of staff” for the tech bil­lion­aire, who was an ear­ly backer of the Trump cam­paign and who has played a key role in the administration’s approach to tech­nol­o­gy.
    ...

    But note how part of the sales pitch for Krat­sios get­ting this posi­tion is that he knows peo­ple in Sil­i­con Val­ley and that will help facil­i­tate rela­tion­ships between the Pen­ta­gon and Sil­i­con Val­ley firms. But as one for­mer offi­cial described it, it’s not like Krat­sios is actu­al­ly wide­ly like in Sil­i­con Val­ley in part due to his ties to Thiel and the fact that Thiel has cre­at­ed so many ene­mies. But Krat­sios’s selec­tion is unam­bigu­ous­ly good for “the Peter Thiel por­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley.” And obvi­ous­ly obscene­ly good news for Thiel, who now has even more pow­er than ever. If you’re a Sil­i­con Val­ley firm that wants to do busi­ness with the Pen­ta­gon you had bet­ter not piss off Thiel:

    ...
    Thiel-backed ven­tures like Anduril and Palan­tir are play­ing a grow­ing role in the Defense Depart­ment. The for­mer offi­cial said the over­lap between Thiel-backed defense con­trac­tors and his pro­tege Krat­sios need not be a cause for con­cern. The Depart­ment has spent years try­ing to improve its rela­tion­ship with the pri­vate tech world from which Krat­sios emerged. But the offi­cial said Krat­sios might not prove to be the most effec­tive ambas­sador.

    “It’s not clear to me that Krat­sios is warm­ing up Sil­i­con Val­ley,” the for­mer offi­cial said. “I don’t know how the rest of Sil­i­con Val­ley thinks of Krat­sios.”

    Thiel has made a vari­ety of ene­mies in the tech world and beyond; for exam­ple, he has slammed Google as being too accom­mo­dat­ing to Chi­na.

    The devel­op­ment, how­ev­er, is good news for “the Peter Thiel por­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley,” the for­mer offi­cial said.
    ...

    Of course, the kind of pow­er wield­ed by Krat­sios is only going to last for as long as he’s the act­ing Under­sec­re­tary and that may now last long beyond the first months of 2021 if Trump isn’t reelect­ed. But any con­tracts set up could poten­tial­ly last much longer. In oth­er words, for Krat­sios and Thiel to ful­ly take advan­tage of this moment they are going to have to move fast and get as many long-term Pen­ta­gon con­tracts set up with Thiel-affil­i­at­ed firms as pos­si­ble.

    So while the ascen­sion of Mike Grif­fin to the Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Research and Engi­neer­ing served as a warn­ing that the defense acqui­si­tion process was going to be dra­mat­i­cal­ly sped up, it’s Griffin’s res­ig­na­tion that’s serv­ing as a warn­ing that this process could be kicked into over­drive.

    And in prob­a­bly relat­ed news, guess which com­pa­ny just announced it’s going to be doing an IPO this year: yep, Palan­tir. It just announced it’s filed the IPO papers. So that’s going to be inter­est­ing to watch, espe­cial­ly with respect to how any new con­tracts that get announced this year might impact Palan­tir’s IPO val­u­a­tion. But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, part of what this IPO announce­ment inter­est­ing is that it means Palan­tir is going to have to be more open to the pub­lic than before over the types of con­tracts it has with clients. Clients that include gov­ern­ments:

    CNN

    A secre­tive and con­tro­ver­sial start­up may go pub­lic. Here’s what you should know about it

    By Rachel Metz and Sara Ash­ley O’Brien, CNN Busi­ness

    Updat­ed 7:34 AM ET, Fri July 10, 2020

    (CNN)In the 17 years since it was found­ed, Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies has received finan­cial back­ing from the CIA, become one of the most valu­able pri­vate com­pa­nies in the US, and earned a seat at the table along­side the biggest tech com­pa­nies in meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

    But the Sil­i­con Val­ley data-ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny, which is known for tak­ing on con­tro­ver­sial work for the US gov­ern­ment, has long shroud­ed itself in secre­cy — in part, as CEO and cofounder Alex Karp recent­ly explained in an inter­view with Axios on HBO, because clients often require them to keep qui­et. Now, it may have to shed at least some light on its oper­a­tions as the com­pa­ny inch­es clos­er to mak­ing a long-rumored Wall Street debut.

    Palan­tir said this week that it con­fi­den­tial­ly filed paper­work with the US Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion to go pub­lic. As with any pub­licly-trad­ed com­pa­ny, Palan­tir would need to dis­close more of its finan­cial his­to­ry and open itself to investor scruti­ny. And as with any tech com­pa­ny of its size — with a rough­ly $20 bil­lion val­u­a­tion — its ini­tial pub­lic offer­ing would like­ly be a high-pro­file event.

    “If they do go down the IPO path, it would be a sem­i­nal moment in tech­nol­o­gy, very sim­i­lar to the likes of Uber and Lyft that were pri­vate for many years then went pub­lic,” said Daniel Ives, an ana­lyst with Wed­bush who tracks tech com­pa­nies.

    Named after the see­ing stones in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fan­ta­sy nov­el “The Lord of the Rings,” Palan­tir is based in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia. The com­pa­ny has two prod­ucts that cus­tomers use to orga­nize and glean insights from mounds of data: Gotham, which was ini­tial­ly devel­oped for gov­ern­ment clients, and Foundry. Any data con­tained in SEC fil­ings yet to be released pub­licly would almost cer­tain­ly reveal more.

    With Palan­tir’s IPO, there’s more at stake than investor returns. Some hope an IPO would lead to greater trans­paren­cy, like Jac­in­ta Gon­za­lez, senior cam­paign orga­niz­er of orga­niz­ing group Mijente, which has long been crit­i­cal of Palan­tir for its work with US Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment, and its ties to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. But she’s also wor­ried that a suc­cess­ful IPO will show more com­pa­nies that polic­ing is good for busi­ness.

    Palan­tir spokes­woman Lisa Gor­don declined to com­ment for this sto­ry, cit­ing the qui­et peri­od Palan­tir entered as it began the IPO process.

    A his­to­ry of bold claims—and con­tro­ver­sial work

    Cofound­ed in 2003 by Peter Thiel, a mem­ber of the so-called “Pay­Pal mafia” and a long­time Face­book board mem­ber known for sup­port­ing Trump’s 2016 cam­paign, Palan­tir’s stat­ed mis­sion is to “make the West, espe­cial­ly Amer­i­ca, the strongest in the world.” The com­pa­ny touts its abil­i­ty to man­age and secure data at a mas­sive scale.

    Palan­tir pro­vides gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions with tools to help with every­thing from track­ing the spread of the nov­el coro­n­avirus to zero­ing in on ter­ror­ists. It even report­ed­ly helped track down Osama bin Laden.

    Yet it has his­tor­i­cal­ly been qui­et about the pre­cise ways in which its ser­vices are used, which has earned the com­pa­ny a shad­owy rep­u­ta­tion. What’s clear is that main­tain­ing a rela­tion­ship with the gov­ern­ment has been key to the com­pa­ny for much of its his­to­ry.

    In its ear­ly years, Palan­tir strug­gled to get investors and clients, before rais­ing mon­ey from the CIA’s invest­ment arm, In-Q-Tel, as well as from Thiel and his VC firm Founders Fund. Since then, the com­pa­ny has tak­en on work with the US gov­ern­ment that oth­ers in Sil­i­con Val­ley might not have been com­fort­able with.

    In 2017, CNN report­ed that Palan­tir had helped the Los Ange­les Police Depart­ment ana­lyze data, rang­ing from license plates pho­tos to rap sheets, traf­fic tick­ets, list­ings of fore­closed prop­er­ties and more. While this can make it eas­i­er for police to do things like track down crim­i­nals, it also indi­cates how tech­nol­o­gy such as Palan­tir’s offers law enforce­ment unprece­dent­ed sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ties.

    More recent­ly, Karp said in an inter­view with CNBC at Davos in Jan­u­ary that Palan­tir has been assist­ing with find­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants for depor­ta­tion — some­thing that had long been rumored but uncon­firmed.

    “We take what amounts to strong but often con­tro­ver­sial posi­tions,” Karp said at the time.

    And in May, Karp acknowl­edged in an inter­view with Axios on HBO that Palan­tir’s tech­nol­o­gy “is used on occa­sion to kill peo­ple.” He made clear that it can be used for tar­get­ing of all kinds, includ­ing peo­ple. “If you’re look­ing for a ter­ror­ist in the world now you’re prob­a­bly using our gov­ern­ment prod­uct and you’re prob­a­bly doing the oper­a­tion that actu­al­ly takes out the per­son in anoth­er prod­uct we built,” he said, most like­ly refer­ring to Gotham and Foundry, respec­tive­ly.

    At a time when com­pa­nies such as Ama­zon and Microsoft said they have halt­ed the sale of some con­test­ed tech­nol­o­gy — name­ly facial-recog­ni­tion sys­tems — to US police depart­ments, Palan­tir is “sort of the oppo­site,” said Evan Greer, deputy direc­tor at dig­i­tal rights non­prof­it Fight for the Future.

    “I think com­pa­nies like Palan­tir are allow­ing gov­ern­ments and insti­tu­tions to weaponize our data and use it in ways that oppress peo­ple rather than lift them up,” Greer said.

    The con­trar­i­an may cash in again

    Just as Palan­tir is among the most con­tro­ver­sial com­pa­nies in Sil­i­con Val­ley, so is its most famous cofounder.

    Thiel is known for being a con­trar­i­an. Thiel, a Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ate, funds a fel­low­ship that offers young entre­pre­neurs $100,000 to spend two years build­ing a com­pa­ny rather than attend­ing col­lege. He has argued that monop­o­lies are good and coau­thored a book in 1995 called “The Diver­si­ty Myth,” crit­i­ciz­ing the “debil­i­tat­ing impact” of “polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism” on col­lege edu­ca­tion.

    He was also dis­cov­ered to be bankrolling the law­suit of Ter­ry Bol­lea, pop­u­lar­ly known as the wrestler Hulk Hogan, against Gawk­er Media that forced the pub­lish­er into bank­rupt­cy. Yet he has also donat­ed to the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists.

    “It’s pre­cise­ly because I respect jour­nal­ists that I do not believe they are endan­gered by fight­ing back against Gawk­er,” he said in a 2016 inter­view, as part of his expla­na­tion for why he did­n’t think the two activ­i­ties con­tra­dict­ed each oth­er.

    A lib­er­tar­i­an, he served as a sur­ro­gate for Don­ald Trump’s 2016 cam­paign, going against many pow­er­ful tech CEOs and crit­i­ciz­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley in the process.

    Thiel, who has invest­ed at least $40 mil­lion in Palan­tir, has defend­ed the com­pa­ny’s role despite his pre­vi­ous­ly artic­u­lat­ed anti-gov­ern­ment approach. “The gov­ern­ment was col­lect­ing a lot of data [in the war on ter­ror­ism], more than they could ana­lyze,” he told For­tune in March 2016.. “If we could help them make sense of data, they could end indis­crim­i­nate sur­veil­lance.”

    Unlike Pay­Pal, which was inspired by the idea of cre­at­ing a cur­ren­cy “free from all gov­ern­ment con­trol and dilu­tion,” Palan­tir is help­ing empow­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies: it scored $1.5 bil­lion in new con­tracts with the US gov­ern­ment in 2019 alone.

    ...

    ———–

    “A secre­tive and con­tro­ver­sial start­up may go pub­lic. Here’s what you should know about it” by Rachel Metz and Sara Ash­ley O’Brien; CNN Busi­ness; 07/10/2020

    “Palan­tir said this week that it con­fi­den­tial­ly filed paper­work with the US Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion to go pub­lic. As with any pub­licly-trad­ed com­pa­ny, Palan­tir would need to dis­close more of its finan­cial his­to­ry and open itself to investor scruti­ny. And as with any tech com­pa­ny of its size — with a rough­ly $20 bil­lion val­u­a­tion — its ini­tial pub­lic offer­ing would like­ly be a high-pro­file event.”

    It’s quite a con­ver­gence of events: Thiel gets Krat­sios installed in the per­fect posi­tion to shov­el all sorts of Pen­ta­gon con­tracts at Palan­tir right at the same time Palan­tir files an IPO. And there’s poten­tial­ly just a months left in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion so they have to move fast. And yet in order for this IPO to hap­pen Palan­tir needs to open itself up to investor scruti­ny to a degree it’s nev­er had to deal with before. What kind of hor­ri­ble secrets will be revealed? And will those hor­ri­ble secrets actu­al­ly harm Palan­tir’s per­ceived val­u­a­tion? It’s a defense con­trac­tor, after all. Hor­ri­ble secrets might be seen as an investor perk if they’re prof­itable hor­ri­ble secrets. So there’s plen­ty of ques­tions raised by the prospect of an Palan­tir IPO tak­ing place right when Thiel’s chief of staff because the new Pen­ta­gon head of tech­nol­o­gy pro­cure­ment, includ­ing the ques­tion of what hor­ri­ble com­pa­ny Peter Thiel is going to start next with all that new mon­ey he’s about to make.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 15, 2020, 2:45 pm

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