Wikileaks CIA data dump and broken security

Horrendous but not unexpected. CIA exploited security flaws in software rather than notifying vendors of the flaws so they could be fixed. Snowden is completely correct. This is reckless beyond words.

The Wikileaks CIA dump shows that CIA (and no doubt lots of other intelligence services) can plant malware on phones and computers that bypass encryption. This means Signal or WhatsApp encryption is essentially useless if your device has such malware on it because it grabs messages before they’ve been encrypted. We don’t know how prevalent such malware is. I would assume only high-value people are targeted, but there’s no way to know for sure.

There are still a few ways to protect yourself. Use a VPN, as it provides some security. So does the Tor browser. However, if you log into a site using Tor, then they know who you are. Turn off as many internet-enabled devices as possible. Does your TV, refrigerator, and thermostat really need to be on the net? Tape over your webcam unless you are using it. Mark Zuckerberg does. Consider whether you really need Alexa or internet-enabled child toys. Any Internet of Things devices should automatically be suspect because security for them is mostly non-existent or an afterthought. Assume you are being watched and act accordingly.

In the case of a tool called “Weeping Angel” for attacking Samsung SmartTVs, WikiLeaks wrote, “After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on, In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”

The CIA reportedly also has studied whether it could infect vehicle control systems for cars and trucks, which WikiLeaks alleged could be used to conduct “nearly undetectable assassinations.”

And a specialized CIA unit called the Mobile Devices Branch produced malware to control and steal information from iPhones, which according to WikiLeaks were a particular focus because of the smartphone’s popularity “among social, political diplomatic and business elites.” The agency also targeted popular phones running Google’s Android, the world’s leading mobile operating system.

Trump Tower Baku. A curious story

I’ve got. it Let’s build a thirty-three story ultra-luxury hotel in a crap part of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, far from other luxury developments, where no one will come to. Further, let’s do the deal with some really dicey folks who are known to be corrupt and who have ties to other dicey people and entities, like Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which owns hundreds of businesses and sometimes needs to move money and goods around without it being noticed.

And let’s build it using very expensive materials, then never open it.

Huh. Why you might think the purpose of the development had nothing to do with the business of making money running a hotel.

That’s exactly what happened with the Trump Tower Baku.

A few excerpts from the New Yorker article, which is careful to say while there is no evidence that Trump or his family was engaged in money laundering, also details obvious and massive corruption by other partners in the project. Further, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it “a crime for an American company to unknowingly benefit from a partner’s corruption if it could have discovered illicit activity but avoided doing so.” Saying you didn’t know is not an excuse.

If parties involved in the Trump Tower Baku project participated in any illegal financial conduct, and if the Trump Organization exerted a degree of control over the project, the company could be vulnerable to criminal prosecution. Tom Fox, a Houston lawyer who specializes in anti-corruption compliance, said, “It’s a problem if you’re making a profit off of someone else’s corrupt conduct.” Moreover, recent case law has established that licensors take on a greater legal burden when they assume roles normally reserved for developers. The Trump Organization’s unusually deep engagement with Baku XXI Century suggests that it had the opportunity and the responsibility to monitor it for corruption.

The Revolutionary Guard and its business interests are involved.

But the Mammadov family, in addition to its reputation for corruption, has a troubling connection that any proper risk assessment should have unearthed: for years, it has been financially entangled with an Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideologically driven military force.

But there is a catch: from time to time, they should expect to be asked to serve the needs of the Guard. “When the Revolutionary Guard says, ‘We need to move some illicit stuff,’ or ‘We need new parts for our missiles,’ they reach out to these guys,” McInnis explained. “It’s a soft network that can do all sorts of things that are very hard to trace.”

[Trump lawyer] added, “We did not pay any money to anyone. Therefore, it could not be a violation of the F.C.P.A.”

“No, that’s just wrong,” Jessica Tillipman, an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School, who specializes in the F.C.P.A., said. “You can’t go into business deals in Azerbaijan assuming that you are immune from the F.C.P.A.” She added, “Nor can you escape liability by looking the other way. The entire Baku deal is a giant red flag—the direct involvement of foreign government officials and their relatives in Azerbaijan with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Corruption warning signs are rarely more obvious.”

Trump being blackmailed is a possibility.

In recent months, American officials have expressed concern that Trump Administration figures might be blackmailed by foreign entities. U.S. law-enforcement investigators and congressional staffers have probed claims that Russian government officials possess compromising information about President Trump, which might be used to blackmail him. (The President maintains that there is no such information.) In January, the Department of Justice informed the White House that Michael Flynn—then the national-security adviser—was vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians because he had lied about having spoken with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn subsequently resigned.

In Azerbaijan, the power and the influence of the Mammadovs has declined sharply. Elton lost his seat in parliament in 2015. In February, Ziya was abruptly removed from his ministry. Anar has settled in London, an associate of his told me, and is living on a fraction of his former wealth. Meanwhile, in Iran, government officials are likely facing additional sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. If the Mammadovs or powerful Iranians have evidence that the Trump Organization broke laws, they might be tempted to exploit it.

The left should attack Trump like neocons are

Some factions on the left seem uncertain about attacking Trump on his obvious-to-me Russia ties. It’s like they must have incontrovertible proof before doing anything and besides those nice people at RT provide a platform for some of our lefties too, and isn’t that sweet of them. Hog twaddle. Trump is hugely (and rightfully) vulnerable on this. So let’s harpoon him on his Russia ties. But if someone really isn’t sure about Russia ties, then attack Trump based on his erratic governing style, obvious racism, incoherent tweet storms, or any number of other things. He is a deeply target-rich environment, so fire away, you’ll hit something.

Along with this goes inordinate amounts of moaning on the left about how horrible Trump is. It’s like somehow somewhere some leftie has not yet absorbed this so it must be endlessly repeated. This invariably has a toxic side effect of making people feel like there’s no hope. Well, that’s just a swell organizing tactic, isn’t it?

There is a faction on the right who absolutely loathes Trump. They spend little time complaining among themselves how horrible he is. Instead they are focused on how to topple him. And they are drawing blood. These are the neocons. Evan McMullin was part of a group that spent considerable money and time destroying Milo. When confronted about it, he said “Never cared much for Nazi punks.” Louise Mensch, former Tory MP, broke the story about the FISA wiretap on Nov. 7 and also broke the story about the Steele Dossier, which was immediately attacked as being conspiracy garbage and has now been validated as being essentially correct.

Much of this is happening on Twitter, where people from all over the political spectrum share information. McMullin makes a point of saying we may disagree on many other things but agree on toppling Trump. I agree. Let’s get it done.

Evan McMullin @Evan_McMullin
Louise Mensch @LouiseMensch
John Schindler @20committee
Max Boot @MaxBoot
Scott Dworkinn @funder (leftie, follows the money)
Adam Khan @Khanoisseur (not sure what his politics are)

California high-speed bullet train may have gotten shot

California High Speed Rail boondoggle

Funding for the zombie California bullet train is now questionable at best, this after California spent $2.3 billion of mostly federal money on a 119 mile train track to nowhere in the Central Valley.

Money from greenhouse gas cap-and-trade auctions was supposed to provide major funding, but that income is now minimal. Plus, the Trump Administration has blocked desperately needed funds, probably because Republicans (and others) in the Central Valley don’t want trains whizzing past at 200 mph every few minutes. You probably wouldn’t either.

Also, by law, the train must be high-speed the entire way and to my knowledge, no one has figured out how to do this in the San Jose corridor. The train can’t stop and wait at street crossings because then they wouldn’t be high-speed. So, the only alternative is to have it raised and / or underground in a heavily populated urban area. This would require huge amounts of money, major disruption due to construction, and almost certain barrages of lawsuits from well-off techies who don’t want such a train anywhere near them. Did I mention the high-speed train requires its own tracks? Existing tracks cannot be used.

I favor affordable mass transit that lots of people will use. However it needs to mostly pay for itself. California high speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco would be insanely expensive to build, tickets would not be less expensive than flying, and it might not have many passengers at all. Plus, building it through urban areas would be a logistical and  environmental, um, train wreck. Seriously.

Maybe this time the zombie really is dead.

Results of the state’s latest cap-and-trade auction of greenhouse gas emission allowances – the only source of ongoing bullet train funds – were released and once again it produced almost no money.

Moreover, the report was aired just days after the Trump administration had put an indefinite hold on a $647 million grant for electrifying the Caltrain commuter rail service on the San Francisco Peninsula, a major component of the “blended” bullet train system.

Republican congressmen opposed to the bullet train had attacked the grant, knowing that without it, the $2 billon electrification project could die, and along with it, the larger system.

Slender Man stabbing, schizophrenia, and Miranda rights

If you are schizophrenic and twelve, arrested for viciously stabbing a classmate, and sign your name to something that waives your Miranda rights, should that be allowable in court? Morgan Geyser’s mother says no, and wants her daughter’s confession waived.

The judge in the trial said Geyser and Anissa Weier, who was also arrested, should be tried as adults because Wisconsin law mandates that juveniles be released from custody at eighteen, and given the seriousness of what they did, he wasn’t sure they could be rehabilitated by then. Neither am I. Geyser’s mom has a point, however their guilt in incontrovertible. Waiving the confession won’t make any appreciable difference. The mom seems more concerned with mental health issues. That’s a good thing.

The Slender Man case is so unalterably weird that there is no convenient category to put it in. It should be noted that Geyser was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which means she was unable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy. That’s why she thought Slender Man was real and wanted her to kill her classmate.

Thanks to medications and treatment, she’s no longer schizophrenic. However, what happens if, say, she is released from prison, and stops taking her meds. No one knows the answer to that.

Thanks to petitions and persistence of her parents, Morgan is now in the Winnebago Mental Health Institute instead of a windowless room in prison. “It took us 19 months to get her treatment after she was arrested,” Angie says. “This isn’t about Slender Man. It could be a really good opportunity to have a conversation about mental illness, about this illness in childhood, about children in court. And I wish there would be more focus on that.

After months of withdrawing into constant hallucinations – at one point, even stabbing herself with a pencil – Morgan Geyser began taking medication. As it took effect, Angie explains, Morgan’s psychosis retracted and her hallucinations disappeared. She was able to perceive what she had done to her friend and understand the fact that she now faced decades in prison. Before the medication, Morgan had not been aware of her surroundings. She didn’t have any emotion or preference about her circumstances, and she even told her parents that she didn’t care if she went to jail since her hallucinations would be there to keep her company. But now, with medication, reality has set in. “When she thinks back to the reason that she was arrested, it’s like looking at another persons memory,” Angie says shakily. “It’s hard for her to grasp why she’s in custody when she’s better now.”

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